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Profile: Domaine des Comtes Lafon (Meursault)

The relatively understated roads that leave the centre of Meursault are dotted with a mix of small and rather grander buildings. The Domaine des Comtes Lafon is far from one of the largest, but is still reeks of different time; it’s outbuilding previously being kennels for hunting dogs and stables for horses – it almost seems like wine was an add-on.

The origin of the domaine’s name is far from Burgundian, and can be traced back to the Lafons of south-west France. It was actually a family named Boch that in 1894 Jules Joseph Barthélémy Lafon married into, and with his new wife, Marie, came a wine merchants business and small estate in Meursault which is still home to the domaine today.

Jules was eventually to become the Mayor of Meursault, at that time reviving an old tradition; the celebration with a meal of the end of the harvest – this gained a momentum of its own, finally becoming the banquet we know today, named the ‘Paulée de Meursault’.

The next generation of Lafon were not involved with the domaine, and the vines were put out to share-croppers. Indeed it is said that if the grandson of Jules, René Lafon, had not been against it, his father Henri might have sold the whole estate. René took over the estate in 1956 and with the share-croppers help set about improving and replanting the vines, and began estate bottling – for the first time in 1961 they bottled everything.

Dominique Lafon is the current face of the domaine, He took-over from René in 1984, together with his brother Bruno, who has since faded into the background. Dominique was one of the fêted ‘new generation’ of young owner managers; he set about recovering all the domaine’s vines as metayage contracts came to an end, and was one of the more ‘visible’ producers that were shying away from ‘chemical’ treatments in the vines – for instance turning away from herbicides in 1992.

The Domaine’s Vines

The vines from the family Boch were mainly from the village of Volnay, but there was also Monthélie and the nucleus of today’s ‘Meursault domaine’ The Clos de la Barre and further vines in En la Barre. Jules who augmented his vine income with a position as magistrate set about growing the domaine, adding the domaine’s other important Meursault vineyards and of-course its Montrachet.

As mentioned previously, it was René Lafon who set about replanting their estate, and whilst there are much older parcels within Volnay, the vines in Meursault are closer to 40 years old. Replanting is a mix of clones or massale selection from favoured old vines.

Dominique Lafon went one step further; first turning to ploughing instead of herbicides, then moving to organic farming in the mid-1990s, finally to biodynamic operations in the late 1990s for the whole 13.8 hectare domaine.

A departure from the norm came in 1999 when a domaine in Milly-Lamartine, the Mâconnais was purchased, a further 6 hectares being added in 2003. The label for these wines is now that of the Héritiers du Comte Lafon. New vines from the Château de Viré were added to the label in 2009. Distribution of the wines is the same as the domaine’s main label, but interestingly via ‘caisse panaché’ – or mixed cases.

The Domaine’s wines

I have the impression that there has been a style-shift in both red and white wines in recent years – at least versus my experiences of wines from the 1990s. The older style of the Volnays – particularly the Santenots – was powerful, indeed an explosive tour de force, but often a little short of length. Perhaps my taste-buds had been overworked by the wine’s fireworks, but elegant Volnay they were not. Likewise (almost) the whites of the 1990s were equally forceful, and very well oaked.

In both cases, they were highly impressive wines, but it seems changes are afoot.

The recent reds I’ve tasted, and certainly those 09s in barrel seem to me to have more elegance and just a hint more freshness. The whites mesmerised me.

The estate did have some white wine oxidation problems, so changes have been made; instead of batonnage they began rolling the barrels to avoid introducing more air but still getting the fine lees into suspension, and since 2004 moved to corks that were only coated in paraffin rather than silicone. Whilst they were never the worst affected of domaines, the high entry price of their wines was an additional twist of the knife when a problem was encountered.

The 2009s:
Tasted 14th October. I admit to being quite lost for words whilst tasting through the whites with the estate manager, Stéphane Thibodaux; in every single wine was a level of minerality that was quite spellbinding. You anticipate indeed demand it from your Meursault Perrières, but what about Goutte d’Or or Genevrières? I really had to re-assess my benchmarks for what is possible versus what is ‘normal’ for a bottle of Meursault – I would even go as far as to say what was also ‘normal’ for Lafon in the 1990s!

