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Posts Tagged ‘Vougeraie’

Successor to Henri Jayer?

Ben Leroux, it is whispered in reverent tones, may well succeed to the mantle of Henri Jayer as Burgundy’s emblematic winemaker.  Still only 35, Ben is, in the words of Allen Meadows, “extremely thoughtful . . . positively brilliant . . . one of, if not the, most gifted young winemaker in all of Burgundy.” While continuing as the régisseur at Domaine des Epeneaux (Comte Armand),  Ben Leroux now also operates a boutique négociant operation in Beaune near Maison Bichot, just off the  périphérique, in a rented facility that he shares with Dominique Lafon.

Much as Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, Leroux determined to become a vigneron at any early age, and despite not coming from a winemaking family, enrolled in Beaune’s Lycée Viticole when he was 13. Upon graduation, he took a Diploma in Oenology at Dijon University, and in 1990-1992 apprenticed to the brilliant and charismatic Pascal Marchand, who was at that time a 29 year-old wunderkind at the Domaine des Epeneaux (Comte Armand).  Leroux rounded out his practical training in Bordeaux at Cos d’Estournel, subsequently with universally-respected Jacques Lardière at Maison Louis Jadot, and, finally, with Marcel Geisen in New Zealand. In 1999, when Pascal Marchand accepted new challenges at Domaine de la Vougeraie, Pascal selected Ben as his successor at Domaine des Epeneaux.

Ben intends to keep Maison Benjamin Leroux as a small, niche operation, producing fine wines from interesting or under-appreciated terroirs, working only with grapes (not must or young wine) that he carefully selects for quality. He has invested in top-of-the-line equipment and  exerts maximum control over his growers, converting them as possible to organic and biodynamic practices. Focusing currently on around a dozen wines, reds and whites.  Ben is already producing Burgundy of enormous character and remarkable quality.

Maison Leroux’s flagship wine is   Auxey-Duresses (blanc). The Chardonnay grapes are sourced  from three lieux-dits

Ben reviews technical notes with MW candidate Amy Christine of Veritas.

(La Macabrée, Les Hautés, and Les Boutonniers) situated in the Mont Melian section of Auxey, near the border with Meursault. The sourced parcels aggregate 2 hectares, and face east/southeast from an altitude of about 350meters. About half the vines are 25 years old; the other half 35 years old. The stony soil is white marl and limestone (22%) over a limestone base.

These parcels have heretofore been exploited by Comte Armand  and transformed by Ben Leroux into reference-standard Auxey-Duresses blanc.  Comte Armand has, however,  generously given over the rights to these parcels to aison Leroux.  The wine is a lean and racy analogue to Meursault, aromas of lime-blossom and hazelnut , and a fruit-forward and round mid-palate framed by crisp acidity.

Another of Maison Leroux’s noteworthy white wines is the village-level Puligny-Montrachet, which bears the unmistakable breeding of more exalted vineyards in Puligny.

One more fine wine from Maison Leroux is the Nuits-St-Georges, Aux Allots. Coming as it does from the section of Nuits closest to Vosne-Romanée, Leroux’s Aux Allots exhibits a measure of exotic spiciness together with elegant black and red fruit on the palate. Leroux also produces a spectacular Premier Cru Volnay from the tiny .64-hecatre monopole Clos-de-la-Cave-des-Ducs.

Although Ben Leroux is acknowledged as a technical master of scientific winemaking, he actually follows a very intuitive approach, which flows directly from his perception of biodynamics.  “For me,” Ben observes, “biodynamie is not a technique but a philosophy.”  In Ben’s weltanschauung, man has become disconnected more and more from nature of which he forms an integral part.   Rather than trying to impose our own rhythms on the outside physical world, Ben contends that it is just “common sense” to work harmoniously with the forces of nature, to attune ourselves with gravity, with the sun, with the cycles of the moon. Nevertheless, because  biodynamie is a philosophy and not a religion, Ben retains an open mind toward biodynamic techniques, and will, for example, abstain from “biodynamic treatments”, such as copper sulfate,  that he feels disrupt natural rhythms.

In the final analysis, the wines of Ben Leroux are so appealing precisely because his objective focuses on the human perspective. “For me,” he declares, “the goal is not a bottle of fine wine or exultant tasting notes. What interests me, instead, is to create memories of good times, of shared joy and happiness . .  . of what the French call bonhomie.”  Wine is ephemeral; memories abide.

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Musigny is a Grand Cru vineyard and appellation situated in the commune of Chambolle-Musigny in the Côte de Nuits sector of  Burgundy.  The vineyard lies to the south of the village itself, and borders the Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot in the southeast,  the Grand Cru Échezeaux in the south, and  the Premier Cru Les Amoureuses in the northeast.  The vineyard aggregates a modest 10.86 hectares and lies on a  slope ranging from an 8% to a 14% grade, with  elevations between 260 meters and 280 meters.  The shallow brown topsoil, which averages only 20cm-30cm in depth, is comprised of limestone pebbles and red clay over a limestone base. Similar to Les Bonnes Mares, Musigny is bifurcated by a path into a northern section, Grand Musigny, and a southern section, Les Petits Musignys, which is a monopole of the Domaine Georges de Vogüé. Grand Musigny, which faces southeast, is mostly limestone with some clay. The southern section, Les Petits Musignys,  faces south and is comprised of a higher proportion of clay. Musigny produces exclusively Pinot Noir-based red Burgundy, except for a tiny parcel of  Les Petits Musignys from which Vogüé produces a precious white wine from Chardonnay, the only one in the Côte de Nuits entitled to be labelled as Grand Cru.

It is beyond dispute that Le Musigny is one of the greatest vineyards in the world. The name derives from a Gallo-Roman settlement, Musinus, which was itself likely named after a once important but now forgotten Roman. The climat was cultivated at least by the 8th century. Certainly, by the time that the Abbey of Cîteaux founded the Clos de Vougeot in 1110, the vineyard was already producing legendary wine.

Clive Coates has written that Musigny produces red wine that “can be quite simply the most delicious to be found in Burgundy…. With … its incomparable breed, depth, originality and purity on the finish, a great Musigny is heaven in a glass.”  Perhaps more poetically, the Burgundian Gaston Roupnel wrote that “Le Musigny à l’odeur d’un jardin sous la rosée, … de la rose et de la violette à aurore.”  [“Musigny has the scent of a garden in the morning dew of the rose and violet dawn.”]

Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé owns 7.12 hectares of Musigny, almost 65.6%, including the entirety of Les Petits Musignys. The Vogüé wines set the standard of excellence, although Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier (with 1.13 hectares) produces equally-inspired and distinctive Musigny. Equally superb examples of Musigny,  each with its own hallmark, come from tiny parcels owned by Domaine de la Vougeraie (.21 hectares), Domaine Leroy (.27 hectares), and Domaine Georges Roumier (.10 hectares).

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Bonnes Mares is a 15-hectare Grand Cru climat that straddles the border of Chambolle-Musigny (where 13.5 ha are located ) and Morey-St-Denis (the remaining 1.5 ha). The vineyard is situated north of the village of Chambolle-Musigny, and borders the Route des Grands Crus in the east and Clos de Tart in the north. The east-facing vineyard lies on a very gentle slope that varies only between 265 and 300 meters in elevation. Bonnes Mares is bifurcated geologically, with the northern half (the Morey side) – called terres rouges — comprised of heavier soil with a larger component of clay; and the southern half – called terres blanches — comprised of lighter soil, with a greater concentration of rocks and limestone, and containing an abundance of fossilized seashells. The wines coming from the two sections differ considerably, with terres rouges producing more robust and sturdy wines, while the terres blanches wines more delicate  and elegant.  In either case, as Clive Coates has written, the wines are hardly Chambolle-Musigny. Instead Bonnes-Mares is sui generis: wine that is fully-textured, deep, tannic and rich.

The name Bonnes-Mares likely derives from a cloistered order of Cistercian nuns (the good mothers) that lived nearby. A more charming etymology suggests that the name derives from a now-lost bas relief unearthed that portrayed a trinity of Roman goddesses of the harvest whose images protected the vineyard.

Distinguished proprietors of the vineyard include Comte Georges de Vogüé, J-F. Mugnier, Vougeraie, and Georges Roumier.

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