Last week, some amazing news came from Burgundy: Alex Gambal, an American, had purchased part of the Grand Cru vineyard of Batard-Montrachet. The transaction was the first time a non-Frenchman had owned land in one of the Montrachet sites.
Vineyard ownership by foreigners isn’t illegal in France, but the system is definitely rigged. The government can prevent any sale from going forward, and there are few regions as claustrophobic as Burgundy—a tight, closed circle of families who have worked the same soil for generations.
So how did Alex do it? Boyish charm is part of the answer, and the other part is sincere and unbridled enthusiasm for the wines of the area. Born into a Boston family that made its money from parking lots, Gambal moved to Beaune in 1993 with his wife and two children in search of a different lifestyle. He first apprenticed with Becky Wasserman, then attended viticultural school in Beaune. He started as a négociant, buying wines which he aged and sold under his own label. In 1998 he took a giant step and began making his own wine from purchased grapes.
His current range includes excellent entry-level Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge, as well as some compelling whites: Saint-Aubin 1er Cru, Meursault Clos du Cromin, Puligny-Montrachet, a basic Chassagne as well as a 1er Cru Clos St. Jean. His reds span a range of Vosne-Romanee and Chambolle-Musigny (both Villages and 1er Cru Les Charmes) to gems such as Clos du Vougeot. The wines are pure, natural, charming and stylish.
Gambal’s parcel of Batard-Montrachet is small, comprising slightly less than one acre in size, but its acquisition signifies a major change in his status as a winemaker. It was purchased from Domaine Brenot in Santenay, along with vineyards in Puligny and Chassagne. Best of all, there was no lease on the property, so he will be able to start working the wines immediately and to produce wine from the next vintage. The Bostonian in Burgundy has arrived.