The winery in Beaune is a very different concept to Benjamin Leroux’s day job at Comte Armand. A group of three growers who pool their experience are sharing small facilities with a logistics/label company. Starting in 2007 they took part of the old winery of Jaboulet-Vercherre, built in 1898 in Beaune, and have slowly invested in updating the facilities. Stainless-steel tanks and presses on the first floor and there’s a nice clean barrel cellar below. It’s not just about sharing experience; they share the investment cost for harvest equipment and tanks that you will only use for a few days per year for that is not an insignificant sum.
“I’ve learnt a lot working in a 16th century environment in Pommard where the walls are fixed. Here it’s nice to have a good space and create my own structure.”
The end target for Benjamin is his own estate. “It was very important for me to do some whites, but I also have some grapes from the Côte de Nuits for fun!” At least fifty percent of the fruit is from organically managed vineyards, the rest is lutte raissoné. Annual production is about sixty thousand bottles – bigger than Comte Armand – the largest portions being Auxey-Duresses blanc and Savigny-lès-Beaune which together account for about twenty thousand bottles; ten thousand of each. “It’s fun” says Benjamin, “but it is also helping me to better understand pinot noir.”
Some of the vineyards are now owned by Benjamin and his investors, many are still worked by their metayeurs – but Benjamin is happy with their work. Very interesting is Benjamin’s monopole vineyard, the Volnay Premier Cru Clos de les Caves is 0.6 hectares – which he exclusively rents – a third of which is planted with a massale selection from the Clos des Epeneaux – “a very delicate wine” says Benjamin. He also notes “the tree on the label is actually the family crest of my business partner. He wants to stay discreet, to let me with work with free hands.”
Benjamin is also very interested in high-density planting. 15,000 vines per hectare are already planted in one Volnay vineyard – the limit he is allowed to plant. A 20,000 vines per hectare vineyard is already planted in Auxey and another of 30,000 is planned – both chardonnay. Perhaps he may eventually lose the right to the Auxey appellation for these as 15,000 is the maximum allowed – but let’s see, neither will be producing for a couple of years.
Bottling regimes also include alternatives to cork:
“I make some work with DIAM and also screwcaps (at Comte Armand too); I would prefer to stay with cork as a natural material, but we have some problems with them. Despite all my efforts, I still have 5% of wines that are not correct – not just corked, but simply not correct. If you look at the carbon footprint of having to dispose of problematic bottles, producing screw-caps might use a lot of energy, but losing 5% of your wine has a much higher impact.”
A few wines
Tasted at the end of March 2011. The whites from tank were ready for bottling, but perhaps because of the assemblage some of them showed slightly diffuse aromas. The reds below will be bottled in the summer, other were not tasted as they were literally just bottled. Main markets for the wines are the UK and US today.
Wide, understated, perhaps a little aromatically loose. Makes a super impression in the mouth; slightly cushioned with fine dimension – excellent for the label.
A little more aromatic complexity. This has super intensity and much more minerality than the Puligny – long too. What a mouthful of wine – wow.
From just under La Romanée, but unfortunately only two and a half barrels per year. More intense yellow fruit aromas. Fuller, certainly rounder than the taught Vireuls. The intensity grows – this is very, very impressive – indeed! I love this.
From Chassagne side. Owned by ‘the maison’ – everything’s done by a metayer “but done well.” The aromas are a little loose-knit. That said, this is very wide and has achingly long finishing flavours. Not showing at its best today.
Round, with very good deep aromas – gorgeous. The impression in your mouth is very round but with a good minerality too. It’s a long line of flavour that flows into the finish. Friendly, but very impressive.
From the edge of Chambolle on ‘Terres-Blanches’. More understated with a small aroma of tobacco. The palate goes on ‘full-attack’ – but with excellent intensity and very, very good length.