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William Kelley

Burgundy Wunderkind

Yes, the world’s most influential and arguably most knowledgeable Burgundy critic also makes Burgundy! Not only that, but the quality of his releases has astonished anyone who has tasted his wines. Perhaps this should come as no surprise; Kelley is a wunderkind who, at just 33, has reached the summit of the wine-writing world. We have been sharing fascinating exchanges with William for several years on writing, producers, vineyard and cellar practice and his Californian project, Beau Rivage, which we import. We caught up with him late last year in his ‘new’ cellars in the heart of Pommard—‘new’ in inverted commas because it is, in fact, an ancient winery and the former home of Domaine Mussy, which he recently purchased. It has always been Kelley’s dream to grow Burgundy, and that dream has come true. His knowledge and time spent with the best growers of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne have only fast-tracked his ambition. As you will read, Kelley is not one for shallow waters.

As alluded to above, Kelley’s first commercial release was not from Burgundy but from California, under his Beau Rivage label. Kelley’s Burgundy project began in 2018 with a slice of Chambolle-Musigny Les Fouchères. Not happy with the wine he made that year, the first release was 2019, with a minuscule 300 bottles. From the 2020 vintage, Kelley added a small parcel of Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Etelois that borders Domaine Fourrier’s Griotte-Chambertin, plus a Moulin-à-Vent from 100-year-old vines and a Bourgogne Aligoté from 80-year-old vines in Meursault (as well as a few other tiny plots, including some domaine vines in Beaune).

Uniting the traditional and the modern, he has developed his own mixture of best practice and inspiration from the region’s greatest cellars to weave together one of the most novel and detailed winemaking approaches we have seen in Burgundy.

Kelley has spent more than a decade studying the best Burgundy (and Californian) growers at close quarters and has wasted no time putting these lessons into practice. Despite taking inspiration, the final meticulous approach in the cellar is clearly his own. “Winemaking is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, in that it’s a series of inter-related, accumulative choices that together create a certain style; so, it really helps to have seen the picture on the box of the puzzle, to know what you’re trying to achieve, to have an underlying logic animating all your choices,” he explains. “And you can’t really just borrow pieces from other people’s puzzles, because they don’t fit into the picture.”

We could write pages on what he does, but destemming with scissors, extended lees aging, low SO2, basket pressing and only the very finest oak are just a few superficial details on Kelley’s modus operandi in the cellar. The wines ferment in custom-made oak vats commissioned from Taransaud (which took years of consultation to perfect). The bulk of the barrels are supplied by Francois Frères and made from its most exclusive oak, usually reserved only for Burgundy’s very finest growers. He’s also managed to get his hands on some special casks from Bruno Lorenzon.

The two small parcels Kelley owns (the vineyards that supply his Bourgogne Rouge and Beaune 1er Cru Chouacheaux) are cultivated by horse and treated organically with backpack sprays. The canopies are trained high and aren’t hedged during the season, avoiding any cuts to the vines’ apical shoots, which in turn delivers smaller, more concentrated clusters. The remaining wines in the range are crafted from purchased grapes from top growers. These connections are kept discreet.

In only a few years, William Kelley has built one of Burgundy’s most talked-about addresses. The current releases are wonderfully pure and precise, and having tasted some future wines in cask last year, we can tell you that there are exciting things to come. Kelley has a passion for the great Burgundy wines before the agrochemical revolution of the 1960s and ’70s precipitated the era of higher yields and intervention in the winery. The deeply flavoured yet racy personality of his wines warmly reflects this inspiration.

NOTE: William Kelley uses the same type of hard wax as producers like Raveneau, which has largely gone out of fashion. He does this because he feels it works better as a seal. This hard wax is better chipped off the top before removing the cork, or with the cork half pulled out, if you want to avoid getting wax dust in the wine.

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Primary Region

Burgundy, France


Winemaker: William Kelley



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