urgundy is well-known for being fragmented. The surface area is relatively small compared to other regions, but the number of winegrowers is large. As a result there are many small producers working between five and eight hectares of vines. But there are also producers that could be labelled as tiny, producers like Domaine Bonvalot that only have one hectare and a half.
– I had a passion for wine so I planted some vines for white Pernand-Vergelesses, explains Daniel Bonvalot. This was meant only for my private consumption, but my first harvest produced 1500 bottles and I can't possibly drink 1500 bottles a year. So I began selling some bottles to friends and for the money that I earned I bought more land that I planted.
This was in 1976. Daniel Bonvalot, then a naval officer, had fallen in love with a girl from Pernand-Vergelesses. He was born and raised in Nuits-Saint-Georges, then moved on to Dijon to get his BAC, his high school diploma, after which he left for navy school.
Starting out with considerably less than one hectare in 1976 Domaine Bonvalot has gone from extremely small to very small. Daniel Bonvalot describes his philosophy as do little, do it well and get a good result.
– For the time being the size of the domaine is 1.5 hectare, says Daniel Bonvalot. This includes 43a 56 of white Pernand-Vergelesses premier cru Sous Frétille, 10a 30 of Corton-Charlemagne, 53a 66 of red Pernand-Vergelesses and the rest is Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.
You'll find Domaine Bonvalot at the eastern end of the village, with a splendid view over the Corton hill. From the outside there is nothing that gives away the fact that this is the house of a winegrower. But once inside you'll find a small cellar with barrels that each year produce between 6000 and 8000 bottles. Most of it is sold in France, but a small portion of the production ends up in Germany and in Belgium.
– Running a small domaine isn't a problem, says Daniel Bonvalot. You'll just have to adjust your equipment, the logistics, and the potential clients to the surface area you have. For me the obstacle is the weather. Since I'm working for the Treasury I only work in the vineyards during the weekends, in the evenings and on my days off. And if the weather is bad I will have to wait.
Already back in 1989 Claude Chapuis included him in his book "Corton" saying that Daniel Bonvalot did not have enough wine to sell. At the time the domaine covered only 30 ares.
– For me having two jobs means a lot of pleasure. I make my living working for the government with a safe income. Then I treat myself making the wine, because for me it is a real passion. It gives me physical training, and when you sit at desk with three telephones and computer all day I need to do some manual work in order to get fresh ideas.
After three and a half decades there are some changes waiting around the corner for Domaine Bonvalot.
– Personally I no longer have the intention to let the domaine grow, says Daniel Bonvalot. But I will leave that to my son Jonathan from November 2010. He has just finished his education at the lycée viticole in Beaune. He has got his BPREA diploma and he will take on the domaine. In 2011 his plan is to buy, and plant, half a hectare of Savigny-lès-Beaune.
While the vines for the red Pernand-Vergelesses are spread out over three lieux-dits - Les Boutières (bordering on Savigny-lès-Beaune), Les Noirets (just below the Aloxe-Corton road on the Corton hill) and En Charlemagne (just below the grand cru with the same name) – the vines for white Pernand-Vergelesses are all within the premier cru of Sous Frétille. This premier cru is located just above the village, has quite a steep inclination and produces wines that Daniel Bonvalot characterizes as having aromas of dried fruit and exotic fruits. It was only in 2001 that Sous Frétille was promoted to premier cru (only for white wine). When Dr Lavalle published his classification of the Côte d'Or vineyards in 1855 – Histoire et Statistique de la Vigne des Grands Vins de la Cote-d'Or – he placed Les Boutières in the Deuxième Cuvée category, only second to Les Vergelesses among the Pernand-Vergelesses reds and on par with Le Caradeux and some reds from Le Charlemagne.
Pernand-Vergelesses village is tucked away behind the Corton hill and even though a large portion of the Corton hill is within the commune it is often said to suffer from being lesser-known than its neighbours, much due to the fact that the village name often is difficult to pronounce for people outside France.
– If this is the case, that Pernand-Vergelesses is difficult to pronounce and that the appellation is less known because of it, there is still an excellent price/quality ratio for our wines if you compare them with Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet.
Pernand-Vergelesses borders both Aloxe-Corton and Savigny-lès-Beaune, and there are only a few kilometers into Beaune from here. The Hautes-Côtes de Beaune is just north of the village.
– For me, says Daniel Bonvalot, the wines of Pernand-Vergelesses are more delicate if you compare them with the ones from the neighbouring villages. They are more elegant, always with a touch of minerality.
© 2010 Ola Bergman