urgundy is on a roll at the moment. With several good to great vintages behind them, a general trend away from over extracted, heavy wines and a conscious effort for over a decade to raise quality the future is definitely looking bright.
– I am very optimistic. We have existed for 2000 years, so I think we will exist for a little longer, smiles Anne Parent, vice president of the BIVB (the Burgundy wine trade body) and winemaker at Domaine Parent in Pommard.
After the Dark Ages – which in this case was the 1970's and 1980's when the use of chemicals was extensive and high yields were common – Burgundy spent the 1990's and the beginning of the new millennium improving the overall quality and putting together a new strategy for the future.
At this point Anne Parent feels that the energy is there, that there are many positive things in Burgundy. As the vice president of the BIVB she does a lot of travel around the world and her general feeling is that the hard work has paid off. The wine professionals have a renewed interest in Burgundy and the trend in wine consumption is moving in a favourable direction.
– People want true pinot noir, coming from Burgundy, she explains. They don't want high extraction, heavy, alcoholic, oaky wines.
– Burgundy is a tiny wine region, compared to some others in France. We sell two million bottles a year, which is not very many. But I think Burgundy is a very dynamic region, especially on the export market. It's been like this since the middle of the 19th century. We have a great experience in different markets. Especially with "difficult" customers. By that I mean people who are very strict and exigent about the quality. At this point Burgundy is doing very well, better than many other wine regions. In the last ten years we have improved the quality of wine quicker than others.
With two millenniums of wine growing experience Anne Parent is confident that Burgundy is prepared for the future. They have experienced crisis before and they have survived them.
– Thanks to that experience we are prepared to go against some new fashion in wine consumption. Burgundy wants to keep its personality, its spirit, and not to try to copy others.
This not to be confused with an unwillingness to change; it was after all the competition from other countries that led to the recent focus on quality in Burgundy.
– The world competition was not the same any more. And of course Burgundy had to think about the competitors and have a look at its own practices. In the past years many things have been done to improve the quality in wine growing, in the viticultural part, in research and to protect the terroir and the environment. Today the wine growing is much more sustainable; there is much more biological wine growing in Burgundy.
– We need to keep and protect this capital that we have, and also to improve. Competition is a good thing. But at a certain time you need to forget it, and to say that you continue with your own strategy.
For Burgundy the answer is not to follow a certain trend. It is to take care of what is already there and to improve it. Burgundian wine growers talk about their wines in terms of terroir, not grape varieties. As Anne Parent points out; at her own domaine – Domaine Parent – she does not make a pinot noir, she makes a Pommard.
– The objective is to be one of the major wine regions in the world. Burgundy is the benchmark for pinot noir and chardonnay all over the world.
In order to meet the international competition some have argued that the rules for producing generic Bourgogne – rouge and blanc – should be changed. With more generous rules it would be easier to compete on the international market. Today's rules lead to higher production costs, making competitive pricing more difficult.
Anne Parent does not subscribe to this view. Compromising with the quality is not the way to go as she sees it.
– I think the best solution is to try to become better and better all the time, to be stricter about the conditions of production. Of course people want less strict rules, but if you want to produce good wines you have to produce good grapes.
Burgundy should compete with quality, not price. Or to be more precise, there should be a good balance between quality and price. Good Burgundy is never cheap. The region is very small and the wines are never produced in large quantities.
Every year 25 million of the tourists visiting France come here, at least in part, because of the wine. This is of course important to Burgundy as well. Only in recent years there has been a noticeable increase in the number of wine growers that offer degustation – vente at the cellar door.
– Within the BIVB we are really trying to develop oenotourism; to give people more practical information, more precise information. We do many things to welcome people in the private cellars. Earlier we were not really focused on this.
This change is not really a change in attitude; it has more do with a new generation of vignerons taking over in Burgundy, doing things differently. Anne Parent describes the younger generation as being better educated and more sensible, as well as travelling more and getting more influences from other parts of the world.
– They are more aware of the fact that we need to talk more about this fantastic capital that we have, and also to be more professional in marketing our region.
On a more personal level Anne Parent has a soft spot for the wines of Chablis, for their minerality and freshness. She does have a passion for Burgundy as a whole, but when it comes to her own cellar she is not being too chauvinistic. Down there, there are bottles from all over the world.
– What is interesting in Burgundy is that you have the grand crus, but also some lesser known appellations that are delicious.
– In my heart I have a special place for my own appellation, which is Pommard. It can be a full-bodied wine, but it can also have great finesse and elegance.
She has one piece of advice for the visitor to Burgundy – be curious! Don't hesitate to walk in the middle of the vineyards. Don't hesitate to ask people. She adds that for the first time visitor the size of Burgundy might come as a shock.
– Many imagine that we are an amazing wine region with thousands of hectares. So people are often surprised that it is so tiny. The Cote de Nuits is for example 40 kilometres/24,85 miles long and sometimes only 200-300 metres wide. You have some plots of land, some climat or clos, which are less than 100 m2.
– If you are curious you will seduced for life.
© 2007 Ola Bergman
Note: Since this interview Anne Parent's term as vice president for the BIVB has come to an end. She is still the winemaker of Domaine Parent.