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Posts Tagged ‘Dominique Lafon’

Imagining White Burgundy as Major League Baseball, each appellation a competing  team, and the winemakers cast as starting pitchers, Meursault would doubtless boast the deepest starting rotation. One needs only to reflect that this appellation includes such outstanding talent as the widely-celebrated Dominique Lafon, the supremely-gifted Jean-Marc Roulot, and the eagerly-pursued Jean-François Coche. Not to mention superstars Pierre Morey, François Mikulski and Alix de Montille.

Making comparative evaluations among such a galaxy of brilliant winemakers is at the best highly subjective, and at the worst beside-the-point. Nonetheless, given the embarrassment of riches in Meursault, it is striking that at least two of today’s most influential wine writers, were an election held for  primus inter pares,  might well send up the white smoke for Patrick Javillier. The always perspicacious Clive Coates, who calls Javillier “the King of Meursault,”  recently compiled a list of the 10 Top Burgundy Domaines of All Time, awarding  one of the coveted spots to Domaine Patrick Javillier.  Along the same lines, today’s most influential commentator on Burgundy, Allen Meadows, recently praised Javillier’s 2008 wines as “genuinely brilliant,” then went on to enthuse: “In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is quite simply no one in Burgundy producing better regional or villages level wines across the board.”

Although the Javillier family has resided in Meursault for centuries, they did not make wine until Patrick’s father, Raymond, came back from World War II in 1945. By the time that Patrick took the pipette from his father in 1974, Domaine Javillier comprised a mere 3 hectares, including 2 hecatres of village level Meursault and one of Aligoté.

Currently,  Domaine Patrick Javillier  consists of 9.5 hectares in the Côte de Beaune, principally in Meursault but also in Savigny-lès Beaune, with additional small plots in Pernand-Vergelesses, Aloxe-Corton and  Puligny-Montrachet.The heart of Domaine Javillier lies in Meursault where the Domaine has holdings in six different villages-level climats.

The Domaine’s largest such holding is a 1.5-hectare plot in Les Tillets ,a 12-hectare climat situated uphill and southwest of the village of Meursault toward Puligny-Montrachet. Lying at an elevation averaging 350 meters and enjoying a southeast exposition,with a limestone-based soil,  the vineyard manifests a stylistic similarity to the elegantly racy wines of Puligny.  Javillier’s  oldest vines in Les Tillets were planted in 1937, and the youngest ones in 1977.

The Domaine also holds a 1-hectare parcel of Clos du Cromin, another village-level climat in Meursault that is part of 9.27-hectare Le Cromin that lies in the clay-rich Volnay side of Meursault, adjacent to the Volnay-producing Les Plures.

 

Intriguingly, Javiller’s most compelling Meursaults are actually each blends of different climats. Contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy in Burgundy, which insists that single vineyard wines are de rigeur, Javillier is a highly articulate proponent of the philosophy that the whole can exceed the sum of its parts. He vinifies each parcel separately and then carefully evaluates and adjusts the elevage of the individual cask before assembling the final cuvées.  Each constituent cask is scrupulously selected for its own characteristics and for its capacity to contribute to the blend. Javillier coaxes complexity into his wines using a combination of batonnage and extended lees contact. 

Javillier’s Cuvée Les Clousots is a blend derived from .36-hectare of parcel of Les Clous Dessus and a .23-hectare parcel of Les CrototsLes Clous Dessus is an east-facing 9.76-hectare climat of Meursault situated at the top of the hill, just to the north of Les Tillets on an east facing slope Javiller’s plot of Les Clous Dessus was planted in 1957 and enjoys deep (1meter) clay-limestone soil over a limestone base.  Les Crotots is 4.61 hectare climat of Meursault situated midslope, south of the village, just downhill and to the east of Premier Cru Les Poruzots. Javillier’s parcel of Les Crotots was planted in 1975 on clay-limestone soil with an eastern exposition.

