It was one of those relatively rare hot days in May 2008 when I visited Domaine des Lambrays.
Although it is not the only vineyard represented in the cellar, the domaine takes its name from their 99% ownership of the Clos des Lambrays; a large, walled, grand cru vineyard – it is a true ‘Clos’ – that starts in the centre of Morey St.Denis but climbs up towards the wooded crest of the hill above. At the top of the vineyard you can see Dijon to the north and on a clear winter’s day, Mont Blanc in the far-off east. It is bordered to the south by the equally impressive grand cru, the Clos de Tart, and to the north the Rue du Mountain which forms a wide border to the grand cru of Clos St.Denis.
Enshrined in stone bordering the vines is the date 1365, indicating the establishment of the vineyard, and recorded as the ‘Cloux des Lambrey’ it is catalogued in the deeds of the Abbey of Citeaux. Single ownership ended with the French Revolution, after which as many as 74 owners were responsible for the vines. Consolidation over a number of years (in the main by Louis Joly) brought the majority of the vines to a single owner by 1868. Today there are only two owners; overwhelmingly the Domaine des Lambrays who produce between 3 and 4 thousand cases per year, but by comparison a tiny 30 or-so cases are also produced by Domaine Taupenot-Merme who own a small sliver of vines.
The original building of the domaine dates from about 1630. Additions were made by Louis Joly then later by a new owner; Albert-Sebastien Rodier, grandfather of Camille Rodier who was one of the founders of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin. Albert-Sebastien sold the estate in 1938 to his friend Renée Cosson, following which it is said that the domaine slowly fell into a slumber – interesting then that those bottles from the 1940’s are so sought-after. Following the death of Renée it was sold to a group consisting of Roland de Chambure and the brothers Fabien and Louis Saier; investment was required and not just for the fabric of the domaine so Thierry Brouin was persuaded joined the estate. Towards the end of 1996 Günter and Ruth Freund, both (today) Chevaliers du Tastevin became the latest, and current owners. The domaine, it’s buildings, gardens and the vineyards are a fitting testament to their eye for detail – everything is beautifully presented.
The wines of the domaine
The Clos des Lambrays
From it’s geographic position sat between the other grand crus of Morey St.Denis, the Clos des Lambrays was for almost 50 years something of an anomaly – given that it was ‘only’ classified as a premier cru – that was until April 27th, 1981, when the vineyard was promoted to grand cru status. Because it is the land that is classified, rather than the wine, all old stocks of bottles could be re-labeled as grand cru despite being a 1er when harvested and bottled.
Over thirty thousand bottles per year are produced from vines that are atypically planted perpendicular to the slope – Thierry Bruin says that in this vineyard it brings a number of advantages, amongst which are reduced soil erosion – the Clos is the certainly the steepest of the grand crus of Morey – it also helps dry the vines quickly in the prevailing wind and helps avoid sunburn on the grape skins. Thierry knows something about the wind and weather patterns; he points to a wind coming from the south and says it will rain today – 4 hours later it arrived – and how!
It comes as no surprise that such a large (8.7 hectare) vineyard has its own ‘named areas’, each being geologically differentiated, they are:
- MEIX RENTIER is the smallest section at 1.1 hectares and is also the lowest part of the vineyard so the soils are a little deeper and show plenty of clay
- LES LARRETS is the largest section at 5.7 hectares, centrally located on the main slope
- LES BOUCHOTS at about 2 hectares sits on the northern side of the Clos opposite the Clos St.Denis
The average age of the vines in the Clos is about 40 years, the oldest are about 90 years but the average comes down due to the complete replanting of one 2.45 hectare portion in 1980. It’s expected that about 2% will be replanted per year from now on – which is about 2,000 vines per year.
As for the ground, it’s the steepest of the Morey grand crus, but is very typical of the village; the rockier ground with thinner red soil in the upper part of the vineyard that is said to emphasise the elegance to the wine. The clay-based soil deepens as you move lower down the hill as the slope flattens out, you will even find an old well here within the vineyard – the water is still there about 8 metres down – this deeper soil brings power to the wine.
