Thursday, November 10, 2016
An American Making Ultra-Premium Wines in Burgundy: Visit and Tasting at Domaine Dublère in Savigny lès Beaune, with Owner/ Winemaker Blair Pethel - Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours
Domaine Dublère in Savigny lès Beaune is owned by native North Carolina and longtime resident of Washington DC Blair Pethel. For 25 years he worked in Washington DC as political journalist. In 2003 he gave in to his inner callings and followed his love – Burgundy wines – to Beaune. He interned with top Burgundian winegrowers and winemakers to learn everything possible about the unique terroir and winemaking process. He eventually established his own domaine and was able to purchase parcels in top vineyard sites in the Côte de Beaune and in the Côte de Nuits, and in addition he purchases fruit from a handful of superb growers across the Côte D’Or. I quote Allen Meadows (Burghound.com Issue 42, 2011): “Pethel clearly has a gifted touch because the wines are almost too good to have been made by someone with so little practical experience (he employs no consultants).
We visited Blair Pethel on the Burgundy and Champagne 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours. See here for the whole tour: Burgundy (and Champagne) 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours: From Lyon to Reims - Wine, Food, Culture and History
Lou Marmon: An American Winemaker in Burgundy Feels the Squeeze in Economic Downturn
By Lou Marmon
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Blair Pethel, who moved from Potomac to France in 2003, learned to speak French and endured hostility toward Americans in his efforts to become a Burgundian winemaker. His Domaine Dublere has received critical acclaim.
These are tough times to be a winemaker. Consumers are buying but overall sales are down, and the demand for the higher-priced wines has nearly evaporated. The larger producers are better positioned to withstand the economic downturn, but even the giant wine conglomerates are laying off employees. For smaller producers who make limited amounts of the world's finest wines, these conditions are potentially disastrous.
This is not what Blair Pethel bargained for when he uprooted his wife and two young sons from Washington in 2003 to fulfill his dreams in the Burgundian vineyards. Making wine is a perilous, capital-intensive enterprise completely at the mercy of capricious weather, global economic upheavals and unpredictable consumer preferences. It is especially difficult for an American within the heavily regulated French wine industry, with its layers of bureaucracy and inherent prejudices against outsiders.
There are nearly 4,300 producers in Burgundy, and these "domaines" are mostly small, family-run affairs. The region's emphasis on quality and the rural lifestyle are among the factors that prompted Pethel to give up his career and a house in Potomac to move his family to France and become a winemaker, even though he didn't speak French at the time.
The financial environment has hit Pethel hard. The Burgundy Wine Board reported that exports, a mainstay of the region's economy, were down by nearly 30 percent in the last quarter of 2008. Almost the entire decline is attributed to decreased demand in the United States and the United Kingdom, two of Pethel's primary markets. Combined with a less than stellar 2007 growing season in Burgundy and despite critical acclaim for his Domaine Dublere wines, the current release is selling at a snail's pace.
"I am really struggling," he said recently. "I easily sold out all of my wines in '04, '05 and '06. But with the downturn the '07s are not selling well. Cash flow is killing me. My livelihood and that of my family are being threatened." He has the capacity to produce about 30,000 bottles annually; he filled 22,000 bottles in '07.
Three domaines are owned by Americans; Pethel is the only one who personally handles every aspect of his. Tall, trim, with silver-flecked brown hair and a wide smile, the 52-year-old is charmingly articulate. Growing up in North Carolina did not give him much exposure to wine. He pursued an acting career during college but ultimately returned home, eventually landing a position at the Greensboro News & Record and completing his journalism degree. A scholarship led to piano study and a doctorate at the Peabody Institute. He mastered polo because he got a job at the Polo Magazine. He declined a career in music or polo and returned to the News & Record. He tried out for the TV game show "Jeopardy!," which he won twice.
