Gilles Ballorin and his wife Fabienne started out quite modestly in 2005 – with only 0.60 hectares of vines. After many years in the wine business working with other things they decided to go into production themselves, creating a domaine of their own. Today they have five hectares of vines, a giant winery in Morey-Saint-Denis and Bordeaux style labels on the bottles.
– There are good and bad things about not having the heritage, not coming from a long line of winegrowers, says Gilles Ballorin. One thing is that I don’t have a name to rely on, so I really have to make sure I make good wine.
It was after having worked for the cooperative in Igé and Mercurey based négociant Antonin Rodet that he decided it was time for a change.
– I had worked for other people for more than ten years and I was bored with it, he explains. Since I had been working for wine companies and since I like wine I thought about doing something in the same territory. Wine is a passion of mine, but I had to find out what I wanted to do. Wine merchant could have been one option, run a website on wine another. But I had some training in the vineyards and I enjoyed it very much, it was my environment.
The plan was to start out working for someone else’s domaine, but things turned out differently. When Gilles Ballorin was still at school getting some proper wine education an offer to buy some vines turned up.
– It was a small vineyard in Chenôve. And shortly afterwards the neighbour there stopped working his vineyard and I was offered to rent it. The vineyard I bought was 0.20 hectares and the one I rented was 0.40 hectares. So in January 2005 I started with 0.60 hectares when I was still at school.
More vines came along, both appellation Marsannay and regional appellations around Marsannay, so in September that year he harvested three hectares.
– Marsannay is a young village, with many young winegrowers. I got some help from two other guys doing the same thing as me. So in 2005 I had three hectares.
Today’s five hectares – all worked along biodynamic principles – are spread out along the Côte de Nuits, from Chenôve just north of Marsannay down to Comblanchien south of Nuits-Saint-Georges. They have bought a large winery in Morey-Saint-Denis, with lots of room to grow. As it is now you could easily put on a disco in here; there is a lot of space available. More than half of the vines are under regional appellations – Bourgogne rouge and blanc, Bourgogne Passetoutgrain and Bourgogne Aligoté.
– For the Bourgogne blanc we don’t put chardonnay on the label, because it is not a 100 percent chardonnay, says Gilles Ballorin. In past this vineyard had only 5000 vines per hectare. But the law says 10000 vines per hectare. So they had to add rows of vines between the existing ones. What they planted was chardonnay muscaté (a sub-variety of chardonnay), pinot gris and pinot beurot. So it is a mix of all these.
– The soil is unusual. There is some clay at the top, but I think the limestone is very near the top, because you have this minerality in the wine.
In the Bourgogne Passetoutgrain department Domaine Ballorin & F surpasses most other producers. The law allows a maximum of two thirds of gamay in this wine and at least one third should be pinot noir. The Ballorin wine has 90 percent pinot noir.
– This vineyard is just in front of Clos Vougeot. When you drive towards Beaune you have Clos Vougeot on your right – on the left side of the road is my vineyard. This is clay soil.
Gilles Ballorin is the first in his family to choose wine as a career. He grew up in Dijon, at the top of the Côte d’Or, and his father was a railroad worker.
– Like almost all railroad people he spent two weeks every year harvesting at a domaine in Corgoloin. He did that for 20-25 years. He started out as a cutter, but ended up assisting the boss.
– My father is retired now, but he works for me. He is in charge of the vineyards.
Being a young domaine, with no history to build on, has its pros and cons. It gives you freedom, but it also means that you have to create everything yourself.
– The good thing is that we don’t have the heritage, says Gilles Ballorin. For example, that’s why we have a bottle label like we do. It is not a typical Burgundy label. Instead, its shape is more typical Bordeaux. And it has purple on it, something that nobody has in Burgundy. It is not my father that made the label. It is me, so I decided to make a young label.
– Since I am working biodynamically being a new domaine makes it easier. There is no father that might question my methods.
One step up from the regional appellations, among the village appellations, Domaine Ballorin & F has vines in Marsannay, Les Echezots, in Fixin, Les Chenevières and in Nuits-Saint-Georges, Les Damodes (top of the slope, Vosne-Romanée side); and there is the Côte de Nuits-Villages, Le Village, in Comblanchien. From the 2009 vintage there is also some Morey-Saint-Denis and Marsannay, Clos du Roi.
– The Marsannay, Les Echezots, is located at the end of a valley, says Gilles Ballorin. Because of this it is slightly cooler there. Thanks to the wind the vines are kept healthier, diseases are avoided. The soil gives the wine its minerality, a freshness at the end.
– When I took on the Fixin vineyard people warned me, saying that a Fixin can easily become too strong. So I really tried to be careful during the vinification with this one. The Marsannay is more straightforward. The Fixin has more complexity, more perfume.
© 2009 Ola Bergman