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2011 Richebourg, Grand Cru Domaine Leroy
Domain Leroy is arguably producing the greatest red Burgundy wines on the Cote d`Or at present. Lalou Bize-Leroy started out as a négociant, working for her family's Maison Leroy, which was founded by her father, Henri. There are three entities to the Leroy empire: the Maison Leroy based in Auxey-Duresses; the Domaine d’Auvenay named for Lalou Bize-Leroy’s own home near St-Romain, and the substantial Domaine Leroy in Vosne-Romanée.
Lalou Bize-Leroy also owns a quarter of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, where she was co-director until the other shareholders ousted her in 1992, partly because she had started a competing winery. In 1988 Lalou Bize-Leroy purchased the Domaine Charles Nöellat in Vosne Romanée and renamed it Domaine Leroy, which included the buildings and cellars which are now the domaine’s headquarters, and a wonderful array of vineyards including Richebourg, Romanée St Vivant, Clos de Vougeot, premiers crus Vignerondes and Boudots in Nuits and Beaumonts and Brulées in Vosne. The following year further vineyards were purchased from Domaine Philippe Remy, including Clos de la Roche, Latricières-Chambertin and Le Chambertin, while further holdings have been added since.
The domaine has been farmed biodynamically from the start and is now certified by ECOCERT. It was not always easy and the 1993 vintage was certainly a catastrophe with rampant mildew – but they had nobody but themselves to blame, for being behind in their treatments, according to Madame.
The next exciting, if controversial, move was the change in training system for the vines. For some time previously the hedging (rognage) of the vineyards had been done by hand rather than more abrasively by machine. However it is not natural for the vine to be cut back and it affects the vine’s performance both in the current season and the following year, so now, after the flowering, when the shoots are lengthening, they are curled over instead of being cut back. This minimises entrecoeurs and second crop bunches forming, as well as leaving the vine happier and healthier. Nobody could have doubted the well-being of the Leroy vines on the eve of the 2008 harvest.
Horses however are out. Domaine Leroy was among the first to start using horses to plough the vines, but managing the artisans who own and operate the horses proved insurmountable. At one point five different operators were being employed and they still could not be guaranteed to be there at the necessary moment. Now Leroy use little Caval tractors which weigh less than a horse.
Lalou Bize-Leroy has 23 hectares of vines, mostly Premier and Grand Cru classified. In the vineyard Lalou practises biodynamism as well as severe pruning and crop-thinning. The result is ridiculously low yields.
Domaine Leroy is blessed with a heritage of ancient vines, in part because Lalou Bize-Leroy never grubs up and replants. Instead she replaces individual missing vines, from her own cuttings, but never too many at once in a given vineyard. These old vines combined with her training and pruning policy, restricting the bunches to just four per vine, explain in part the concentration of Leroy wines. The average yield across appellations and vintages at Domaine Leroy is around 16 hl/ha, according to Lalou.
In the cellar there is no winemaker (vinificateur) nor oenologist, André Porcheret not having been replaced when he left after the 1993 harvest. The grapes are of such quality that they do not need a winemaker! After rigorous deselection on the sorting tables, which employ as many people as there are pickers, the grapes are placed, stemmed and all, in wooden fermenting vats. After fermentation the wines are matured in new barrels from Cadus and François Frères.
Jasper Morris MW, author of the award-winning Inside Burgundy comprehensive handbook.
Pinot Noir is probably the most frustrating, and at times infuriating, wine grape in the world. However when it is successful, it can produce some of the most sublime wines known to man. This thin-skinned grape which grows in small, tight bunches performs well on well-drained, deepish limestone based subsoils as are found on Burgundy's Côte d'Or.
Pinot Noir is more susceptible than other varieties to over cropping - concentration and varietal character disappear rapidly if yields are excessive and yields as little as 25hl/ha are the norm for some climats of the Côte d`Or.
Because of the thinness of the skins, Pinot Noir wines are lighter in colour, body and tannins. However the best wines have grip, complexity and an intensity of fruit seldom found in wine from other grapes. Young Pinot Noir can smell almost sweet, redolent with freshly crushed raspberries, cherries and redcurrants. When mature, the best wines develop a sensuous, silky mouth feel with the fruit flavours deepening and gamey "sous-bois" nuances emerging.
