Birth of a Salesman
A new type of wine merchant emerges
Call it the boomerang effect.
As the wine world has embraced small growers of late, a shadow has fallen over the once-common concept of the négociant, a merchant who makes wine from bulk amounts of purchased fruit.
But that meaning has been shed recently thanks to a different kind of négociant bringing a small-grower philosophy to the merchant's role.
No one embodies this paradigm shift better than Patrick Piuze in the French village of Chablis. After running a wine bar in Montreal, he moved to Burgundy in 2000 to harvest with legendary winemaker Olivier Leflaive. He then held major posts at Verget and Brocard, two of Chablis's most reputable purveyors.
In 2008, Piuze began bottling under his own label, meticulously choosing vineyard sites throughout Chablis, with a special focus on acquiring old vines. He works in collaboration with the farmers on their plots and harvests by hand; he also purchased a winemaking facility where he crafts his steely expressions of Chardonnay without using new oak.
His négociant status gives him the flexibility to explore the identity of the region's various soils through a dazzlingly wide array of bottlings. But his most basic wine, the 2010 Patrick Piuze Petit Chablis ($20), offers an ideal introduction to the Piuze style: Rippling with fresh green apples and grassy notes, its textbook flinty acidity will brighten shellfish, trout or any soft goat cheese.