Portrait of Roland Masse on the eve of his last Hospices de Beaune auction

Thursday November 20 2014 by Vitisphere


“I am tired but optimistic about the quality of the wines,” said estate manager Roland Masse on the eve of the 154th Hospices de Beaune wine auction. “Members of the industry who have tasted the wines are pleased with the vintage, which gives me total satisfaction.”


The great annual auction of wines organised by Christie’s took place on Sunday November 16. A total 534 casks of wines sold as futures were due to go under the hammer at what would be Roland Masse’s last auction as estate manager. The 61-year-old ‘born-and-bred’ Burgundian hands over the keys of the estate to female winemaker Ludivine Griveau in January 2015. “I don’t know her very well,” concedes Roland Masse.


For 15 years, he successfully and faultlessly produced some of the world’s most prestigious wines. Of the estate’s 60 hectares under vine, over 85% enjoy first or great growth status with names such as Auxey-Duresses, Beaune, Meursault, Monthelie, Pommard, Pernand-Vergelesses, Puligny-Montrachet, Savigny-lès-Beaune and Volnay. The fact that the auction has gone from strength to strength bears testimony to the quality of the wines he has produced. “More and more buyers are interested in our wines and the auction, particularly from overseas,” admits Roland Masse. “The wines have strong historical ties and are linked to the heritage of the Hospices, which is perhaps why the auction is so successful. Media coverage is also very widespread.” Another explanation he gives is the shortage of wines currently available: “In one fell swoop, you can buy 300 bottles of great growth wines. So the sale attracts buyers who cannot find those wines in the usual distribution channels.”


Asked about his most memorable vintages, Roland Masse reverts to some traditional farming wisdom: “Each vintage is different and is marked by positive or negative milestones which might be frost, hail, coulure or the flowering process for example. Every year, something different happens, which is what makes our job interesting: it is a constant learning curve.”


The son of a wine grower from the Côte Chalonnaise, Roland Masse stayed in Burgundy for his entire career. After studying at the Lycée Viticole in Beaune, he went on to the faculty of oenology in Dijon where he graduated in winemaking. He then worked for a number of companies and wineries in Mâcon, Yonne and Santenay before spending 18 years at Domaine Bertagna in Vougeot. His ultimate position was as estate manager for the Hospices de Beaune. His next challenge is to “establish a small winemaking enterprise with my nephew who works on the family wine farm in the Côte Chalonnaise. We aim to produce around 20,000 bottles to extend his current range.”


His strong bond with the wine industry, which goes back to his childhood, looks set to continue into the future.


Photo credit: Hospices de Beaune


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