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Expansion helped insulate against climate challenges, says top Burgundy estate

Published:  13 November, 2019

Things have been tough in European vineyards over the past few years, with Burgundy appellations some of the worst hit in terms of frost damage in 2016 and 2017.

But one estate has explained how it has managed to operate successfully during those years via careful acquisitions across the area, which have helped to spread the risk in the fight against extreme weather.

Domaine Faiveley, which is brought into the UK by MMD, has expanded gradually outwards from its heartland in Nuits-St-Georges with acquisitions like Dupont Tisserandot in 2014, increasing its footprint in Gevrey Chambertin by 23ha.

But this is far from the only activity at Domaine Faiveley or indeed MMD, which is the UK importer for parent company Louis Roderer and its brands.

Such acquisitions have been part of a careful of a strategic plan to not only expand in Burgundy, where it now makes 64 different cuvees covering the “majority of appellations”, but also across the company, with other recent acquisitions such as Delas Frères (April 2018) and Domaine Billaud-Simon (January 2019) helping to grow (adjusted) turnover by 9% in 2018, and 18% overall since 2015.

MMD marketing director Christine Allen explained: “With challenges in the vineyards and working on an allocation basis in the UK, we’re always looking for the next opportunity to expand our portfolio. But we’re extremely selective. They have to be very top end estate wines, family owned, that have at least one prestige cuvee in the range.”

The comments were made at the company’s 2018 en primeur preview of the wines from Domaine Faiveley, as well as the most recent releases of new Rhône estate Delas Frères and Domaine Billaud-Simon.

Richard Billett, managing director at MMD said these new acquisitions were part of a part of a long-term strategic objective to reinforce the company’s “premium position”.

“This can be demonstrated over the past 18 months with the arrival of Delas Frères and Chablis’ Domaine Billaud-Simon, both of whom enhance the overall portfolio offering through a common strategic goal in two fundamental appellations for the UK market," he said. 

Ensuring the consistency of supply, both in volume and quality, is increasingly important thanks to the impact of climate challenges in the vineyard.

For 2018, which saw a return to large yields, Domaine Faiveley winemaker Jérôme Flous described a "very lucky vintage”.

“The winter was very wet, which helped to set up the vines for the rest of the year: no frost in spring, with a bit of stress due to heat in the summer. A bit of stress in summer isn’t necessarily bad for the vines. Stress can give fantastic character and very special results – whether that’s tannins or aromas or something else. The vintage in 2009 was a year which had no stress. Very easy drinking wines, whereas 2018 has lots of character,” he said.

The trend for “hotter summers” is ongoing, he added. “Almost every year is a new record”.

However, he believes these temperature fluctuations are moving in line with the El Niño and La Niña climate cycles which alternate approximately every five years.

“With El Niño between 2015 and 2019, we’ve had very warm weather, whereas 2007 to 2014 were very bad summers. I have a pool, so I know. I remember. If you look at the past five years, many people say these have been the best Burgundy Pinot Noir for years. Warmth for Pinot Noir ensures complexity and maturity.

“With Chardonnay, the maturity accelerates too fast with too much heat. Last year, we reached 20 grams of sugar in one weekend, which means we had to pick very quickly.

“We’re coming to the end of the cycle, so in 2020, we might see a change,” Flous said.

MMD is the UK arm of Louis Roederer and its brands.

A third of the company’s annual volume production comes from its three fizz brands, Champagne Louis Roederer, Roederer Estate and Villa Marcello Prosecco. The rest is still.

In Burgundy, Domaine Faiveley has 12 ha of Grands Cru and 27 ha of Premier Cru across the Côtes de Beaune and Côtes Nuits, and also 73 ha in the Côtes Chalonnaise.