In 1987, Pethel followed his girlfriend to England. Three weeks later, they split up and Pethel found himself in London "with nothing, knowing no one and no prospects." He decided that "since I was in Europe, I'd try to learn about wine." After tasting some Burgundies, he started to routinely visit the region and brought back prodigious amounts of wine stashed in every conceivable crevice of his car.
He met his future wife, Fran, at a London ballet; the new couple vacationed frequently in Burgundy. They moved to Washington during the Clinton years, when Pethel worked for Knight Ridder as an economic correspondent. A timely inheritance allowed them to buy a home in Potomac. Both of their sons were born in Maryland, and the family became submerged in a life of carpools and school activities.
Despite their suburban success, or perhaps because of it, Fran and Blair continued to strive to return to France. "We suffered terrific culture shock on coming back to the U.S. in 1994," Pethel said. "We felt that the value system in the U.S., which places emphasis on work, income and consumption more than on relationships and happiness, did not agree with our own."
In 2002, they bought and renovated a 410-year-old house in Beaune, the medieval walled city that is the capital of the Burgundian wine industry. The following year was not the best time for an American to move to France. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March, and Europeans' anti-American sentiment was almost palpable. Despite the tensions between America and France, Pethel and his family were welcomed in Beaune. Fran got a job as a teacher, and their neighbors were friendly.
Pethel answered an ad for a field hand and met Burgundy producer Jean-Marc Pillot, who recalls that "a short phone interview left me somewhat suspicious of his accent, which was -- how to put it -- not typically Burgundian. You'll understand my surprise when, at the time we'd arranged for a personal interview, I heard the roar of a Mercedes convertible arriving in the courtyard. A couple of seconds later, a tall man extracted himself from the car, typically American, with an earring but with, at the same time, an air of dynamism and kindness. After several questions, I immediately saw that Pethel was passionate about Burgundy, and in this profession, it's passion that drives everything."
He worked for other winemakers until he could buy his own vineyards and renovate a former tractor shed into a winery. Pethel had to become fluent in French in order to complete a rigorous 10-month course at the Lycee Viticole de Beaune. Known as Burgundy School, it is where the local winemaking regulations are taught along with organic chemistry and tax law, all in French. Some of his classmates were less than enthusiastic about an American joining their ranks. "Good-natured teasing I can stand," Pethel said. "This was not. I had to threaten to punch one guy to get him to back off."
Despite the hostility and other obstacles, his Domaine Dublere began to thrive. But, as it has elsewhere, the downturn has reversed Pethel's fortunes. Yet to be a winemaker is to be an optimist. While Pethel doesn't expect any financial help from what he calls "the socialist French government," the Burgundy Wine Board sees potential growth in nontraditional markets and is promoting the region's wines aggressively. There is hope that the economy will recover and that the 2009 vintage will live up to expectations.
However, Fran notes that her husband doesn't play the piano much anymore. One evening, as he waited for their kids to get settled before the couple went out for dinner, he sat at his grand piano and played a Schumann concerto. Pethel was so absorbed that he didn't hear anyone walk in the room. After a few minutes, he noticed Fran and a visitor listening in a corner.
"We should get going," he said with a grin. "I have to be back in the vineyards early in the morning."
Lou Marmon is a doctor and freelance wine writer. He can be reached through his Web site at http://www.grapelines.com.
The Wines we Tasted with Blair Pethel
We went through a series of impressive wines. Some were already bottled. Others were still in barrel.
Thank you Blair. This was a great tour and tasting.
