The tiny village of Pernand Vergelesses, population 280, give or take, sits in the lee of the majestic Hill of Corton, just a few kilometres to the north of Beaune.
Its most famous winemaker is one of Burgundy’s most important estates, organic producer Domaine Bonneau du Martray - which counts Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II among its devoted followers.
Du Martray hit the headlines recently, when the Burgundian owners let it be known they had sold a controlling stake to an American multi-billionaire by the name of Stanley Kroenke. Monsieur Kroenke has other wine interests, including cult California winery, Screaming Eagle, and also the odd football club or two. Where is the news in that you may ask?
Well, from a Burgundy perspective, it could only be surpassed if Domaine de La Romanée-Conti announced that with every bottle purchased you would be entitled to a free branded t-shirt. For although not so well known as Romanée-Conti, the estate of du Martray has been firmly anchored in the top tier of the Burgundian viticultural hierarchy for considerably longer, and for control to pass outside of Burgundy, is something of an event.
And just why is this place is so special? Well as usual, it has to do with the land and the history. In the 8c, Charlemagne or ‘Charles the Great’, was the ruler of an empire which broadly encompassed the entirety of Western Europe (apart from the UK - which will shortly be going back to where it was in the 8c!). Charlemagne was a Frank, a bloodthirsty warrior-like tribe, which emanated from the lands that are now Germany. With an unbridled ferocity, they conquered all other tribes that stood in their way.
However Charlemagne, who also had a cultured side to his despotic nature, promoted education and the arts, and appreciated good food, and in particular good wine. While he ruled his empire from Aachen in Germany, he liked the wines of Burgundy. He acquired the Hill of Corton, and most probably Pernand Vergelesses as well, and decided that part of the Corton hill should be re-planted with a white grape variety. This was quite simply the touch of a tactical genius, for while nobody today is going to turn down the offer of a bottle of red Corton Grand Cru, the white wines in the hands of a good wine maker are some of the best (and most expensive) in Burgundy. In addition to du Martray, Coche Dury and Leroy both have vines here (the market price for a 12 bottle case of Corton Charlemagne 2011 is approximately 40,000 euros for both of these winemakers), and Romanee-Conti has reputedly just purchased 3 hectares of Grand Cru on the hill. And the price of du Martray Corton Charlemagne 2011? A mere 1,000 euros a case! So perhaps not so difficult to see why Stan snapped it up!