xBurgundy's Soul: Lafarge and Jouan!
It would be a real disservice to pigeonhole Domaine Michel Lafarge as simply the best winery in Volnay. With a larger, newfound appreciation for their precise and elegant house style, the wines have gone from cult to legendary status. In truth, Lafarge has long been on Burgundy’s cutting edge, as one of the first to domaine bottle, and an early convert to biodynamic viticulture. What hasn’t changed is their dedication to the land, and to time-honored techniques in the cellar, fully destemming the grapes and keeping new oak to a minimum. Today, winemaking is in the capable hands of Frederic, his wife Chantal, and his daughter Clothilde, who continue to make this address a reference point for all of Burgundy. Up and down the line, these are wines of presence and substance, a natural choice as the 12 hectares of vines are split evenly between the regional, village, and 1er Cru echelons. Aligote is a prime example of the "entry-level" wines, with the Raisins Dores cuvee coming from a tiny parcel of massale selection vines planted in 1937. The small clusters give intensity and depth to the bright fruit. Bourgogne Passetoutgrains L'Exception drinks well above the modest appellation, with even older vines from 1926. Half gamay, half pinot, aged for 15-18 months in old oak, roughly the same length as the more “prestige” bottlings. The Passetoutgrains Anthologie was produced first in 2018 as a tribute to Michel’s 90th birthday, to give you an idea of how seriously they take this humble wine. Fruit was taken from the upper part of the original parcel, destemmed by hand, and crushed into one barrel and one foudre for aging. Structured and savory, with more density than L’Exception. Bourgogne Rouge has a reputation as a "baby Volnay," with the 50-year-old vines planted right on the border of the village classification, showing all the typical limestone and red fruits in a rounder package. There is a definite step up in complexity and density at the village level, and in years when quality (and available quantity) merit it, a further selection is made in the vineyard. It’s usually the older vines that lend the fruit to the Vendanges Selectionnees designation. This is true in Meursault, where their single hectare was planted in 1968. The VS bottling shows more amplitude to the ripe orchard fruits and more mineral drive. In Volnay, fruit for the VS is more centrally located, and borders 1er Crus. In each case, these are textbook, with floral red fruits and silky tannins, although a little more structured and with a kiss of new oak in the selection. Volnay may be the main event of the domaine, but they work with two exceptional 1er Cru sites in Beaune as well, just over a hectare in total. Their piece of Greves is set apart from the majority of the site, with vines at the top of the slope, some nearing 100 years of age. Clos des Aigrots has old vines too, with some dating back to the late 1940s. It’s generally brighter and less firm than the Greves, which has a meaty, spicy overlay as well. The Premier Crus in Volnay are likewise top-tier, while wide-ranging in style. Relatively new to the lineup is Les Pitures, available only in magnums. The midslope vines deliver a powerhouse wine - robust, but coiled and built for the long haul. Nearby Mitans may have the most approachable fruit when young, but there is concentration and a fine, underlying frame of acid and tannins from the 65-year-old vines. Clos des Chenes is in the best portion of the vineyard, abutting Taillepieds, and across from Champans and Cailleret. Very pure and floral with deep, lacy layers of fruit, iron spice, and fine structure. It’s always a contender for top wine, even against the flagship Clos du Chateau des Ducs. This monopole essentially acts as the winery’s garden, just over a half hectare of vines dating back to the 1940s. Protected from wind and frost by the walls, this is usually the first plot to be harvested. Complex and profound, with a full spectrum of fruits, spices, and flowers, bound together with fresh acidity and long tannins. It’s a mesmerizing bottle, produced by a domaine that’s finally getting its due.
At the other end of the Cote d’Or, in Morey St. Denis, sits domaine Henri Jouan. It’s a tiny jewel box of an estate, perhaps Burgundy’s best-kept secret for elite, soulful wines. Since 2004, Philippe, the fourth-generation Jouan, has taken charge, with his father Henri still contributing as a consultant. With just three hectares of vines, the wines are rare and hard to find, largely due to minuscule production levels and the incredibly ardent support of their existing fans. Style-wise, they’re open-knit and approachable, with pure, inviting flavors and lots of intriguing subtleties. "We make wines for customers who like fruit," notes Henri, making these a great entry point for Burgundy neophytes or those who prefer a silkier, juicier wine. There’s a seriousness in the winemaking too, with incredible attention to detail. Grapes are always fully destemmed, with a short maceration and gentle extractions before being basket pressed into Francois Freres barrels for fermentation and aging. New oak generally runs 25-40%, depending on the cuvee. As at Lafarge, there is also a large emphasis placed on the health of their vineyards. To preserve their delicate old vines of pinot fin, all work is done by hand and chemical interventions are not used. The end results are supple, generous wines, with captivating and lifted aromatics, and fine structures for a long evolution. Coteaux Bourguignons Vieilles Vignes is 100% pinot, from the "young" 45-year-old vines of the estate. Dark fruited, sappy and amazing QPR. The village wines are pitch-perfect renderings of their terroirs. The hometown Morey St. Denis is from old vines in three lieux-dits, and provides a red-fruited and mineral rendition, full of typicity. Chambolle also hails from three well-sited lieux-dits. It’s pretty, vibrant, and classic, with ripe red fruits and floral aromatics. Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Echezeaux is in a prime location, with 80-year-old vines offering up bright aromatics and an earthy, savory edge to the inviting and elegant fruit. Their sole 1er Cru is the overperforming MSD Clos Sorbe, always majestic, with good structure and more brooding fruit, and the 80-year-old vines bring tension between concentration and delicacy. Jouan also has a third of a hectare in the Grand Cru Clos St. Denis, with 100-year-old vines in the Maison Brulee portion. They are incredibly low yielding, but the wine remains refined and exquisitely detailed. Like Philippe’s other wines, this has a joyous and expressive side married to real complexity, substance, and breed. These are wines to get lost in – and obsess about.
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