Archive for the ‘Domaines’ Category

It is entirely appropriate that the rooster is the symbol at once of France and of the Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, so inextricably are the two bound together in history and tradition. The Domaine de Vogüé is one of the few iconic wine properties in France, with a transcendent reputation for quality that intrigues every epicure who has ever popped a cork or sniffed the bouquet of pedigreed Pinot Noir from Burgundy.          

The roots of the Vogüé family in Chambolle reach back to 1450, and to a long line of aristocrats who have since served as faithful stewards of some of the  finest vineyards in the world. The modern history of the Domaine commenced just after the Second War with the revival of the French economy and the vineyards in Burgundy. Presiding over the Domaine during this period was the larger-than-life, Hemmingway-esque Comte Georges de Vogüé, who    

Comte Georges


personally led the renaissance with charm, passion and resolute skill.  Today the pipette has passed to the Count’s granddaughters, Claire de Causans and Marie de Ladoucette, who have ably directed the affairs of the Domaine through their continued confidence in estate manager Jean-Luc Pépin, winemaker Francois Millet, and vineyard manager Eric Bourgogne.      

Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, from its base in Chambolle-Musigny,  is currently  comprised of 12.52 hectares of some of the finest vineyards in the Côte d’Or, including 7.12 hectares (almost 70%) of the Grand Cru Musigny  , 2.6 hectares of the Grand Cru Bonnes Mares, a .60 hectare parcel of Premier Cru Les Amoureuses;   and a parcel each of Premiers Crus Les Fuées and  Les Baudes, together aggregating .34 hectares;  and a 1.8 hecatre parcel of the villages-level lieu-dit Les Porlottes.       

The Domaine owns  7.2 hectares of the Grand Cru Musigny  including the entirety of the Les Petits Musignys climat  of  which .66 hectares are planted in chardonnay. This wine is entitled to the status Grand Cru Musigny Blanc, which would make it the only white Grand Cru in the Côte de Nuits. At present, however, mostly due to the youth of the vines, the Domaine has elected to bottle this wine (about 150 cases per year)  only as Bougogne blanc.  For similar reasons, the Domaine chooses to declassify approximately 2.8 hectares of vines (those younger than  25 years)  within Musigny,  and to bottle this wine (approximately 600 cases per year) as Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru.  This leaves 3.66 hectares of vines in Musigny, averaging 40 years, that create the Domaine’s iconic Musigny, Vieilles Vignes. Only about 900 cases are made annually.  The parcel of Bonnes Mares owned by the Domaine is situated entirely in the Chambolle portion of the climat, close to the village itself. At 2.7 hectares, it is the largest single parcel of the climat and amounts to almost 20% of the entirety. The vines were planted in 1970 and yield only about 500 cases a year.   The small parcel (.60 hectares) of the Domaine’s Les Amoureuses is located in the uphill, easternmost section of the climat,  separated from Musigny only by a small. The vines here were planted in 1970 and yield about 165 cases per year.  The Domaine’s villages-level Chambolle-Musigny, of which about 400 bottles are produced each vintage, derives mainly from a 1.8 hectare plot in the climat of Les Porlottes. Situated near the wooded area to the west of the village, the rocky, limestone soil in Les Porlottes contains vines planted in 1975. The Domaine’s  .34 hectares of Premiers Crus  Les Baudes (planted in 1955) and Les Fuées (planted in 1964) are declassified and included within the villages-level cuvée.      

It is axiomatic to the Burgundian commitment to terroir that vineyard management is the most crucial element in making wine expressive of the vineyard and vintage.  Vineyard manager Eric Bourgogne, who succeeded Gérard Gaudeau in 1996, is a practitioner of  lutte raisonnée, a system of vine cultivation that is essentially organic and noninterventionist.  Lutte raisonnée entails holistic and balanced viticultural management with primary focus on microbial health of the soil and the biodiversity of the vineyard. The governing policy is to support and maintain the natural ecosystem of the vineyard so that the vines can prosper without intervention, thereby naturally resisting pests and disease. The system pursues a reasoned and not absolutist approach, however, and practitioners of lutte raisonnée  will occasionally permit limited chemical intervention if certain danger thresholds are passed, and when chemicals are viewed as less harmful to the soil than alternative biodynamic treatments.   As a practical matter, lutte raisonnée  can be distinguished  from biodynamie in that the former implies the application of treatments only as a necessary response and the use of chemicals as a less harmful alternative; whereas biodynamie implements treatments systematically as prevention and employs biodynamic remedies like sulphur and copper that many vignerons believe are more harmful to the vineyard than chemical alternatives.   Lutte raisonnée , in the judgment of its practitioners, thus results in less intervention and a flexible approach that elevates the long term health of the vineyard above organic and biodynamic orthodoxy.     

