Burgundy insiders have long recognized Bouchard Père & Fils for its devotion to exceptional winemaking. Founded in 1731 in the city of Beaune by Michel Bouchard, it’s one of Burgundy’s oldest wine-merchant houses, and over the course of nearly three centuries, it has also become one of the Côte d’Or’s largest landowners, with 130 hectares of vineyard holdings in the heart of the region, most of whose wines are Grand and Premier Crus.
Bouchard Père & Fils offers a diverse collection of terroir-driven wines spanning a range of styles, levels, and price points. Each one—from the Villages to the Grand Cru level—is cultivated with passion and precision by the winemaker and cellar master Frédéric Weber and his staff. High quality and great value are the hallmarks of Bouchard Père & Fils wines, and these are two of the attributes driving the iconic producer’s growth in the U.S.
Burgundy native Philippe Sauriat, the head sommelier at Gabriel Kreuther restaurant in New York City, is a longtime supporter of Bouchard Père & Fils. He touts the domaine’s consistency of quality, adding, “The evolution of the farming and the viticulture, which is organic, is very promising, especially for a big domaine such as this one.” John Ciambrano, a sommelier at New York City’s 21 Club, has been selling Bouchard Père & Fils wines for many years. He explains that pricing can make Burgundy a difficult region and that it’s not uncommon to find dull or mediocre wines at a premium. “The search for quality and interesting wines at a fair price can be challenging,” he says. “Bouchard’s wines are appealing because of their quality and value.”
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The Evolution of a Legacy
The standards of quality of Bouchard Père & Fils were intensified in 1995 when the domaine was purchased by Joseph Henriot of Champagne Henriot, a family-owned Champagne house founded in 1808. Philippe Prost, the technical director of Bouchard Père & Fils, says that under Henriot’s ownership, a new emphasis was placed on quality at Bouchard Père & Fils.
Upon taking over, Henriot blind-tasted all of the domaine’s Grand and Premier Crus with a group of French trade journalists to verify quality—and declassify any wines that didn’t meet his standards of excellence. As a result, he disposed of about $2 million worth of wine. “When he put the label on a bottle,” says Prost, “it was a symbol of quality.”
This changing of the guard later led to increased vineyard holdings in the Côte d’Or and a $17 million investment in a state-of-the-art underground winery, which opened in 2005. Henriot’s efforts reestablished Bouchard as a top Burgundy house with a quality standard among the highest in the region.
An Old World Commitment to Quality at All Levels
Bouchard Père & Fils is one of the oldest—yet one of the smaller—négociants among the major Burgundy houses. Because of this unique combination, the domaine has gained a deep knowledge and understanding of its growers’ terroirs throughout the years, which has enabled it to control quality and ensure consistency, regardless of vintage. Bouchard Père & Fils’ négociant wine grapes, says Weber, are grown and vinified with the same care, in the same equipment, and by the same team as the wines from the domaine’s own historic vineyards.
The 21 Club’s Ciambrano points out that sommeliers may tend to overlook négociants when choosing wines to fill certain gaps in a wine list. “This might be out of snobbishness,” he says, adding that somms may be more inclined to seek out small, organic, or boutique winemakers than wine that’s been blended from a variety of sources. The problem with this approach is that it excludes high-quality offerings from négociants that might offer outstanding value. “For the guest,” he says, “it’s what’s in the bottle that matters.”
While Bouchard Père & Fils is a négociant, the domaine functions as a winegrower first. Its understanding of Burgundy terroir, viticulture, and winemaking is built into its heritage. Bouchard Père & Fils possesses 30 classified Grand Crus and 183 classified Premier Crus, including 92 prestige wines—12 Grand Crus, 74 Premier Crus, 2 Monopoles, and 4 Exclusivities—in renowned appellations, such as Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne, Beaune Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus, Volnay Les Caillerets, and Meursault-Perrières.
Bouchard Père & Fils’ winegrowers and winemakers have been engaging in organic and sustainable practices since 2000. “The most important [responsibility],” says Weber, “is to protect nature and permit the next generation to find a beautiful vineyard for the future.” It’s the people who have worked—and continue to work—in the vineyards and cellars generation after generation, he says, who have the most influence in the making of these wines.
Weber oversees a team of 35 employees who manage 450 subparcels and produce 3 million bottles annually. During the harvest, the team expands to include approximately 200 seasonal pickers and 60 cellar workers. Weber combines new technologies with traditional, sustainable practices to produce a diverse collection of 150 red and white wines. The work in the vineyards and the cellar is tailored to the specificities of each terroir.
The fruit is meticulously harvested and then carefully sorted by hand. There are 280 vinification vats. “We taste every vat,” says Weber. Vinification is customized to the style of each terroir. Bouchard Père & Fils’ core expertise may be in crafting prestige wines, but all the wines are cultivated with uncompromising care.
