Burgundy is mecca for many wine collectors and lovers. From its rolling vineyards flow mineral-driven, ethereal wines that enchant. Understandably, this magic comes at a price. According to SAFER, the agency that manages many of the region’s viticultural sales, in 2018 a grand cru vineyard averaged €14 million for one hectare (2.47 acres). Yet despite its expense, Burgundy remains at the top of the list amongst those who seek the ‘winemaking dream’. But at these prices? A Canadian-American couple have shown that the Burgundian dream is still within reach.
Nicholas and Colleen Harbour are the proprietaries of a newish micro-négociant called Maison Harbour in Savigny-lès-Beaune, a small picturesque village located outside of Beaune proper. Neither are Burgundian. Born in Michigan, Nicholas and his parents moved around Europe before settling in Luxembourg. Colleen was born in Canada but raised in Luxembourg. After meeting in high school, they eventually married and began working in Luxembourg’s financial sector. However, in their late 20s, they decided that they wanted a different life, and wine was it.
They did not choose Burgundy by accident. Nicholas’ family has long had a second home in Savigny-lès-Beaune, a place where he spent many holidays. So when they thought of where to go, there was never a doubt. ‘Having spent so much time there throughout my life, it felt like a natural place to land. Plus, it’s Burgundy, and who doesn’t love Burgundy?’
Wanting to integrate into their adopted homeland as much as possible, they decided to follow in the Burgundian footsteps. They began attending an intensive viticulture/winemaking course at the Lycée de Beaune and taught themselves French, all while working for a local producer to get practical experience. There they cultivated friendships that they still have today.
When they started to look for grapes, they were worried about not getting the quality of fruit required. Grape growers, particularly the most respected, are known to have long-term contracts with top producers already in place. But despite being the ‘new kids on the rue’, and clearly not from the region, their concerns never played out. ‘We were truly touched and surprised when we were offered all this beautiful fruit from the beginning.’ Over the years, their relationships with these growers have deepened and they now regularly visit and work on the parcels from which they buy, as if they were their own.
Their first vintage in 2013 produced 16 barrels, and they have been steadily increasing their volume since. Their latest offering, the 2018, produced 33 barrels and nine wines, including Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru, their grandest wine, which they added to their line-up in 2017. ‘Buying Charmes-Chambertin grapes for the first time was one of the trickiest decisions that we have had to make thus far as a young micro-négociant. The grapes were expensive. Would we be able to sell the wine without losing lots of money…without losing our house?’
But sell, they did. ‘Even if our customers had not tasted it, they bought it. They knew they liked our other wines, so they trusted us. We knew at this point that we were entering into another phase at our domaine, one that was more solid with a faithful clientele. So, the risk – and sleepless nights – paid off.’
Today, the Harbour family, now with two small children, Jack and Madeleine, are well on their way to becoming true Burgundians. Or maybe they were Burgundians all along. Their spirit certainly suggests as much.
Based in Lugano, Switzerland, Robin Kick is a freelance wine consultant and writer who spends most of her time tasting through Europe, paying particular attention to the wines of Burgundy, Italy and Switzerland. She passed the Master of Wine exam in 2014.