#14 Interview with Guillaume Lavollée, Meursault, Bourgogne

Can you introduce yourself and explain your background to us?

I met Aude, my wife, in 2006 and one day my father-in-law, director and owner of Domaine Génot Boulanger in Meursault, offered to join him first to help him sell the estate’s wines. From the first year, I resumed technical studies in wine in Beaune because I was completely foreign to the sector.

When did you feel able to take on the challenge your stepfather gave you?

It all started in 2007 after the harvest and this proposal was the opportunity for a new start. For Aude, her father having taken over the estate in 1998, she grew up in Paris and came to spend the holidays in Meursault. This new start was therefore synonymous with a new life in the countryside for her too.

At 25, with no children, we went for it. And once you put your foot in the middle, you realize it’s never ending. In the vineyard, in the cellar, in marketing … there are always points to explore.

Can you tell us about Domaine Génot Boulanger?

The Domaine takes its name from the name of Aude’s grandparents. Mr. Génot married Mlle Boulanger. They have spent their entire careers at the Dausse laboratory. In the 1970s, none of the four grandchildren wanted to take over the laboratory, they sold it and they embarked on a new adventure, that of the world of wine! Mr. Génot had always dreamed of having vines because they symbolized anchoring and roots.

1974 was the first purchase of vineyards at Mercurey, then the estate extended until the 1990s thanks to the first two generations, reaching 22 hectares today. Since 2012, Aude and I have managed the estate and the wine heritage remains a family heritage.

What was the biggest challenge for you when you arrived on the Domaine?

It was to understand the situation because I didn’t have the technical background. To put you in context, I was 25, I worked with my girlfriend’s father at the time, the estate produced a lot of bottles and there was a team of 20 employees. It was with these parameters that I had to understand the business and find out why it was not doing well

The most complicated, and the easiest in the end, was to surround yourself with the right people because at 25, you can have intuitions but not certainties. In 2007, our first initiative was to appoint a “captain” in the field and we recruited Nicolas who is still with us. Looking back, I can say he was a key part of our confidence building. Thanks to Nicolas, we have a person in charge of viticulture with a mission: to improve the method of cultivation. As head of culture, he asked to also participate in the wine making. It made so much sense to have one person making the connection between the vineyard and the cellar. So I learned from him and also from the team, some of whom had worked at the estate for over 30 years. The idea was to take information from everywhere, to understand how the team was working to make improvements.

Have you had this impostor syndrome?

I never had this feeling of being illegitimate. I always felt young in the business and I still feel that way today. I don’t have the 30 years of experience some people have, but that doesn’t mean they have the same perspective as when you are new to the profession.

There is a generation for whom being a good winemaker meant bringing good yields to the owner. Make them understand that harvesting a smaller, better quality, better valued crop could also be a way of operating economically and, in addition, better perceived by consumers.

What is the biggest change in the field?

Since 2018, the 22 hectares of the estate have been certified organic but the first trials date back to 2008 and it took us 3 years to gradually stop the weedkillers and to put everything back into plowing. Then, then come the years of fear, doubt, fear with episodes of hail, mildew … You repeat a test that you regret after … The fact of not being certified always left us a way out to go back. That’s why I pushed the team to go for certification to stop having that temptation. We were all convinced of this because the hard evidence on the plant was visible. The most glaring example was the rot in 2012 or 2013 which was non-existent whereas in 2009, a theoretically very healthy vintage, we had it!

The label allows you to give a clear message to customers and when you organize a team of 15 people, the charter provides a coherent line of membership and work.

How do you feel about viticulture and organic farming in Burgundy?

There is still a lot of mistrust while there is a huge interest among producers in these modes of conduct. Everyone, even the non-labeled, agrees that we produce better grapes with these principles. I think everyone today is aware of these issues. However, certification is scary because it locks in principles, which is basically true. Some are still suspicious and I don’t blame them

What are the future challenges for the domain?

From a technical point of view, the improvement must be permanent. I am convinced that we are going to experience a revolution that will be led by technical revolutions with drones for treatment (as is the case in Switzerland, for example). This will reduce the drudgery of the work and improve its efficiency. In addition to this, we have done tests with biodynamics, but due to a lack of resources and people, it is too complicated for the moment. We have 22 hectares spread over more than 70km, we are not yet able to put it in place. For example, when we revitalize a preparation in Meursault, it is difficult to envisage spreading it in Côte de Nuits with the same efficiency.

At the estate, you have a great diversity of terroirs over more than 70km, a situation that is quite rare in Burgundy. How do you approach this diversity?

After 12 years, you know your plots better and this mastery allows you to work as closely as possible to the reality of each plot. From Clos Vougeot to Mercurey, via Meursault, the culture, the winemaking and the marketing are different.

