Faiveley: Old French wine family, new tricks

Erwan Faiveley’s grandfather married right — he joined forces with the Faiveley [FAVE a lay] wine family in Burgundy, France. Weirdly enough, his grandfather bore the same last name as his new bride, so no name-change paperwork had to be filed. An auspicious start to a beautiful union.

The day he turned 18, an experience confirmed Erwan needed to be entwined with the 184-year-old family business. At his surprise birthday party, his father handed him the keys to the wine cellar and said, “Have fun.” Erwan wistfully describes that night as, “Eye -opening… the best experience of my life.” I think any wine lover would agree with that statement – a night in an award-winning winery’s cellar in Nuits St. George would top my list as well.

He’s now been at the company’s helm for the past four years and, unlike other privileged sons who might fritter away the cash and the glory, has taken on the role with enthusiasm. When Erwan started, he began analyzing each crevice of the wine-making empire, picking apart every process to find areas of improvement. He wanted to create something better for his namesake brand.

He found one huge, gaping hole: the oak program.

His father had been buying oak barrels from the same cooper for several years but Erwan sensed he could do better. So for the 2005 harvest, he ordered barrels from forests all over the world (‘cept the USA – he claimed they were “hard to find”… ahem, huh?) and then blind tasted chardonnays and pinot noirs housed in each of them. One French cooperage, François Frères, won.

Another hard-fought tweak has made a difference in the way Faiveley’s wine tastes — changing their pressing technique. In 2006, Faiveley stopped using the pneumatic press, a “bladder” type press that squeezes the grapes using a huge, inflatable balloon housed inside a horizontal, metal shell. And went back to an old school vertical basket press. Erwan admits there’s some waste associated with using a basket press but he feels the juice tastes “more delicate and lacks the green flavors” resulting from the harsher bladder press.

Other changes? He added temperature-controlled fermentation tanks and introduced cold fermentation.

They’ve been using up the old barrels for the past several vintages — no sense tossing umpteen Euros worth of wood — but for the Premier and Grand Crus beginning in 2007,  they’ve been pouring all the juice into the new François Frères barrels. I tasted through the Faiveley portfolio with Erwan (a tasty task indeed… and he’s easy on the eyes) and can safely say he made the right decisions. The 2006 bottles — although not too shabby — did lack a finesse and prettiness that was present in the 2007s. The new oak program allows the fruit to shine through and the back-dated pressing technique holds back the stemmy, green notes.

Erwan freely shares his newfound knowledge with other Burgundian producers, since it makes sense to him: “If someone makes a bad Clos Vougeot, it hurts everyone.” Indeed… what a difference some wood makes. (Read more about my experience with oak barrels and their importance here)

The best deal:

Faiveley 2007 Mercurey “Clos des Myglands” Erwan calls this his “house wine”… if only I was so lucky. Fresh and pretty, with bright red cherry, soft tannins, mild acidity and a dried cherry finish. Simply gorgeous and worth every penny. Sw=1.$34. 4.5 stars

But if you have the extra cash, check out the Faiveley 2006 Gevrey Chambertin “Les Cazetiers” ($70) and Faiveley Nuits St. Georges 2007 ($48)


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