Domaine Rene Leclerc – Pas de Chêne Pour Moi s’il Vous Plaît

Traditionalists through and through!

Traditionalists through and through!

Generational changes in Burgundy – when responsibilities for the care and management for the family Domaine are passed from pere to fils – often mark a time of exploration, experimentation and growth. As the new generation spreads its wings, intent upon honoring the past while developing their own ineffaceable style, the newly appointed vignerons frequently test the waters with all sorts of trickery. But in the case of Domaine Rene Leclerc, no such “nonsense” is to be witnessed. So rooted in tradition is the “young” Leclerc – Francois, to be specific – that his father’s teachings have actually been antiquated (whereas Rene’s philosophy called for the limited use of one-year old barrels, that recipe has been replaced by a strict avoidance of anything but older wood).

Prior to 1976 there was one Domaine Leclerc, run by the brothers Leclerc: Philippe and Rene. The former – a man who professes to balance modernism with traditionalism, while leaning heavily on a high percentage of new wood – found himself constantly at odds with the latter – a truculent man deeply rooted in what many consider an antiquated style of winemaking. When the two men split their domaine in 1976, a divergent style would emerge from their identical holdings within Gevrey that to this day is as different as night and day. On the one hand there is the Philippe style, with the wines often marked by their 18 to 24 months in oak. While on the other side one witnesses the Rene versions of the exact same lieu dits where (as of 2005) absolutely no new wood at all is used for the wines.

And yet when one sets out to compare and contrast the wines (once bottled), the Leclerc 1er Crus – be they from Champeaux or Combe Aux Moines – while qualitatively similar, consistently split the room. As for professional critics (Burghound comes to mind), vintage reviews tend to run consistent (the 2009s received nearly identical points). However, once the wines are poured for Burgundy lovers, that’s when the tale of style vs terroir makes itself heard. It’s a fascinating experiment. But where does this individuality come from? Who is to be thanked for the style – the magic? – at Rene Leclerc?

Rene Leclerc – father to Francois and brother of Philippe – has long believed in relatively cool fermentations (contrary to many of his contemporaries), minimal handling of his wines and the barest use of new wood (about 20%). And while his wines were certainly drinkable through the 1970s and 80s, they lacked that certain “punch”. Joining the team in 2002, Francois (Rene’s son) – having trained in Oregon – would bring to his father’s domaine nothing particularly radical in terms of vinification routines or viticultural practices, and yet the improvements were immediately obvious. And yet, other than reverting to 100% used oak, it seemed that Francois had done nothing to change his family’s ways. In fact, visitors to the domaine would swear that Rene – not Francois – is running the show, even today.

So what it is; why are these wines (particularly in successful vintages such as 2009), so transparent and laden with fruit? Why, when one compares the brothers Leclerc’s Champeaux bottlings, is one marked by its wood (Philippe’s), and the other so stacked with high toned fruit and minerality (Rene’s)? And why, when one compares the wines across the range is this stylistic diversity so consistent?  The age of the vines is the same, the sites are the same; so: what is it? In a word, the difference is: oak. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, the MAJOR difference between the two Leclerc philosophies (and there are plenty) is oak.

If you’re one who seeks uniqueness, freshness, individuality, and above all else terroir in your wines (and let’s face it, if you’re drinking Burgundy, these are precisely the traits you seek – above all else) then the 2009s from Rene Leclerc will fit very nicely into your collection. From their Village Gevrey to any number of their 1er Crus from Gevrey, each is an individual expression of that particular lieu dit. And with the son’s insightful decision to eliminate the use of new wood (ca 2005), each wine’s expression of terroir is further elevated by beautiful and succulent fruit that is completely unmasked by even the slightest interference by oak.

Add to that sale prices that represent the lowest currently available prices for each of these selections (with some being the lowest prices ever seen for these lieu dits from ANY vintage) and you have one of the more compelling offers to come out of Burgundy in several years.

