SevenFifty Daily Editors
June 29, 2021
From sustainability standards to market engagement, Bouchard Père & Fils and William Fèvre are setting new benchmarks in the historic region
While Burgundy’s sloping landscape is steeped in ancient tradition and medieval lore, its modern ecosystems are changing: Squeezed by American tariffs and increasingly challenging weather patterns in Burgundy, centuries-old producers are embracing adaptability even as they remain dedicated to their historic terroirs.
Maisons & Domaines Henriot, the owners of Burgundy icon Bouchard Père & Fils and Chablis’ William Fèvre, continues to lead in these iconic regions, demonstrating their commitment through everything from viticultural practices in the vineyards themselves to market engagement in the United States.
Investing in Sustainability
The Maisons & Domaines Henriot approach has always centered on building thriving and diverse ecosystems within and around their vineyards—long before phrases like “natural” and “sustainable” were marketing-worthy buzzwords.
Bouchard Père &Fils and William Fèvre are the largest landowners of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards in their respective regions, making their commitment to sustainable viticulture a monumental undertaking. These two estates continue to pioneer sustainable farming efforts in Burgundy, exemplifying the possibilities for modern success in this historic terroir.
“Our approach was very rare when we started,” says William Fèvre cellar master Didier Séguier, who has guided the 192-acre estate’s transition to organic, sustainable, and biodynamic farming since 2002. “It’s always a challenge, but with global warming and climate change I think it’s easier to practice organics in Burgundy now. If you want to have good balance in the wines, you need a good balance across the total vineyard area, so you need biodiversity.”
A focus on polyculture over the course of nearly two decades has yielded a dizzying array of biodiversity on the William Fèvre and Bouchard Père & Fils estates. Across over 500 acres of vineyards, the ecology supports bee, bat, and bird habitats, livestock grazing, and extensive tree networks which prevent erosion and increase water retention in the soils.
The entire area under vine at Bouchard Père & Fils and William Fèvre is currently undergoing France’s highest level of organic farming certification, and will constitute the largest organically farmed vineyard area in Burgundy once completed in 2024.
“It’s the philosophy that matters,” says Bouchard Père & Fils cellarmaster Frédéric Weber. “We are farmers and wine-growers first. It’s important to protect our environment and the nature around us so we can transform it into something better for the next generation.”
That spirit pervades both estates, and has granted the domaines a throughline of continuity and excellence, especially in the face of the recent string of challenging vintages across both regions. “When you use biodynamic or organic methods in the vineyard the challenges are always greater,” explains Weber, who notes that restricting the use of chemical pesticides often means accepting lower yields in the vineyards.
“But we have a better knowledge of our vineyards and understanding of our terroir as a result.”
Séguier adds. “We have more precision in the wines, which have better acidity and freshness in the glass. The identity of our terroir is clear.”
Both winemakers agree that wines made from sustainably farmed vineyards offer more nuance and complexity in the glass, and encourage consumers to take note. “Acidity is not only a chemical fact,” says Weber. “If you were to analyze the acidity in biodynamic or organic wines against conventionally farmed wines, you may not see a difference, but the sensation on the palate is different. Even in hot years like 2018 and 2019, we have better energy and freshness in our wines.”
Digging into the Cellar
These low-yielding vintages, combined with COVID-19 restaurant closures and American tariffs on French wines, have created market challenges for Burgundian wineries. Rather than raising prices prohibitively or pushing higher yields in the vineyards, the Bouchard Père & Fils and William Fèvre teams stepped into their cellars and released library wines to showcase older vintages in key marketplaces.
“For Chablis, the 2015 vintage is on the market and showing very well after six years,” explains Séguier, who notes that six years of age puts Chablis wines into their prime drinking window. “It has a beautiful balance and is a very good expression of our terroir.”
Bouchard Père & Fils also recently released back-vintage wines into the market, including excellent bottlings from the 2013 to 2017. “Personally, I love the 2017 vintages for red wines,” says Weber. “The wines are very elegant, with a lot of perfume. Right now, they give true and immediate pleasure.” The 2017 and 2018 vintages are excellent alternatives to the much-anticipated by limited 2019 vintage, with the 2017 drinking well now and the 2018 perfect to age.
The Henriot family recently offered the chance to experience these wines and their nuances to New York City-based sommeliers via the Review Cru contest, an Instagram-based competition showcasing back-vintage releases from the Bouchard Père & Fils portfolio.
“The opportunity to be able to taste the library wines, to me, is somewhat sacred,” says winner and certified sommelier Joyce Lin. “You can observe how the wine has developed in the bottle, but also see the path the producers have taken and where they are heading in the future.”
By sharing library releases online, Bouchard Père & Fils was able to remain connected within the market’s highly engaged sommelier community amid the city’s re-opening in the wake of COVID-19.
As liaisons for the greater wine drinking community, sommeliers like Lin have a unique opportunity to share and support the ethos of the Henriot family of estates, which the Review Cru made clear.
“I care about how the wine is being made, how the grapes are grown, how the vineyard and cellar workers are being treated, as well as how to repurpose the waste, lower the energy cost, and more,” says Lin. “I wanted to support producers who care about the environment. And of course, these wines are delicious.”
From the very soil of their vineyards to the trade members responsible for selling their wines to consumers, Maisons & Domaines Henriot is reestablishing Burgundy in the American market as an historic, benchmark terroir that still has room for growth.
“What we are doing at Bouchard Père & Fils is a small thing overall,” says Weber. “But we hope its impact is important.”