There was a time when a White Burgundy fan’s idea of a great wine had to include the name “Montrachet” on the front label. Whether Puligny, Chassagne, Batard, or of course, the Big Gun, Le Montrachet itself, this was the Gold Standard…and then there was everything else.
But the last 10-15 years has brought about a sea change in the appellation, and now the wines of Meursault are considered equally exalted – and often more – than their neighbors just to the south in Puligny and Chassagne. Lead by the work of what connoisseurs call the “Big 3” in Meursault, Coche-Dury, Comtes Lafon, and Domaine Roulot, they proved that this humble village with no Grand Crus can often reach the heights of ANY Chardonnay from anywhere. Their work has also spurred a new generation of winemakers in Meursault to push the limits of quality. Winemakers like Arnaud Ente, Jean-Philippe Fichet, Antoine and Remi Jobard, and Boisson-Vadot, just to name a few, are now being highly sought after as fine addresses for riveting White Burgundy.
And now there is a new name to add to that list…Domaine Ballot-Millot.
The story at this fine domaine is one you encounter more often now in Burgundy. In 2001, a motivated, young vigneron, Charles Ballot took over from his father. Like many talented young winemakers, he wanted to raise the bar and leave his mark for his family’s domaine. The domaine already had a good reputation from his father’s day, and had been around as well quite a long time as the family had started to amass vineyards in Meursault starting at the end of the 17th century. They were also privileged to possess holdings in five Premier Crus in Meursault, including the famed, Perrières and Charmes, plus Genevrières, Bouchères and Poruzots, not to mention small holdings in the 1er Crus of Chassagne, Volnay, Pommard and Beaune. His first task was to start working the soils, reducing yields, and moving from chemical/systemic treatments to more natural ones. He soon added a sorting table in the vineyards and upgraded the press and in general found ways to work more precisely in the cellar.
Today, the estate is comprised of 10 HA of vineyards, 7 of which are in Meursault proper. The relative vine age is old: Perrières (40+), Genevrières (70+), Narvaux (45-60), etc. Harvest is all done by hand, and fermentations take place with indigenous yeasts. Otherwise, everything in the cellar is done to encourage finesse and delineation over sheer power. The white wines see only 10-20% new oak (max 25%) and are raised without battonage. They are aged 12 months in barrel, and then racked to tank for additional 6 months of refinement as is now standard procedure at more and more of the top White Wine estates in Cote D’Or. For the reds, given the slightly more rustic line-up of appellations, the wines are all 100% de-stemmed with gentle extractions and cuvaisons that are relatively short. Here too, new wood use is judicious, with a max of 25-30% new.
The resulting wines tend toward the so-called “Roulot-school” of Meursault, more tensile and racy, as opposed to the fatter, honeyed and nutty style wines that dominated the landscape 20-30 years ago. There is excellent delineation of the different terroirs, which is exciting given the exceptional range of 1er Crus and Lieux-Dits that Ballot has to work with. On the red side, it is nice to be able to discover slightly more graceful expressions of these often more “four square” appellations, without compromising the expression of the underlying sites as well.
Lastly, given the now exalted price tags that accompany top Cote de Beaune whites (reds too), it is an exceptional opportunity to be able to get into this level of quality and pedigree chez Ballot-Millot for quite a relative value versus the price of what one finds at the most coveted estates. Alas, the “herd mentality” that so greatly skews the supply-demand ratio in Burgundy toward stratospheric prices, at the same time still offers great opportunity to swim with the stars if one goes just off the beaten track.