Names worth knowing
Words: Alexandra Gray de Walden
Published: 21st December 2023
Domaine des Croix
His unmistakable talent brought outsider David Croix to the attention of some of Burgundy’s most influential figures. Today, he oversees the impressive Domaine des Croix, where he champions the sometimes-overlooked vineyards of Beaune
David Croix is not a native Burgundian and nor does he come from a winemaking family. But growing up in the Loire Valley, he was no stranger to great French wines. “My dad loves wine and my mum is a great cook, so I grew up in an environment where taste and flavour really meant something,” he says. His appreciation of the culinary arts and trips into his father’s home wine-cellar no doubt contributed to David’s wish to pursue a career in oenology.
While studying in Dijon in the early 2000s, David interned with Benjamin Leroux – at the time the régisseur at Comte Armand in Pommard. David had his next steps all planned out: trips to Australian and Californian wineries were booked, a job in Bordeaux already accepted. It became clear Benjamin had something else in mind for the talented student, however.
“Ben kept teasing, asking if I was sure that’s what I’d be doing afterwards.” He introduced David to famed Burgundy oracle Becky Wassermann, who was key in offering 22-year-old David a huge opportunity: taking the reins of then-struggling négociant Camille Giroud. This was too good a chance to pass up, though not exactly smooth sailing. “It was challenging, to say the least,” David says.
It was here that his winemaking and business skills were spotted by American investors. When Roger Forbes purchased what was then Domaine Duchet in 2005, he asked David to take the reins. It was renamed soon afterwards as Domaine des Croix; the rest is history.
Though he enjoyed the freedom of buying grapes from different growers as a négociant, David prefers operating a domaine – where everything is in-house and producer-owned. “I missed the vineyards,” he says. “I love the diversity here. I was in the vineyards half an hour ago, I shall meet the banker tomorrow and we’ll have customers visiting in the afternoon. Because the domaine is small, I can be involved in every aspect of it.”
David believes that it’s the vineyard rather than the winemaker that makes good wine. His own focus is on red wine, primarily from vineyards based around the commune of Beaune. The Croix domaine includes several Premiers Crus as well as Grands Crus from the nearby Hill of Corton.
“There isn’t a recipe for making wine,” he says. “It’s understanding a plant in its environment. There is contrast and diversity here which you don’t have in other places. There are ups and downs and everything in the middle. You can always be surprised by wines in Burgundy. Why is this wine like that? Where can that wine be from? It’s a wider spectrum.”
Winemaking in Burgundy is sometimes considered to be moving away from its farming roots as investment and market influences move in. David is not worried. Indeed, he appreciates the investment. “Everything you think of to make a better wine, producers have invested in it over the last 20 years. Vibrating sorting tables, better ploughs, better spraying systems for organic viticulture. There have been investments for quality.”
David has made his own investments, teasing out and expressing the diversity of climats available in sometimes-overlooked Beaune. It seems unlikely to remain overlooked for much longer.
“Everything you think of to make a better wine, producers have invested in it over the last 20 years”
David Croix, Domaine des Croix
Domaine Jean Fournier
There have been Fourniers in Marsannay since the 17th century. Since taking the helm at the family firm, Laurent Fournier has walked a fine line between the old ways and the new
“My father is not a big lover of wine, but he loves the vines,” says Laurent Fournier, son of the eponymous Jean. “He gave me the same feeling – the vine is the base of everything.” This is an ethos Laurent has instilled into every aspect of winemaking at Domaine Jean Fournier since he came on board in 2001.
Laurent had previously studied in Beaune before working at a small winery in Switzerland. Here, he discovered Chasselas, the elegant white grape synonymous with Swiss wine. Laurent credits this experience as the beginning of a love affair: “I wanted to create the same potential for Aligoté in Burgundy that Chasselas has in Switzerland.” His range of single-vineyard Aligotés suggests he has succeeded.
Though he is keen to produce his wines with minimal intervention, Laurent distances himself from the idea of natural wine. Natural wine was far from mainstream when he started out in 2001: “We were producing wines here without sulphites but then it became fashionable.” It was at this point, Laurent believes, that there was a marked decline in the quality of natural wines.
The domaine’s older vineyards are ploughed by horse and everything else is done by hand. This traditional approach to farming is classically Burgundian. “Burgundy’s history is all about farming,” Laurent says. “Now it’s more dynamic and modern, but still with respect for tradition.” Laurent delights in being surrounded by fellow producers who share his belief in that balance between old and new – something for which Marsannay has a well-deserved reputation, he believes.
Unlike its more illustrious neighbours, the village of Marsannay has no vineyards ranked as Premier Cru or above. To Laurent, this is a real oversight; he has been campaigning hard for over 20 years to change it, arranging the necessary tastings and meetings with the relevant bodies. For now, his part is over as he awaits a decision. “The last part was a blind tasting,” he reports. “It went well.”
The prospect of Premiers Crus in Marsannay is now a distinct possibility, and relationships with his neighbours are convivial: Laurent has every reason for optimism. But he is apprehensive about the threat of climate change. “Will we have to change rootstocks or even grape varieties? We don’t know. It’s a big challenge and we need to evolve.”
Whatever may come his way in the future, Laurent believes in Burgundy’s longevity. “The story of Burgundy is one of comebacks. After the monasteries, the wars, the Phylloxera crisis, thanks to the work of the farmers, the vineyards of Burgundy have always recovered.” This is also thanks, in part, to 400 years of Fourniers farming in Marsannay.