The average yield from the Clos is about 31 hectolitres per hectare.
Morey St.Denis 1er Les Loups
8 to 10,000 bottles per year. The Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru “Les Loups” is the final resting place of young vines from Clos des Lambrays and the fruit from two premier cru sites, La Riotte and Le Village, which despite the name, is still a 1er cru(!) It usually carries the perfume of the Clos des Lambrays if not the same weight. Only 1,500 bottles in 2007!
Typically 4,000+ bottles per year. A villages (regional) classified wine, whose vines grow above the Clos des Lambrays on a thin clay soil.
Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clos du Cailleret
Only 0.37 hectares. Almost always a very classy wine and worth searching for as the value is high here.
Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières
Only 0.29 hectares. A good and tasty Folatières that can offer good value.
To be, or not to be: a Grand Cru
The Clos des Lambrays doesn’t carry the same weight of concentration as many grand crus so some people still argue that it shouldn’t have been ‘promoted’ to that level, but it clearly delivers a superbly rounded wine that majors on elegance and complexity instead of raw power. The 2005 is clearly a gold-standard wine – even at the 05 ‘merchant inflated’ price I bought some after tasting here, but is the wine more deserving of grand crus status than a top premier cru like Clos St.Jacques or Amoureuses? On reflection, I would personally say yes, and my yardstick for that decision is complexity rather than density. Amoureuses engulfs you with its texture, more-so than any other wine of Chambolle, including Musigny, and may sometimes have more concentration but by comparison it’s typically a ‘dumb blonde’. The St.Jacques is a harder decision as you need more years for it to open, but in the end I still think the Lambrays is more complex – like in all relationships, the choices are personal.
Harvesting is naturally done by hand – the sorting too. Though it is vintage dependant, the stems are regularly retained, mixing free-run and ‘press’ juice. Described as a ‘traditional burgundy vinification’ the estate uses 10 open stainless steel vats using regular ‘pumping over’ and pigeage. Typically fermentation takes between 15 and 18 days before racking by gravity into barrels for ageing and maturing for approximately 18 months, typically two rackings during that time before bottling without fining though usually a light filtration. The barrels are replaced every second year. Typically about 60% new oak is used in the elevage of The Clos des Lambrays and about 30% for the others.
Tasting a Selection
Descending into the cellar has a touch of theatre about it – perhaps a combination of both the centuries and the lighting.
The cellar is actually not so large, consisting of three interconnected chambers, each one set at about two metres lower than the one that preceded it. In this setting we first tried a number of wines from barrel, the 2007’s, both whites showed brilliantly. Onto the reds; the villages Morey which also contains some of the youngest vines from the Clos des Lambrays showed beautiful red fruit, was friendly and not entirely simple – delicious. The Morey 1er cru was more serious and longer in the finish, then there was another level again with the 07 Clos des Lambrays showing more width, depth and extra finishing length.
About 26 hectolitres per hectare. The nose is wide and mineral with fine herbs. Understated, mouth filling power that manages to expand even further on the mid-palate, becoming ever-more complex as it does so. It’s long and reasonably tannic – though the tannins are very soft – Super! The last drops in the glass are finally giving up a beautifully pure cherry note. Already sold-out at the domaine.
The nose needs a little coaxing, but soon shows reasonable width, but there’s a stunning fruit depth and the faintest crème brulée. Silken and soft in the mouth, yet powerful – that tannin is buried and the balance is a wonder. It bursts across the mid-palate before slowly lingering in the finish. A ‘wow’ wine. Of-course, also sold-out at the domaine!
The first bottle was rejected for it’s sherry aromas; Thierry puts the blame for this random oxidation squarely at the door of cork suppliers though said the wine could still make a decent sauce! The second bottle (that had lain next to the first for the last nine or ten years) was more typical of 1997; opulent, with just enough acidity, rather lush but packed with flavour. For all the hype in some areas I still generally prefer 97 whites to reds and this is a good 1997 example.
Société du Domaine des Lambrays
31, rue Basse
Fon: +33 3 80 51 84 33
Fax: +33 3 80 51 81 97