Eric Bourgogne eschews chemical fertilizer, instead  applying small amounts of compost made at the Domaine.  Another tool that Eric Bourgogne employs in his vineyards is the seeding of the vineyard with insect pheromones in order to disrupt the mating activities of vineyard pest. This confusion sexuelle serves in lieu of insecticides and pesticides, which are shunned. The Domaine also controls predation by promoting competition among insects, believing that a natural balance of insects assures better prospects for vineyard health.  Bourgogne also interplants grass between rows and allows it and concomitant weeds to grow during autumn and winter. The objective is to resist soil erosion and to challenge the vines. Horse plowing is employed in the spring as a means of avoiding the soil compaction caused by mechanical tractors.      

It sometimes appears that winemaking requires simultaneously the technical skills of a proficient chemist and the artistic vision of a poet. If this be true, then Francois Millet is perfectly suited to the task, for his technical decisions    

Winemaker Francois Millet


are as deliberately reasoned as they are informed by his intuitive connection to the ethereal.   Fine winemakers today invariably and wisely refuse to follow formulaic winemaking, and insist on preserving a  wide latitude of options depending on conditions.  Francois Millet, however, elevates this flexible attitude to a higher plane of reality. He varies his winemaking based on vintage, vineyard and also by parcel and will seamlessly change direction if his finely honed nose so persuades him.    

There remain, nonetheless, certain inclinations and preferences that may suggest Millet’s normative instincts. Destemming is favored, although the percentage will vary between 30% and 100% depending on vintage and parcel. The objective of retaining stems is to achieve an overall balance of tannins, according to Millet, and so he will vary the proportion of stems depending, for example, on the appellation, the quality of natural grape tannins in the vintage, and the soil of the particular parcel.      

Generally, Millet favors a short period of natural pre-fermentation maceration. Fermentation temperatures are regulated to remain below 32°-33°C, although the length of the cuvaison, which can vary between two weeks and a month, varies depending on the vintage and the parcel. There is then, importantly, a period of post-fermentation maceration, after which the free-run wine is racked off.  The remaining pulp is gently then pressed and segregated until careful evaluation confirms that the time is appropriate to add the press wine.      

Not surprisingly, the Domaine maintains an adaptable policy toward new oak, generally using between 40% and 70% new oak depending on conditions. At present, Millet has decided that Allier oak is the most suitable for his barrels and so uses that exclusively. Obviously, the period of élevage varies according to the rate of the wine’s development, but generally the wines are bottled after between 18 and 20 months months’ aging. Fining, with egg whites or gelatin, may occasionally be used but filtration is employed only rarely.

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  Négociants and winemakers are generally viewed today as polar opposites. The winemaker is a veritable rock star, a man or woman of heroic mien and charismatic appeal. Adoring oenophiles and wine snobs alike grovel at his gates and genuflect in his cave. Today’s winemaker is the innovator and the artiste who, typically operating from his own domaine, routinely spins straw into gold. A majority of fine Burgundy is now being produced by winemakers under the domaine system, and, as result, the percentage of fine wine is significantly higher than it was in years past. In contrast, the négociant is often viewed as an insensitive corporate suit who panders to vulgar tastes and MacDonaldizes Burgundy in the pursuit of unholy profits. While there are, sadly, a few négociants who fit this mold, there are also négociant-winemakers who are fully in the avant garde of what is new and exciting in Burgundy.     

The word négotiant encompasses a swath of possibilities, beginning with the trader who buys finished wine in bottles and merely slaps on his label before hitting the shelves of les grandes surfaces. There are also the traditional large négociant companies, well-known and quite respectable like Faiveley or Drouhin, who enjoy long-term contracts with vineyard owners for their fruit. Finally, there are the négociants who, under long term contract, dictate vineyard

Négotiant as Artiste: David Croix

practices, buy grapes, and then use superstar winemakers to craft the wine to exacting standards. These are the “boutique négociant winemakers,” who are today in the vanguard of Burgundy.     

Among the finest of the boutique négociant-winemakers is Maison Camille Giroud, an old and venerable négoce, which is today presided over by wunderkind  David Croix. Founded in 1865, Camille Giroud earned an impeccable reputation over the last century and one-half as a specialist in “eccentrically traditional” vins de garde. Often hard and tannic in their infancy, Giroud’s wines were raised very slowly and deliberately in their own deep, cool cellars in seasoned (not new) barrels. Even after bottling, the wines are allowed time to reach harmonious maturity at their leisure. On a recent visit, many of the 1976’s were still not yet ready. When the wines are at least deemed mature, the Maison releases them with pristine labels and capsules, even new corks if necessary.    

This system produced generations of legendary wines but was not, unfortunately, a very good business model, especially in the 1980’s and 1990’s, periods of high interest rates and spiraling costs. The aged grandsons of the founder finally felt the need the to  pass to torch in 2001 to a group of oenophiliac investment bankers led by wine-collector/banker Joe Wender and his wife, Napa cult vintner, Ann Colgin. This group has been able not only to infuse necessary capital but also to bring management at once sensitive to fine wine and highly skilled in modern business practices.     

