Sunday, July 8, 2012

Together: Château de Puligny-Montrachet and Domaine de Montille

Etienne de Montille has been at the helm of both Domaine de Montille and Château de Puligny-Montrachet for the past ten years. Domaine de Montille, of course, is Etienne's family domaine. He was co-manager with his father, Hubert de Montille, in the mid-1990s, before taking full reins after 1999.

And around the same time, in 2001, Etienne was handed management of the underperforming legendary estate of Château de Puligny-Montrachet, which owns parcels in the glittering vineyards  of Puligny and neighboring Meursault. Etienne immediately went to work, lowering yields, converting the vineyards to organic and to biodynamic farming, and hiring a talented winemaking team. Later, he and his family took up residence at the elegant château.

Last month, news headlines reported that Château de Puligny-Montrachet sold its .417-hectare Montrachet parcel to high-profile French billionaire and Château Latour owner, François Pinault, for a jaw-dropping sum of one million euros. Immediately following the divestment, Domaine de Montille purchased the entirety of Château de Puligny-Montrachet from the French bank, Caisse d’Epargne.

These back-to-back transactions have generated a buzz for sure. What is Etienne up to? Etienne said that Domaine de Montille will sell off 5 hectares of the 21 hectares Château de Puligny-Montrachet owns and, presumably, will keep the rest to be folded into Domaine de Montille. However, which 5 hectares will be sold he did not specify. I hope that the half-hectare parcel of Puligny-Folatières would not be included, as this complements the Puligny-Cailleret parcel that Domaine de Montille has owned since 1993. Les Folatières is one of the finest vineyards in Puligny, potentially at the same quality level as Pucelles and Combettes, though its large size somewhat masks its class. Under the management of Etienne de Montille this parcel has produced marvelous wines since 2002.

And then there's the prized holdings in Chevalier-Montrachet and Meursault-Perrieres, brilliant, prestige vineyards that should be kept, especially after the Le Montrachet parcel apparently had to be sacrificed. So if I have to guess, the domaine would let go of the the red wine parcels of Château de Puligny-Montrachet in Nuits-St.-Georges, Pommard, and elsewhere, as these are not as important and, after all, the domaine has bulked up on prestige red wine vineyards, particularly in the Côte de Nuits, since 2005.

Yet, I wouldn't be surprised if Etienne de Montille is not finished expanding. He appears motivated by two desires. One is to continue the work started by his father to return the glory of the de Montille estate back in the 19th century when it owned some of the most dazzling parcels in the Côte de Nuits, which included Musigny, Bonnes-Mares, and Chambolle-Amoureuses. Sell-offs by ancestors reduced the estate to just 3 hectares by the time Hubert de Montille took over. But Hubert strove to get the domaine back on its feet, acquiring vineyards on the strength of the quality of the wines he made. By the time Hubert handed the domaine to Etienne in 2001 it consisted of about 15 hectares of vineyards and has become one of the most admired estates in Burgundy.

Etienne appears to be more ambitious than his father, as he has added prestige vineyards in both Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits, especially in the latter. Before acquiring Château de Puligny-Montrachet last month, Domaine de Montille's vineyard acreage totaled to about 20 hectares. With the addition of Château de Puligny-Montrachet (less the 5 hectares that will be sold) Domaine de Montille is set to be 35-hectare strong.

I also believe that Etienne wants to solidly establish the domaine for the future, for his children and for future generations of the family. Just like his father, he wants to reverse the mistakes of his ancestors. But he also realizes that the stakes are higher today and going into the future. To be able to compete and survive and be among the ranks of the elite producers of Burgundy, the domaine has to have significant vineyard holdings and own parcels in some of the best sites, as well as have a healthy negociant operation on the side. There is no doubt that so far Etienne has been successful in achieving his ambitious goals.

1 comment:

  1. I posted this blog a week ago and I just learned this moment that Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet's monopole vineyard, Nuits St-Georges Clos des Grandes Vignes, was sold today to Vosne-Romanee producer, Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, no less! As I anticipated in my blog Etienne would unload the Nuits holdings. But I was surprised to also learn that Etienne regrafted the lower part of the vineyard (.35 ha out of 2.2 ha) with Chardonnay!

    So if Etienne stays to his plans, he still has about 3 hectares of vineyards to sell. Let's wait and see who gets what.


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