Postings: Burgundy (and Champagne) 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours:From Lyon to Reims - Wine, Food, Culture and History (Published and Forthcoming Postings)
Burgundy (and Champagne) 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours: From Lyon to Reims - Wine, Food, Culture and History
Dinner at a Bouchon - Chez Paul - in Lyon: Schiller’s Favorite Bouchons in Lyon, France
Introduction to the Burgundy Wine Region at Antic Wine in Lyon with Flying Sommelier Georges Dos Santos - Burgundy (and Champagne) 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours
Lunch at L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, Paul Bocuse’s Iconic Restaurant in Collonges au Mont d’Or, France - Burgundy (and Champagne) 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours
In the Most Prestigious AOC in the Mâconnais: Pouilly-Fuissé, France
Vineyard Walk, Cellar Walk and Tasting at Domaine Ferret in Fuissé, Poully Fuissé, Mâconnais, with Winemaker Audrey Braccini - Burgundy (and Champagne) 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours
Visit and Tasting at Domaine Georges Descombes in Vermont, Villié-Morgon, Beaujolais - Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours
Lunch at Restaurant Le Mercurey in Mercurey - Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours
At Domaine Theulot-Juillot in Mercurey, Côte Chalonnaise, with Nathalie Theulot - Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours
Tour of Château de Rully and Tasting of Domaine du Château de Rully Wines, with Count Raoul de Ternay - Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours
Cellar Tour and Tasting at Domaine Michel Prunier & Fille in Auxey Duresses, Côte de Beaune - Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours
Where Robert Parker likes to Eat: Lunch at La Crémaillère in Auxey-Duresses - Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours
Vineyard Walk in Meursault with Karoline Knoth - Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours
Dinner at the 1 Michelin Star Restaurant Ed.Em in Chassagne Montrachet - Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours
Olivier Leflaive in Puligny Montrachet: Vineyard Walk and Cellar Tour, with Olivier and Patrick Leflaive - Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Lunch and Wine Tasting at La Table de Olivier in Puligny Montrachet with Olivier Leflaive – Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Visit: Hospices de Beaune – Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2016, France
Lunch in a Typical French Brasserie: Le Carnot in Beaune - Burgundy (and Champagne) 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours
Visit and Tasting: Maison Joseph Drouhin in Beaune – Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours, France
Schiller’s Favorite Wine Bars in Beaune, Bourgogne
An American in Burgundy: Cellar Tour and Tasting at Domaine Dublère in Savigny lès Beaune with Owner/ Winemaker Blair Pethel
Charcuterie and Cheese Paired with 12 Burgundy Wines at La Maison de Maurice in Beaune with Maurice Marle
Cellar Tour and Tasting at Domaine Faiveley in Nuits-Saint-George, Côte de Nuits
Cellar Tour and Tasting at Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron in Prémeaux-Prissey Côte de Nuits with Louis Meunier
Lunch at Restaurant La Cabotte in Nuits-Saint-George
Visit and Tasting at Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair in Nuits-Saint-George with Thibault Liger-Belair
Visit of Château du Clos de Vougeot
Where the Most Expensive Red Wines Come from: Vineyard Walk, Cellar Tour and Tasting at Domaine Anne Gros in Vosne-Romanée, Côte de Nuits
Cellar Tour and Tasting at Domaine Guillon & Fils in Gevrey-Chambertin, Côte de Nuits, with Jean-Michel Guillon
An Institution: Lunch at Restaurant Chez Guy in Gevrey-Chambertin
Cellar Tour and Tasting at Domaine Armelle et Bernhard Rion in Vosne-Romanée, Côte de Nuits, with Alice Rion
Tour at the Fontenay Abbey (Bernard de Clairveau), Montbard
Wine Pairing Lunch, Cellar Visit, Vineyard Tour and Tasting at Domaine Jean Marc Brocard in Préhy, Chablis
Schiller’s Favorite Wine Bars and other Wine Venues in Chablis, France
Champagne – An Introduction, France
French Champagne Houses and German Roots
Visit and Tasting at the Grower Champagne House Champagne Jean Josselin in Gyé sur Seine, Champagne, with Jean Pierre Josselin, his Wife and Sharona Tsubota
Cellar Visit and Tasting at the Champagner House AR Lenoble in Epernay, Champagne, with Export Manager Christian Holthausen
Cellar Visit and Tasting at the Champagner House Taittinger in Reims, Champagne
Lunch at Brasserie Flo in Reims