BOUCHARD PERE ET FILS
Twelve years ago, the venerable Burgundy negociant Bouchard Pere et Fils was experiencing financial difficulties due to inconsistent quality, poor marketing and service.
In 1970’s when I was a restaurateur, Bouchard Pere et Fils was one of the most reliable names in a notoriously unreliable wine shipping business. This family-owned and operated company combined quality and reasonable prices, a feat in Burgundian wine trade only a few hope to accomplish,
In 1989 Bouchard Pere et Fils, not be confused with other Bouchards in the industry, was caught adjusting both sugar ands acidity levels in their wines for the 1987 vintage. At the time almost every Burgundy winemaker and negociant was manipulating his wines, but only this company was exposed partially because the scandal broke during the Vinexpo, the biggest wine fair of the world.
Founded in 1731, Bouchard Pere et Fils is one of the oldest (second to Champy Pere et Fils founded 1720) Burgundy shippers.
The family started as cloth traders, passing through Burgundy frequently while transporting merchandise from Flanders, which at the time was an important textile manufacturing centre.
In 1791 when the French government started selling off confiscated property during the Revolution, the family acquired vineyards in Volnay, Cotes de Beaune. The business flourished and in 1810 Chateau de Beaune was purchased and renovated to include expansive cellars. The company grew as did the family. French inheritance laws promulgated during Napoleon’s reign stipulate that property must be divided equally amongst all off springs. By 1980 the ninth generation comprised of 40 members.
After the scandal, Bouchard decided to buy grapes and vinify using its facilities.
Ultimately considerable sums of funds were invested on equipment, but excessive capital expenditures without equally high sales and profits took their toll, and by 1995 the company was in deep financial trouble. At this time Joseph Henriot, ex-president of Veuve Cliquot and head of Champagne Henriot, bought the company because according to him, the cellars were close to the railway station. At the time Bouchard owned 130 hectares of prime Cotes de Beaune vineyards. Subsequently Henriot purchased Ropiteau-Mignon (in 1996), another Burgundy producer, and in 1998 W. Fevre in Chablis.
Bouchard properties are impressive – Le Corton (approximately 4 hectares), Corton-Charlemagne (3 ¼ hectares, Chevalier–Montrachet (2 ½ hectares), Beaune Les Greves, La Vigne-de -l”Enfant Jesus (6.5 hectares), just to name a few.
In addition the company owns small parcels in Gevrey-Chambertin, Aloxe-Corton, Savigny Les Beaune, Pommard, Meursault, and Nuits Saint George.
Since Henriot’s purchase, more attention is paid to detail including low yields in vineyards, harvesting when the fruit is fully ripe given vintage conditions.
Only 13 Kg boxes are used to avoid crushing during transportation. A more vigorous triage is exercised and wines failing to meet exacting quality standards are declassified to the next lower quality level. Quality now reigns supreme whereas previously, quantity did. More small vats are employed to accommodate the crop of fractionally-owned vineyards. Bouchard cellars now contain 4000 barrels on a four year rotation, and even generic Burgundy wines are aged for at least two months. Filtration is kept to an absolute minimum and gravity used whenever feasible. Grand Crus and top Premiere crus are not filtered at all as filtering robs red wines of at least 20 percent of their aromas.
Once again Bouchard Pere and Fils wines are regaining their old venerable reputation of reliability and consistency.
During a recent tasting of the company’s 1999 vintages, the following stood out:
Savigny Les Beaune, Les Laviere
Appealing colour, soft berry aromas, round and harmonious Good depth.
Fine colour, smooth, multidimensional and full-bodied. Long, satisfying after-taste.
An excellent, multidimensional wine. Refined and deeply flavoured, reminiscent of underbrush. Long and satisfying aftertaste.
Cote de Nuits Village
Although almost a generic wine, this wine displays a fine colour, exquisite fruitiness, full body and harmony.
Nuits Saint George, Clos des Argiliiers
A refines wine, with nuances of fruit and oak intermingling. Smooth and well-balanced.
Superb fruitiness, reminiscent of apples. Perfumey. Mineral flavours. Full bodied.
Fruity with elegance and refined flavour. Long, satisfying aftertaste.
Aromas of hazelnuts. Full bodied but soft. Long finish.
Aromas of lemon waft out of the glass, buttressed with hints of oak. Full-bodied and harmonious. An excellent and elegant wine.
Smoke and hazelnut aromas dominate. A superb wine to complement seafood with cream sauces.
Bouchard Pere et Fils is represented in Ontario by Russell Woodman Agencies.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu