We continue to advocate the consistent ingredient for great wine starts with the producer. And producer is no more important than in the region of Burgundy. Just as a chef requires a knife and quality ingredients, so must the skill and passion of the chef exude itself in the product. So too must the winemaker be able to bring together the elements of their vision using terroir, cellar work, and a vision of balance.
Our main character is Thierry Pillot of Domaine Paul Pillot located in Chassagne Montrachet. It is vital to know the background of this family. Now, in their fourth generation, each new period has brought a welcome change to the domain. In 1900, Jean-Baptiste Pillot became the ground breaker for the domain. Originally a barrel maker, he decided to pursue full-time work in his vineyards. The family barrel cooperage proved more than vital to the family down the road. The second generation brought with it two brothers who began bottling their own wine instead of selling off the fruit. Paul Pillot, the very person who became the namesake of the winery, increased the domain’s holdings further with several Premier Cru vineyards in Chassagne-Montrachet, as well as another Premier Cru holding in St-Aubin. All the vineyards are centralized in the Cote de Beaune.
Even if Thierry Pillot had carried on the work of his father without changing a thing, he would have been successful. If that were the case though, this story would not have been told. Thierry began work with his father at the age of 24, eventually taking over the domain in 2004. His sister, Chrystelle, followed shortly behind his steps. After Thierry took over the domain, the quality of the Pillot wines has only increased tenfold. It is with this transition that the name Pillot became even more synonymous with excellence. Thierry eventually began bottling wines under his own name, though this fruit comes from land owned by other farmers but farmed by Thierry.
The next chapter of Pillot family winemaking sees Thierry begin to make changes. He already had a recipe for success in the vineyard holdings spread among Chassagne-Montrachet, Volnay, Santenay, and St-Aubin that he inherited from his father. He already had the domain and the lessons that his father had bestowed upon him. Perhaps this is what gave him the drive to make changes—all the tools were in place. His ambitions focused on a presence in the vineyard more, and ultimately the cellar less. According to Thierry, it has become more evident with the current generation of Burgundy winemakers that vineyard work is more vital than ever. The more time spent in the vineyard ultimately means less work in the cellar later. The stronger the core of the vines, the less makeup that will be needed later.
Work in the vineyards is practiced organically, though there are no certifications. Their family’s talents for barrel making have proven more than useful in the cellar. Even more interesting is the fact that Thierry has extended the life of the elevage (time in the cellar) to 18 month and increased the size of the barrels while still using up to 10% new barrels on several wines. New oak is often misunderstood, as it has ties to the New World along with a reputation for rich over exuberant wines. There is no misunderstanding here; Thierry is able to integrate the oak into his Burgundy wines with complete balance. They’re pure and energetic while maintaining the integrity of each terroir.
Thierry has discussed how important it is the level of the talent pool that represents Burgundy today. It’s never been better; Burgundy winemakers were not like this 20 years ago. The winemakers aren’t even necessarily competitors either, but rather friends who network and taste together. It is important that these winemakers band together, especially when faced with the perpetual onslaught of growing problems that consistently pressure Burgundy winemakers to rely on one another. If you needed another reason to get your hands on a couple of Thierry’s wines, the weather conditions in Burgundy have only worsened with the onset of spring frost, hail, and global warming. The frost this past April left many Burgundy (and other French regions) with no choice but to stay in the vineyards all night with candles, fans, and even different methods of pruning. For many, the frost devastated almost 100% of the harvest, including Thierry’s vineyards. The 2021 vintage in Burgundy will not be a fruitful one. It is even more consequential that we take complete advantage of the most recent vintages, as they have proved to be successful.
Thierry Pillot is among the best of the producers from Chassagne-Montrachet. While you may be more inclined to stand by to a producer with more fame, familiarity, and product available—that isn’t necessary. Thierry is pulling his weight. His wines are better, becoming progressively better with each vintage. In truth, Thierry is still flying under the radar and the prices of his wines will continue to rise. The time is now to snatch up these bottles before they cost an arm and a leg. To top it off, Thierry’s wines are becoming increasingly allocated the more they’re discovered. Yet, he is only just starting to find his rhythm!
Bourgogne Blanc This Bourgogne Chardonnay comes from Chassagne-Montrachet and Remigny, both in the southern Cotes de Beaune. Vines here are over 35 year in age. The ageing process is lengthy for a regional level Burgundy Chardonnay with twelve months in smaller oak barrels, 10% of which is new, finishing with another six months in tank.
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Clos Saint Jean These vines are from the Premier Cru plot of Clos Saint Jean, one of the highest altitudes in Chassagne. Vines are 40-50 years old. The wine is fermented and aged in 350L barrels, 10% of which are new, for 12 months, followed by 6 months in tank.
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Grandes Ruchottes This is one of the top sites in Chassagne. The vines are a little younger than the other Pillot wines, which range from about 35-60 years in age. 'Les Grandes Ruchottes' was just planted in 1997 in a limestone dominant soil. The wines ages in used barrels for one year and then in tank for another six months.
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Caillerets This site is one of the top Premier Cru sites in Chassagne. The vines are 60+ years old and has a very rocky topsoil. This is aged in large barrels, 10% of which is new, for one year followed by six months in tank.
Bourgogne Rouge This Bourgogne Rouge comes from 50+ year old vines in Chassagne-Montrachet and Santenay.
Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge Vieille Vignes The bottle is labeled "Vielles Vignes" denoting the vines are over 50 years old. As is standard for Pillot, half of the grapes are whole cluster fermented, inducing structure and backbone to this bottle. The wines is aged in just 10% new barrels.
Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge 1er Cru Clos Saint Jean This is the Premier Cru site Clos Saint Jean, one of the best sites for Pinot Noir in Chassagne. The vines are 55+ years in age and undergo 50% whole cluster fermentation, giving the wine a savory note and more aromatics. This is aged in barrel, 15% of which is new.
Santenay Vieille Vignes Coming from the Chassagne side of Santenay and blended of two lieu dits that are both over 40 years old. 30% whole cluster and 10% new barrels are used in the making of the wine.
Volnay 1er Cru Santenots Notice that the label is under Thierry Pillot's name instead of his father's domaine name. This Volnay is from 45+ year old vines and undergoes 50% whole cluster fermentation, giving the wine a savory note and adding more aromatics. This is aged in barrel, 25% of which is new.