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Posts Tagged ‘Domaine Lafarge’

 
 

 

Beaune AOC, looking North From Clos des Mouches

Beaune is  a wine appellation that produces high quality  Burgundy  from vines planted in the commune of Beaune situated in the Côte de Beaune region of the Côte-d’Or.  The city of Beaune itself  is the second largest  (after Dijon) in France’s Burgundy department.

By tradition, Beaune was founded about 52 B.C. as a camp for Julius Caesar’s army as it prepared to defeat the Gaul’s legendary hero Vercingetorix. The name “Beaune” derives, according to Clive Coates, from Belno Castrium, which would have referred to a fortified small villa. By 1602, Beaune was being referred to in a contemporary map as “Belna (commonly called Beaulne)”.

During the Gallo-Roman period, Beaune served as a way station along the road to Autun, then the capital of Burgundy. As the importance of Autun diminished, first following its conquest by the sons of Clovis in 532, and later after its sacking by the Saracens around 730, Beaune began to emerge as an urban entity in its own right. Formally chartered as a city in 1203, Beaune remained the residence of the Dukes of Burgundy until the late 14th Century, when Phillip the Bold married Margaret of Flanders, and moved the ducal court to Dijon. During the latter part of the Hundred Years war, in 1401, a fire destroyed Beaune. After the Treaty of Arras in 1435, first Louis XI and then Charles XIII, constructed the pentangular castle and massive fortified walls that continue to define Beaune. The Hôtel-Dieu (Hospices de Beaune) was built during that same period under the direction of Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, whose chief claim to fame is that he betrayed Joan of Arc to the rosbifs, who promptly burned her at the stake.

Beaune has been celebrated for its vineyards at least since Gregoire, Bishop of Tours, wrote his history of France (Historia Francorum) in 570. Today Beaune continues to boast some of the finest vineyards in the world. The entire appellation comprises 531 hectares, the majority of which, 337 hectares, is within 44 climats that are, in whole or part, designated Premier Cru. In addition, the appellation consists of 138 hectares of village-level Beaune and 66 hectares from the related AOC Côte-de-Beaune.

The vineyards are situated on gentle slopes northwest of the city and thus enjoy, in general, favorable southeastern exposition. The sloping hillside on which the Premiers Crus lie, begins at the border with Pommard and extends in a northerly direction until it meets the border of Savigny-lès-Beaune. The vineyards are bisected by the N470 as it crawls up the hill toward Bouze-lès-Beaune.  Most critics believe that the best section lies to the north of this road, where the soils are a mix of gravel and iron-rich clay over a limestone base. This sector, celebrated even in the 19th Century, includes Les Bressandes, Les Perrières, Les Grèves, and Les Marconnets, and produces the most complex wines of the appellation.   Further north of this sector, toward the border with Savigny-lès-Beaune, the soil becomes thinner, especially in the steeper upslope vineyards.

South of the N470, the soil  becomes more sandy, and occasionally quite stony.  While 95% of Beaune vineyards produce red, Pinot Noir-based Burgundy, a few of the vineyards in this sector, notably the famous Le Clos des Mouches, yield excellent white Burgundy. In the central portion of this sector are found two remarkable vineyards, Les Aigros and Les Sizies, whose sandy, limestone soils give rise to elegant and subtle red Burgundies of a charming, somewhat lighter style.  The vineyards downhill from Le Clos des Mouches, tend to flatten out as they extend toward the RN 74, and have deeper soil with a higher proportion of clay. This last sector, known locally as Le Puits de Beaune (“Beaune’s well”), and  accordingly suffering from poor drainage and risk of frost, is not a reliable source of fine wine.

The size and wealth of Beaune as a city have resulted in two salient consequences: (1) the high proportion (arguably not fully justified) of Premier Cru climats in the appellation; and (2) the dominance of the large négotiant houses (e.g., Drouhin, Bouchard Père et Fils, Bichot, Patriarche) headquartered in the city, within the ownership and politics of the appellation.  Although a couple of these négoces do in fact produce exemplary wines from the Beaune AOC  (Bouchard’s Vigne De L’Enfant Jésus,  from a lieu-dit within Les Grèves, and  Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches), the preponderance their wines have contributed to the unfortunate and lackluster reputation of  the appellation. Not surprisingly, some of the finest wines from Beaune come from Domaines originating in other appellations but with small holdings in Beaune:   Domaine de Montille ( Les Grèves, Les Sizies, Les Aigros, Les Perrières), Domaine Lafarge (Les Grèves, Les Aigros).

