Sylvain Pabion at Château de Marsannay, Burgundy.

p until 2012 all grapes from the best plots in Marsannay would go into the same cuvée. Since then things have changed at Château de Marsannay. Ownership and management changed and today there are more than a dozen separate Marsannay cuvées here.

– For us it is interesting, because we get to rediscover all these different climats in Marsannay, says Sylvain Pabion.

The chateau, built in 1990 by André Boisseau and currently owned by Olivier Halley, is one of the major landowners in the Marsannay appellation. 28 hectares in total. In addition to that there are holdings in Dijon, Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée and Flagey-Échezeaux. And there is a number of vineyard parcels they farm for the hospital in Dijon. All in all they produce more than 50 different wines every year.

Château de Marsannay in Marsannay, Burgundy.Olivier Halley bought the estate in 2012. Sylvain Pabion was brought in three years later to be in charge. Since then a lot has happened. In the past the wines of the chateau were rarely mentioned at tastings. Focus was primarily on tourists and on promoting the chateau.

– I don’t want to say it was wrong before and now it is right, says Sylvain Pabion. But we have changed a lot.

– There has been a gradual change, he continues. We started the transition period for becoming organic in 2018, which required a lot of work. Olivier Halley also owns Château de Meursault, so in total there were 107 hectares that had to be converted to organic farming. You have to change the habits, the way of working and invest in new equipment. 2021 will be the last year of the transition.

– We do not filter the wines anymore, or at least very little. Even some of the whites are not filtered at all. We use much less sulphur today. We have reduced it by 50 per cent.

Marsannay, Burgundy.The vinification and élevage are tailored to suit each cuvée. There is no single recipe. For some only a very small amount of whole bunches is used. For others like Marsannay, Les Boivin they use 80 per cent of whole bunches.

– The duration of the maceration depends on the cuvée. For Les Favières it is 12-13 days, while it is just seven days for Les Boivin.

Les Favières, one of the climats which could be a future premier cru, is in front of the chateau. Immediately in front of the chateau is Les Crais, with Les Favières a bit further up the slope.

– In terms of soil Les Favières is a blend of many different types, says Sylvain Pabion. It’s a warm place. The vines are old and they produce healthy grapes. We only use some whole bunches for this wine.

Les Boivin is not far from Les Favières, just a few hundred metres to the north, right between Les Grasses Têtes and La Charmes aux Prêtres.

Isabelle Collotte here in the village makes a lot of Les Boivin, says Sylvain Pabion. Our parcel is close to Les Grasses Têtes. The vines are 60 years old. You have both crinoidal limestone and Comblanchien limestone here. The grapes are very concentrated. The yields are low, between 20 hl/ha and 23 hl/ha. It’s one of the most concentrated Marsannays I make. 80 per cent whole bunches bring a lot of freshness to the wine.

Marsannay, Burgundy.Right next to Les Favières is Clos de Jeu, another potential premier cru if the INAO, the wine appellations governing body, decide to approve the village’s request for an upgrade of certain climats. This is where Château de Marsannay has one of its largest parcels – 1.8 hectare.

– One hectare is 20 year old vines, says Sylvain Pabion. The rest is old vines. It’s a very crispy ”premier cru” with generous fruit. It’s elegant and easy to drink, but less concentrated than Les Boivins. We are only three or four owners in Clos de Jeu (Domaine Audoin, Domaine Collotte, Domaine Joseph Roty).

Another large parcel – two hectares – is just below Clos de Jeu, in Les Grandes Vignes. This is not one of the future premier crus. The soil is very deep. There is marls with small oysters.

– It’s vinified without sulphur, explains Sylvain Pabion. It’s a juicy kind of wine. Most of it is blended with the basic Marsannay cuvée, but we keep a few barrels to be bottled separately.

Sylvain Pabion is originally from Charité-sur-Loire, a small town with some 5000 inhabitants in the Loire valley. He studied in Dijon and Montpelier before returning home to work.

