If you are at all familiar with Chablis, you’ve more than likely heard the name Jean-Marc Brocard. The largest winery in the region, Brocard produces wines of finesse, elegance and precision that have become the reference point for many a wine enthusiast around the world.
However, as the generational torch passes from the conventional Jean-Marc to his progressive son, Julien, an evolution in winemaking styles has emerged, revealing the dichotomy between tradition and innovation.
Our love of Brocard wines was one of the main instigators to our recent trip to Chablis, and our visit to the Domaine was a genuine highlight. We were hosted by the very personable Jean-Louis Pires who provided an in-depth history of the winery, and an equally comprehensive tasting.
The son of farmers, Jean-Marc was born in 1946 to humble surroundings of the small village of Chaudenay-le-Château, in the renowned Côte d’Or of Burgundy—arguably the most prestigious and celebrated wine-producing region globally.
Like many of his generation, Jean-Marc watched his parents struggle with a life in agriculture and instead pursued a degree in engineering with the support of his father. As it turned out, his wife Claudine was from Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, a small wine-growing region in the north and was the daughter of a winemaker.
When they got married in 1970, her father gifted them 1Ha of vines. Jean-Marc ended up selling that original hectare in 1973 to purchase the current plot in Préhy where the winery stands today. 1973 was an auspicious year for another reason as it’s also the year that his son Julien was born.
From the winery’s inaugural vintage, Jean-Marc embarked on the journey of crafting a wine that truly reflected the distinctive qualities and traditions of Chablis.
He respected the winemakers before him, learned from them, and set out determined to carry on the legacy they had built, along the way gaining recognition for his commitment to traditional winemaking techniques.
Over the years, Jean-Marc expanded the estate, acquiring prime parcels of land in some of the most revered Chablis appellations. Most notably, two years ago Brocard purchased another Domaine that owned the first plantation of Grand Cru Grenouilles, originally planted in 1950. Something Jean-Louis explains is a particular point of pride for the family–owning the beginning of a Grand Cru.
By the 1990s, Jean-Marc owned 100ha of land under vine and in 1997, Julien joined his father at the winery (after also initially pursuing a degree in engineering). Julien’s passion from the start has been the practice of biodynamics both in the vineyard and in the winery.
As the reins of the estate passed to the next generation, the transition from Jean-Marc to Julien Brocard brought forth a nuanced shift in winemaking philosophy. While Jean-Marc adhered to conventional practices, Julien, influenced by a growing global interest in sustainable viticulture, embraces the principles of biodynamics.
Jean-Marc, a traditionalist at heart, favors the tried-and-true methods of winemaking. His approach involves meticulous vineyard management, precise harvesting, steel tank fermentation, and a minimalistic intervention in the cellar. The resulting wines bare the hallmark characteristics of classic Chablis – crisp acidity, vibrant minerality, and an unmistakable purity of fruit.
In contrast, Julien Brocard, inspired by a commitment to environmental sustainability and a holistic approach to farming, has transitioned certain vineyards to biodynamic practices. Biodynamics, an agricultural philosophy that treats the vineyard as a self-sustaining ecosystem, involves organic farming combined with lunar and cosmic rhythms. Julien’s embrace of biodynamics is aimed not only at producing exceptional wines but also at preserving the health of the vineyards for future generations.
Ironically, his use of oak is quite traditional, and one would think more in line with his father’s approach as that’s how Chablis was originally made, as opposed to stainless steel so prevalent today (and preferred by Jean-Marc).
As CEO of Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, Julien continues the legacy that his father has built under that label while continuing to practice biodynamic winemaking under the Julien Brocard label. Today, the winery has 250ha of which 60ha are certified organic and 40ha are fully biodynamic.
As already mentioned, Brocard is the biggest winery in Chablis producing over 4 million bottles in a typical year, but as Jean-Louis so eloquently said, “Being big is good, but being big and making good wine is better!”
A comparative tasting of Brocard wines (including everything from different classifications to contrasting styles made with the same plots, to various plots with the same styles, and conventional versus biodynamic), was an excellent education reflecting the differences in winemaking styles between father and son.
Jean-Marc’s wines, with their classic Chablis characteristics, showcase a timeless elegance and purity. In contrast, Julien’s wines, crafted with a biodynamic touch, exhibit a depth and complexity that mirror the holistic approach to viticulture.
From Petit Chablis through to Grand Cru, whether Jean-Marc or Julien, there is no denying the level of quality of all their wines. Jean-Louis concluded our extensive tasting by bringing out a large format bottle that had no label. As the blind tasting commenced, we were tasked with not trying to figure out which wine it was but instead from which vintage.
