By Jancis Robinson
Pascal Marchand must be one of the most envied men in Burgundy. As a winemaker, he is able to get his hands on grapes from 14 different grand cru vineyards and produces scores of different burgundies each year – without having to satisfy the financial demands of a host of relatives (the usual set-up on the Côte d’Or). And he is not even a Burgundian. Furthermore, he has been able to learn from the experience of vinifying the Burgundy grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay all over the world, notably in the southern hemisphere.
Flying winemakers tend to be young and relatively inexperienced. There are not that many serious wine producers who have already earned their spurs in one classic wine region and who subsequently make their own wine in another continent. Marchand had a solid 15-vintage career at Domaine Comte Armand in Pommard and then a stint at the Boisset family’s flagship Domaine de la Vougeraie while adding not just one but two more continents to his roster.
He now makes about 60 different burgundies every vintage for his négociant business Marchand-Tawse but also a range of Marchand & Burch wines in Western Australia and, until recently, produced wine in the coolest reaches of southern Chile. And, just to really stretch his experience of different climates, he also has a small wine project in Belgium.
This geographical flexibility may derive from his roots in Quebec and a brief stint in the merchant navy. Marchand claims that his early travels in Europe inspired an appreciation of the special contribution vines make to landscape. So successfully did he develop the reputation of Domaine Comte Armand – making robust, long-lasting wines that were then very much in vogue – that he was an obvious choice for la Vougeraie. And given his nationality, he was an even more obvious candidate for the initial supervision of a major Burgundian project in eastern Canada, Le Clos Jordanne, also directed by Boisset.
Burgundy was always going to be too small a canvas for a burly chap who, on his own website, describes himself as “half a woodsman, half an old sea dog”. He had developed such expertise with Pinot Noir that he was sought out by the well-heeled owner of the Veranda label in the Bio Bio valley in southern Chile. From there it was but a short hop over the Pacific (and, admittedly, the entire land mass of Australia) to the southwestern coast of Western Australia, where Marchand & Burch is co-owned with Jeff Burch of the commercially successful producer Howard Park.
When Marchand was in London recently to show off a range of burgundies and their Australian counterparts, I asked him to highlight the differences between the two wine cultures. He was emphatic. “The Aussies manage vines quite differently from how we do it in Burgundy. If we need to thin the vine shoots in summer, we just go into the vineyard and do it. In Australia, they cost everything in advance, and they’re always trying to minimise those costs.”
Another problem is finding the right clones, particularly of Pinot Noir, to plant in Australia. Partly thanks to the delays entailed by Australia’s quarantine requirements, he described Australia’s Pinot evolution as way behind that of California, for instance. “Clone 777 has only just arrived,” he sighed, mentioning one of the more desirable of the Dijon clones of this finicky grape variety.
He also noted a much less diverse yeast population in Western Australia than in Burgundy, a function presumably of its much shorter wine-growing history. One obvious legacy of his Australian experience is the screwcap. This is the ubiquitous wine stopper Down Under and is applied to the entire range of Marchand & Burch Australian wines but Marchand has even imported it into Burgundy. He gave me a taste of two Gevrey-Chambertin 2010s, exactly the same wine under screwcap and under cork. They were clearly different already, even though they had spent only two years under these different stoppers. The screwcapped version was much more precise and youthful, the cork-finished one somehow smudgier and more evolved. He clearly preferred the latter but I bet he is lobbied hard by the screwcap enthusiasts in Australia.
Although he no longer has a permanent role in Chile, one of his sons works for a wine producer there and, like his father, is struck by the low wages of its vineyard workers. He also feels that Chileans, blessed with an unusually benign climate, would do well to depend less on agrochemicals. One of the greatest legacies of Marchand’s generation in Burgundy has been their determination to revitalise soils after a postwar generation of industrial additions by adopting organic, often biodynamic, practices.
But now Marchand has really fallen on his feet. He has a partnership with Ontario banker and burgundy lover Moray Tawse, who already owned Tawse Winery in Niagara before proposing to back Marchand in the Pinot heartland of Burgundy. “I wanted the experience of being on my own,” said Marchand, “but a partnership was inevitable. I took consultancies to get funds because I didn’t want to be forced to go into the first partnership I was offered. In 2010, Moray Tawse approached me. I’d known him for a long time and I was waiting for him to ask me. I didn’t want to ask him, but he’s the perfect partner.”
Since setting Marchand up with a dream négociant business, Tawse also managed in 2012 to buy the famous Domaine Maume in Gevrey-Chambertin, which now includes vines in no fewer than four grands crus, against considerable competition. To describe him as “perfect” seems no exaggeration. Knowing how difficult it is for non-Burgundians to get their hands on vineyards in the French region, I asked Marchand how Tawse managed it. “Money!” he grinned. “But it was also my relations with the Maume family and the middleman we used for negotiations.” In the past year or two they have somehow acquired even more desirable vineyards. Any young Burgundian would dream of this. But perhaps Marchand has put in enough hours by now to be considered an honorary Burgundian.