The Maison Albert Bichot is one of these legendary Negoce Houses of Burgundy. It is arduous to summarize in a single page such an institution with all its intricate complexity and expertise accumulated over two centuries. This Beaune family company has served private clients in France and abroad since times when wine was delivered by the cask only. This respectable "Maison Beaunoise" was funded in 1831 and had its start in Meursault. It is still owned today by the Bichot family and now in its 6th generation, it is managed by Albéric Bichot (pictured in Beaune on right). The Negoce activity of the family began when it inherited vineyards in 1831. Before that time, it owned vast expanses of woods and properties across Burgundy, primarily for hunting, which was a very profitable activity at the time. During the Phylloxera troubled times, the Bichot family bought several failing Negoce Houses and expanded.
The word Negoce itself has evolved over the years : at the beginning, the Negoce houses were more "negoce", or wholesale dealers, than today, in the sense that they just bought already-vinified wine and stored them a bit before finding the customers. The wooden casks weren't thought as an enological tool then but were the basic containers for both the elevage and the transport of the wine. Now things have changed and at Bichot for example, they vinify themselves most of the wine sold under their label (90%), be it from they own grapes or purchased ones, and when they vinify grapes from contracted vineyards, they have the viticulture practices there checked as if they owned the vineyard. Back in the 18th or 19th century, these Negoce Houses were the only existing link allowing the wine amateur from, say, Paris, London or Antwerpen to have access to quality wines year after year, because there was no direct shipping from individual vignerons to begin with.
The picture above was shot at the Colbert Cellars, near the headquarters of the Negoce House. They bought this surface- and underground facility to the Bouchard Negoce-House not long ago, and are re-organizing it as the center of elevage for the Bichot-estates wines, the wines from contracted vineyards and the Hospices wines. Most of the casks on the picture above (foreground : Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Nicolas Rolin) were bought at the Hospices de Beaune auction. Actually, the Maison Albert Bichot was the biggest buyer at the last Hospices de Beaune auction.
__Mercurey (white) 2007. Chardonnay, from contracted vineyards, and vinified here by Bichot. Very grape-like nose
__Chassagne-Montrachet (white) 2007, just stirred by Anne-Sophie. This Chardonnay is turbid, of course. Very important malic acidity, he notes. Malolactic fermentations are not blocked at Bichot and are just beginning to start. Speaking of the contracted vineyards at Bichot, Alain Serveau is the one who oversees the viticulture practices there and checks (along with the enologists of the Bichot estates) that they fit with their requirements. He tastes the different wines every day between 10am and noon, including the 10% purchased wines that Bichot will sell under its label.
__Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeots. Nose incredibly on the grapefruit side. Same for the mouth. Typical pre-fermentary (malo) aroma, he says.
The particularity at Bichot compared with many Negoce Houses is that its different estates always retained their separate identity and thus, they have their own enologist, Chistophe Chauvel being the chief-enologist who oversees the whole production. Bichot has today some 130 hectares in full ownership, and vinifies about 150 hectares of contracted vineyards. The purchase of already-vinified wines makes up 10% of the total production, most of it Chablis.
All the wooden open-vats here are quite old, most have a 40-50 hectoliter capacity, the biggest making 90 hectoliter and the smallest (the Richebourg vat, here on the front) 4,5 hectoliter. They have 2 "ouvrées" of Richebourg, making a bit more than a cask. An ouvrée is an old surface measure, 24 ouvrées making an hectare. Each cuvéee/plot has its own vat here. The vat house at Clos Frantin has two large rooms, this one with 25 wooden-vats and the other (which is a former chapel), with 19. You don't see it here on the picture, but all these vats are connected on the back with a cooling system to control the temperature. Grapes are destemmed in general and arrive in 300-kg stainless-carts, are unloaded into the vats with mobile elevators, and kept at 12°C for about 4-5 days for more fruit aromas (cold maceration). Then the fermentation is let loose with the indigenous yeasts and the temperatures goes up to 17-18°C for another 12 days or so. Then, manual cap-punching and pumping over on a daily basis. Here, they want to use tradition to get tannins, color and structure, he says. These open-top vats are ideal for an easy manual cap-punching and also the thick wood (about 5cm) insulates better the juice during this sensitive phase. The wooden vats mean of course time-hungry tasks like after the fermentation when they have to be emptied from the solid matters, as this is all done by hand. After having cleaned them meticulously with water, workers brush the inside with wine and let it dry, to protect the wood from rot or insects.
__Bichot white Nuits-Saint-Georges "Les Terrasses du Chateau" (Chateau Gris) 2007. Turbid, onctuous, minerality. New cask. There are 11 casks of this wine, 4 new casks and the rest 1 or 2 wines. The soil from the Terrasses plot is made of limestone. This is the only climat where you can find white Nuits-Saint-Georges.
__Bichot, Clos-Frantin, Gevrey-Chambertin "Les Murots" 2007 (red). From the lower part of the climat with lots of stones and debris flows. Harvested september 8. Nice mouth, well-structured. Nice aromas, B. feels raspberry and cloves in there.
__Bichot Charmes-Chambertin 2007. Purchased grapes, harvested september 10. The soil here is more rocky (deep bedrock) but part of the plot is also sandy, he says. Quite nice. Fruit, elegance, refined. Very pleasant wine.
__Bichot Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru "les Malconsorts" 2007. One-wine old cask. You can see on this map that V.R. Grand Cru is in the center and the V.R. 1er Cru split in several parts around it, and the Malconsorts is on the left wing of the 1er Cru, bordering La Tache, V.R. Grand Cru. Very ripe fruits, humus, B. says. Neat mouth.
__Bichot, Clos de Vougeot 2007. New cask. They have two plots there, on the Vosne-Romanée side. Very nice. Different wine here, massive, square. A structured, manly wine.