I met with Kellen Lignier just a few days before she started her 2007 harvest, she was busy bottling the last of her 2005’s; some Gevrey-Chambertin, and finally, her Passe-tout-grains. Halfway through our discussions the sound was drowned-out by an impressive 30 minute thunder storm – at least it was only rain and not hail!
The cherubic faces to the right are the eponymous Lucie and Auguste Lignier, daughter and son of Kellen and Romain Lignier and heirs to much of the renowned Domaine Hubert Lignier. When Hubert reached retirement age, of his two sons it was Romain who clearly wanted to take on the domaine, so part-by-part, the management of the vineyards passed to him. For over 10 years Romain worked together with his father and latterly his wife Kellen whilst retaining the domaine name of ‘Hubert Lignier’.
Romain’s wife Kellen, was new to the region, and rather than actively seeking-out the social scene of Morey – such as it might be! – she found herself working side-by-side with her husband in the vineyards. It seemed an idyllic family existence, Lucie and Auguste were already creating junior havoc when Romain, who was clearly having a few problems, consulted a doctor. The prognosis was not good. Periods of remission came and went, finally, and aged only 34, Romain lost his battle.
This was the worst of times, and was certainly compounded by family disagreement with regard to the most appropriate course of action for the domaine. Kellen insisted that the wish of Romain was that she carried on with Lucie and Auguste in mind – this clearly did not meet with universal agreement. Despite isolation, if not complete ostracism, Kellen’s view appears to have prevailed and day to day operations continue. I read that some vineyards have been lost i.e returned to Hubert – but actually there were none to lose as Romain and Kellen were effectively always working the land that Hubert owned – today Kellen is de facto a metayeur; Hubert recieves one third of the crop. Both parties would like this to change – but clearly with different goals in mind. It was during 2006 that Kellen changed the domaine name to what you see today.
So Hubert remains active – even though he’s over 70 years-old – with a mix of owned vines augmented by about one-third of the grapes from the Lucie & Auguste Lignier estate, and additionally with grapes and wine he has long purchased from others. The grapes sourced from Kellen would still require that Hubert has a négoce license, despite the fact that he tended the same vines for much of his life. Clearly Hubert has to think of succession and it seems that his second son, Laurent, who currently works with the Beaune company of Albert Bichot is now more active – together they now operate under (Hubert) Lignier Père et Fils.
If we assume that most of the opposing views centred on Kellen’s relative lack of wine-making knowledge then it’s clear that she’s worked hard to close that gap. Augmenting her earlier vineyard work with Romain, she has worked a ‘stage’ at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – mainly on the dull, but important, administrative aspects, though she says she also “had the pleasure of topping-off barrels, hygiene, and a brief tractor driving adventure. I’m still in contact with them and they are really wonderful”. Before the DRC ‘stage’ Kellen went to the ‘VITI’ and CFPPA in Beaune, afterwards completing the punishing but fast 8-month course for the obligatory BPREA (Brevet Professionnel Responsable d’Exploitation Agricole) which means she’s legally allowed to manage the domaine and make the wine. Only a short time with Kellen shows that she has knowledge and direction, the smile remains wide, but if not outrightly distrusting I have a strong sense that she is rather ‘guarded’ with new acquaintances.
Domaine Hubert Lignier long had the reputation of being a fine address for concentrated and supple wines – pushed in no small part by a young critic by the name of Robert M Parker. Romain made some some winemaking changes but had no problem retaining and indeed ever-widening the circle of followers. Today, the un-signposted, and relatively newly named Domaine Lucie et Auguste Lignier adjoins the Hotel-Restaurant Castel de Très Girard – it’s in Morey St.Denis but quietly away from the main thoroughfare of the Route des Grands Crus. It seemed from both Kellen’s bottling area and her cellar that space is at a premium, particularly if you see her planning the easiest route to negotiate to her target barrels. If I make it sound disorganised, it’s not, it’s just that there’s rather a lot crammed into these 18th century cellars – and that’s following a 2001 extension for the 1999 vintage – before which, Romain had wine dotted throughout Morey.
Despite the age and utilisation of the cellars, Kellen seems to have a bee in her bonnet about cleanliness and points to recent remedial work in the cellar to solve an un-specified problem – solved with the help of friends from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. It’s not just hygiene in the cellar either, she is the same with her harvest – every bunch is ‘sniffed’ to make sure there is no bacterial spoilage. I think this attention to hygiene detail was clearly enhanced by her time at that Vosne domaine.
Over his 10+ years of taking more and more control of the winemaking, Romain mainly looked to increase the length of pre-fermentation maceration, believing it was better to extract here rather than during the fermentation as preferred by his father. The grapes are destemmed before a fermentation mediated by natural, local yeasts and takes place in open-top cement tanks. Romain and friends used to do the pigeage the traditional way – bare legs and all. There is a cold soak maceration period prior of around 5 days prior to fermentation. Fermentation tends to be relatively long, generally lasting around 15 to 20 days. Kellen now (hygiene in mind) covers her tanks, but retains the ‘manual push-downs’. There is restrained use of new oak for the élevage, typically 20-30% for the villages wines, ~50% for the premiers and 90% for the grand crus. Total élevage of ~18 months for the villages wines and 20-24 months for the higher appellations before being bottled. Racking is avoided where possible and as Kellen puts it “fining and filtering of reds are still rather frowned upon…”.