Javiller’s Cuvée Tête de Murger is a rich and complex Meursault blend derived from .62 hectares of vines planted in 1979, partially from Les Casses-Têtes, and partially from Au Murger de Monthelie.  The 4.64-hectare Les Casses-Têtes is classic Meusault terroir, east-facing and with very thin soil. The vineyard lies mid-slope in the center of the appellation, just downslope to the east of Les Clous Dessous.  The 6.94-hectare climat Au Murger de Monthelie is situated in the northwestern corner of Meursault, toward Volnay,  along the border with Monthelie. The climat faces west on a deep (80cm) clay rich soil over a base of volcanic rock.  Javillier believes that Les Casses-Têtes contributes minerality and tension on the attack while the Au Murger de Monthelie provides balance, length and opulence on the palate.

Patrick Javillier is particularly renowned for producing what several critics contend is the most remarkable and compelling example of Corton-Charlemagne, surpassing that of even the better known and much larger Bonneau du Martray.  Javillier’s tiny .17-hectare south-facing parcel is located in the Grand Cru lieu-dit Les Pougets. Javillier’s  vines were planted in 1984.

 Perhaps Javillier’s most emblematic wine is his Cuvée des Forgets, which is technically a modestly-classified Bougogne blanc but seems for all intents and purposes (save price!) a full bodied Meursault. Cuvée des Forgets derives from 2.25 hectares of vines within the lieux-dits of Les Herbeux,  situated the the northernmost section of Meursault, and  Les Vaux, which is located just across the border in Volnay (but nonetheless entitled to the Meursault appellation).  The vineyards were planted in the early 1970s and the soils are alluvial limestone over silt.

A similarly celebrated wine is Javillier’s Cuvée Oligocene, which derives from the Meursault climat Les Pellans, which is located in the southernmost section of Meursault adjacent to Puligny-Montrachet. The vineyard lies just south of Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes-Dessous, but curiously only one-half (6.84 hectares) of the vineyard was legally classified as Meursault after the Great War, despite the fact that the entire vineyard enjoys the same geology, altitude and exposition. Javillier’s .75 hectare parcel of Les Pellans, planted in 1977, is infortuitously situated in the section robbed of its birthright in the original classification. While this obliges Domaine Javillier to label Cuvée Oligocene as Bourgogne Blanc instead of Meursault, the flip-side is that Allen Meadows perennially describes the Cuvée as “genuinely brilliant” and as a “best buy”.

 

Significantly, Patrick Javillier  accords the same care and treatment to his  Bourgognes Blancs as he does to his Meursault.  That is, he vinifies his Cuvée des Forgets and Cuvée Oligocene and then ages them on lees just as he does his prized Meursault.  

 

Domaine Javillier also produces a very small quantity of Puligny-Montrachet from an .18-hectare parcel of a village-level  climat Les Levrons (6.56 hectares), which is located just downhill to the east of Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Referts. In addition, Javillier makes a miniscule amount of Meursault Premier Cru, Les Charmes, from a tiny plot of .06 hectars Finally, Javillier produces excellent wines from 2 village-level lieux-dits in Savigny-lès-Beaune, a .54 hectare parcel of Les Grands Liards, and a .7 hectare parcel of Les Montchevenoy.

Javillier picks each climat of Chardonnay separately, carefully sorts through the fruit and then presses each separately in Vaslin open tank presses (as opposed to closed tank pneumatic presses that are more common today). . As Remington Norman observes, this eccentric system results in more oxidative winemaking since not only is the tank more open to the atmosphere than with a pneumatic bladder press, but also the must is more fully exposed to oxygen as it runs along the length of the press. Javillier is willing to sacrifice some of the primary fruit aromas in exchange for the more rapid development of secondary and tertiary aromas in bottle. It may also be that this process helps guard against the premature oxidation that seems to afflict may winemakers who use more anaerobic presses. Javillier’s wines, for whatever reason, do not exhibit the premature oxidation that curses too many contemporary white Burgundies.