 The group’s first inspired decision was to induce Burgundy’s legendary Becky Wasserman-Hone to take over as “PDG” (président directeur général) and to reorganize the entire operation. In short order, she sold off old stocks not worthy of the Giroud name, replaced outmoded barrels and equipment, and otherwise brought the winery and cellar into conformity with modern standards.

Winemaker David Croix

Her most inspired decision was the hiring of then 24-year old David Croix as winemaker. After formal training in oenology, David apprenticed to Benjamin Leroux at Comte Armand, who had succeeded wunderkind poet/winemaker Pascal Marchand. In 2007, the still-young and very accomplished David Croix assumed full charge of the Maison as successor PDG.     

 Following in the footprints of Leroux and Marchand, David Croix has sought to bring his viticultural contracts into line with organic principles, with an unswerving commitment to the holistic health of the vineyards.  There is very strict triage both in the vineyards and on a vibrating sorting table in the cuverie. Typically, the Pinot Noir is 100% destemmed (although Croix is increasingly experimenting with some whole cluster fermentation with some vineyards ) and then allowed to macerate in open, wooden vats. Afterwards, there is some light pressing with a pneumatic press. (The former use of a hundred year-old wooden press has been discontinued). Some press wine may be added later  to increase structure.  

  Winemaking for  Pinot Noir varies considerably with the conditions, and the amount of punchdowns and rackings is highly dependent on the vintage.   Under the right conditions, Croix will also use frequent pigeage (punching down) during the first stages of alcoholic fermentation; and, if alcohol levels increase, sometimes remontage (pumping over).  

For white wines, the Chardonnay grapes are pressed and then barrel fermented and aged. 

One of the Giroud “signatures” has traditionally been little or no new oak. Under  Croix, the average percentage of new oak averages 15% but can be 0% (e.g., Bourgogne rouge, Marsannay) up to 40-50% for some Grands Crus like Chambertin or Corton Charlemagne. Depending on the state of the fruit, Croix may not rack until bottling, allowing up to 20 months in barrel.    

Maison Camille Giroud occupies a singular niche in Burgundy: it is at the same time among the most dependable and exciting sources of fully mature, traditional Burgundy, and one of the best sources for transparent, terroir-driven current vintage Burgundy.

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            When Jules Lafon first arrived in Beaune in 1865, Napoleon III occupied the thrown of France, “Mad Ludwig” ruled Bavaria, and Alexander II was Czar of all the Russias.   While these countries are no longer ruled by hereditary dynasties, Jules’ great-grandson, Dominique Lafon, is   

Dominique Lafon

widely hailed around the world as the King of Chardonnay. Wine Writer Clive Coates, has written: “The Domaine des Comtes Lafon is in my view the world’s greatest white wine domaine.” Remarkably, he Domaine also produces Volnay that is every bit as distinguished.    

            As any three-starred Michelin chef will readily admit, the first principal of fine food is the best ingredients. It is just so with fine wine, and it is axiomatic that the finest wines will originate in great vineyards. In this respect, Domaine Lafon is ideally endowed, for their vineyards include only the best parts of the best vineyards. Lafon’s Meursault holdings include plots of Premiers Crus Les Perrières (.77 ha),  Les Genevrières (.55 ha), Les Charmes   (1.71 ha), and Les Gouttes d’Or (.39 ha), plus the lieux-dits Clos de la Barre   (2.12 ha) and  Desirée (.45 ha); Meursault villages (1.36 ha); and  Volnay Premier Cru  Santenots-du-Milieu (3.78 ha). The Domaine also has superb Volnay holdings in the Premiers Crus climats En Champans (.52 ha), Clos des Chênes (.38 ha).  In Monthélie, the Domaine produces Monthélie rouge from  1.06 hectares and Monthélie blanc from .15 hectares, both from the Premier Cru climat Les Duresses. The Domaine also produces a small amount of Puligny-Montrachet, Premier Cru, En Champgain (.25 ha). Its iconic Grand Cru Montrachet comes from a .32 hectare parcel within Le Montrachet in Chassagne-Montrachet.  

            When Dominique took over the family vineyards in 1984, at the age of 25, he was already convinced that the technological innovations to winemaking adopted by his father’s generation were a dead end. In fact, Lafon believed that the quality of grapes, in terms of taste especially, was rapidly deteriorating. He formed part of the vanguard of young winemakers that turned to biodynamics and to organic viticulture out of a conviction that naturally balanced soil would ensure healthy vineyards, better tasting fruit, and, most importantly, a truer expression of terroir.                   

           Lafon believes strongly in the virtues of restricted yields, and ploughs his soil to encourage the old vine roots to reach further down into the soil. He contends that ploughing combines with an organic regimen to add natural acidity to the fruit. This acidity, he believes, allows picking at greater ripeness while still in balance.                       

