Small is beautiful at Domaine Ferret

Just because a small producer is owned by a big company doesn’t mean it can’t create incredibly serious wines, as Peter Ranscombe discovers.

WRITING about business as well as drinks has made me a bit sceptical when it comes to big-name wines.

Time after time, I’ve seen bottles with eye-catching labels and creative monikers, only to discover that any backstory was dreamed up in a marketing department and that the wine is produced in a soulless factory.

I’m the same when it comes to big companies too; whether it’s whisky or wine or gin, it can sometimes be hard to cut through the corporate claptrap to find out what makes an individual drink special.

Sometimes, I think small producers that are owned by bigger companies must work just that wee bit harder to maintain their credibility; if you’re a family-owned and family-run operation then you have a ready-made narrative to tell, but what happens if you’re a smaller cog in a much bigger machine?

That could have been the situation in which Domaine Ferret found itself after it was bought in 2008 by Louis Jadot, one of the largest négociants or wine merchants in Burgundy.

Yet the best way of maintaining a reputation is to let the liquid in the bottles do the talking – and that’s certainly what winemaker Audrey Braccini did during a recent dinner at the Henrietta Hotel in London.

Her wines from the village of Fuissé in the Maconnais part of the southern Bourgogne showed the crisp and refreshing acidity for which the area is known, along with concentrated fruit flavours and a skilful use of oak.

The 2015 Pouilly-Fuissé (around £30, Fountainhall Wines, Luvians, Vino Wines) gave smoke, vanilla, lemon and green apple on the nose before revealing concentrated pear, red apple and apricot fruit on the palate, striking a great three-way balance between the fruit, the oak and the acidity.

Braccini – the latest in a continuous line of female winemakers at Domaine Ferret, stretching back to the estate’s foundation in 1840 – brought along a tank sample of the 2016 wine and explained how the two vintages differed; the challenge during 2015 was for the wine to keep its freshness because it was such a ripe vintage, while in 2016 it was a waiting game to harvest late to ensure ripeness.

Freshness was definitely achieved in the 2015 Pouilly-Fuissé Tête de Cru Les Perrières (around £43, Luvians, Fine & Rare, Hedonism), which showed a subtler use of oak and even more concentrated pear and green apple flavours, with a floral lift on the nose.

Although Pouilly-Fuissé doesn’t yet have any vineyards that have been designated with premier cru status, Tête de Cru Les Perrières was one of the parcels identified by the Ferret family as being of a higher quality and so enjoys a similar status among Burgundy fans.

Braccini vinifies grapes from each parcel of vines individually and then ages the resulting wines separately before blending, allowing her to keep the characteristics of each plot.

Having the resources to carry out such detailed winemaking is where having a big brother like Louis Jadot comes into its own; before Domaine Ferret’s current winery was built in 2012, only a small proportion of its wine could be vinified on site.

Stepping up another level, the domaine has sold out of its 2015 Pouilly-Fuissé Hors Classé Les Menétrières (around £50) but – if the 2016 tank sample is anything to go by, with its peach and apricot notes mingled in with the vanilla and pear drops – it’s worth keeping an eye out for it as wine merchants begin to release their stock.

Another treat to round off the meal was a look at the 2010 Moulin À Vent Clos De Rochegrès (around £66 for a magnum, Luvians, Finest Bubble, Cru London), which is made by Braccini’s husband, Cyril Chirouze, at Chateau des Jacques in nearby Beaujolais.

I love gamay and this grown-up style was smelling more like pinot noir, with its wet leaf, damp earth and wood smoke aromas, combined with cranberry and vanilla.

There was plenty of acidity on the palate alongside rich fruit flavours, with the blackcurrant, cranberry and redcurrant wrapped in a subtle vanilla undertone.