When our offer of Boyer-Martenot’s 2016 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru “Le Cailleret” came up in the queue recently, I was prompted to rummage around in my photos from our visit to Burgundy back in March. And, boom, there is was: A picture of Ian Cauble standing on the narrow path that separates the Grand Cru “Le Montrachet” from the Premier Cru “Le Cailleret” in the white wine mecca that is Puligny. We were walking the vineyards that day with Sylvie Boyer, part of the fourth generation to run the Boyer-Martenot domaine, and seeing the proximity to these two vineyards to one another—side-by-side on the same part of this gently rising, east-facing slope—hammered home the game of inches that is Burgundy more than any map ever could. Check out the photo: Crossing that little road costs a lot of money! If you’ve ever wondered why Burgundy geeks memorize this terrain down to the square meter, well, the photo says it all, I think.
There are currently 32 Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, compared to hundreds of Premier Crus, but of course not all Premier Crus (or Grand Crus, for that matter) are created equal. It’s a pretty firmly entrenched hierarchy in that there haven’t been many “promotions”
or “demotions” over the years, although there have been both official and unofficial efforts on behalf of certain sites.Since 2013, growers in the village of Pommard have been petitioning the INAO (the French governing body for wine appellations) to upgrade their “Epenots,” “Rugiens,” and “Clos des Epeneaux” vineyards to Grand Cru status (Pommard currently
contains no Grand Cru sites). Up in the Côte de Nuits, Burg-o-philes have long suggested that Chambolle-Musigny’s “Amoureuses” Premier Cru (which abuts Grand Cru Musigny) and Vosne-Romanée’s “Cros Parentoux” (just above Grand Cru Richebourg and made legend by Henri Jayer) are perennial performers deserving of the top designation.
All I can say about it, after my first time actually seeing these vineyards in person, is that the differences are incredibly subtle—not just between Grand and Premier Cru but between the “ranked” vineyards and those designated as “village” sites. That Golden Slope has an incredibly gentle, gradual rise, and what looks to the naked eye like an almost perfectly contiguous aspect.There’s not a whole lot of undulation here and yet, as the afternoon rolls around, you can start to pick out
pockets of shade here and there. Imagine the monkish discipline it took to map these sites out way back when; no GPS, just the powers of observation. To discern these subtleties among wines, meanwhile, represents the ultimate in wine geekery. Even after 20 years in wine, I’m not there yet. Not even close, really.But I’m enjoying the ride. We all are!