Louis Jadot is an example of how terroir remains the driving force behind Burgundian wines
One of the most intriguing aspects of Burgundy is that big is almost invariably small. The argument that the entry of multinational companies and the globalisation of the wine business has created a tedious sameness and spawned large quantities of McWines — made forcefully by the scathing documentary Mondovino — hardly applies to this region.
Take Maison Louis Jadot, for instance. As one of Burgundy’s top two or three players, it’s hardly surprising that their wines are available at pretty much every duty-free airport and most decent wine shops. The company, founded in 1859, is American-owned, has a land-holding that spreads over 160 hectares, and produces wine sourced from others via the courtier-negociant system. But sameness? That is hardly something you can say of a producer that boasts of a staggering number of brands and the largest number of grand crus and premier crus in the region. The reason for this lies in great measure to the unique land-holding system where extremely small holdings are the norm, thanks to redistribution of large wine-making owned by the church and rich feudals, and the Napoleonic laws of inheritance, which made it mandatory for land to be inherited by all offspring. The result is a complex land-holding pattern under which there could be many owners of extremely small vineyards, some of them owning a row or two of the vines. Jadot’s most expensive wine is produced from a miniscule 0.4 hectares — the Musigny Grand Cru is produced in quantities that fill three barrels and make up 75 cases annually.
The wonderful thing is that the old romance about wine-making is still alive in Burgundy, a region that remains obsessed with terroir, one in which labels have a hierarchy where the name of the chateau is played down and the name of the vineyard or the micro-region in which the grapes are grown, played up. This reflects in the prices of land (a hectare of a Grand Cru vineyard in Montrachet can fetch around 13 million euros) and in the belief that a Gevrey-Chambertin is just that — a Gevrey-Chambertin.
So it’s no surprise that over an excellent and meticulously paired dinner at the Hilton, Olivier Masmondet, Jadot’s export manager, speaks more about the areas his grapes are sourced from than his own wines. We start with a simple and easy Chablis and then move to a much more complex Chardonnay — a pure and lean Chassange-Montrachet premier cru, underpinned with just the right touch of a fresh and floral minerality. The reds comprise a Cru Beaujolais from Moulin-a-Vent, easily among the best I have drunk yet, and so full-flavoured that it could easily be mistaken for a Pinot. The Pinot Noirs comprise of a Pommard could have done with more opening up and a lovely luscious Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru with the soft hint of a liquorice-tinged sweetness sourced from a small two-hectare Les Cazetiers vineyard.
I could be wrong, but I detect a style in the wine-making, one that conveys a robust and hearty solidity. Jadot may be a corporate entity, but its wine-making style is steadfastly traditional — wooden fermentation tanks for much of its high-end products — and there is a continuity that comes with a long history. A few years ago, Jadot celebrated its 150 years, where tastings were organised from bottles produced from the very beginning. There was a 1845 Clos de Vouget, sourced from a time when the vineyard was run by Cistercian monks, which Masmondent said, held up well. But the one that impressed him most was a La Romanee from 1865. Jadot doesn’t own that hallowed patch any more, but Masmondent seems unable to get over the epiphanic moment. “It had an amazing body. It gave me goosebumps,” he says earnestly.