(May 27, 2019) It was only a 45 minute drive from my hotel in Vougeot to the small village of Bouzeron in the Côte Chalonnaise where I had a 10am appointment at Domaine de Villaine. I was greeted by winemaker, Pierre de Villaine, a slim man with a goatee and calm grey eyes. Even since tasting his Aligote several years ago in Beaune, I have been wanting to meet him, because he has an intriguing reputation of being a “terroir whisperer,” with strong beliefs in the benefits of organic and biodynamic farming, as well as the use of numerology to impact wine quality and energy.
About Domaine de Villaine
The winery was started in 1971 by Aubert de Villaine, also general manager of Domaine de la Romanee Conti. Located in the village of Bouzeron in the Cote de Chalonnaise, Domaine de Villaine is a classic small Burgundian winery famous for focusing on Aligote – Burgundy’s other white grape, as well as the traditional Chardonnay and Pinot noir. Today they produce around 110,000 bottles per year, and own 30 hectares, as well as hold a lease on 6 more hectares. They focus on the appellations of Bouzeron, Satenay and Rully.
In 2001, Aubert persuaded his grandson, Pierre de Villaine, to take over daily operations. At first reluctant to leave his job as a lawyer in Paris, Pierre eventually got “infected by the wine bug” and agreed to take over as General Manager. He became fascinated by organic and biodynamic farming, as well as ancient numerology.
A Unique Cellar Designed According to the Divine Number
Pierre explained that they expanded the winery in 2015 to include a state of the art cellar based on the numerology wisdom of the ancient Egyptians, as well as the writings of Leonardo da Vinci. The ceiling of the cellar is filled with graceful arches “designed to link the ground to the sky,” and built according to the divine number of God, which is 1.618. The Great Pyramid of Khufu was also designed according to this number. This was all news to me, and is the first wine cellar I’ve ever visited that has been designed in this fashion. However, I looked it up online, and discovered that this is well-documented. See more information HERE.
Winemaking at Domaine de Villaine
We toured the cellars first, and I was surprised to learn that Pierre ferments and ages all of his white wines, Aligote and Chardonnay, in large neutral oak foudres – meaning the whites are primarily unoaked with loads of pure fruit and terroir expression. He explained that the reason he does this is because the CO2 gases inside the foudres move around the wine forming an eternity pattern like the figure “8”, which is better for the wine and provides a higher level of energy.
Whites are produced in a non-interventionist fashion with a gentle pressing and then settling out in stainless steel tank overnight, before transfer to the large wooden foudres where they ferment with natural yeast and age on the gross lees for 12 to 14 months. In general he does not do battonage, but tops the tanks as needed. Minor additions of SO2 are made so that the total usually results in 25 to 35 mg/l – very low for white wine.
Pinot noirs are made in the traditional Burgundian fashion with fermentation in large open top oak barrels, pigeage twice a day, and then transfer to and aging in 30 to 40% new French oak for 12 to 18 months. Pierre said they usually do around 60% whole cluster. Again natural yeast is used, and very minimal SO2 — usually around 25 mg/l total for reds.
Before bottling both whites and reds spend time in a stainless steel blending tanks to marry wines from different plots and/or vineyards. This can last several weeks to several months. Then the wine is bottled and left to rest in bottle for a while before being sold around the world. Pierre said they export 65% of the wine to multiple countries, with the rest sold to restaurants and fine wine shops in France. In the US, Kermit Lynch is their importer.
Foudres for White Wines and Large Wooden Vats for Red Wines
Linking the Four Energies
Pierre spoke with passion about metaphysical properties that go into producing the wine. He explained that there are four energies that need to work together to allow both the fruit and the terroir to shine in the wine. These are: mineral energy, water energy, animal energy and vegetable energy. He said some of this is based on the ancient Celtic philosophies.
Though I did not understand a lot of his explanations, I could taste how everything seemed to come together in the wines. Both the whites and reds were vibrant, with amazing aromatics as well as ripe fruit and complex earthy terroir notes. Where oak was used, it was well-integrated, and all of the wines had both texture and energy. Following are my tasting notes and scores:
- 2017 Bouzeron Aligote – very aromatic with lemon zest and minerals notes on palate with a touch of salinity; textured with a refreshing zippy acidity and a light finish. Delicate and delightful – 91
- A side note on Aligote. Pierre explained that the only AOP for Aligote is Bouzeron. At the domain they use a 115 year old clone of Aligote that is pre-phylloxera. He has created a nursery to continue the cultivate the clone because the vine is already well-adapted to the terroir. It is “ massal selection,” and grows well on the hillside vineyards composed of limestone, clay and silt.
- 2017 Cote Chalonnaise Les Clous Aime – 100% Chardonnay from multiple vineyards, pale straw in color with nose of honeysuckle, apple and lemon. Very fresh and juicy with enticing texture on the palate and zesty acidity. A wine of great energy and happiness – 92
- 2017 Rully Les Saint Jacques – 100% Chardonnay from single vineyard. Aromatic floral nose, fresh kiwi on palate with a long juicy grapefruit finish and a touch of salt. Wow! This wine has lots of energy and personality. Pierre said it shows a “memory of the sea” that existed in the area in the past. Fell in love with this wine, but they were sold out – 95
- 2016 Rully Premier Cru Les Margots – 100% Chardonnay from single vineyard. Ripe yellow apple on nose with creaminess on palate; rich and seductive with wet stone notes and a juicy high acid finish. Pierre said this wine is “digesting the fruit and letting the terroir come through…but the wine decides when it wants to do this.” – 92
- 2017 Cote Chalonnaise La Digoine – 100% Pinot Noir from a monopoly vineyard. Very pale ruby color with a perfumed nose that reached out a hand to pull you down to a raspberry body with electric flashes of minerality. Light bodied and elegant but with exciting energy – very intriguing. 93
- 2016 Rully Premier Cru Les Champs Cloux – 100% Pinot Noir from a single vineyard. Medium ruby purple; closed nose; black cherry and rhubarb palate; concentrated; tannic and young. Needs more time – 90 (Note: Pierre said I should come back to taste this wine the next day when it would have had the time to open up.)
- 2016 Santenay Premier Cru Passetemps– ripe red maraschino cherry nose and palate; dipped in delicious dirt, with velvety tannins, rounded and concentrated body, and a long finish. A big and satisfying wine – 94
- 2007 Aligote Domaine de Villaine – golden hue with pink tinge, butterscotch nutty nose, fresh and juicy on the palate with complex straw, oatmeal and a hint of white pepper on a long dry finish – 92
This was a delightful visit and tasting, and Pierre was the ultimate gentleman host. I requested to purchase two bottles of wine to take home. Since I had already purchased the Aligote at the Hospices de Beaune wine shop, I decided to opt for a Chardonnay and Pinot noir that I thought could fit in my suitcase (later had to pay a penalty to Air France because my suitcase was too heavy). Since the Rully Saint Jacques Chardonnay was sold out, I opted for the 2017 Cote Chalonnaise Les Clous Aime, which I found delightful — especially since Pierre told me it was the local name for a happy wine.
I had already fallen in love with the monopole 2017 Cote Chalonnaise La Digoine, so I purchased this as well. It is rare that you can find such a light-bodied Pinot noir with so much character and flavor. The last one I had was a very expensive Faiveley. Pierre validated my choice by telling me a story of a famous British wine critic who had come to dinner at the domaine years ago to dine with Aubert and his wife. Aubert served an old La Digoine with an old DRC Echezeaux Grand Cru. At the end of the dinner, the wine critic admitted he had mixed up the two wines and thought La Digoine was the Echezeaux.