A day in the life of a top Burgundy winemaker

BEAUNE, France, March 17 (Reuters Life!) - It’s only 10 in the morning but the wine already flows freely, and has been doing so for a full week.

The Burgundy wine sector celebrates the Big Days of Burgundy event, held every two years to let wine buyers, amateurs and journalists visit the many villages and growers.

The growers manage to make hundreds of differently tasting wines using just a few varieties of grapes -- Pinot Noir and Gamay for reds and Chardonnay and Aligote for whites -- on a patchwork of small vineyards on or below the gently sloping hills of this area in central-east France.

"Burgundy is all about terroir," said Pierre-Henry Gagey, the head of the Maison Louis Jadot ( house of wine growers and traders and president of the Burgundy wine association BIVB (

“Its diversity is its strength,” he added during an interview on the sidelines of a tasting session in the small medieval city of Beaune where he has his offices.

Several dozen of local Beaune wine growers are pouring out small quantities of their whites and reds to the tasters in a big covered hall. Large spitoons are available to spit out the wine after tasting but not all the wine ends up there as some people swallow a mouthful from time to time.

Gagey took over the firm from his father some 15 years ago, and that followed three generations of Jadots since 1859.

“I arrive at the office at 7:30 (a.m.) because I want to set an example. Everybody is at work at eight in the morning so I believe the boss should arrive before that,” he said.

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The early hours are absorbed by reading mail, email and the newspapers and at about nine, Gagey starts his work proper with meetings or phone calls, reading or preparing documents until about eleven.

“Between 11:00 and 13:30, every day, we have tastings with the collaborators,” he said.

“That is very important because after all we are in the business of producing a beverage that our customers will drink so we have to make sure it will taste alright.” Gagey said.

His house has over 150 different wines, either produced directly or bought from other growers in the Burgundy and Beaujolais regions. The Burgundy wines have four quality levels from Grand Cru, Premier Cru, to Villages and Appelation Regionale.

The average price of a bottle of Burgundy before taxes is 7 euros ($9.32).

After a lunch, often with clients, Gagey spends the afternoon in contact with his buyers in France and abroad.

“About 20 percent of my time I am traveling abroad,” he said, as Louis Jadot exports 87 percent of its wines against a Burgundy average of 54 percent.

The big export countries are the United States and Britain and the trade is smarting under the weak dollar.

“We just have to absorb it, we cannot do anything about it,” Gagey said, adding that countries like Russia and eastern European countries as well as South Korea are becoming more important export markets.

“We are increasing our prices in dollars, but the euro price remains the same.”

In the evenings he often has official functions as BIVB president, such as dinner at the Clos de Vougeot castle in honor of the specialized wine journalists that were cruising the vineyards from tasting to tasting in order to spread the word back home that the 2005 vintage is a good year.

Editing by Paul Casciato