“The story of Burgundy is one of comebacks. After the monasteries, the wars, the Phylloxera crisis, thanks to the work of the farmers, the vineyards of Burgundy have always recovered”
Laurent Fournier, Domaine Jean Fournier
Château de Charodon
He was born into a family of vignerons in Gevrey-Chambertin, so what made Louis Vallet set up shop on the outskirts of Beaune? Here, we meet the fiercely independent figure behind Château de Charodon
Louis Vallet wanted to be a fighter pilot. He represents the fifth generation of a Gevrey- Chambertin winemaking family; there were surely other more obvious options. But Louis simply had other ideas. “I didn’t really like wine when I was younger,” he admits. Sadly, less-than-perfect eyesight in one eye put paid to his aeronautical career. The sky’s loss was the wine world’s gain.
Louis has long danced to the beat of his own drum. Barely a moment in his company passes in silence, and his energy is infectious. He knew early on that he wanted to be his own boss. So after 15 years at the family estate, Pierre Bourée Fils, he headed off to New Zealand, the USA and Chile to hone his winemaking craft.
Since his return he has run Château de Charodon, his own winery (and his parents’ home; the Charodon name comes from his mother’s side) on the outskirts of Beaune.
His time overseas was primarily about learning what not to do. The New World is full of groundbreaking vineyard and winery technology, yet Louis finds himself continuously returning to the way things have always been done. The traditional way. The Burgundian way.
“Good wine is easy in Burgundy,” Louis says. “It’s only the last, small details which are made in the winery. If you don’t have good grapes, you won’t make good wine.”
What is it, then, about this lauded place that makes it so easy for its winemakers? It comes down to climate and geography, Louis believes, rather than some romantic vision of a centuries-old wine region. Burgundy, he thinks, offers the perfect combination of rainfall, climate, cloudy days and soil – all coming together “like magic”.
This makes it one of the world’s finest wine regions, and yet Burgundy’s vignerons are among wine’s most pragmatic and grounded people. It’s a region of farmers, though Louis can see things changing. He points to the loss of some of Burgundy’s family-owned vineyards to investment buyers as a case in point.
“Say a 30-year-old guy takes over a vineyard of his dad’s which was considered too much work, or not productive. Suddenly, he sells it for €15 million. What’s he going to do with that money? And what about the past 1,000 years?”
Family and generation are part of the fabric of Burgundy, rarely far from the surface. Louis’s winemaking lineage, and particularly his father, Bernard, have instilled in him the reality of the job – of being permanently on-call. “You have to forget weekends and parties during harvest, during vinification. It’s a sacrifice.” There’s no 37-hour work week here, it seems.
“Being a winemaker, you are an artist,” Louis says. His canvas extends from Gevrey-Chambertin to Meursault and beyond, spanning majestic Grand Cru and deliberately accessible Aligoté alike. As a new addition to our Burgundy range, his are some brushstrokes well worth admiring.
“We’ve got all the parameters to make the best wines. We’ve got good rainfall, good climate and the perfect soil”
Louis Vallet, Château de Charodon
Domaine Chantal Remy
Time away from his tiny family estate in Morey-St Denis showed Florian Remy what he had been missing – and opened his eyes
In 2008, Florian Remy decided to give up on his economics degree. He was still enjoying life in his university town of Dijon, until he got a call from his mother, Chantal – a noted grower in the sleepy village of Morey-St Denis. “Mum told me I couldn’t keep doing nothing,” he says. And so he returned home to join the family firm, Domaine Chantal Remy. Mother and son spent a year working together. “It opened my eyes,” he says, “to what we have and how lucky I am to be a part of it.”
Florian’s next step was to gain some outside experience. He worked at Domaine Denis Mortet in Gevrey-Chambertin before heading home permanently; he and Chantal produced their first full vintage together in 2011. Chantal then stepped back from winery duties in 2014, though she hasn’t gone far: “If I ever need advice, I ask her.”
Chantal preferred to produce softer styles of wine, something which Florian was keen to continue. “Mum’s focus was always finesse and elegance. But we invested in a sorting table, a new de-stemmer and some new wooden vats to increase the quality of the wine.”
That’s not to say that things remained unchanged under Florian’s stewardship. One development he introduced was reducing the use of SO2 and pesticides at the domaine. “We want the soil and water to be natural and cleaner. Burgundy has made a lot of progress on respecting the environment.”
The domaine’s holdings have fluctuated a little, dropping from 3.5 hectares to just one hectare in 2009 when Chantal’s brothers opted to sell their shares. It wasn’t all bad news however, as Chantal retained the domaine’s Grands Crus, with enviable plots of Clos de la Roche, Chambertin and Latricières-Chambertin.
At the same time, Chantal and Florian have made some small but significant expansions to the domaine. The family tennis court and partially walled rose-garden have both been turned over to vines – with Florian seeking Premier Cru status for the latter, Clos des Rosiers. It is as beautiful as it sounds, with red-brick walls and the odd rosebush left to flourish as a nod to its former employment. “We applied for Premier Cru classification in 2018 and haven’t had a lot of news since then,” Florian chuckles.
While their holdings may not be huge, the Remy family are proud of what they have. But it took time away from home and the experience of city life for Florian to truly appreciate it. “Burgundy’s vineyards are what make it special,” says Florian. Drawing out the character of each of his vineyards clearly motivates him – be it a Grand Cru or a Premier Cru-in-waiting.
“It opened my eyes to what we have and how lucky I am to be a part of it”
Florian Remy, Domaine Chantal Remy