          The handpicked Chardonnay grapes are carefully sorted and destemmed, then pressed slowly and gently (less than 2 bars for less than 2 hours) with a Bucher pneumatic press. The must is then lightly dosed (less than 5 gm/HL) with sulphur, and allowed to settle for 12-24 hours, depending on the vintage. After cooling to 12-14°C., the must is fermented in oak barrels (100% new for the Premiers Crus), where the new wine undergoes malolactic fermentation and rests on its lees for the next 6 months in Lafon’s famously cool cellars. Batonnage  (stirring of   

Lafon's cool, deep cellars are among the best in Burgundy

the lees) is employed during the first part of this period, although the frequency of batonnage has decreased over the years. During the spring, the wines are racked into tank and assembled; importantly, the fine lees are retained. The assembled wine is then gravity-fed into mature casks where the wine ages for an additional 12 months, after which it is racked off the lees. The wines are finally bottled 20-24 months after harvest.

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One of the most durable images of the Burgundian is the laconic peasant, face deeply etched and hands callused by years of exposure to the elements, beret akimbo, and a Gauloise à la Bogart. His education has been assimilated from generations of winemakers, and his worldview has remained congruent with the medieval Duchy of Burgundy. As compelling and charming as this iconic image may be, the reality is often strikingly different.    

The Domaine de l’Arlot, which is financed and controlled by the international financial services company AXA, stands as testimony that world class Burgundy does not invariably require the  

Domaine de l'Arlot

enduring stewardship of a single family, toiling in the vineyards and cuverie with techniques passed on from father to son. A well-advised and skillfully-led corporation can in fact bring in a professional overseer and produce superb Pinot Noir that faithfully manifests its terroir.    

The Domaine surrounds a château constructed in the 17th century from hewn Premeaux limestone. With adjoining vineyards and gardens, the château was  acquired and restored by Jean-Charles Viénot in the late 17th Century. His son François Viénot erected a surrounding stone wall, adopted the name of the l’Arlot stream, and the Clos de l’Arlot  was born. Maison Jules Belin, one of Burgundy’s most prominent 19th century négotiants, acquired the property in 1891, at which time it also bought the Clos-des-Forêts and the Clos de Chapeau. The Maison’s fortunes declined through the twentieth century and the estate fell gradually into disrepair.    

In 1987, the able head of AXA, Claude Bebéar, learned that Clos de l’Arlot and surrounding vineyards were available, and he moved quickly to acquire them. To spearhead the operation of the properties, newly baptized as the Domaine de l’Arlot,   Bebéar selected Jean-Pierre de Smet.    

De Smet was English-born and raised in Nice. Trained as an accountant, he set off as a young man for New Caledonia where he ran a business and    

Founding Winemaker, Jean-Pierre de Smet

 indulged his love for sailing. On a whim which was to change his life, Jean-Pierre spent 1977 in Burgundy with his friend Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac. He thereafter trained at the University of Dijon and continued assisting Seysses at Dujac for nearly a decade until, in 1987, the call came from another friend, Claude Bebéar.    

The estate acquired from Maison Belin consisted of 13 hectares, 7.1 hectares of the monopole Premier Cru Clos des Forêts-Saint-Georges, all planted in Pinot Noir; 4 hectares of the monopole Premier Cru Clos de l’Arlot, planted half with Pinot Noir and less than half with Chardonnay (the remaining fraction is planted with Pinot Beurot); and 1.8 hectares of Côte-de-Nuits Villages, Clos du Chapeau. AXA and De Smet have since added a couple of other small parcels, 25 ares of Grand Cru Romanée-St-Vivant and 85 ares of Premier Cru Vosne-Romanée, Les Suchots.    

Jean-Pierre subsequently brought in Lise Judet as co-gerante and Oliver Leriche as his technical director to supervise the making of the wine. The new regime transformed the viticulture from prevailing commercial practices to a more organic approach. They ceased using herbicides in favor of manual ploughing, and replaced insecticides with natural treatments. At present, viticulture is completely organic with a strong biodynamic orientation.    

Yields of the Pinot Noir are kept low, with a yield of 35 hl/ha on average, through a system of severe pruning as well as by using only compost to fertilize. At harvest, the grapes are handpicked into small baskets and then rigorously sorted in the vineyards to remove any imperfect bunches. The whole bunches are then rushed to the cuverie where, after another triage and little or no de-stemming, the bunches are vatted and allowed to cool gently.  The free run juice is allowed to begin fermenting with the resultant carbon dioxide retarding oxidation of the whole grapes, which themselves macerate slowly for 2-3 days before natural fermentation begins. According to    

Olivier Leriche

Leriche, this process breaks down the grapes, and helps extract a maximum of color, complexity and aroma. Fermentation temperatures are naturally maintained below 32° C.    

The cuvaison lasts between two and three weeks. This wine is then racked and some press wine may be added if needed for structure. After a one day débourbage, the wine is moved into oak casks (40% new for the Premier Cru), where it undergoes malo and rests on its lees in a cool cellar for 15-18 months. Generally, the wine is racked only twice before it is lightly fined (with egg whites) and bottled without filtration.    