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Clos du Château des Ducs is one of several Premier Cru climats in Volnay collectively known as Le Village but also entitled to their own individual Premier Cru liux-dits. Clos du Château des Ducs,   a tiny .57-hectare  monopole of  Domaine Michel Lafarge,    lies below the village of Volnay , just above Clos de la Chapelle and Clos de la Bousse d’Or. As the name suggests, this vineyard lies on the site of the 11th  century Château de Volnay,  which was owned by the Ducs of Burgundy from the 13th century onward.  The Château  itself was destroyed by fire in 1749, but its vineyards, as well as the cellars originally belonging to the Château, now belong to Domaine Michel Lafarge.  Facing east, southeast, the vineyard lies at an altitude averaging 280 meters. The soil is a light-colored mixture of clay and Oxfordian (“Argovian”) limestone.

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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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               Volnay is a wine appellation that produces some of the finest red Burgundy .  Wine so labeled must come from vines planted in the commune of Volnay (or a portion of the adjoining commune of Meursault) situated in the Côte de Beaune region of the Côte d’Or department of Burgundy in eastern France.

           Volnay is perhaps the most architecturally aesthetic village in Burgundy. Bordered by Pommard on the northeast, and Meursault to the south, the commune of Volnay lies near the midpoint of the Côte de Beaune. The name Volnay, according to Clive Coates, derives from a Celtic or early Gallic water deity, Volen. The village itself is built around a Romanesque church in the location selected by Hugues IV, Duke of Burgundy. Remnants of the hunting lodge used by the Dukes can be found a short distance from the village. The caves of Domaine Lafarge, which date from the 13th Century, are believed to have been appropriated by the Dukes and incorporated into the Château de Volnay, which was destroyed by fire in 1749.

            Volnay vineyards cover more than 213 ha. on southeasterly-exposed slopes, of which about 115 ha. are occupied by 26 premiers crus, and about 98 ha. are in village level vineyards. In addition, there are six premier cru parcels, totalling 21 ha.,  located at the northern extremity of Meursault, but entitled to Volnay appellation. Only red wines are permitted and there are no grands crus.

            Volnay is unique in that its best vineyards lie below the town (toward RN 74) and not above it, as all other communes of the Cote d’Or. The premier cru vineyards lie at mid-slope, below the town, while the lesser village vineyards are either on higher, more exposed hills above the town, or on lower and flatter terrain nearer RN 74.

            Some of the best vineyard sites are generally thought to be those immediately adjacent to the town of Volnay: Clos des Ducs, Bousse d’Or, Le Village (which includes several monopoles including Bousse d’Or and Clos du Chateau des Ducs)  Carelle-sous-la-Chapelle and Taillepieds. This soil is hard marl with a high percentage of limestone. Another prime cluster of premier cru vineyards is found south of the village toward Meursault: Champans and Caillerets among them. Here the slopes are steeper, with more eroded soils exposing Bathonian limestone, and creating stonier soils. Another distinct section lies northeast of the village toward Pommard. Here the stony soils are predominantly friable schiste. Immediately above the Autun Road (RN 73) is another soil type, the pure limestone of Clos des Chênes. The final major section is the grouping of premier cru vineyards within Meursault, notably the Premier Cru Santenots-du-Milieu. Here the soils exhibit more limestone, but offer a variety of topography and soil type.

            Volnay has long been celebrated for its elegance and grace. Characterized by seductively fragrant bouquets, the wines display intense but delicate pinot noir flavors. Volnay is often and justifiably described as  “feminine” on account of its charm and refinement.

            The “Big Three” domaines producing fine Volnay are generally conceded to be Michel LafargeDomaine de Montille and Marquis d’Angerville.

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