eing the new kids on the block in Burgundy is really no different from starting a new venture anywhere else in the world. Hard work, and lots of it, is what is required if you want to get somewhere. The only difference is that the block will cost you a fortune here – the price of land in Burgundy is one of the main factors why many domaines remain small.
Domaine Michel Martin in Chorey-lès-Beaune saw the light of day in 2003. Of course the story goes further back, but this was when these 4,5 hectares of vines from five different appellations were collected under this name.
– There has been a lot of hard work, says Michel Martin about the first years. But there has also been the joy of rediscovering all the aspects of winemaking and working with the vines, and being the decision-maker.
Chorey-lès-Beaune is just five minutes north of Beaune. As you leave the Beaune-Dijon road and turn right into Rue Pauline Leger you find yourself right in the middle of the Chorey vines. After some 600 metres you come to the first intersection, right by the Chateau de Chorey-lès-Beaune. Turn left here, into Rue d'Aloxe Corton, and you will soon have Domaine Michel Martin on your right side.
I first encountered the wines of this domaine a few years back when we rented the gîte at the domaine for a couple of weeks. Later I would also design their website and drag them out for photo shoots in the vineyards at ungodly hours of the day.
The domaine dates back to Michel's grandparents. At the time there were landholdings both in the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits and on the Côte de Beaune. During the 1960's the domaine had grown to 17 hectares, run by Michel's parents. With his parents at the helm Domaine Martin Maurice et fils was run as a GAEC that also included Michel, his sister and his brother-in-law. The Groupement Agricole d'Exploitation en Commun (GAEC) is a non-trading partnership allowing farmers in partnership to work together under conditions that are comparable to those existing in family farms.
After Michel's parents had passed away the GAEC came to an end in 2002. Not all members involved had the motivation to carry on, so the domaine was split.
– When we started out in 2003 we had different aims, explains Michel Martin. We were aiming for a smaller production and to work the vineyards in a way that respects nature in the best possible way. In July 2005 we opened a gîte in order to give the tourists an opportunity to discover this part of Burgundy and our wines.
Today Domaine Michel Martin is run by Michel and his wife Chantal, who has made quite a career move. After having been a nurse she moved into wine making full time shortly after establishing the new domaine.
– Taking over the domaine on his own was too ambitious a project for Michel, even if it was only 4,5 hectares, she explains. So I immediately got involved and my Burgundian roots quickly gained the upper hand. I had happy memories of the very good bottles of wine that came out at family gatherings, so the interest in wine was already there.
She quickly realized that she enjoyed both the work in the vineyards and in the cellar a lot. But she also realized that proper training was of great importance. Therefore she spent one year at the CFPPA de Beaune during 2004 and 2005 getting a BPREA diploma (Brevet Professionnel de Responsable d'Exploitation Agricole) in viticulture-oenologie.
The work at the domaine is done along the lines of viticulture intégrée, which means that the use of chemicals is kept to a minimum. Weed control is performed mechanically, by plowing the soil, instead of using herbicides and harvest is done by hand.
– Our wish is to respect and to protect the environment, and ourselves as well, says Chantal. We always want to improve quality and our way of working. I think it is important to take time to observe and reflect. For me it is more a question about guiding and supporting the vines than forcing them. We would like to explore this further, but at the moment we don't have the means for it. I am also interested in biodynamics, which includes preventive actions.
Even by Burgundian standards Domaine Michel Martin is fairly small. The average domaine in Burgundy is between eight and twelve hectares. The Martins have their 4,5 hectares spread out over Chorey-lès-Beaune and the neighboring communes of Savigny-lès-Beaune and Beaune. The wine portfolio ranges from the regional appellations of Bourgogne and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire up to the two Beaune premier crus of Clos du Roi and Teurons.
– We would like to expand a little bit, says Michel. Perhaps one or two plots in order to become more diversified in terms of appellations, especially for white wines. But we don't want grow bigger than six hectares, since we want to be able to do the work in the vineyards ourselves. But it is difficult to find land to buy. And if you do, the prices are very high!
Michel feels that Burgundy, together with Alsace for example, is well prepared for facing the competition from the standardization elsewhere in the wine world. Chantal points out that Burgundy is one of the few regions where the winegrowers still are farmers with close ties to the land.
The trends in Burgundy today are a stronger focus on respecting the vines and the environment, a continuing focus on quality improvement and the creation of a set of specifications for the appellations.
– The trade body, the BIVB, is doing a lot of research and arranging debates on both wines and vines, says Chantal. There is also a number of influential domaines in Burgundy that contribute to the development. Within the villages the communication is sometimes more difficult as it is felt to be in competition, but nevertheless we do have an exchange of ideas and information on this level as well.
The old postcard above shows Chorey-lès-Beaune at the beginning of the 20th century. Just in front of the church you see the Café de l'Union, which was run by a distant branch of Michel's family. The café was closed around 1970.
© 2008 Ola Bergman