After a 24-hour débourbage (“settling”), the must is racked into barrels (25% new oak) where the wines undergo alcoholic and malolactic fermention, and age on their lees for 11-12 months. Unlike many of today’s best winemakers, Patrick is a proponent of batonnage (“stirring the lees”), which he believes enriches the wine and adds complexity. On the other hand, batonnage is presumably be oxidative for two reasons. First, merely removing the bung allows air (and thus oxygen) to enter the barrel and fill up any empty space caused by evaporation. Secondly, the actual stirring physically stimulates the release of free SO₂  and CO₂ , which gasses, trapped in solution in the wine, are believed to retard oxidation.

The white wines rest in the barriques until just before they are needed for the subsequent vintage (usually 11-12 months) at which time each cask is evaluated. Javillier then makes selections based on the characteristics of each cask and assembles his cuvées and decants them into cement vats where they rest for an additional 3-5 months. Javillier believes that the porosity of the cement allows a gentle exchange of air through the walls of the vat, thereby enriching the wines. Again, Javillier is rejecting the prevailing preference for stainless in favor of a the presumably more oxidative cement. Following light fining and (if necessary) filtration, the wines are bottled 14-18 months after harvest.

Thus, Javillier’s open tank pressing, his batonnage, and the final élevage in cement  run counter to prevailing practices in Burgundy which tend to reject practices thought to be oxidative. Nevertheless, either because of or inspite of these disfavored practices, it remains noteworthy that Javillier wines have been entirely free of premature oxidation.

Although best known for his white wines, Patrick Javillier also makes superb Pinot Noir, most characteristically a Premier Cru Savigny-lès-Beaune, Les Sepentières. Javillier’s parcel is comprised of .71 hectares of vines planted in 1979 with full south exposure. The soil is limestone-based and very stony. The reds are 100% de-stemmed and then cold macerated for 5 or 6 days. They are vinified in oak barrels, of which 50% are new, and then aged for 11-15 months.  The press wine is separated, vinified and aged separately, and added to the final blend if appropriate to the vintage. The reds are neither fined not filtered before bottling. Increasingly, Patrick’s daughter Marion is assisting in the winemaking of the reds.

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Volnay, Clos des Chênes is a 15.41-hectare Premier Cru climat in Volnay. Clos des Chênes is situated in the southern end of Volnay,  above Route Nationale  73 at the border with Monthélie. The name attests to the onetime presence of an ancient oak forest on the vineyard site.  At one time the vineyard belonged to the Knights Templar, but was later inherited by the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament.  Clos des Chênes faces southeast from an altitude of between 280 and 320 meters, with  soil composed of limestone marl and clay-limestone scree.  Along with Les Caillerets, Les Taillepieds, Clos du Château des Ducs, and Les Santenots-du-Milieu, Clos des Chênes is ranked among the best in the appellation. Excellent Clos des Chênes is produced by Domaine des Comtes Lafon and Domaine Michel Lafarge.

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Volnay, Santenots-du-Milieu is a 22.36-hectare Premier Cru climat situated within the appellation SantenotsSantenots   is physically located within the commune of Meursault (although adjacent to Volnay), but is by law entitled to use the appellation Volnay, Santenots.  Thus, although the vineyards are actually in Meursault,  the wines are entitled to be called Volnay. The reason for this apparent anomaly is that the red clay soil in Santenots has long been viewed as better suited for Pinot Noir than Chardonnay, and  the appellation Volnay is much better known for red Burgundy than is Meursault.

 The best section of Santenots is Santenots-du-Milieu, having been  classified by Dr. Lavalle as tête de cuvée. At an elevation of 240-280 meters, Santenots-du-Milieu faces southeast on soil shallow, red, heavy clay soil, above a subsoil of Bathonian limestone.  The wines are deep in colour, rich and sturdy, with deep tannins , and, if somewhat lacking in the elegance of characteristic of the best Volnay,   is lush and supple.

Excellent examples of Santenots-du-Milieu  are made by Domaine Mikulski and Domaine des Comtes Lafon. In fact, the parcels of these two winemakers formed a single vineyard in the first part of the twentieth century until it was split and sold off to the grandfathers of Franςois Mikulski and Dominique Lafon.

