The Montrachet vineyard is the jewel in the crown of Burgundy's white wines. It is one of five Grand Cru sites (climats) located in a cluster around the Mont-Rachet hill above Puligny-Montrachet. These vineyards produce some of the most expensive and rare wines in the world, often regarded as the ultimate expression of the Chardonnay grape variety.
This group of Grand Crus are planted only with Chardonnay, as their appellations are restricted to the production of dry white wines. As is the case throughout Burgundy, each of the sites has its own specific appellation, independent of the communal appellations of the area. The Montrachet appellation was created in 1937 and its strict laws control (among other things) permitted yields, planting densities, harvest ripeness levels and vinification techniques.
The precise spelling of the name is a topic of popular debate. Montrachet, Le Montrachet, Mon-Rachez, Mont-Rachaz and Mont-Rachet have all been used over the centuries. The modern INAO, the French government organization responsible for the appellation system, clearly marks the title as simply Montrachet. The hillside itself is generally indicated as Mont-Rachet on modern maps, but was once spelled Mon-Rachez. As a result, the Le Montrachet form is popularly used to distinguish between the vineyard and the hillside from which it takes its name.
Along with its Grand Cru neighbors, Chevalier-Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet and Criots-Batard-Montrachet, the Montrachet site is planted in a group on the southern apex of the Mont-Rachet hill. Curving around the corner of the hillside, the slopes face progressively from due east to due south, bringing their vines maximal exposure to the all-important ripening sunshine. Montrachet is the second largest of the five sites, covering about 20 acres (9ha), and is divided by the commune boundary between Puligny-Montrachet and its southern neighbor Chassagne-Montrachet. Unusually, this divide is actually visible in the way that Le Montrachet's vines are planted. The Chassagne section follows an east–west orientation, while the vines on the Puligny side run from north to south. This is intended to maximize the vines' exposure to sunlight and ensure that the grapes reach full phenolic ripeness. As Montrachet Grand Cru is an appellation in its own right and the local commune names do not directly figure in its title, this division has no impact on labeling laws.
Le Montrachet is at the center of the five Grand Cru sites and sits at 840ft (256m) above sea level. Its position on the slopes means that its soil is slightly thinner, stonier, and less fertile than the lower sites like Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, making its wines more elegant and refined in style. The poor soil here allows the vines easy access to the subtle mineral components of the limestone substrata below and forces them to grow strong, healthy roots as anchors. The site also benefits from excellent drainage, which further encourages root development, resulting in higher quality of fruit and more complex wines. As well as imparting mineral qualities to Montrachet wines, the limestone in the soil is also credited with reflecting light back up to the vine canopy. This helps the grapes to reach optimal phenolic ripeness, largely influenced by the site's south-easterly aspect.