The white wine, which comes from a section of the Clos de l’Arlot, is made mostly from old vine Chardonnay but also includes some rare Pinot Beurot. White wine in the Côte de Nuits is unusual, even more so when it comes from a Premier Cru vineyard. As with the Pinot Noir, the white grapes are fermented in whole clusters. After pressing, the must is cooled and, following débourbage, is racked into a tank (to retard oxidation) until fermentation begins. It is then placed into 25% new oak where it rests for about a year. Before bottling, it is lightly fined and filtered.

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Michel Lafarge

The original Burgundians were most likely a Scandinavian people whose roots can be traced to the southern shores of the Baltic. The present island of Bornholm off peninsular Denmark, known in the Middle Ages as Burgundarholm, bears linguistic testimony to this origin. During the first century A.D. the Burgundians migrated west to the northern border of the Roman Empire. The Burgundii, as they were known by the Romans, crossed the frozen Rhine on New Year’s Eve 406 A.D.,  and established a kingdom on the Rhine’s west bank. Before the end of the century, however, the Regnum Burgundiae was attacked and destroyed by the Huns. The destruction of this kingdom is recounted in one of the great literary triumphs of the Middle Ages, the Nibelungenlied, which provided the basis for Wagner’s Ring. 


The cellars at Domaine Michel Lafarge were built at around the same time as the Nibelungenlied was being written:  13th century AD. People were clearly much shorter when the cellars were built and it is not too difficult to imagine the Nibelung Alberich scurrying about in search of a prized bottle of ancient Clos-des-Chênes.

There is a very strong sense of history that permeates Domaine Michel Lafarge in Volnay. This is reinforced by the father-and-son team, Michel and Frédéric, who jointly manage the estate and make the wine using very traditional methods and with knowledge handed down over the generations. Just so, they remain open to innovations that prove their value through experience. Michel’s commanding stature and piercing blue eyes confirm his kinship to the Viking raiders who crossed the frozen Rhine, just as his gracious manner and charm manifest the qualities that have enabled the Burgundians to prevail over other competing tribes of the region over the centuries.

As fits their respect for the tried and true, the Lafarges have resisted the rush to embrace clones and continue to use a sélection massale. Their objective is to use old vines and small yields, and they contend that clones have a tendency to be overly productive. Similarly, the Domaine prefers the Cordon system of pruning over the more prevalent Guyot , believing that Cordon produces a smaller overall yield: more individual berries but of demonstrably smaller size and thus smaller overall quantity of more concentrated juice. As a secondary benefit, Michel and Frederic are convinced that Cordon makes the vines more resistant to disease by spacing out the vegetation and facilitating treatments against rot and other diseases. If such treatments do become necessary, traditional methods of control such as copper and sulphur are employed. Even then, the Lafarges will prepare their own Bordeaux mixes rather that rely on the ready made products of agrochemical companies. Modern chemical treatments and herbicides are eschewed and only modest amounts of organic compost are ever used to fertilize when necessary.

With their primary objective of old vines and low yields, they will on a selective basis green harvest young vines and other prolific vines, such as those clones that the Lafarges have allowed on an experimental basis. They also scrupulously  excise verjus (unripe, green grapes), both on the vines and in triage at the cuverie. Just as does their neighbor and friend Etienne de Montille at the Domaine de Montille, the Lafarges  reject blanket rules of vinification and tailor techniques in accordance with the peculiarities of the vintage. “There are no rules,” says Etienne, although the statement could have been pronounced with equal conviction down the street at Domaine Lafarge.

Typically, though not invariably, the Lafarges will destem between 80% and 100% of the bunches, with total destalking favored in less ripe vintages when the presence of unripe stalks will be more likely to add a herbaceous

Frédéric and Michel Lafarge

quality to the must, although the presence of some stalks will tend to lengthen the period of fermentation and decrease the temperature of the fermenting must. There is a decided preference for a longer and cooler fermentation period. They reject the use of enzymes and commercial yeasts, adhering to a natural pre-fermentation maceration with a transition into fermentation prompted by the action of natural, indigenous yeasts.

Cuvaison will typically occupy 10-14 days, with temperatures kept at between 28° and 32°C. Heat exchangers are anathema, however, and the fementation temperature is regulated by controlling the ambient temperature in the cuverie. In less ripe years, the fermention is hotter and shorter: hotter in order to extract more fruit and tannin, and shorter to resist the less attractive qualities of the unripe secondary flavors. A cooler and longer fermentation period is perceived as better able to gently extract the elegant secondary flavors.

Although generally opposed to saignée, the Lafarges will employ the practice in years when they conclude that dilution might otherwise occur. They strenuously resist any pumping in the cuverie and will move the pulp to the press by hand to avoid damaging the fragile fruit. For the same reason, the press is manually controlled to allow the gentlest possible extraction of press wine from the pulp. In any event, very little vin de presse is ever used, with between 5-10 % the norm.

New wood is sparingly used, with typically only about 25%, although up to a third may be used in ripe years for Premier Cru. Racking is delayed as long as possible, by up to one month if the lies are healthy and the ambient temperatures are low enough. A second racking will occur once malo is complete. Total élevage will generally last between fifteen and twenty months. The wines are rarely filtered and finished with only a light fining with egg whites before bottling.

