Domaine Georges Noëllat of Vosne-Romanée, located in Côte de Nuits at the heart of Burgundy, is a small historic estate famous for its renowned Pinot noirs – but only recently. Not long ago, the estate was known as a negociant, or wine trader business, and the production of wine started in Domaine Georges Noëllat when the young winemaker took over the estate in 2010.
Maxine Cheurlin became the head of the estate when he was 20 years old after his grandmother decided to retire. He was the person responsible for Domaine Georges Noëllat’s rise to fame and quickly earned the reputation of a talented winemaker, enjoying a powerful presence on the wine scene ever since.
We spoke to Maxime about the early start of his career, the changes that took place in the industry over the past decade, and the primary inspiration behind his world-famous Pinot noir wines.
Now and Then
The founder of the estate, Georges Noëllat, was the nephew of one of the established wine business owners in Vosne-Romanée, Charles Noëllat. Until the estate was taken over by Maxime Cheurlin, the house started by George Noëllat specialised in selling the harvest to the leading winemakers in Burgundy.
Maxime began his path as a winemaker very young, as his 70-year-old grandmother Marie-Thérèse Noëllat was keen to retire and live a more tranquil life. Despite growing up in Champagne, Maxime had a chance to familiarise himself with the terroir of Burgundy during his studies in Lycée du Viticole in Beaune, and was even able to work with some of the reputable wineries in the region before joining the family business.
“I had the opportunity to start, being very young, and essentially do what I wanted,” – the young winemaker recalls. “The big objective was to make my own wines. I thought it was very easy.”
“Maybe I didn’t realise back then what I could make. In 2011, everything changed because everybody wanted my wine. It was a surprise for me, and it put more pressure on me to make wine that was good.”
Comparing the situation in the wine industry back when he started and in recent years, Maxime says the estate struggled without many customers and publicity since Domaine Georges Noëllat was known primarily as a negociant. Because of that, as Maxime says, he had little pressure when he just started making wine under the name of the estate.
Transmitting pleasure through wine
As Maxime speaks about the philosophy and inspiration behind his wine, he explains that today’s customers are different from the people buying wine 20 years ago. According to the winemaker, these changes make him rethink and adjust his approach every year.
“The reason is that now customers want some freshness and good balance, while, in the past, the idea was to make wine for new generations and wait 20 years for the wine to fully develop in the bottle. Now, for me, the idea is to make good wine now, every time,” – Maxime says.
“My inspiration is the pleasure I get when I drink wine, the freshness of the wine, the energy in your mouth.”
He goes on to explain that, for him, inspiration comes from the wines he wants to drink himself.
“My inspiration comes from the best wines in the world. Just in my village in Vosne-Romanée alone, I am inspired by Romanée-Сonti, Leroy, Cathiard, Henri Jayer. It’s the inspiration from Burgundy,” – Maxime says. “But I can also find inspiration in Porto [Portuguese fortified wine], or in the German Riesling”.
Challenges of the new world
Returning to the topic of past, present and future, Maxime touches upon the key challenges ahead of the estate in the context of changing climate.
“Now, the biggest challenge is to adapt to the world as the climate changes rapidly. It is very difficult nowadays to be able to see the future and understand what the prices of the vineyards will be.”
He goes on to elaborate, suggesting that the challenges of global warming are linked to the need for winemakers to “adapt both your culture and your philosophy”.
Indeed, as temperatures rise, the grapes become richer in sugars due to quicken ripening, which results in the wines having higher alcohol content. “And for me, Pinot noir is all about freshness and purity. I don’t want to make anything else,” – Maxime states.
The winemaker also explains that, compared to when he started his work in 2010, today’s wine industry is becoming increasingly complex: “In 2010, everything was simple, there was no stress. I knew what I wanted. Now, the more experience I get, the more questions I have. But to me, it’s more interesting to make wine this way.”
Speaking of his plans for the future, Maxime says that he is the most inspired by a change in his work ethic, allowing himself to take on new approaches to make classical wines. “Now I try to work wiser because I want to discover a lot of the greatest terroirs,” – he says.
In his endeavours, Maxime started to work with Bonnes Mares in 2020, which is another appellation in Burgundy specialising in Pinot noir grape. He concludes that his objective today is to slowly expand his vineyards despite the challenges to do so in Burgundy and continue making the best wines in the region.