For the 2004 and 2005 vintages it was Bill Downie currently senior wine-maker at de Bortoli (and manager of his own domaine) in Australia who helped with the winemaking. Downie had already spent time working at both Domaine Fourrier and Domaine Hubert Lignier (with Romain) and was well-placed to help-out. For the 2006 and 2007 harvests Kellen chose to bolster her own courage with the aid of a ‘flying oenologist’, Robert Vernizeau from the Domaine des Perdrix , “I feel more comfortable with him there, I could have done it my self, but I value the second opinion and counsel” – Kellen also points out that he doesn’t need to fly from Nuits!
Despite the background differences or politics – call it what you will – what remains is a high-quality address. 2006 required hard work significantly beyond the ‘easy’ 2005 vintage so is a better barometer of ‘producer quality’. Here you will find wines that run from good to excellent – indeed covetable!
I note some blocky tannins on a few (only) Morey’s – and this is anyway the reputation of the village – but I think this ‘tackiness’ or ‘grab’ is as much as anything a vintage characteristic as I’ve found it in a number of cuvées up and down both Côtes. Still, a couple of years in bottle and it should be past history.
From vines in Flagey and Chambolle. Medium colour. A nicely high-toned and wide nose of faintly blue-shaded fruit. The very fresh, clean and detailed but just a little tart after the lunchtime creme brulee – try to pair with something else! Quite nice for the appellation – it will be interesting to see prices.
From vines bordering Morey St.Denis Les Porroux and 1er cru Clos de la Bussière. Some reduction that slowly blows away providing ever-redder elements. Lovely detail again with bright acidity. Nicely textured with a good finish. The last drops in the glass have a lovely aroma of red berries.
2006 Morey St.Denis Les Sionnières
From 35 year-old vines that are actually right in front of the Castel Très Girard. Faint reduction lifts to show lovely red berry-fruit aromas. The palate is fresh, the acidity being just a little better covered by the fruit than the last two. The tannins are just a little blocky – as they often can be from young Morey. Overall this is a good wine that will need the tannin to soften for a measure of elegance.
2006 Morey St.Denis
The scents start very diffuse but it doesn’t need too long to tighten – it really blossoms in the glass, becoming deeper and riper. Again it’s fresh, showing lovely fruit and, once-more those slightly blocky tannins. Another good effort here.
Fresh and wide, the nose has a little chocolate covered marzipan. The palate showing finer tannins and just a little more minerality versus the last wines. The acidity brings a nice kick at the end. This is rather long for a ‘simple’ villages. Very good quality here.
2006 Morey St.Denis 1er Cru, Les Chaffonts
This has a deeper and more intense nose than the villages Gevrey. The palate is fresh and interesting. This time the tannins are less ‘blocky’, there are still plenty of them and they have a little grain, but they are better presented. Lovely balance to the acidity. Good wine.
2006 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru, Les Baudes
40+ year-old vines next to Bonnes-Mares. The nose shows real depth and a caramel edge. The palate is nicely mineral, backed by plenty of balanced tannin and acidity – there is a lovely persistence of flavour. An athletic pose here with real personality – lovely.
2006 Morey St.Denis 1er Cru, La Riotte
From 35 year-old vines. A dense fruit and rose-petal nose. In the mouth this is much fuller and denser than the previous ‘Baudes’, plenty of tannin, but not too blocky. The last drops in the glass show a beautiful red berry aroma.
2006 Morey St.Denis 1er Cru, Vieilles-Vignes Cuvée Romain Lignier
A blend of 50 & 100 year-old vines. Redcurrants with a twist of toffee-caramel on the nose. Really excellent texture here – much the best of the ‘Moreys’. There is density and understated acidity coupled to an engaging length. Tiny note but great wine – very impressive.
2006 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru, Aux Combottes
From 40+ year-old vines towards the top of the slope. A silky, wide nose with plenty of top notes. Super texture without fat; silky, plenty of fine grained tannin and a real extra depth of fruit going into the mid-palate. Lingers on the the palate. Lovely.
2006 Clos de la Roche Grand Cru
From 35-45 yo vines. Good depth on the nose, but it’s quite tight. Again there is a step-up in concentration and density – but it’s lithe, with no extraneous fat. You have more of an impression of tannin rather than overt texture. Long, and remains well balanced despite the extra intensity. The last drops in the glass have opened out with nicely detailed red berry notes.
2006 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru
Only one barrel. The nose is just a little tight. The palate seems to match the Clos de la Roche for intensity, but today is less perfectly packaged, as the tannin has a little more structure and the acidity doesn’t show the seamless characteristic of the Clos de la Roche. It’s still a very good showing, but today the Clos de la Roche was just too good an act to follow…
Not tasted, but also in this cellar you will find Bourgogne Passetoutgrains and the considerably rarer Fixin Blanc.
Domaine Lucie et Auguste Lignier
r Trés Girard
21220 Morey Saint Denis