Domaine Lafarge is comprised of approximately 12 hectares of vineyards. There are 1.28 ha of Chardonnay in Meursault, and 1.1 ha of Aligoté. Except for small portions of vineyards devoted to Gamay for inclusion in their stellar Passetoutgrains, the remainder of the Lafarge vineyards are planted in old-vine Pinot Noir. Their best known vineyards are in Volnay Premiers Crus, and include .97 hectares of Clos des Chênes, .57 hectares of Clos du Château des Ducs, and .30 hectares of Les Caillerets, and small plots of Chanlins and Les Mitans. The Domaine also produces noteworthy Beaune, includes .38 hectares of Premier Cru Les Grêves, and .20 ha of Les Teurons; and a tiny quantity of Pommard from a .14 hectare vineyard in Pommard Premier Cru Les Pezerolles.

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Domaine Jean-Noel Gagnard: No Doubt that Caroline Now Runs the Show

 The wines produced at Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard reflect a mastery of terroir appropriate to a family whose roots in Chassagne-Montrachet reach back to 1632, the era of the Thirty Years’ War, Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. The current winemaker, Caroline Lestimé, follows in the footsteps of her father, Jean-Noël Gagnard, making some of the richest and most intense wine in the Côte-de-Beaune, including what many consider the benchmark Chassagne-Montrachet.                

  Caroline Lestimé is an adherent of lutte raisonnée, a system of vine cultivation that is essentially organic and noninterventionist.  Lutte raisonnée entails holistic and balanced viticultural management with primary focus on microbial health of the soil and the biodiversity of the vineyard. The governing policy is to support and maintain the

Winemaker Caroline Estimée

natural ecosystem of the vineyard so that the vines can prosper without intervention, thereby naturally resisting pests and disease. The system pursues a reasoned and not absolutist approach, however, and practitioners of lutte raisonnée  will occasionally permit limited chemical intervention if certain danger thresholds are passed, and when chemicals are viewed as less harmful to the soil than alternative biodynamic treatments.   As a practical matter, lutte raisonnée  can be distinguished  from biodynamie in that the former implies the application of treatments only as a necessary response and the use of chemicals as a less harmful alternative; whereas biodynamie implements treatments systematically as prevention and employs biodynamic remedies like sulphur and copper that many vignerons believe are more harmful to the vineyard than chemical alternatives.   Lutte raisonnée , in the judgment of its practitioners, thus results in less intervention and a flexible approach that elevates the long term health of the vineyard above organic and biodynamic orthodoxy.       


          This regimen of organic farming and minimal intervention is rigorously followed at Domaine Jean-Noël  Gagnard. The plants are carefully pruned manually using Guyot simple (one cane and one spur). The vineyards are worked by hand without any chemical herbicides. If            

single Guyot pruning

necessary, natural compost can be worked into the soil to replenish the organic vitality of the vineyard.             

          The Chardonnay grapes are harvested manually and rushed to the cuverie where they are scrupulously sorted to remove leaves, unripe and damaged grapes. They are very lightly crushed with a pneumatic press, after which the must is allowed to settle for one or two days. Using only indigenous yeasts, the must is then fermented in an oak vat in the cool (18°C ) Gagnard chai, where it also undergoes  malolactic fermentation. When malo is finished, the wine is racked into barriques (228 liters),  made from Tronçais and Allier oak, the percentage of new oak varying between 33% for the Premiers Crus and 80% for the Bâtard-Montrachet. The barriques are then placed in the cold (10°-12°C.) cellars where the wine rests on its fine lies for 18 months. The wine is fined with casein, racked into assemblage, lightly plate-filtered and bottled.                  

          The Pinot Noir is similarly harvested and sorted at the cuverie. The bunches are completely de-stemmed and the berries are vatted  and allowed to macerate for ten days, during which time there is daily punching down (pigeage) and pumping over (remontage). Temperature-controlled tanks regulate carefully the fermentation process. After alcoholic and malolactic fermentation are complete, the wine is racked into oak barriques, 25% of which are new, in which it remains for 12-18 months, depending on the vintage. Prior to blending, the wine is racked and filtered with egg whites. The wine is plate-filtered and bottled.

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One of the strengths of Burgundy is the variety of paths that have led so many to their apotheoses as winemakers. The conventional assumption is that Burgundian winemakers descend from soldier/farmers who fought alongside Vercingetorix against the Romans, men who were born with argilo-calcaire under their fingernails, and Pinot Noir in their DNA.  This stereotypical winemaker learned in the fields and cuverie alongside his father and grandfather, and absorbed the accumulated wisdom of generations of vignerons by the age of 10, when he produced his first vintage.