The challenge is to treat all wines with the same high standards and to do well according to the characteristics of each terroir. This mainly involves actions carried out during winemaking with extractions or a number of punching downs adapted to each wine. Over the years, you gain personal maturity, which allows you to look for yourself less, to trust yourself and ultimately to assert yourself in each region.

Are there any winegrowers or people who inspire you?

When I arrived at the estate, we sold a lot in bulk and only a small part of the production was sold in the bottle. This allowed me from the first years to get into the deep end with trips to importers and to find myself alongside the big names of Burgundy. The first time in my life that I tasted a Gevrey-Chambertin, it was one from Armand Rousseau! This provides benchmarks and is very inspiring in the daily work of the terroirs. Many winegrowers have inspired me. Tasting outside has inspired us a lot, but it is the internal questioning that has made us move forward above all. The complementarity with my oenologist who has technical knowledge, allowed us to move forward much faster.

What is the nice compliment anyone can give you while tasting your wines?

“Your wines have given us great emotion.” It’s simple. There is no fixed definition of the question “what is a great wine?” but emotion makes the difference between a good wine and a great wine. To say that a wine conveys an emotion is therefore the most beautiful compliment anyone can give us. Of course, all this remains subjective … it is all the more spontaneous and linked to a crush.

Is there a wine, grape variety, appellation that you would dream of vinifying?

Burgundy is a dream, to be sure. I would love to have the opportunity to vinify a plot of Montrachet Grand Cru and see what it would look like alongside the big names that make us all dream. The strength of the Génot Boulanger estate is to compare the terroirs of Burgundy with the same elaboration and the same care given to each appellation. By working the vines on large plots, it would be possible to feel the power of the terroir by only changing this factor in the equation.

Being from Yonne, I would dream of having vines in Chablis and seeing how the terroir would express itself. What would be the differences between a Chablis and a Meursault with the same winemaking techniques? I have this curiosity!

After that, I don’t know enough about the other regions. This is why every year, I take a study trip to discover, discuss and understand. Barolo, Jura, Anjoux, Napa Valley and next stop Bordeaux!

If I gave you a magic wand, what would you improve?

I will try to put an end to climatic accidents (not vagaries). It’s very heavy to put up with the possibility of losing everything in a few hours. We were very traumatized by the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016 vintages where hail and frost in 2016 took almost everything away from us. It’s a trauma for the teams, for us, for the plant… everything falls apart in the investment plans. This vulnerability to accidents is very heavy to bear. The baguette would serve me to make the profession of winegrower or farmer less traumatic.

What are you most proud of?

I am proud of the recognition of my peers. It’s fine to say that we don’t care what others think, but it’s nice to hear positive feedback from my colleagues who inspire me on the quality of Génot Boulanger’s vines and wines today. It’s a great satisfaction.

Flow of consciousness

  • Book: Wilbur Smith’s adventure novels because they take me on a journey and escape from everyday life. Afterwards, I read a lot of magazines, especially when I travel, The Good Life or Challenge.
  • Music: Queen, Don’t stop me now fully in the car with the children and for the quieter moments, Alain Souchon or Juliette Armanet that I listened to repeatedly
  • Film: my culture is very weak, but I mostly watch films on the plane, so on the small screen! The Lion King, Untouchable
  • Dish: I like everything, as long as it’s good! The dish that moves me the most is veal blanquette because it evokes my childhood. It’s a reassuring dish and it’s the first one I learned to cook
  • Memorable bottle: When I told my importer in the US that I had never tasted a Barolo, after not believing his ears, he surprised me to open a Barolo by Bartolo Mascarello 1982, my vintage. It was a great emotion because I had tasted very little of the wines of my year. A few years later, I visited the estate and Maria Teresa came to the estate in Meursault, it was a wonderful meeting. Another moment, a client confesses to me that he knows little about Burgundy because he especially appreciates Bordeaux wines. I confess in turn that I know very little Bordeaux. He asks me if I still know the great classics and there I answer in a low voice that… no. Finding the situation unacceptable, he asks me to take my coat and follow him home. And there he opened a Mouton Rothschild 1982! It was in the middle of the afternoon, we were a small group of friends including 3 to be from this year. I keep this moment engraved in my memory!
  • Grape variety: Chardonnay and Savagnin
  • Color: Blue
  • Smell: roses
  • Sport: golf
  • Destination: New Zealand
  • Perfect Sunday: a round of golf, a lunch with the friends and an afternoon with the family with the children

To follow Guillaume et domaine on Instagram @genotboulanger

The Domaine Génot Boulanger website: genotboulanger.com

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