First-generation vigneron Benjamin Leroux is one of Burgundy’s best-known figures. We talk to him about his motivations, job satisfaction and the logistical challenge of making over 50 wines per year.
“I used to be offended when people would open my wines after a year or two,” says Benjamin Leroux – the 45-year-old vigneron who in the past decade or so has become one of the region’s best-known talents. “I’m not anymore. The best time to open my wine is when you want to share – maybe with your friends, maybe with yourself.”
Who is Benjamin Leroux?
Benjamin started his eponymous négociant operation in 2007, having firmly established himself running Domaine Comte Armand in Pommard. In any given year, Benjamin works with up to 30 hectares of vines, scattered throughout the Côte d’Or. He leases some and owns others, such as plots in Meursault and Bâtard-Montrachet. His range includes around 50 individual cuvées, from generic Bourgogne to Grand Cru; many are single-barrel parcels sold on allocation.
The Côte d’Or is a patchwork of highly parcellated vineyard plots. “It’s a huge logistical challenge,” Benjamin explains, “but that’s how it is in Burgundy. We’re used to it here.” It would be simpler to work with larger and more homogenous vineyards, or to make fewer wines, but Benjamin considers it a fair trade-off. “It takes more time and more energy to work these plots,” he acknowledges, “but it fills me with energy, too. Touching so many different terroirs. I don’t feel as though I’m losing my time. It’s a win-win exchange.”
Benjamin Leroux on winemaking
Despite his clear winemaking talent, Benjamin doesn’t consider himself a winemaker per se. “I don’t like that term because I’m not a winemaker,” he says. “I don’t ‘make’ the wine. I’m just here to make sure the fruit can express the best of the terroir.” Accordingly, Benjamin’s work in the cellar is with a light touch: he aims to let the fruit express itself rather than guide things in any particular direction. “I make all the wines almost the same way: I don’t have in mind that because this is a Vosne-Romanée, it should be made with whole bunches, or that this Nuits-Saint-Georges needs to be more earthy. My way of winemaking is very transparent.”
He may be a first-generation winegrower, but Benjamin has the long term firmly in mind. “The work I’m doing – taking care of vineyards, replanting them – I’m not doing it for myself. I need to think about the next generation, the next two generations.” The ability – or the necessity – to slow down and think ahead has a certain appeal for Benjamin: “we’re in a world where everything needs to be done by the second. I like the idea of not being in a rush. This is a multigenerational job; it’s immaterial somehow.”
Job satisfaction in Burgundy
The satisfaction that Benjamin gets from his work is unmistakable. “My job is to take care of this region, to leave it in better shape than I found it,” he says. “We’re a small team, and we have lots of fun. While it’s still a pleasure to do it – and we don’t feel like we’re ‘working’ – then there’s no reason to change.” Having travelled and worked elsewhere – stints in New Zealand, Oregon and in Bordeaux at Ch. Cos d’Estournel – Benjamin sees his future squarely in Burgundy. “We all travel too much, generally. Sometimes happiness is not further than the edge of your feet,” he says. “Burgundy is an easy place to realise that.”