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actually been antiquated (whereas Rene’s philosophy called for the limited use of one-year old barrels, that recipe has been replaced by a strict avoidance of anything but older wood).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: