Monthly Archives: January 2014

Domaine Michel Lafarge, Volnay

Domaine Lafarge

Domaine Michel Lafarge, 15 rue de la Combe, Volnay.

Finding Domaine Lafarge started off as an uncertain conquest! The charming village of Volnay is quite hilly with narrow winding streets. As if the natural challenge of finding rue de la Combe wasn’t enough, it turned out that the street was undergoing major road repair. After seeking guidance from two different sympathetic residents, we finally found the boulangerie recommended for parking, yet still needed several passes up and down the street to skirt the construction equipment and locate #15. I believe it to be true that 99% of potential visitors would have absolutely no idea that lurking behind the doors of what appears to be a normal residence is a winemaking operation complete with a c. 13th century cellar!

Street repair on rue de la Combe in Volnay.

Street repair on rue de la Combe in Volnay.

Domaine Lafarge was established in the early 19th century. The family members who have given the winery its current shape include current proprietors Frederic and his father Michel, and grandfather Henri who is well known in local winemaking for blending Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes (passetoutgrain). Frederic is the winemaker. In 2000, the farm was converted to biodynamic (not certified) farming.

The estate includes 15 different wines from 12 hectares of vines mostly in Volnay plus Meursault and Beaune. In email exchanges prior to our arrival, M. Lafarge cautioned that 2012 and 2013 vintages had been very challenging for the winery. We learned during our visit that a mistral and hail storms damaged 80% of the 2012 vintage, and 65% of 2013. Understandably, we would not be able to try a barrel sample.

Most generous under the circumstances to share library wines as well as the story of the winery’s provenance, M. Lafarge led us into the seven-centuries old cellar past bottles so coated in (beneficial) mold that they looked like skunks!

Cellar dating to 13th century at Domaine Lafarge.

Cellar dating to 13th century at Domaine Lafarge.

Our tasting included two 2010 whites and two reds. The Cote Chalonnaise and southern areas of the Cotes de Beaune are successful in growing the Aligote grape. One of Domaine Lafarge’s Aligote wines is called “Raisins Dores” because the vines are 75 years old and the grapes are golden at harvest and in the glass. We found the wine to be light and refreshing, perfect as an aperitif. More recent vintages are available in the U.S. for about $20.

We viewed the domaine’s Meursault wine as a pure fruit expression of Chardonnay, more straightforward than complex, lightly oaked and ready to drink now, though it will continue to develop well in the bottle for another 3-5 years. Available in the U.S. for about $55.

Frederic Lafarge

Harry and Ann Santen with Frederic Lafarge.

The first of two reds was a 2007 Volnay (village) wine. Still quite tart and tannic, we thought the wine has good potential but needs more time before it is ready to drink. The character of a Volnay rouge tends to be more elegant with silky tannins, and this one was not quite fully integrated. Expert wine raters such as Jancis Robinson accorded the 2007 a good rating of 17/20 points. Available in the U.S. for about $60.

Saving the very best for last, M. Lafarge shared a 2006 Volnay premier cru “Clos des Chenes,” which he declared to have been an excellent vintage. He owns one hectare of this vineyard, which makes D. Lafarge the largest owner. The wine is just beginning to open up, revealing the elegance and fine tannins of which a Volnay wines are capable. Wine raters ranging from Wine Enthusiast to Jancis Robinson were divided in their assessment of this wine, which retails for $125-150 in the U.S. We thought it was delicious, so I hope you will try to find it in the market, in a restaurant, or by tapping into a friend’s cellar! Drink now through 2018.

U.S. importer: Martin Scott Wines

Feast of Saint Vincent: A Burgundy Tradition

Salle de Fete de Givry

Salle de Fete de Givry

Each year in January, 80 wine villages throughout Burgundy celebrate the feast of Saint Vincent as the guardian of winemakers. While the officially designated feast date is January 22, many wine villages organize elaborate festivals around that date honoring the 20th century tradition of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin. For example, on January 18 I participated in the Chevalier du Cep Henri IV de Givry, typically held the third Saturday of January. The village festivals will culminate this year on January 25-26 in Saint-Aubin with the Saint-Vincent Tournante, an elaborate festival with banners and flags, marching and drinking.

Because each village celebration is bespoke, my friends the Santens and I were not aware that the village of Morey-Saint-Denis celebrates Saint Vincent on January 22. We learned that very morning that the feast would be held at our hotel in Morey-Saint-Denis. The Castel de Tres Girard is just steps away from many fine vineyards including three that we planned to visit.

