2017 Bourgogne Passetoutgrains, L'Exception, Domaine Michel Lafarge, Burgundy
William Kelley - 04/01/2019
About this WINE
Domaine Michel Lafarge
Following the sad passing of Michel in January 2020, his son Frédéric and granddaughter Clothilde maintain his legacy – producing some of the greatest wines in Volnay.
There’s nothing modern in the winemaking at Domaine Michel Lafarge, though the meticulous care for their biodynamically farmed vineyards puts them at the forefront of viticultural practices.
In the vineyard
Vineyard work is usually assisted by the estate’s hens, who eat up any lurking pests. In ’14, Frédéric and Chantal (maiden name Vial) Lafarge decided to buy some Beaujolais vineyards, starting in Fleurie before expanding into Chiroubles and the Côte de Brouilly. The vineyards had all previously been run organically, and that continues under the Lafarge-Vial stewardship – along with biodynamic treatments.
In the winery
The grapes are destemmed and vinified traditionally; very little new oak is used in the cellar.
Bourgogne Rouge is the term used to apply to red wines from Burgundy that fall under the generic Bourgogne AOC, which can be produced by over 350 individual villages across the region. As with Bourgogne Blanc and Bourgogne Rosé, this is a very general appellation and thus is hard to pinpoint any specific characteristics of the wine as a whole, due to the huge variety of wines produced.
Around 4,600 acres of land across Burgundy are used to produce Bourgogne Rouge, which is around twice as much as is dedicated towards the production of generic whites.
Pinot Noir is the primary grape used in Bourgogne Rouge production, although Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and in Yonne, César grapes are all also permitted to make up the rest of the wine. These wines tend to be focused and acidic, with the fruit less cloying than in some New World wines also made from Pinot Noir, and they develop more floral notes as they age.
Although an entry-level wine, some Bourgogne Rouges can be exquisite depending on the area and producer, and yet at a very affordable price.
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.
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This 89-year-old vineyard, planted half to Pinot Noir and half to Gamay, was one of the two original parcels that Frédéric’s grandfather began with (the other being Clos des Chênes). The soil is very gravelly here, which gives a wine with a gorgeous red-fruit perfume, crunchy, chalky tannins and a saline finish. This is proper wine. Drink 2019-2023.
Michel Lafarge (b. 1928) and his son Frédéric make use of their combined experience to produce some of the greatest wines in Volnay. There is nothing modern in their winemaking, though the meticulous care of their biodynamically farmed vineyards puts the domaine at the forefront of viticultural practices. When they are working on a patch of vines they are usually accompanied by their hens who eat up any lurking pests. The grapes are de-stemmed, vinified traditionally and very little new oak is used in the cellar. In 2014, they purchased vineyards in the Beaujolais which are farmed using the same biodynamic practices as employed in the Côte de Beaune.
Frédéric was keen to highlight the solidarity shown between vignerons at the end of April, as they mobilised to put in place measures to prevent a repeat of the frosts of 2016. Burning dampened straw bales at strategic locations, they succeeded in creating cloud cover which saved the vast majority of the vineyards. He also stressed the importance of “fractional harvesting” – waiting until each parcel is fully ripe before picking – and feels that the domaine’s biodynamic practices allow the grapes to achieve even ripening and balance, a real boon in early vintages such as 2017. For those with long memories, 90-year-old Michel compares 2017 to 1947 and 1964.
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