Puligny-Montrachet is a village in the Cote de Beaune sub-region of Burgundy, with its own communal appellation. It is also home to four Grand Cru vineyards and 17 Premier Cru sites. The village was originally called just Puligny until 1879, when the Montrachet section was added in homage to its iconic Grand Cru vineyard, Le Montrachet. The origin of these names is the scrubby Mont-Rachet hillside above the village: mont meaning 'hill' and rache translating rather less glamorously as either 'scab' or 'rash'.
The communal Puligny-Montrachet appellation covers red wines made from Pinot Noir and white wines made from Chardonnay. However, red wines make up only a tiny fraction of the output and it is the high-quality white wines – regarded by many as the finest possible expression of Chardonnay – that are responsible for Puligny's fame and stellar reputation.
The undeniable success of Chardonnay here is the result of several factors – most of them encompassed by the concept of terroir. The local combination of topography, soil structure and climate gives producers high-quality grapes with which to make their wines. Many generations of winemakers have studied the local terrain in depth, developing a detailed theoretical map of the area, marking those sites best suited to quality viticulture. In recent years (with the help of modern technology), extensive analysis has been carried out to further this work and to examine the precise relationship between soil and wine. Although difficult to pin down, the positive effect of the limestone soils and the particular climate in Puligny is undeniable.
In 1984, the INAO (the government body responsible for the French appellation system) officially demarcated and classified the land around the village into 17 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru vineyard sites. Wines from these vineyards may carry the Premier Cru title on their labels and include their vineyard names. The village had officially recognized prestigious vineyards long before that date, however; the famous Le Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Chevalier Montrachet and Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet sites were officially awarded their own appellations – and Grand Cru status – in the late 1930s. The first two of these are divided down the middle by the commune boundary between the Puligny and Chassagne villages, both of which proudly lay claim to their half.
The soils around Puligny-Montrachet are characteristically Burgundian, with a high content of limestone, especially on the slopes of the Cote d'Or. These slopes are of particular importance to Puligny – not only because they angle the vines towards the ripening rays of the morning sunshine, but also because they are less affected by the village's relatively high water table. The best wine comes from vines that are forced to grow long, strong root systems, which they will only do if searching for water or nutrition.
The particular terroir of Puligny gives the wines a subtle distinction compared with its neighbors Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault, which lie to the immediate south and north respectively. Puligny wines are reputed to have a greater mineral influence and a firmer structure than the more accessible wines from Chassagne and the more perfumed wines of Meursault.
The climate around Puligny-Montrachet is of continental type, with warm, dry summers and cool, extended winters. While spring arrives earlier here than in Burgundy's northern outposts like Chablis, the commune's viticulturalists must still contend with cold spring mornings and the risk of frost damage to their vines.
The southern vineyards of Blagny, a small hamlet just north-west of Puligny, are also covered by the Puligny-Montrachet appellation, but only for their white wines. They produce red wines under their own Blagny Premier Cru appellation.