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Profile: Domaine David Clark (Morey St.Denis)

domaine david clark morey saint denis
Domaine David Clark is a relative baby, its birth was in 2004 when David saw an advertisement for two-thirds of an acre of vines – which he promptly bought. If the purchase was quick and opportunistic, the preparation was much more considered.

David was born in Indianapolis of Scottish parents and was schooled in Scotland – I asked what he considers himself to be – American or Scottish, and he countered with ‘British’!

So just how did David get into a position to hear about available vineyards? It was a rather circuitous route: A strong interest in wine flowered while working his university gap year – his office was just over the road from a branch of ‘Oddbins’ (easily the doyen of the UK wine scene at that time) which somehow managed to lubricate some part of the decision-making process. Already in his final year of university he’d decided that he would eventually like to make wine and was fortunate that the doors opened to a post-university 1997 grape harvest at Mayacamas in the Napa Valley followed by the 1998 harvest at Tahbilk in Australia. It was while he was in Australia that he was interviewed and subsequently hired by the Williams Formula One Grand Prix team who were there for the Grand Prix in Melbourne.

David stayed with Williams for 5 years, starting as a software engineer and ending up in charge of pit stop strategies. Certainly it sounds glamorous, but after a while David found the travel monotonous, and despite making a good living, he had no time to spend his money – so dusted off his original plan!

In 2003 he spent six months working on a farm in the Auvergne in the south of France to get his French up to the level that he could attend the Lycée Viticole in Beaune. I asked if it was always his plan to end up in Burgundy and the answer was an unconvincing ‘not really’! As soon as he heard that two-thirds of an acre of ‘Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire’ was for sale he jumped at the opportunity – that was in 2004. What followed was a public trial of his skills; other vignerons would stop and watch, occasionally shaking their heads ‘you don’t do it like that’ etc.. But David’s hard work and application quickly won them over so that they were were soon sharing all their best tips. It was during these sessions that he heard that a house with sufficient space to make wine had come up for sale in a neighbouring village – Morey St.Denis – owned by a former vigneron it had all he needed, it is now home.

The Vineyards and Winemaking

david clark labelListening to his neighbours and fellow vignerons has afforded David the chance to learn about the availability of other plots of vines, such that he now has close to two hectares of vines spread across the communes Morey-Saint-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Brochon and Flagey-Echezeaux. Those are famous names, but unfortunately for David, apart from his 1-2 barrels (from 5 rows of vines) of Morey St.Denis (May 2008), the rest attract only regional designations. For 2007 the following are in the cellar:

  • 8 Barrels Passetoutgrains
  • 8 Barrels Bourgogne
  • 6 Barrels Côtes de Nuits Villages (Brochon)
  • 1 Barrel Morey St.Denis

David’s gammay vines are/were (see below) a super plot that previously belonged to Christophe Roumier but in June 2008 these were been sold to help fund the purchase of 4 ouvrées in the Vosne-Romanée villages lieu-dit of  Aux Ormes (2008 will be the first vintage) from Régis Forey.  Much of the rest of David’s vines have had a significant make-over since he bought them; new posts and wiring in some cases, in others complete replanting – one of his plots required 1,000 new vines.

What David has done, is to bring the same (or more) care to his ‘generic’ vineyards that others bestow on their Chambertin or Musigny. Only ploughing and mowing for weed control – never herbicides. Ultra low yields (his 2007 yields were below 30hl/ha for ‘regionals’), and all ‘at the vine’ work is done by by hand e.g de-budding and de-leafing to promote grape ripeness and colour and finally an organic spray program to counter disease and pests. There resulting fruits of these labours are treated with equal care. David’s choice of winemaking methods is characterised by the following:

  • Hand harvesting into small cases (50 litres) at full maturity
  • No non-essential additives or manipulations
  • Aging in small french oak barrels with a small percentage of new oak
  • Bottling by hand, and no fining or filtration.

domaine david clark morey saint denis barrel cellarDavid’s inaugural 2004 vintage was quite a trial, it took him and his father four days to fill just two casks due to hail damage and subsequently picking out the damaged grapes by tweezers. On the other hand, he was quite happy (relieved?) to start small. Fortunately he had an easier ride with his 05’s – everything just fell into place. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t active, rather his energy was spent renovating his dilapidated cellar – it’s compact, but today it’s very tidy and clean.