2009 Comtes Lafon, Monthélie Les Duresses
Powdery red fruits, eventually very pretty and precise red berries. Gives a reasonable impression of velvet, has balance and the flavours grow in the mid-palate, also including a mineral flavour dimension.

2009 Comtes Lafon, Volnay
Made from the young vine of Les Santenots. Very pretty, wide, red-fruited nose. Some gas so hard to say much more, though the overall balance seems very good.

2009 Comtes Lafon, Volnay 1er Clos des Chênes
Deeper, perhaps a few estery notes. More depth to the palate yet retaining a fine and elegant stance.

2009 Comtes Lafon, Volnay 1er Champans
A beautiful, clear and focused red-fruit nose. There’s a large extra dimension of flavour, plus much more structure – but structure with a purpose. Lovely wine.

2009 Comtes Lafon, Volnay 1er Santenots du Milieu
Beautiful colour. The aromas are a little more understated, but that’s balanced with a gorgeous complexity. Again there’s plenty of structure, a little more mineral impression but fruit too. Super, this is really long too – unlike a few older vintages!

2009 Comtes Lafon, Macon Lamartine
Fresh, far from simple aromas. Some fat, but it’s well balanced – good flavour too.

2009 Comtes Lafon, Macon Uchizy – Maranches
A little higher toned (finer?) There is a little less sweetness here – I?m reminded of quince…

2009 Comtes Lafon, Macon Bussières Le Monsard
Broader aromas with higher tones. Mineral, a lovely core of flavour and length too. My favourite so far!

2009 Comtes Lafon, Macon Chardonnay – Clos de la Crochette
It’s an intense nose with perhaps a hint of white pepper. Full but balanced, despite that full impression there is quite some minerality here.

2009 Comtes Lafon, Macon-Milly Lamartine – Clos du Four
The nose seems rather elegant – transparent, thin? The flavour is wide and impressively chiseled – this is a big surprise after the nose, complexity and length too!

2009 Comtes Lafon, Macon Viré-Clessé
There’s impressive aromatic intensity. Some agrume flavour. Lovely mineral flavours with just the right amount of sweetness – fab!

2009 Comtes Lafon, Meursault
Savoury aromas, even a hint of reduction. This is very finely detailed and equally well balanced – no overt power here, rather a seamless and rather elegant wine.

2009 Comtes Lafon, Meursault Clos de la Barre
Similar aromas with an extra edge of sweet fruit and sweet bread. A little gas, some minerality but also a sneaky extra width of flavour. Simply a subtle but detailed panorama. Very, very moreish…

2009 Comtes Lafon, Meursault 1er Goutte d’Or
This has an extra dimension, and it is a very mineral dimension. Like the nose the flavours are chiseled but balanced. Yum.

2009 Comtes Lafon, Meursault 1er Genevrières
Now I’m confused – I expected a little fat in the Goutte d’Or, even more so in the Genevrières. High-toned, very understated aromas with hints of citrus. Fuller, rounder, very, very balanced. This has a mid-palate that evolves as you savour – super length.

2009 Comtes Lafon, Meursault 1er Charmes
Savoury depth, high-tones too though not so wide. The high-tones slowly evolve to fill the width too! A hint more sweetness, super width – I’m starting to get lost for words!

2009 Comtes Lafon, Meursault 1er Les Perrières
A little toast, plenty of width. A hint of gas but it doesn’t take anything away from the sweetness and balance. A narrow but beautiful core of fruit runs long, long, long into the finish.

2009 Comtes Lafon, Le Montrachet
Super-wide aromas but not ‘look-at-me’. Again a hint of gas. Total understatement – there is acidity but it appears only after you swallow and the taste just stays with you in a way that eventually you are reminded what you are tasting – a small gulp after 2 minutes brings a reprise of flavour!

Domaine des Comtes Lafon
Clos De La Barre
21190, Meursault, France
Email: Comtes Lafon

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