Bonneau du Martray: Winds of change

Domaine Bonneau du Martray has a long history, both in Burgundian terms and in the Winehog’s experience. I have followed the estate for 20 years or so, and have tasted vintages covering the last 35 years.

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I have had the pleasure of tasting the fruits of the estate with both Jean le Bault de la Morinière, and then from 1994, with his son Jean-Charles le Bault de la Morinière, whom I met on several occasions in Burgundy and Copenhagen.

Now E. Stanley Kroenke, a passionate Burgundy lover and owner of prominent vineyards in California, has taken over ownership of Bonneau du Martray. He is only the fifth owner in the domaine’s history, and is adding a new and exciting chapter to the prominent Pernand-Vergelesses estate’s story.

The beginning of Bonneau du Martray

As with most other domaine histories, this one starts with the French Revolution, when church holdings were sold at public auctions as “biens nationaux” (nationally owned goods). This was also the case with the vineyards of Pernand and Aloxe-Corton, which ended up in the hands of Simon Very, the man who founded Beaune’s Domaine Chanson in 1750, before the Revolution.

In 1835, Charles Bonneau du Martray, an important landowner from the Morvan, married Eugénie Very, Simon’s daughter. Her dowry included 24 hectares of vineyards in Pernand, Aloxe, and Volnay – the foundation of the estate we know today as Bonneau du Martray.1

The couple had two sons, Paul and Eugène, who eventually took over the estate. Paul apparently gambled away his 12 hectares, while Eugène kept his share and stood guard over the Bonneau du Martray patrimony – even replanting the vineyards after the phylloxera crisis.

Eugène passed away in 1934 and left the estate to his son René, who maintained it from a distance, leasing his vines to local sharecroppers.

René did not have any descendants and decided to leave the estate to his niece and god-daughter, Alice Colonna de Giovellina, who eventually married Jean le Bault de la Morinière.

Jean le Bault de la Morinière arrived at the domaine in 1969, and this marked the beginning of international recognition for the Bonneau du Martray wines.

In 1992, Alice le Bault de la Morinière passed away, and in 1994 Jean le Bault de la Morinière passed the baton to his son Jean-Charles (b. 1949), who was then an architect in Paris.

From 1994-2017, Jean-Charles le Bault de la Morinière developed and ran the estate, maintaining its international recognition and glory. In 2011, the domaine became biodynamically certified after years of hard work getting the vineyards in shape.

In 2017, Jean-Charles, then approaching 70, decided to sell the family estate to E. Stanley Kroenke, turning a page in the domaine’s history.

For a more vivid and elaborate historic view of the estate, I suggest Paul Wasserman’s article on the Becky Wasserman website.

The winds of change

Only a year after Kroenke’s purchase, it was decided to find a partner to farm some of the domaine’s chardonnay plots. Bonneau du Martray wanted a tenant which would share the estate’s philosophy and commitment to biodynamic cultivation. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti was the perfect match, with its own biodynamic conversion already completed. That lease permits Bonneau du Martray to focus on a smaller area and lower its production volume.

Armand de Maigret, Bonneau du Martray’s manager under Kroenke, told Wine Spectator at the time the lease was signed, “When biodynamics works, it is beautiful, but you can’t allow difficult weather to take over. And 12 ha of precise biodynamic farming is a big task in an area like Corton-Charlemagne. The reduction of our surface to a level where we are comfortable and able to do very precise biodynamic farming with the current infrastructure in place makes sense.”

The lease-granting to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti should also give Bonneau du Martray a more marketable production size, but time will ultimately tell.

The sharing of a grand estate

The sharing – or if you like the division – of Domaine Bonneau du Martray with DRC in 2018 was a milestone in the development of the Corton hill.

To have Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in the Corton-Charlemagne vineyard is an exciting and game-changing event which will enhance the profile of this already-mighty estate, based in Vosne-Romanee.

When the lease was announced in 2018, Bonneau du Martray held 11.09 ha on the Corton hill. “Only” 2.89 ha of that was rented to DRC; 8.15 ha were retained by the Pernand-based estate.

In truth, the division of Domaine Bonneau de Martray is not as controversial as all that, as it had been reduced in size at least once since the Revolution.

Back in the day, the original Bonneau du Martray had much larger holdings and, according to Jasper Morris2, owned a total area of 24 ha – presumably before Paul Bonneau du Martray “lost” his part of the estate.

The Bonneau du Martray holdings before the DRC lease

Bonneau du Martray has historically been a strong presence on the Pernand side of the Corton hill. One south/southwest-facing area contains all the domaine’s plots, ranging from top to bottom in this large grand cru, in the climats En Charlemagne and Le Charlemagne.

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