When asked about his ambitions as a vigneron/winemaker, David has an interesting philosophy; he’s quite happy with just 2 hectares, but as the opportunity arises, he plans to trade-up – i.e. parcel by parcel replace generic with villages, premier crus and, who knows, a little grand cru might be quite nice!   At his current rate of progress, I wouldn’t bet against him already having some by 2010!

Just a small note on the wines: In May I tasted the 07’s from barrel, and despite a little disolved carbon dioxide it’s clear that the wines punch well above their lowly weight.

The Vineyards Updated

Just a week or two after my visit, David had some more news, seems he’s on a good track:

“The rumour mill doesn’t lie – I just bought for 4 ouvrées of Vosne-Romanée village that I have been tending since May (so I didn’t prune it, but all the green work has been mine). The lieu-dit is Aux Ormes and is surprisingly well drained, the vines have millerandé – I can barely contain my excitement! They were previously farmed by Régis Forey so are in good shape.”

July 2008.

7 responses to “Profile: Domaine David Clark (Morey St.Denis)”

  1. Peter Francis

    Watched “Wine” on BBC 4 last night, well done admire your enthusiasm
    you should meet my daughter and son in law Vicki and Jean Marie Fourrier at Domaine Fourrier in Gevrey.

    Let me know if interested

    Peter Francis.

  2. David Loder

    Hi Watched the wine programme, very good only just purchased tv after many years so am getting to grips with the good bits, and this programme is one such. Have been visiting Cote d’Or for many years now as have friend in Chenove and Gevrey, have an idea were your to. so will look you up when we visit in October, November, Last year after study tour of Aus and NZ being introduced to Marlborough wines by the wife’s family we only managed a brief French visit to Le Peax in Normandy playing at a folk festival. I run a horticultural consultancy, teach and advice on organic and conventional production as well as advise clients on garden and landscape design here in Devon, so my interest is in the horticultural aspect of viticulture, French not brilliant but have discussed with growers around your area techniques, always interesting. Your three wheeled buggy is based on a devise used by strawberry pickers great idea, also interested in horse cultivation and the organic status do you have problems with other growers spraying non derogation chemicals or is all the domain organic? Great, good luck for the coming year.David Loder

  3. David Clark

    Peter – Would certainly be interested – perhaps you could send me an email at david@domainedavidclark.com

    David – I’m lucky to have a few organic vineyard neighbours, but others who are not. In one case I spray for a non-organic neighbour and in the others the certification body (Ecocert) is thankfully quite understanding.

  4. in the vines…

    [...] quick update on the situation in the vines, courtesy of David Clark in (of-course) the Côte de Nuits: The vines are looking far too good at the moment. I’m doing [...]

  5. harvest 2009 update

    [...] David Clarke @ Morey: Things are looking good. The weather has essentially been warm and very occasionally stormy since my last update. The storms have brought a few millimetres of unneeded rain, but thankfully nothing worse. The forecast is also dry and sunny for the next week so optimism is definitely rising. There is still no rot and we are around 10% potential alcohol already. The acidity is relatively low, but I think many people are now hoping for something at little better than the 1997 vintage I mentioned a few weeks ago. I still feel the skins are quite thick and tough so would like to wait until around the 19th if possible, but will be ready to advance that by as much as a week if the weather dictates. [...]

  6. Roger Tilbury

    David, still waiting for some blog updates !

    Our wine (very small vineyard in Liguria for personal use only) is fabulous already, hope yours is as good.

    Good luck Roger

  7. Frances and David Nachmani

    We have a small vineyard in Israel and have just seen the first part of the “Wine” programme. Your vineyard is fantastic, we could certainly empathize, and my husband, David, was completely enamoured, and is offering help when needed! Today we are harvesting the 2010 Cabernet and Merlot, new babies! The love of wine is certainly a passion!
    Anyway good luck
    Frances and David

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