Aleth Girardin, winemaker in Pommard, Burgundy.

he was studying to become a lawyer, but things did not quite turn out as planned. Today, some 30 years further down the road, Aleth Girardin is a respected winemaker in Pommard. She has a passion for pinot noir and runs a seven hectare domaine with vines in Pommard, Beaune and Meursault.

Aleth Girardin comes from a family that has been winemakers for four or five generations. Both her parents came from Pommard and it is their domaine that is now carrying her name.

– I wanted to become a lawyer, and I had been studying law for two years, she explains. During the second year I went to a rape trial and I discovered that I wouldn't be able to do this job. I didn't want to. So I decided to stop everything, go back to Pommard and take time to think. I was 20 years old and obviously it was not OK for me to stay at the domaine doing nothing, so I helped my parents.

This was in 1978. After some thinking she decided to stay in Pommard and go for a career in wine.

– I helped my parents until 1995, when they retired and I took on responsibility for the domaine and made my first vintage all on my own.

– In 1978 it was quite difficult for a girl to return to a domaine. The people in the vineyards were not very happy about it, or at least they were surprised. I had to prove myself.

– It has been a continuous challenge; I always have to prove myself. But I also think that this challenge has given me the means to go on and make progress, find my own way.

The change of generations at the domaine went very smoothly. There were no major changes to start with, something that Aleth Girardin feels made the transition easier – for both her and her parents. At the time "lutte raisonnée" – minimum use of chemicals and care for the environment – was becoming widely used in Burgundy, so the move in this direction came naturally.

– During the 1960's my parents were not using as much chemicals in the vineyards as many others did, Aleth Girardin says. My mother was doing "lutte raisonnée", even if the expression did not yet exist.

View over Pommard

– The biggest change I have made is in the cellar. My father was not destemming at all. I am now destemming at least 80 percent. Until the 1999 vintage I used a wooden press, then I switched to a pneumatic press. For the past ten years I have been doing cold pre-fermentation. Racking I only do once, just before the wine goes into cask. All the wines are aged on the lees.

At Domaine Aleth Girardin the average age of the vines is generally high, in some cases very high. In most cases it is 60 to 65 years, but both the Epenots and the Rugiens were planted in 1906 by Aleth Girardin's great grandfather. These old vines require a lot of work and they only produce 25-30 hectoliters per hectare.

A large portion of the domaine's vines are located in Pommard. Aleth Girardin bottles two different village Pommards – Vignots and Noizons – and five premier crus – Refêne, Charmots, Epenots, Rugiens-Bas and a plain Pommard premier cru made up of Pèzerolles, Argillière and young vines from Epenots.

Both Epenots and Rugiens-Bas have been mentioned as candidates for being promoted to grand cru status, but Aleth Girardin is not holding her breath. It is a very long process and she feels that there is still a long way to go.

– There is not much happening at the moment, she says. Before we can bring it to the INAO the people in Pommard have to agree between themselves.

Domaine Aleth Girardin in Pommard.

– A grand cru has to be exceptional, something that you can't find everywhere. In Pommard I think that Rugiens-Bas would be a good grand cru, but this project still has a long way to go.

Rugiens-Bas is also her favorite wine to work with. In her view this is the best expression of the Pommard appellation. She has a passion for pinot noir, but is less enthusiastic about white wines. Out of the twelve wines in her portfolio only two are white – a Bourgogne Aligoté and a Meursault premier cru Poruzots.

– I'm not at all interested in making white wine. I prefer working pinot noir and red wine. Making white wine is more technical, nearly always the same. With pinot noir you have to improvise. Each year you have to make a number of decisions in limited period of time. You look at what you have and decide how to use it in best possible way. It's different every year.

For the past three decades Aleth Girardin has seen Burgundy change, both for the better and for the worse. She is far from happy with the administrative workload nowadays. As much as 50 percent of her time is now spent on office work. On the bright side is the quality improvement for the Burgundian wines.

– During the 1960's and the 1970's the Burgundians only had to wait for someone to come and buy their wines. Burgundy was well-known and there was not enough wine for everyone. So the quality was not a problem. There was no need to improve.

– But when the wines became harder to sell quality became more important. Now there is good wine everywhere so we have to work harder.

© 2008 Ola Bergman