As we each took turns guessing what vintage it might be, none of us were even close to the correct answer of 1998. To taste a 25-year-old wine from Chablis with still so much freshness quickly put away any preconceived notions we may have had about the longevity of wines from Chablis.
The narrative of Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis is a tale of two generations, each leaving an indelible mark on the estate’s legacy. Jean-Marc’s unwavering commitment to tradition laid the foundation, while Julien’s foray into biodynamics represents a step into the future. Together, these contrasting styles create a harmonious continuum, ensuring that JM Brocard remains a benchmark for Chablis wines, where the roots of tradition are entwined with the shoots of innovation.
2022 JM Brocard Petit Chablis
Lovely texture for a Petit, as many can be a bit on the lean side. Not this one. Medium body, rounded corners, medium acidity, apple and mineral notes. This is actually of Chablis quality. A Petit that is well worth seeking out.
2022 Julien Brocard Petit Chablis
A more linear style, and not as textured as the previous wine but showing lots of complexity. Green apple notes and a chalkiness create allure and reflect the region. Very Good+
2021 JM Brocard Chablis Vieille Vignes
From a vineyard plot planted in 1946 and raised in concrete egg shaped tanks, here the intensity is dialed up. Notes of citrus, apple and hints of the salinity that this former ancient seabed imparts to its better vineyards. Very juicy with medium+ acidity but the concrete eggs naturally stir the lees and this creates increased texture. A very balanced and precise wine.
Very Good+/ Excellent
Julien Brocard Chablis Vigne de la Boissonneuse
Notes of apple mix with citrus and wet stones to create a very intense wine with a long finish. Medium body with medium+ acidity this has both texture and cut. Raised in clay amphorae this reflects the Julien style that minimizes winemaker intervention, but does so successfully. Excellent
2021 Julien Brocard Le 7ième Chablis Vin Nature
This is Julien’s most natural wine. Citrus notes dominate and show characteristics of both juice and zest. The medium+ acidity gives a nice, crisp feel to the wine. Intense flavours on a lithe frame. Very Good+
2022 JM Brocard Premier Cru Vau de Vey
A very rounded wine that shows great balance between texture and acidity. Vau de Vey is a cool and sometimes damp climat but those characteristics do not come across in this wine. Though it does show the elegance that forms a part of the signature of the Left Bank, it has plenty of intensity to its mineral and green apple flavours. Excellent
2022 Julien Brocard Premier Cru Vaudevey
Interesting to contrast the styles between the houses. In this wine that contrast is quite highlighted and shows Julien’s preference for wines that are lithe and taut. Again the green apple flavour dominates but showing more linearity in this wine. Very Good+
2021 Julien Brocard Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre
Showing more Right Bank characteristics with its powerful profile this wine offers melon and almonds with a touch of backend salinity. With a bit of air the almonds notes shift to being almost marzipan. A delicious wine and one of the more textured offerings from Julien.
2021 JM Brocard Premier Cru Vaulorant
Vaulorent is the only Premier Cru vineyard that is actually on the Grand Cru hill. This wine has terrific intensity and powerfully delivers citrus notes, oyster shell and minerality. As the wine warms up in our glasses we get hints of lemon curd. Medium + acidity matches well to the rounded texture and body of this wine. Excellent+
2021 Julien Brocard Grand Cru Les Preuses
In what seems like a bit of a stylistic change, this Julien shares more in common with the JM offerings with its big, rich texture and powerful structure. Rounded corners mark the texture of this beauty but its Chablisien character shines through with its focus and the saline notes on the back end. Citrus flavours dominates and receive support form mineral subtones. Terrific balance. Excellent+
2016 JM Brocard Grand Cru Les Blanchots
Our trip to Chablis showed us just how good Blanchots is. Situated next to Les Clos, which seems to get the most laud, this plot is on a sidehill and does not get quite as much direct sunlight. And in today’s world of warmer temperatures, perhaps this is a good thing. This wine had lovely focus that put emphasis underneath the minerality. Notes of apple and pear dominated this beautifully textured wine. The additional bottle age brought complexity and integration and showed just how age-worthy these white wines are. (Additional note: we also had a small taste of a 1998 JM Brocard Premier Cru Montmains that was still remarkably fresh and quite delicious!). Excellent+
3, route de Chablis
Préhy, France 89800
T: +33 03 86 41 49 00