How generous it was of Sylvain Pitiot, winemaker for Clos de Tart, and Romain Taupenot, owner and winemaker for Domaine Taupenot-Merme to make time for us on feast day!

Entrance to Clos de Tart, an abbey built in 1141.

Entrance to Clos de Tart, an abbey built in 1141.

Through the enterprise of Cistercian monks, the story of Clos de Tart is intertwined with that of Cellier aux Moines in Givry, the vineyard where we started our wine journey as part of the Chevalier du Cep festival of Saint Vincent. The Cistercian monks of Citeaux Abbey planted vineyards in 1113, which is still known as Cellier aux Moines, and also assembled the plots known as Clos de Vougeot near Morey-Saint-Denis during 1109-15. In 1141, Cistercian nuns planted vineyards and started an abbey now known as Clos de Tart.

There have been only three owners of Clos de Tart in exactly 900 years. The Marey-Mange family succeeded the monks in 1791, and the current owner is the Mommessin family.

Clos de Tart is one of five monopole vineyards in Morey-Saint-Denis. It is also the largest with 7.5 hectares of vineyards within the clos (walled vineyard). Unlike many other vineyards, Clos de Tart plants its vines north to south. There are many advantages, including less erosion, more even exposure to sunlight as the sun moves from east to west, and the possibility of safely using machines for vineyard management and harvest in the lower to middle rows of the steep slope.

Clos de Tart vines looking westward.

Clos de Tart vines looking westward.

Sylvain Pitiot became winemaker in 1996. In the nearly two decades since joining Clos de Tart, he has gradually adjusted the viticultural process in keeping with his professional training as a topographical engineer and experience as a vigneron. In M. Pitiot’s own words, “time is our tool — don’t stress the wine”! In explaining this concept to us, several elements stood out as areas of focus in the winemaking process: temperature control is key, use of sulphur is tightly limited, no racking of barrels, no fining or filtration, and a one-month period to rest in steel vats after barrel aging before bottling commences by hand in small batches of four bottles at a time.

Barrel samples of 2012 Clos de Tart with Harry Santen and Sylvain Pitiot (L-R).

Barrel samples of 2012 Clos de Tart with Sylvain Pitiot.

M. Pitiot is gradually segmenting the property further, from six to 24 smaller climats, to become even more selective in how terroir influences the final wine. We were privileged to experience two barrel samples from 2012, one from a lower part of the vineyard, and one from the middle section about 50 meters away. They tasted quite different, and though there are some explanations for the variation, M. Pitiot admitted (with a smile) that there are too many factors involved to pin down an exact reason. Each climat is vinified and aged separately, and then blended (assemblage) before bottling. M. Pitiot tastes the barrel samples daily as the aging process nears completion. The wines we tasted will be bottled some time between March and May depending on M. Pitiot’s judgment of readiness.

M. Pitiot left us to join the festival luncheon at our hotel, while we drove to a sister property for a divine lunch at nearby Chateau de Saulon. The four-hour luncheon celebration for the vignerons, called a “paulee” in the spirit of the important annual harvest festival in late fall, included a six-course meal and 40 wines selected by the participating winemakers.

We learned these facts about the paulee from Romain Taupenot, who made time to provide a tour of his winery after the festivities! We spent nearly two hours together, learning about the Taupenot-Merme family history, exploring Romain’s philosophy of wine, and tasting six samples of the 2012 vintage ready for bottling in February.

Romain Taupenot with Ann and Harry Santen at Domaine Taupenot-Merme.

Romain Taupenot with Ann and Harry Santen at Domaine Taupenot-Merme.

Domaine Taupenot-Merme was created by the marriage of Romain Taupenot’s parents, although both families had been making wine for more than seven generations. Romain joined the family business in 1998 and took over as winemaker in 2001. The Domaine makes on average 80,000 total bottles of 19 wines from 20 appellations: 3 regional, 7 village, 6 premier cru (2 are blended), and 4 grand cru.

The aspect of making wine that is most important to M. Taupenot is for one to be able to experience his philosophy and related practices in the glass. M. Taupenot used the expression “juge de paix” to describe this experience, a metaphor in French which translates literally to “justice of the peace.”

Knowing that there are more than 100 parameters to take into account in the vineyard and making wine, M. Taupenot described his view of the importance to concentrate on three or four key factors. For him, a top priority is that oak should reveal the wine, not define it. Like Clos de Tart, Taupenot-Merme buys barrels from five different coopers. While Clos de Tart uses light and medium toasts, Taupenot-Merme uses only light toast. Other key factors for M. Taupenot are natural grape yeasts, temperature control, 100% destemming, cold soak of whole berries, and racking but no filtering.

