What’s in a name? The l’Arlot is a small stream. It runs mainly underground, sourced from the hills above Premeaux-Prissey. The hills of this area were a prime source of stone for the region’s construction. Some quarries are still very much in operation, producing not just building stone but also the marble for which the area between Corton and Nuits-Saint-Georges is well-known. Above the village of Premeaux the stone is no-longer extracted, but the stream still runs.
One vineyard took the name of this stream and eventually became the Clos de l’Arlot. The Clos is actually part vineyard and part garden. It is garden and vineyard to the house bought by one Jean Charles Vienot in the 1700’s. Built from Premeaux stone in the 1600’s the house was restored by the Vienot family – only when they built a wall around the house/vineyard/garden did the vineyard really become a Clos. As you pass today’s Domaine de l’Arlot, externally there is a hint of faded glory, but it is only when you turn into the courtyard that you realise how big and impressive the house and offices of the domaine really are. Internally there has been some serious renovation… the offices are really very impressive.
From the late 1800’s the vines and house were owned and exploited by, the firm of Maison Jules Belin who had premises in Prissey as well as Premeaux. The firm already owned the Clos des Fôrets and Clos du Chapeau vineyards of today’s Domaine de l’Arlot and was certainly a firm of note, also owning vines in Musigny and Amoureuses.
Very few of the successful family owned négociants of the 18th and 19th centuries made a similarly successful transition in the 20th century. Exacerbated by the loss of a number of family members in a car-crash in 1933 the firm of Maison Jules Belin went into a slow decline – it was eventually sold in 1987.
The domaine today
Today the Domaine de l’Arlot is that very rare beast in Burgundy, a domain that is owned by a large corporate organisation. Aided in their negotiations by one Jean-Pierre de Smet it was AXA Insurance that in 1987 purchased the domaine, a common enough occurrence in Bordeaux, but rather more unusual in Burgundy.
Born in England, brought-up in Nice and trained as an accountant, Jean-Pierre ran his own company in New Caledonia then sailed the seas for a number of years. Perhaps his interest in wine-making came rather by chance, but in 1977 he worked a vintage at the domaine of a friend – Jacques Seysses of Dujac – he was hooked, and over the years became a regular visitor. Finally he decided on a career sea-change; he enrolled on a viticulture and wine-making course at the University of Dijon and set about looking for his own domaine. Jean-Pierre had a good network of contacts, amongst them was the CEO of AXA, quite helpful as it turned out…
The Domaine de l’Arlot is not actually owned on the same model as AXA’s other properties in Bordeaux; AXA is the owner for sure, but the house and vineyards are actually leased to today’s domaine which is jointly owned by AXA and Jean-Pierre. Together with his partner, Lise Judet, responsible for the day-to-day administration, and most recently his technical director, Olivier Leriche, the domaine was slowly but surely brought up to today’s level. It was apparently in quite a state when they first moved in, slowly it was updated, including a new cuverie. The design of this cuverie was specified by Jean-Pierre, and apparently he based it on that of his friends at Domaine Dujac.
The de Smet/AXA joint management had always aimed to increase the vineyard holdings, though they were twice beaten to the punch by Lalou Bize-Leroy, first for the former Charles Noellat holdings, then the domaine of Louis Remy. Finally, in 1990, they made their first purchase; a 0.25 hectare parcel of wonderfully sited Romanée-Saint-Vivant in the ‘Clos des Quatre Journeaux’, just below Romanée-Conti and adjacent to the vines of Louis Latour. This was followed by the purchase of another very well sited parcel of premier cru vines in Vosne-Romanée Les Suchots, just across the road from Richebourg. This brought the domaine to its current size of ~14 hectares.
The vines and wines of domaine de l’Arlot
The Clos de l’Arlot is a vineyard without equal. It is not just its 7 hectares containing ~4 hectares of mixed pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay, it’s the other things it contains; formal garden, fruit trees and a giant fir tree, a swimming pool, a box-tree maze at the foot of a rock cliff and a constantly changing topography. The picture (right) of the path through the maze on a rainy Friday doesn’t give you even a small idea. It is a must-see!