Marsannay, Les Ouzeloy, Burgundy.– I have always loved the wines of Burgundy, he says. Philippe Huguenot here in Marsannay is a friend of mine and I was buying wine from him every year. I started thinking. Marsannay is so good, but not very expensive. And I like the place. So I started to pay more attention to it and one day I heard about the job at the chateau. It was time to move on.

Both his parents are teachers, but there is a small family domaine with one hectare and a half of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris.

The Marsannay growers have spent 15 years preparing a request for premier cru classification for 14 climats in the appellation. In connection with that request the growers also asked the INAO to have the Marsannay appellation extend to include the lower part of the village where only Marsannay Rosé was authorised. That request was granted in 2019.

Marsannay, Burgundy.– Many growers have stopped producing Marsannay rosé, explains Sylvain Pabion. Instead they started producing Bourgogne rouge there. With the change in 2019 between 85 hectares and 90 hectares were included in the Marsannay appellation, making it possible to produce red Marsannay there.

– For the past ten years Marsannay has become more well-known for its reds than for its rosés, which was the case in the past. You have Les Longeroies, Clos du Roy, Les Echezots etc. When I go abroad they don’t ask for rosé. They ask for red since it’s such good value for money.

Les Longeroies is the largest climat of the appellation, just north of Marsannay itself. Together the upper and lower parts – Dessus des Longeroies and Bas des Longeroies – cover more than 34 hectares.

– We have two parcels in the upper part, just below the forest, says Sylvain Pabion. It’s a pine forest and it has an impact aromatically on the wine. It’s facing south. It’s stony. Les Longeroies is an elegant pinot noir. Dark, fruity and ripe.

Marsannay, Burgundy.– For this wine there is a little bit more punching down, we extract a little bit more. For me Les Longeroies, together with Clos du Roy, are the most important ”premier crus” in Marsannay.

For Sylvain Pabion much of his work at Château de Marsannay has been focused on breaking up the big basic Marsannay cuvée into several separate bottlings. The parcel in Les Grasses Têtes, squeezed in between the parcels of Domaine Bruno Clair and Domaine Trapet, was singled out in 2016.

– The Grasses Têtes from Bruno Clair is probably the most well-known Marsannay in the world, he says. Les Grasses Têtes is all about elegance. It’s not as concentrated as Les Longeroies or Les Echezots. But it’s very fine, long and fresh.

Sylvain Pabion at Château de Marsannay, Burgundy.2016 also saw the birth of the bottlings of En Clémongeot and Champ Salomon, both in the southern part of the appellation. The Marsannay appellation stretches across three communes – Chenôve, Marsannay and Couchey. En Clémongeot and Champ Salomon are right next to each other, just north of the village of Couchey.

– It’s just behind the estate. En Clémongeot is just 0.17 ha. It’s a warm place and the vines re 40 years old. Sylvain Pataille also makes an En Clémongeot. Champ Salomon is only 20 metres away, but the soil is different. You have marls and alluvial deposit here. The tannins are a bit harsher and we use a lot a whole bunches and 30 per cent new oak.

White wine only accounts for a tenth of the total production at Château de Marsannay. There is a tiny amount of Bourgogne Aligoté, only 500 bottles annually.

– We also have 0.9 hectare of pinot beurot (the Burgundian name for pinot gris), says Sylvain Pabion. We are not allowed to label it Marsannay, so it’s called Bourgogne Pinot Beurot. It’s from the bottom part of the village, from Champ Forey and Auvone. It’s always a round and generous wine. It’s not the freshest of wines, but it has its place and I really want to keep this grape variety at Château de Marsannay.

At the southern tip of the appellation you have what has become the most well-known climat for white Marsannay – Champs Perdrix. It’s steep. The soil is thin, just 30 centimetres, on Comblanchien limestone.

– Champs Perdrix is not your usual white Marsannay, says Sylvain Pabion. In general white Marsannay has the reputation of being very round. This is very straight, very mineral. And it’s always like that.

© 2021 Ola Bergman