Wine tasting at Domaine Taupenot-Mermet.

Wine tasting at Domaine Taupenot-Mermet.

The 2012 vintage will be ready for bottling starting in February. Our tasting included six wines: Gevrey-Chambertin (village), Gevrey-Chambertin “Belair” 1er cru, Nuits-Saint-George “Les Pruliers” 1er cru, and three grand crus from Corton Roguet, Charmes-Chambertin and Mazoyeres-Chambertin. Proving that tasting notes are only as good as one person’s notion of aroma and flavor, each of we three tasters preferred a different grand cru. My favorite: the Corton Roguet. It was complex with a rich mouthfeel and silky tannins, floral and elegant, with a hint of chocolate on the nose.

It’s a Family Affair

Three generations of the Moreau family.

Three generations of the Moreau family.

Family inheritance is a familiar and important concept in most countries, with inevitable cultural variations. But nowhere is inheritance more important than in the wine regions of France, and nowhere is it more complex and fascinating than in Burgundy.

The Napoleonic Law of Succession (early 1800s) stipulates that property must be distributed to family members through inheritance, which means that most Burgundy vineyards are divided among multiple owners — siblings, cousins, etc. If a single family maintains ownership of a vineyard for multiple generations, and if there is no family dispute or even a congenial split, the vineyard is likely a “monopole” (one owner, one wine). Another scenario is when multiple family members own vines and produce wines from shares of a single vineyard. This all creates enormous confusion for consumers trying to sort out winemaker and vineyard information on labels.

A genealogy chart would be helpful! It’s a family affair.

The Moreau family (assembled above) hosted the 2014 reception for St. Vincent as part of the annual festival of Chevalier du Cep Henri IV de Givry. Grandfather Xavier started the wine estate very recently (1975) in Burgundian terms, though his family had owned land in Givry for many decades. In 1990, son Michel joined Domaine Moreau and now runs the winery along with his wife and son, Alix and Vincent. The estate’s Aligote Blanc and 1er cru Clos Ste. Antoine are both superb.

For over 25 years, the Moreau family has adopted my friends Harry and Ann Santen as family. As I became a new Chevaliere — despite the fact that my French is worse than terrible — they welcomed me into their home with open arms amid a throng of siblings, in-laws and grandchildren.

Early on Sunday morning following Saturday’s festival celebration, this multi-generational entourage of Moreaus descended upon the recently renamed Domaine du Gardin-Perrotto. Known as Clos Salomon for 380 years, since the du Gardin family created the estate, the vineyard is textbook monopole. After her husband’s untimely death several decades ago, Jacqueline du Gardin took over running the winery very successfully. In the early 1990s she hired winemaker Fabrice Perrotto, hence the change of name to signal the business partnership. Her son Ludovic has also joined the family business. Although Mme. du Gardin is not “officially” related to the Moreau family, it was quite clear that the families of Givry do not stand on such ceremony. They are families of the vine. What happens next to the du Gardin-Perrotto winery will be a family affair.

The Moreau family (and U.S. guests) descend upon Clos Salomon/Domaine du Gardin-Perrotto.

The Moreau family (and U.S. guests) descend upon Clos Salomon/Domaine du Gardin-Perrotto.

Barrel samples of red Burgundy from Clos Salomon.

Barrel samples of red Burgundy from Clos Salomon.

With cautionary notes that 2013 was a difficult vintage (as was 2012), the group tasted a 2013 barrel sample of Clos Salomon juice still undergoing malolactic fermentation, and a 2012 bottle sample revealing a fresh, lively and classic Givry cherry fruit profile. Clos Salomon consists of three different parcels from which grapes are selected for highest quality. The 2009, which was an excellent vintage in Burgundy, offered a richly colored wine, at once delicate and deep on the palate with silky tannins. Even so Mme. du Gardin recommends drinking this wine 2016-19.

Domaine Thenard

Domaine Thenard

In a gentle but bone-chilling rain, our entourage moved on to Domaine Thenard. As an interesting historical note, in the late 19th century, ancestor Paul Thenard discovered that carbon disulfide could be used (in part) to combat the dreaded phylloxera louse. In 1832 Paul and his wife founded the estate which has been continuously operated by his descendants. The current winemakers are M. Jacques Bordeaux-Montrieux, who is a cousin of Xavier Moreau, and Jacques’ son Jean-Baptiste Bordeax-Montrieux.