The remaining vineyards are somewhat more ‘standard’. Except for the aforementioned vines in Vosne-Romanée, the domaine’s vines can all be found in Nuits. Almost since the beginning, the domaine has preferred to work in a bio way. Five years ago they chose a biodynamic approach, the domaine could now apply for accreditation as ‘bio’ if they wished. They plough rather than use herbicides, use only home-made compost in the vineyards, and target yields of 35 hl/ha by green harvesting.
Harvesting is by hand, triage at the vines and then again on the vibrating sorting table at the domaine. The grapes are collected in small baskets then transferred to crates before being ‘rushed’ to the cuverie. Though the Vosne vines are a little further away, the grapes from their Nuits vineyards can be in their stainless-steel fermenting tanks very quickly – this is one of the domaine’s key aims. Unless there are issues over rot or ripeness, the domaine is one of the few that ferments using whole clusters – just like Jean-Pierre’s friends at Dujac and also the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. I asked Olivier if he knew why there was a characteristic stemmy note, which I characterise as smokiness to the wines of both l’Arlot and Dujac, but much more rarely with DRC, he said that they would like to know too!
The grape clusters go into the tanks protected by carbon dioxide. Except when the grapes come in too hot – let’s say warmer than 18°C – there is no cooling or cold-soaking, the fermentations start naturally in 2-5 days. Punching down is with real human feet before an automatic system takes over. The team aim primarily for balance rather than extraction, and although there is no cold-soak, the solids remain in contact with the liquid for up-to 28 days before racking into barrels. This philosophy (for some reason) always seems to results in a quite fast onset of the malolactic fermentation – there is no attempt to retard what comes naturally. The whites remain in barrel for around 1 year and the reds for up-to 17 months. If required, there is an egg-white fining before bottling without filtration – et viola!
This is certainly a domaine that works hard to produce the best wines that they can. They are one of a rare breed of producers that (vintage permitting) ferment using 100% whole clusters. As a result the wines are lighter in colour, but no less flavourful, indeed they usually show an extra level of complexity. Of the three domaines I’ve already mentioned that use all the stems, I sadly have to place l’Arlot third out of the three, but that reflects their holdings rather than their skill – l’Arlot have but one grand cru, the others overflow with top terroir. A fairer comparison with Dujac will come when they start to exploit their recent acquisition of Romanée-Saint-Vivant which is also sited in the Clos des Quatre Journeaux.
That they are a rare source of white Nuits – and a good one at that – is to their benefit. Their 1er Cru red Nuits also show two interesting personalities; the Clos des Fôrets, bordering, as it does, Les St-Georges, reflects the true Nuits character of that land, but in quite a suave way, whereas the Clos de l’Arlot is consistently a fine and delicate wine of real complexity. They are certainly wines that followers of the fine and subtle should follow, and because I personally covet variation, these wines are high on my purchase list for those days when I want to reflect rather than dissect. The wines are relatively good value and the house style stands out from the crowd – bravo for that.
a selection of wines from the domaine
The 2004’s should be bottled in January/February 2006
Harvested exactly one month later than in 2003. Medium colour. The nose sweet and faintly smoky, fresh with subtle vanilla. A lacy palate that is mainly about red berries and forward acidity that helps to push the finish a little longer. Not very dense but nicely fine.
This used to be labelled ‘Jeunes Vignes du Clos des Fôrets’ and is indeed the young vines from this vineyard. The name has changed as there might be some blending with the young-vines wine from the Clos de l’Arlot in the future. Medium cherry-red. A bright and concentrated red cherry nose with just a suggestion of smoky vanilla. Much fatter than the ‘Chapeau’, with bright, creamy fruit. A hint of astringency on the finish, but this is a surprisingly rich and interesting wine.
This is actually the young-vines cuvée from the Clos de l’Arlot. Medium colour. The nose is more like the ‘Chapeau’ but with an extra smokiness. A much lacier wine than the 1er Cru that preceded it. On the palate it starts in a rather narrow fashion but opens out admirably – a crescendo wine – lots of raspberry and redcurrant aspects. Another ‘light’ wine, but with added elegance.