The best examples are still found in Burgundy, although Pinot Noir`s key role in Champagne should not be forgotten. It is grown throughout the world with notable success in the Carneros and Russian River Valley districts of California, and the Martinborough and Central Otago regions of New Zealand.
The small commune of Vosne-Romanée is the Côte de Nuits’ brightest star, producing the finest and most expensive Pinot Noir wines in the world.. Its wines have an extraordinary intensity of fruit which manages to combine power and finesse more magically than in any other part of the Côte d’Or. The best examples balance extraordinary depth and richness with elegance and breeding.Situated just north of Nuits-St Georges, Vosne-Romanée boasts eight Grand Cru vineyards, three of which include the suffix Romanée, to which the village of Vosne appended its name in 1866. The famous La Romanée vineyard was formerly known as Le Cloux but was renamed in 1651, presumably after the Roman remains found nearby. In 1760 the property was bought by Prince de Conti, and subsequently became known as Romanée-Conti.
Vosne is the home of the phenomenally fine wines of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti; divine wines that are, as they say, not for everyone but for those who can afford them. The region also boasts some of the world’s most talented, quality-conscious and pioneering producers: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti of course, but also Henri Jayer, Lalou Bize-Leroy, René Engel, as well as the Grivot and Gros families, to name but a few.
Vosne-Romanée has the greatest concentration of top vineyards in the Côte d’Or, including the tiny Grand Crus of the astonishing La Romanée-Conti (a monopoly of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti producing about 600 cases a year), the classy, complex La Romanée (a monopoly of Vicomte Liger-Belair, but until 2002 bottled under Bouchard Père et Fils, producing a minuscule 300 cases or so a year) and the little-known La Grande Rue. As the name suggests, this runs up the side of the road out of Vosne. Originally a Premier Cru, it was rightly upgraded in 1992, although its rich, spicy, floral Pinots are yet to reach their real potential under Domaine Lamarche who hold it as a monopoly.
By convention the wines of neighbouring Flagey-Echézeaux are considered part of Vosne-Romanée. These include the large, very variable 30-hectare Echézeaux (divided between 84 different growers) and the more consistent, silky, intense, violet-scented Grands Echézeaux Grands Crus.
La Tâche is another monopoly of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. It is explosively seductive with a peerless finesse, and is almost as good as their legendary eponymous wine. Richebourg is one of Burgundy’s most voluptuous wines and is capable of challenging La Tâche in some years, while Romanée-St Vivant, which takes its name from the monastery of St Vivant built around 900AD in Vergy, has a lovely silky finesse but is slightly less powerful.
If that wasn’t enough, Vosne-Romanée also boasts some absolutely magnificent Premiers Crus headed by Clos des Réas, Les Malconsorts (just south of La Tâche, and arguably of Grand Cru quality) and Les Chaumes on the Nuits-St Georges side, Cros Parantoux (made famous by Henri Jayer), Les Beaux Monts and Les Suchots on the Flagey-Echézeaux border. The old maxim that ‘there are no common wines in Vosne-Romanée’ may not be strictly true, but it is not far off.
Drinking dates vary, but as a general rule of thumb Grand Crus are best drunk from at least 10 to 25 years, while Premier Crus can be enjoyed from 8 to 20 years, and village wines from 5 to 12 years.
There are no white wines produced in Vosne-Romanée.
- 99 hectares of village Vosne-Romanée.
- 56 hectares of Premier Cru vineyards (14 in all). Foremost vineyards include Les Gaudichots, Les Malconsorts, Cros Parentoux, Les Suchots, Les Beauxmonts, En Orveaux and Les Reignots.
- 75 hectares of Grand Cru vineyards: Romanée-Conti, La Romanée, La Tache, Richebourg, Romanée St Vivant, La Grande Rue, Grands Echézeaux, Echézeaux.
- Recommended producers: Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Leroy, Cathiard, Engel, Rouget, Grivot, Liger Belair.