William Kelley is better known for his work at The Wine Advocate, but he also produces small quantities of his own wine in Burgundy. William fell in love with wine as a history student at Oxford. Presiding over the university’s historic Wine Circle, weekly tastings with the world’s greatest producers drew him deeper and deeper into the wine world; and time in the vineyards and cellars inspired deep admiration for the artisanal craft of winemaking. So William abandoned plans for an academic career, working harvests for several years (and making waves in wine criticism) before producing his first vintage of Chambolle-Musigny in 2018.
Informed by a passion for the great classics of the Inter-War and Post War era, before the agrochemical revolution of the 1960s and 1970s precipitated an era of higher yields in the vineyards and more intervention in the winery, William looks to the past for inspiration for Burgundy’s future; but he also believes that innovative vineyard management and unimpeachable technical precision in the winery are essential to crafting wines that preserve and perpetuate the region’s stylistic heritage in the era of climate change. His aspiration is to produce timeless wines of enduring value by, as he puts it, “changing what needs to be changed so that the wines stay the same”.
in 2021 William moved into his own warren-like vaulted cellar in the heart of Pommard which was fully refitted with the state-of-the-art air conditioning which is increasingly essential in contemporary Burgundy. As William says, “the idea was to make the sort of wines we love to drink at home”, so much of the production is reserved for internal consumption. A considerable proportion is also bottled in magnum, with a view to later release at closer to maturity, “since no one has cellars anymore”. However, all the materiel, from vats to wine presses to air-conditioning, to say nothing of leaving wine inélevage for between 24 to 36 months; so, a few years after we first tasted the wines from barrel, we finally persuaded William to part with an allocation that he describes as “just enough for us to keep the lights on”.
Viticulture and Vinification
Putting his aspirations into practice - The small parcels William farms are cultivated by horse and treated organically against disease with backpack sprays, meaning there’s no mechanical compaction of the soils. Trees around and within the parcels contribute biodiversity. The fruiting canes and canopies are trained very high, with the grapes further from the reflected heat of the soil and better shaded; and they aren’t hedged during the season, avoiding any cuts to the vines’ apical shoots, delivering smaller, more concentrated clusters. This approach reflects the influence of the likes of Lalou Bize- Leroy, Jean-Marc Vincent and Bruno Lorenzon, as well as observations of what works in warmer viticultural regions such as California, Provence and Bordeaux.
RED WINES in the winery, red grapes are handled very gently, with either mechanical destemming, or partial manual destemming (whereby berries and pedicels are left intact by the central rachis is removed) as pioneered by Leroy depending on site and vine genetics. Fermentations take place in wide, open-topped oak vats, with gentle punching down by foot and long but unheated macerations. Maturation is in carefully chosen oak barrels, selected for their minimal aromatic impact and maximal precision, something that took William several years of visits to coopers, forests and mérandiers (the artisans who break down barrel staves) to refine to his satisfaction, and which is an ongoing preoccupation. He attaches particular importance to the suave, supple tannins which contribute the elusive “touché de bouche” that separates the best Burgundy from the rest, and cites Cécile Tremblay (where he worked a harvest) and Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier as two important inspirations.
WHITE WINES are crushed, basket pressed, and barreled down without any settling, again in very carefully chosen barrels. Fermentations are protracted, but followed barrel-by- barrel, with each vessel treated as its own unique wine. Sulfites are added as late as possible, sometimes after as long as 18 months, to allow the wines to stabilize naturally, protected by their lees. Élevage typically lasts fully 24 months, and bottled by hand. Concentrated, incisive and gently reductive, William’s white winemaking is especially influenced by Jean-Marie Guffens (whom he credits with sharing the secrets of pressing white grapes) and Jean-François Coche. But while visiting all of Burgundy’s best producers certainly provides William with plenty of inspiration and food for thought, he is insistent that he’s not trying to emulate anyone else’s wines. “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. And you can’t really just borrow pieces from other people’s puzzles, because they don’t fit into the picture”