For a complete listing of currently available 2009s from Rene Leclerc, please visit:

http://www.jjbuckley.com/search/c~0~st~rene%20leclerc%202009

Domaine Michel Magnien ~ The Gateway to Burgundy

Fourth & Fifth Generation Perfectionists in Morey St Denis.

 

My first encounter with Frederic – Freddy – Magnien (5th generation winemaker for both the Domaine as well as Negoce side of the family business) was over breakfast back in 2007. It was the morning preceding one of his annual wine-maker tours – this one held in Los Angelas – and he, my wife, and then 1 year old daughter and I were all seated together at the hotel restaurant downstairs. As he fed my daughter the ripest blue berries we’ve ever tasted, I was struck by how humble, kind and tremendously gentle and classy he was. That memory remains with me and is the first image I have every time I visit with him to taste his wines – wines that mirror the man: honest, pure, humble and very, very classy.

 

Spanning numerous lieu dits, there are two distinct labels Chez Magnien – both managed by Freddie. On the Domaine side, identified by the striking black labels, are the vineyards owned by Frederic’s father – those denoted as the Michel Magnien wines. For the Negoce wines – also managed by Freddie (from bud-break to bottling, which is quite unique for a negociant business) – are the white-label-identified Frederic Magnien wines. Towards producing wines that capture the purity of fruit and expressive transparency of terroir that has been the hallmark of the Magnien lines since estate bottling began (in 1994), Michel continues as vineyard manager for the Domaine parcels while Freddie manages 100% of the cellar work for all of the wines – Domaine AND Negoce.

 

Freddie Magnien joined his father in the early 1990s at a time when Michel was still selling most of the family’s harvest to local negociants. Freddie recognized his father’s unmatched vineyard work and slowly convinced him to allow Freddie to estate bottle small portions of selected harvests. The Magniens own plots in the Cote D’Or’s most hallowed Grand Crus – with vines in their Charmes Chambertin approaching 100 years in age – and Freddie was convinced that if he could convert his father from selling to bottling that he could expand the family business.

 

As Freddie’s efforts began to be recognized – first by his father and then very quickly by the international wine writers – Michel offered Freddie a golden opportunity. Not only would Freddie be allowed the position of cellar master for the Domaine wines, but he would likewise begin a negociant business to augment the family’s holdings. Adding to the 100 year old plots in Charmes Chambertin, the perfectly situated parcels of Clos de la Roche and Clos Saint Denis, as well as the perfectly tended old vine 1er Cru vines in Morey and Chambolle, Freddie would add to the line up additional lieu dits in practically every appellation throughout the Cote.

 

But it would remain the Domaine wines – these Michel Magnien wines – that would continue as the jewel in the family crown. As grand as the additional bottlings from the Negoce line would prove to be – and they certainly are; just ask Burghound – these profound Domaine wines somehow seem to receive that extra bit of attention from critics and collectors alike. Simply put, when asked why a Burgundy lover would spend their hard-earned dollar on a Michel Magnien wine (be they new to the game or a seasoned “Pinot-phile”), the answer is that Freddie Magnien is one of the most expressive people you’ll ever meet. And his wines – in particular the Domaine wines that he makes with his father – are the most expressive of their respective terroirs that one is likely to experience.

 

Combining his father’s perfectionism in the vineyard – up before dawn to prune and tend – with Freddie’s meticulous nature in the cellar has resulted in a line-up of wines that earned this duo “Wine Personality of the Year” (from the Wine Advocate) in just their second year as estate bottlers.  Add to that numerous years of mid to upper nineties ratings from wine critics across the globe and you’ll begin to understand why so many consider the Magnien wines “the gateway to Burgundy”.

For more information regarding currently available selections, please visit:

 

http://www.jjbuckley.com/search/c~0~st~michel%20magnien

 

(most items currently on sale up to 50% off, contact a private sales rep for details)

 

Cheers!

Christopher