Medium cherry-red. The nose has dense, ripe, heavy-hanging cherries with a spicy edge. Fine, intense and athletic palate. The fruit is not so high-toned as the ‘1er’, very nice acidity and good texture. Just a little oak on the finish. Overall very fine, silky, long and aromatic wine.
Medium-plus cherry-red colour. Darker, more brooding fruit, hinting at black-skinned cherry. Silky palate but with real density. The fruit is very black-cherry and reserved despite the obvious underlying power. Very elegant.
From the most southerly portion of Suchots separated from Richebourg only by the small road. Medium cherry colour. A very deep and ‘to-die-for’ red-cherry nose, typical (high-quality) Suchots presentation, framed with a smoky edge from the stems. Less dense than the Fôrets, but much more open for business with a wide almost panoramic presentation. Good complexity from the predominantly red fruit, coupled to velvety tannins. A very friendly and precocious wine but very well put together – super.
The domaine’s 0.25 hectares of 33 year-old vines are very well placed, directly below Romanée-Conti and adjoining the vines of Louis Latour in the ‘Les Quatre Journeaux’ section of the vineyard. Medium, medium-plus colour. A pure, wide and high-toned, mainly red phrased nose. Not a really dense wine, rather a flavour-packed wine of many dimensions. Good fat and velvety tannin. Understated after the Suchots, but lovely all the same.
Medium colour. Initially not an obvious 03 nose, it retains the hallmarks of the rest of its family, high-toned fresh fruit, and a hint of coffee mixed with the smoky notes. Also the palate is quite fresh and concentrated, but without the ponderous effects often seen in 03. Architypal 03 finish that is about concentrated dry-extract rather than elegance. Very good for the vintage.
Medium-plus cherry-red. A little tighter, more linear and darker shaded than the l’Arlot. Lots of action on the palate, bulkier with more tannin, brighter fruit in the background. Again the weight of dry extract on the finish. A good wine, but I still prefer the l’Arlot in this vintage
Medium, medium-plus cherry-red. Tight but still fresh and high-toned. Slowly gives up a more creamy depth. Lovely mouthfeel, really silky, well-balanced and elegant. Very complex and long. The tannins stay on your teeth to remind you of the experience – now a nice floral aspect is developing in the glass too. Lovely.
Medium, medium-plus colour. Dark and deep in character with a faintly spicy edge. There is a higher level of tannin, though velvety, and extra dimensions of dark fruit on the palate. Well balanced, though certainly more masculine in style. Good length and interesting aspect to the acidity as it seems to ‘melt’ the tannins in the finish – a very interesting and impressive wine.
Medium colour. The nose is denser than the other l’Arlots, more plummy and mature, hints of rose petal – atypical fruit profile. Apparently the wine was like this since it was in barrel – the domaine were a little concerned, but as the wine continues to remained stable they are less and less worried about it tumbling into early maturity. It seems less precise than the other wines but has a nice ‘gras’ and mouthfeel. Atypical l’Arlot, a nice wine but I prefer the clarity and precision of the previous bottles.
Medium, medium-plus cherry-red colour. Starts a little tight and diffuse, taking a few minutes to develop more depth and with it precise red & black cherry fruit. More delicate and precise that the 01 l’Arlot. Lots of complexity, and good acidity – this is a seriously lovely wine and beautifully presented in 2001.
From a steep section of 47 year-old vines in the Clos, mixed with 5% Pinot Gris also from the Clos. High-toned, sweet floral esters over a base of passion-fruit. Apparently this exotic aspect is very typical for the cuvée, taking 5-6 years to resemble a more typical white burgundy. Good mouthfeel, seems relatively low acidity but Olivier comments that it is ‘average’ and that the exotic aspects and richness are probably hiding it a little. An interesting extra dimension of flavour on the mid-palate, melting into a very interesting medium-length finish. Slowly takes on a more honeyed aspect in the glass. Seriously interesting, a Nuits version of Meursault Gouttes d’Or perhaps. Regarding longevity the domaine always assumed it was better to drink this wine on the younger side, but apparently wines from the late 80’s are very nice still.