Frédéric (“Fréd”) Mugnier easily makes every critic’s shortlist of the most respected and influential winemakers in Burgundy and yet his background diverges widely from the stereotype. He was born in 1955 in Geneva, to which his parents had briefly relocated from French Indochina shortly after the fall of Dien Bien Phu. His father, trained as a lawyer, pursued a career as a merchant banker in Paris, his mother’s birthplace, where young Fréd grew up when he was not in Alsace. He took a degree in Petroleum Engineering and specialized in off-shore oil projects from the North Sea to Africa.

Fréd’s paternal forbearer and namesake Frédéric had been a successful distiller in Dijon in the middle of the 19th century, profiting greatly from the boom in Absinthe. One of the iconic absinthe posters of that era, the  Zouave by Lucien Lefevre, promoted Mugnier Absinthe. The business prospered and Frédéric acquired the Château de Chambolle-Musigny in 1863 from the Marey-Mange family, along with a few hectares of vineyards. The family added the Clos de la Marechale in 1902. The Domaine was managed for a period by Maison Faiveley and later by Bernard Clair, the cask wine being sold off in barrel to negoces. Although Fréd’s father occasionally visited the Château, especially after his retraite in 1977, he remained very removed from the winemaking and the vineyards.

Although Fréd’s father had died in 1980, it was not until 1984, at the age of almost thirty, that Fréd Mugnier heeded the Sirens of the vineyards whilst on a sabbatical. Enrolling at the Lycée Viticole, Fréd was soon a confirmed addict, completely enchanted by a passion for Pinot Noir. In the twenty-five years since taking the helm as a relative novice, Frédy Mugnier has emerged as one of the dominant influences in Burgundy, producing some of the most elegant and compelling examples of Pinot Noir.

 Domaine J-F. Mugnier, from its base at the Château de Chambolle-Musigny,  produces two Grands Crus, Bonnes Mares (.36 ha) and Musigny (1.13 ha); two Premiers Crus, Chambolle-Musigny, Les Amoureuses (.53 ha), Chambolle-Musigny, Les Fuées (.73 ha) and a village Chambolle-Musigny (1.3 ha) that is comprised of three climats, two of which are actually  Premiers Crus. Beginning with the 2004 vintage, the famed Monopole Premier Cru Nuits-St-Georges, Clos de la Maréchale (9.55 ha), reverted to Mugnier control (long under contract to Maison Faiveley). As result, the Domaine now consists of 13.79 ha of some of the best vineyards in the Côte d’Or.

Mugnier is a confirmed noninterventionist, preferring to allow the vintage and the vines to express themselves. He avoids the use of herbicides and insecticides, preferring the risk of infestation to the untoward consequences of toxic chemicals. A key to his wines, Mugnier believes, is low yields. Overall, he rarely exceeds 32 hl/ha in his vineyards.  He eschews fertilizers, regarding their absence as a simple and natural way to control yields. The best way, he contends, to keep production low is the selection of clones and rootstocks that are not naturally prolific. He does not conform, however, to the widespread practice of close-pruning as an adjunct to controlling yields. Fréd believes that short-pruning over-stimulates the vines to produce too much unnecessary foliage. He also opposes vendange vert (green harvest), the shedding of bunches in June, claiming that this practice only covers up earlier mistakes. Instead, he practices envasivage, removal of double buds, in May.

Severe triage is Mugnier’s final weapon against elevated yields. Both in the vineyards and in the cuverie, his instruction is adamant: only perfect fruit is allowed to pass. Interestingly, Mugnier also rigorously selects the stalks that he adds to the fruit. He contends that ripeness of individual stems is essential, and even goes so far as to suggest that better and riper stems come from certain vines. Depending on the vintage, up to 40% of stalks are selected for inclusion in fermentation.

There is generally a pre-fermentation cold maceration lasting for between three and five days.  After that, fermentation starts naturally, without cultured yeasts and with only the natural yeasts on the fruit. Fermentation, which occurs in open 65 hectolitre vats, covered only with a layer of inert gas, is permitted to reach high temperature (32°-33° C.) before heat exchangers kick in to lower the temperatures. There is frequent pigéage, often up to five times daily, during a cuvaison that lasts 14-23 days.

The wine is then racked into barrels to undergo malolactic fermentation. Press wine is kept segregated and only added, if at all, at an assemblage just before bottling. Mugnier uses only 25-30% new Allier barrels with a very light brûlage (toast). To preserve freshness, Mugnier racks as little as possible. Elévage typically lasts about 18 months and is followed by light fining with egg whites but little, if any, filtration.

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The careers that young children envision for themselves often more closely reflect their cultural milieu than any noteworthy aptitude. Once upon a time in America’s innocence, nearly every eight-year old boy (regardless of hand-eye coordination) dreamed of playing major league baseball. By the 1960’s, with the Space Race in full throttle, the prevailing boyhood ambition – even for those who got queasy in elevators — was to be an astronaut.  What, then, does it say about a community when an eight-year old aristocrat, scion of a celebrated French military family, announces to his father that he plans to become a winemaker?      