M. Bordeaux-Montrieux, current owner and descendant of Paul Thenard.

M. Bordeaux-Montrieux, current owner and descendant of Paul Thenard.

Domaine Thenard produces excellent 1er cru wines from the vineyards of Cellier aux Moines, Clos Ste. Pierre and Bois Chevaux. Its superb Grand Cru wines (Montrachet and Corton Clos du Roi) are sold to necogiant Louis Jadot for export worldwide. As a very special treat for wine lovers, the group was privileged to taste 2011 Montrachet from the barrel as well as a 2009 Corton Clos du Roi. It was a coveted experience in the wine world!

Now the complexities of a family inheritance story unfold. Like vines and wines, families mature and change over time. The final piece of this family puzzle: cousins Xavier Moreau and Jacques Bordeaux-Montrieux, as well as about 20 other family members, own shares of Domaine Thenard’s vineyard properties.

My advice? Don’t try to draw a family tree or figure out the web of family relationships. Just enjoy the wine, and be mindful of how much you can learn about families, vines and wines from the label. Volumes have been written about Burgundy by premier writers including Clive Coates, Jasper Morris and Jancis Robinson, all Masters of Wine. These are excellent resources for learning about the long-lived joys and complexities of Burgundy.

Chevalier du Cep Henri IV de Givry

View of Givry from Clos Cellier aux Moines

View of Givry from Clos Cellier aux Moines

Henry IV provided the inspiration for the Chevalier du Cep festival more than 400 years ago. It is widely said and entirely accepted that the red wines of Givry, situated in the Cote Chalonnaise, were King Henry’s favorites. Now as then, they are fresh, lively and approachable wines meant for early drinking.

But in the early 20th century, the wines of Burgundy took a nosedive in popularity. In 1934, the famous Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin was created as a solution to promote Burgundy’s wines, cuisine, folklore and festivals. Headquartered in the prestigious Clos du Vougeot, the brotherhood has more than 12,000 members.

Over the next several decades, many more confreries were created at the village level. Chevalier du Cep Henri IV de Givry was founded in 1963. Every year, on the third Saturday of January, members of the brotherhood gather to give thanks to St. Vincent, the patron saint of winemakers, and to induct new members. It is a twelve-hour affair full of pageantry and promises, love and laughter, food and wine.

The morning begins at Domaine du Clos Cellier aux Moines where the statue of St. Vincent has rested throughout 2013. While the Domaine was founded more than 900 years ago by Cistercian Monks, it has been owned since 2004 by Philippe and Catherine Pascal who have restored the domaine. M. Pascal is a former executive in the wine industry, including labels owned by Seagrams and LVMH.

Nominators Ann and Harry Santen, Cincinnati OH

Nominators Ann and Harry Santen, Cincinnati OH

St. Vincent at D. du Cellier aux Moines.

St. Vincent at D. du Cellier aux Moines.

After welcoming remarks and a glass of wine (at about 9:30 am!), the pageantry began with the festivals leaders heading in formal procession to the Place La Poste in Givry and to the church of Givry.

Procession of St. Vincent to Mass in Givry.

Procession of St. Vincent to Mass in Givry.

Following a formal mass, the third procession wound through the village streets of Poncey to Domaine Moreau, where St. Vincent will reside in 2014. Grateful there was no rain, we were nevertheless chilled to the bone in the Domaine’s courtyard. Even regular nibbles of Brie or gougeres between sips of Aligote didn’t quite take the edge off. In addition to welcoming St. Vincent to D. Moreau, a second purpose of this segment of the festival was to enjoy and purchase Brie cheese in honor of the “marriage” of the Chevaliers du Cep to the Brie de Meaux in 1992.

Domaine Moreau

Domaine Moreau

Three generations of the Moreau family.

Three generations of the Moreau family.

Shortly after 1:00 we all made our way to the grand banquet and induction ceremony. Our eight course meal stretched until nearly 9:00 with wines provided by local vintners. About halfway through this gastronomic experience, five new members from Germany, England and the United States as well as France were inducted into the Chevalier du Cep. I am proud to share that I am the only woman from the Americas to become a member of the brotherhood — a chevaliere — joining Harry Santen as the only other American.

Induction Part I

Induction Part I

Joining the Pageantry on Stage

Joining the Pageantry on Stage

Viva la Givry!!

Cabaret Meets Moulin Rouge!

Cabaret Meets Moulin Rouge!