Bouchard Père & Fils in the U.S. Market
The U.S. has become one of Bouchard Père & Fils’ main export markets; it grew 12 percent in 2016. Throughout the last several years, the wines have been gaining traction among stateside retailers and restaurateurs. While offerings from Burgundy can often be expensive, Bouchard Père & Fils provides approachable wines in every price bracket. Some, like the Beaune du Château Premier Cru, help bridge the quality level from the Villages to the Premier Crus. A proprietary and unique blend of 17 Premier Cru Villages for the red, Beaune du Château has been produced since 1907 and offers outstanding value for a Premier Cru wine.
Lauren McPhate, a Master of Wine candidate and fine-wine specialist at Tribeca Wine Merchants, suggests that Bouchard Père & Fils’ track record of producing well-built wines that represent their origins is one of the main reasons it should be on a retailer’s radar. “Whether Burgundy AOC or Grand Cru,” she says, “the wines are excellent representations of where they come from, and they [offer] excellent value.” McPhate adds that she finds the transparency of the wines’ origins and the consistency of Bouchard Père & Fils’ wines to be especially appealing. “These wines are always balanced, full of personality, and a pleasure to drink.”
Tribeca Wine Merchants currently stocks two Bouchard Père & Fils wines. “The Bouchard Père & Fils Rully Blanc 2015 is a great value at $25,” says McPhate, adding that the shop gets a lot of positive feedback from people who try it at in-store tastings. “Customers love the concentration and balance,” she says, “especially given the sub-$30 price point.” The Volnay Les Caillerets 2015, which the shop prices at $79, “generally sells itself,” she says. As part of its core business, Tribeca Wine offers a selection of older Bouchard Père & Fils wines to its email subscribers. “We’re trusted for sourcing amazing and rare wines from the best producers and vintages,” McPhate says, “and the Bouchard Père & Fils La Romanée 1976 through 2003 certainly fit the bill.”
While Bouchard Père & Fils can help make Burgundy affordable, the prestige wines from its exclusivities and monopoles make it distinguished at the high end. Ciambrano says that the 21 Club has stocked bottles and magnums of Beaune Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus (aka “Baby Jesus”) Exclusivity Premier Cru for many years. “It’s a quality, age-worthy wine that has always been popular at the 21 Club,” he says. “So many of our clients enjoy Burgundy on a regular basis, but they also depend on my advice to steer them to bottles that are showing well without breaking the bank.”
Gabriel Kreuther’s Sauriat is another admirer of Bouchard Père & Fils’ l’Enfant Jésus. “For me,” he says, “it’s the best Beaune Premier Cru ever produced, with a great level of consistency. The expression of this wine is so beautiful, [even more so] with some age. If you have the opportunity to put some back vintages on your list, I guarantee a really good response from your patrons.”
What’s in Store for the 2016 Vintage
“This is a vintage that should not be underestimated,” says Weber, adding that the reds are expressive, with great definition, and the whites are fresh, citrusy, and generous on the palate. Before the harvest, though, he wasn’t entirely certain how things would turn out. “It was a difficult season,” he explains. “There was a big frost at the end of April that destroyed 50 to 60 percent of the crop, and the spring was rainy … but the climate changed at the end of June, saving the crop.” Overall, he says, the 2016 vintage is showing excellent acidity, good concentration, a purity of fruit aromas and flavors, and the terroir is very well defined, which Weber suggests may make the 2016 vintage even more interesting than the 2015. The wines will be available in the U.S. market in May.
Somms who’ve had an opportunity to taste the newly released vintage agree. “The ’16s are beautiful,” says Sauriat. Ciambrano describes his 2016 tasting experience as “eye opening,” noting that “each [wine] is representative of its appellation. Each vineyard site expresses character and uniqueness without being esoteric or unfamiliar. I can recommend and sell these wines with confidence.”
Ciambrano suggests that the Nuits-Saint-Georges Village and the Gevrey-Chambertin are delicious and approachable now; he would consider cellaring the Volnay Les Caillerets, the Baby Jesus, and the Corton-Charlemagne. Of his two favorites from the 2016 lineup, he says: “The Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Cailles Premier Cru is excellent, with its generosity of elegant black fruit and spice. The Meursault Les Clous is also minerally, fresh, and elegant, [with a] careful and prudent use of oak, a lovely herbaceousness in the aroma. This would be wonderful if it could be worked in as a premium-glass pour.”
With the 2016 vintage, Bouchard Père & Fils is unveiling a new packaging design that embodies a spirit of simplicity and elegance. Designed by Pierre Katz, the labeling is more refined and the bottles are heavier and more robust. “The labels are classic and very traditional, which appeals to our older clients,” says McPhate. “[They] also exude a level of class.” Ciambrano says the new visual identity appeals to the 21 Club’s clientele as well. “It’s tasteful, simple, elegant … We’ve also seen a bit of a ‘return to tradition’ this year in sales. Bordeaux and Burgundy were up—Bouchard Père & Fils’ classic package plays into this.”
For more information about Bouchard Père & Fils or the 2016 vintage, visit the Bouchard Père & Fils website.