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Meursault, Clos de la Barre is a village-level 2.12-hectare monopole  of the Domaine des Comtes Lafon in Meursault.  The lieu-dit Clos de la Barre is comprised of a vineyard entirely enclosed within the walls of the Domaine, where the family home is situated,   at the northern edge of the town of Meursault. The gently-sloping and east-facing vineyard is planted in three parcels, the first (.8 hectare) planted in 1950, the second (.8 hectare) in 1975, and the third (.5 hectare) replanted in 2004. The soil is an admixture of clay and marl over a hard limestone base. The Chardonnay-based wines of Clos de la Barre rich with pronounced minerality and a crisp finish.

 

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Meursault, Désirée  is a village-level .45-hectare monopole  of the Domaine des Comtes Lafon in MeursaultDesirée is actually situated in Les Plures, a Premier Cru climat situated at the northern part of Meursault, and could, accordingly, be bottled as  Meursault, Les Plures, Premier Cru. Nevertheless, Dominique Lafon has chosen to label the wine simply as “Desirée” (an old cadastral name) both out of a sense of tradition and because he does not think that the wines warrant Premier Cru designation. East facing, Les Plures is rich in red clay, not very deep, and well-suited to the Pinot Noir which produces the Volnay Santenots which predominates in the vineyard. Lafon plants Desirée entirely with Chardonnay, however, and crafts an atypical Meursault that is seductive, slightly spicy, and rather exotic.

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Meursault, Les Genevrières  is a 16.48 hectare Premier Cru climat in Meursault. The vineyard  is itself comprised of four contiguous sub-climats and lies in the southern section of the commune of Meursault, just north of Les Charmes. The vineyard faces east from an altitude varying between 240 and 280 meters, and enjoys a soil with a higher proportion of clay than most other limestone-based Premiers Crus in Meursault. The name Genevrières derives from the supposed presence there, generations ago, of juniper bushes. (Tasters who claim to detect the faint tang of juniper berries in  Genevrières should seek professional counseling.) By reputation, the Genevrières climat is considered qualitatively second only to Perrières, although many thoughtful gourmands, as well as several notable winemakers, Dominique Lafon and François Mikulski included, express a culinary preference for Les Genevrières. Without doubt, Les Genevrières is paradigmatically Meursault: lime blossom, honey and hazelnut.  The wines are noticeably less steely than Les Perrières, but more exotically spiced, rounder and with greater finesse.

            Among the most exemplary parcels of  Les Genevrières are the two parcels (planted  in 1948 and 1993) of Domaine Franςois Mikulski, aggregating .5 hectares and situated in Genevrières-Dessus;  and the  two parcels belonging to Domaine des Comtes Lafon, totaling .55 hectares. The Lafon parcels are similarly located in Genevrières-Dessus, almost adjacent to Les Perrieres, and face east from slopes with a 15% gradient. The older and larger Lafon parcel was planted in 1946 and is about .37 ha; the younger parcel, at around .18 ha, was planted in 1993.

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Meursault, Les Perriéres  is a 13.71 hectare Premier Cru vineyard in Meursault,  comprised of four climats, which is commonly believed to produce the most outstanding wine of Meursault’s Premiers Crus. In fact, two of  the climats, Les Perrières-Dessous and Clos-des-Perrières are often touted for promotion to Grand Cru status. Les Perrières lies near the southwestern corner of the commune of Meursault, just down slope from Blagny, and abuts Puligny-Montrachet on the  south. The soils are thin and stony and are sometimes said to share more in common with Puligny than Meursault. The vineyard takes its name from a word meaning quarry, but only figuratively:  the vineyard contains an abundance of limestone outcroppings and scree, but stone was never actually quarried there. The wines from Les Perrières are quite powerful with an exuberant minerality and steeliness.

 Among the finest in parcels in Les Perrières are those belonging to the Domaine des Comtes Lafon.  Lafon owns two parcels in Les Perrières, both in Les Perrières-Dessous,  one of about .67 hectares planted in 1955 and the other of almost .10 hectares planted in 1983. The Lafon vines are planted on a very steep slopes (10%-16%) and face east/southeast. The underlying soil is limestone and white marl over limestone schiste.

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