Unlike millions of baseball players and astronauts manqués, Louis-Michel Liger-Belair completed the path to his youthful dream. Fortunately for the worldwide community of wine lovers, Louis-Michel possessed at once the artistic talent, scientific ability, and intellectual determination to realize his ambition. The consensus of wine critics is that he today, from his base in Vosne-Romanée,  produces some of finest expressions of Pinot Noir.      

Gen. Louis Liger-Belair

In pursuit of his dream, Louis-Michel benefited from the patrimony of the Château de Vosne-Romanée, and adjoining vineyards, which descended from his lineal forbearer and Napoleonic general, Louis Liger-Belair. In fact, by mid-nineteenth century, the Liger-Belair vineyards comprised over 60 hectares, including the entirety of La Romanée, La Tâche, and La Grande Rue;  the preponderence of Malconsorts;  one-third of Clos de Vougeot, significant holdings of Chambertin, Richebourg and Echezaux, as well as parcels of Les Chaumes, Les Reignots, Les Brulées, Les Suchots ; Les Saint Georges and Les Vaucrains. Nevertheless, his ancestors had merely been the patron, presiding over Domaine. Louis-Michel would become the first of his family actually to serve as viticulturalist and winemaker.      

When Louis-Michel had first announced his career goal to his father Henri, a distinguished general officer, the astonished general had preconditioned his paternal consent on prior completion of engineering studies. In addition, Henri called upon his good friend, the legendary Henri Jayer, to tutor Louis-Michel in some of the arts of winemaking.     

Domaine Liger-Belair is presently composed of twelve appellations, comprising 5.53 hectares,  situated in the communes of Vosne-Romanée, Flagey-Echézeaux, and Nuits-St-Georges. These include the monopole Grand Cru La Romanée (.84 ha.), and a parcel of Grand Cru Echézeaux (.6 ha.); a most impressive lineup of Vosne-Romanée, Premiers Crus — Aux Reignots (.75 ha), Les Suchots (.22 ha) ,  Aux Brûlees (.12 ha) ,  Les Petits Monts (.13 ha), Les Chaumes (.12 ha); 3 parcels of village-level Vosne-Romanée, totaling 2.26 hectares, including the monopole lieu-dit Clos du Château  (.83 ha.) , the lieu-dit La Colombière (.78 ha.), and a third village-leval parcel of .65 hectares ; together with two parcels of Nuits-St-Georges, the one a parcel of Premier Cru Les Cras  (.37 ha.) and the other a parcel of the lieu-dit Les Lavières (.13 ha.).     

Winemaker Louis-Michel Liger-Belair

 Louis-Michel is an adherent of lutte raisonnée, a system of vine cultivation that is essentially organic and noninterventionist. Lutte raisonnée entails holistic and balanced management of the vineyard, with primary focus on the microbial health of the soil and the biodiversity of the vineyard. The governing policy is to support and maintain the natural ecosystem of the vineyard so that the vines can prosper without intervention, thereby naturally resisting pests and disease. The system pursues a reasoned and not absolutist approach, however, and practitioners of lutte raisonnée allow for the  possibility of limited chemical intervention if certain danger thresholds are passed.     

A regimen of organic farming and minimal intervention is rigorously followed at the Domaine In order to promote the microbiological life of the soil, herbicides are banned and the soil is turned with a horse-drawn plough. The rationale is that a horse has a much lesser impact on the soil than would a tractor. The hooves compact the soil intermittently and randomly whereas a tractor is continuous and invariable in its tracks.    

When full ripeness has reached, the Domaine harvests the grapes as quickly as possible to assure freshness and vibrancy. In order to avoid crushing the bunches, the grapes are placed into small (14 kilo) perforated cases and rushed to the winery.      

Once the grapes make it to the sorting table at the cuverie, the work is essentially complete. To adopt a musical metaphor of the kind much favored by Louis-Michel, once the grapes are placed on the sorting table, the score is final and complete. It remains to the instrumentalist only to interpret faithfully (and artistically) the music that has been written.      

The grapes are entirely destemmed and conveyed uncrushed to the fermenting vat by belt. Once in the vat, the grapes are cooled to a fifteen degrees C°; at which temperature they remain for about a week. Fermentation then begins naturally with indigenous yeasts.      

Fermentation typically lasts 10-12 days, during which time the carbon dioxide, which is a byproduct of fermentations, carries solids to the surface where they combine with the skins to form a “cap”. Inasmuch as many subtle flavors as well as color compounds are found in this cap, Louis-Michel coaxes these qualities out of the cap through pigéage (pushing the floating cap back down into the fermenting wine) and remontage (pulling the wine from the bottom of the vat and pumping over the cap).      

The grapes are then lightly pressed. The free run juice and the press wine are blended and left in vats for about ten days to settle the lees. The suspended solids fall to the bottom of the vats, and the clarified wine is a transferred by gravity into new oak barrels. After malolactic fermentation and aging for 12-15 months, the wine is racked into tank where it rests for an additional 2-3 months. The wine is bottled by gravity without pumping, and without fining or filtration.

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