Domaine Denis Mortet – Describing a Master…

Laurence et Arnaud Mortet (Courtesy


The story of Domaine Denis Mortet is not a long one. It does not begin in some 19th century castle in the ruins of an old family vineyard. And it continues today only because of the will of one very strong widow. And an incredible son…

Clive Coates MW, in his book entitled Cote D’Or, chronicled the Mortet story in a Domaine Profile. That Profile told us all the first tale of Mortet. Clive only produced his “Domaine Profiles” on the very best Domaines for that book. By limiting these reports to the top 60 or so Domaines in all of Burgundy – out of the thousands in existence – Clive set out to establish a “hit list” of the most desirable Domaines of our time. That list still stands as a guide for serious Burgundy connoisseurs in search of the very best.

Domaine Mortet began with 1ha of vines, owned by Denis Mortet’s father, Charles. Charles had no interest in the wine business, so he left the vines to be farmed by others until 1977 when Denis came to work with him at the age of 21. When Denis’ brother joined the team later, in 1982, a company was formed. From the time Denis joined his father until 1982, Denis had worked to increase the family holdings through rental agreements and small purchases. So, by 1982, the family company now had grown to include a total of 8ha, just about 18 acres and by 1984, they were bottling on their own.

Now, while the company may have been young, Denis Mortet had set about to secure contracts on vineyards which were quite old. Of that he was very proud. Denis was an incredible perfectionist – something that would finally, many say, be his undoing. He also went about learning the ways of wine-making from Henri Jayer, of whom Clive wrote, “The history of present-day Burgundy could not be written without him.” Indeed, Mortet knew exactly where he was going!

Domaine Denis Mortet was first exported in 1984 and by 1985, Clive Coates first tasted and reported on them. A star was born! All Denis needed was more land.

His wish came true. Around 1993 or so, a famous land owner, with parcels in some of the most prestigious Crus in Burgundy decided to retire. His name was Guyot and he had watched Denis for a few years, becoming more and more impressed with the care Denis took in the vineyards and the incredible wines coming out of the cellars. He asked Denis if Denis would like to take over the Guyot estate. With one gesture, the Domaine Denis Mortet became what we see today – nearly 30 acres.

Clive Coates described Denis Mortet, saying,

“Denis Mortet is a man of passion as well as perfectionism. Touring round his vineyard parcels shows quite plainly his commitment. You feel he knows every single vine personally. And the wines, full, generous, multi-dimensional, rich and expansive, have a lot more to them than most. This is a splendid domaine. And the wines are getting better and better.”
Clive Coates, MW, Cote D’Or, 1997

further, Remington Norman, in his book on Burgundy, added,

“The quality of the wines is remarkable. From the first skirmish with the Bourgogne Rouge, it is clear that Denis knows the technical skills of wine-making and has its art at his fingertips. The fact that he works his 8ha mostly alone makes the achievement the more extraordinary. These wines are among the best in the commune and would easily earn their place in a cellar of fine red Burgundy.”
Remington Norman, The Great Domaines of Burgundy, 1993

more recently, Bruce Sanderson of the Wine Spectator added,

“Mortet had become one of Burgundy’s stars in the 14 years since he established Domaine Denis Mortet, focusing on single vineyard wines from 28.5 acres of small plots he owned in the Côte d’Or. Dozens of his wines earned rave reviews, including a Clos de Vougeot 1996 that scored 99 points on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale and a Chambertin 1998 that scored 98.”
Bruce Sanderson, reporting in the Wine Spectator

finally, Burghound considered Denis,

“Nothing if not intense and he’s an open book when it comes to his wines as he loves to explain every aspect, and in detail, from bud break to the bottle. While it sometimes seems that Mortet is in search of the proverbial magic bullet to make his wines even better, very real progress is being made here even if it isn’t exactly in a straight line…And speaking of impressed, both vintages here are excellent but the 2005s should be excellent.”
Burghound – Allen Meadows

I suppose not a lot more could be added by this author except to say that the wine world truly lost a master when, last January 2006, Denis tragically passed away. His son, Arnaud, had been working alongside the master for two full vintages to include the brilliant 2005s. Denis’ wife, too, had been in the cellars and it is her strong will and faith that have lifted the Domaine and kept the work of her late husband alive for us all to continue to enjoy.

I trust you’ll find this offer comes to you with much respect for this family and their incredible – though short – and famous history…

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All the best in wine and life!


Lafarge – “One of the trinity of supreme Volnay producers”

Most of my closest clients and certainly my friends are well aware that I began in the Burgundy business as a lad. It was in 1984 that I experienced my first round of professional Burgundy tastings and within those first moments in time were the wines imported by Becky Wasserman. I had casually tasted wines from Burgundy previous to that time, but it would be that inaugural meeting with Wasserman that would set my palate on its course. So incredibly amazed by those wines was I that I found myself, as I do to this very day, using those wines as a guide stick by which all other Burgundies are measured.

One such estate in that tasting was the Domaine Lafarge. Mr. Lafarge himself was present; silent, but present. His brooding demeanor, straight white hair and striking blue eyes immediately announced that you were in the presence of a man of very few words. This was a man of great intensity, serious about his family’s work. His grand-father and father before him were the Mayor of his wine village of Volnay and now the current Lafarge, too, held this revered title. This man is serious about Volnay, and it shows. He answers your questions quickly and directly, and his wines are considered the best in this hallowed village.

From his parcels within Volnay we have some of the very oldest vineyards planted in the entire Cote de Beaune. Michel Lafarge’s family began as laborers in the 1800s and first acquired a piece of their own land in 1855. From that first planting, the Lafarge family acquired additional plots throughout the village in 1900, to be followed by Beaune vineyards in the 1950s. While the vineyard plots have been replanted over time, since the mid-1960s, when Michel’s father died, the Domaine has focused greatly on preserving the oldest vines as possible. In fact, the wine this estate labels as Vendanges Selectionnees is produced from vines planted in the 1940s.

I could go on and on about this estate, and if you ever engage me over an opened bottle from Michel, I will. But today, to keep things moving along, I’d like to share with all of you the words from the “experts” out there:

from Cote D’Or, A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy by Clive Coats, M.W.:

     “For an example of the finest red Burgundy that is fragrant and feminine, yet intense and long lasting, you need look no further than the wines of Domaine Michel Lafarge. Lafarge and his ancestors have been making wine in the village since at least the French Revolution, almost certainly earlier. Lafarge and his Father and Grandfather have been mayors of the village and Henri Lafarge, Michel’s Father, was additionally regisseur of the Hospices de Beaune. So there is a sense of family tradition and communal responsibility here….Lafarge is part of the continuing history of Volnay, a history which has had the production of fine Burgundy as its raison d’etre since the Middle Ages.”
     — Clive Coates, MW

from Burgundy, A Comprehensive Guide…by Robert Parker:

     “Michel Lafarge, a modest and intelligent man, makes it a point to taste not only his neighbor’s wines, but also as many of the wines of the world as possible. He can produce some of the most stylish, finesse-filled wines of the entire village of Volnay….His top wines are his gorgeous Volnay Clos des Chenes, Beaune les Greves, and Volnay Clos du Chateau des Ducs.”
     — Robert Parker

from Making Sense of Burgundy by Matt Kramer:

     “One of the trinity of supreme Volnay producers, along with d’Angerville and Pousse d’Or. Wonderfully rich, intense wines of a style equal to, but different from, either Pousse d’Or or d’Angerville. Compare Lafarge’s Clos de Chateau des Ducs with d’Angerville’s Clos des Ducs and you’ll see it instantly. The structure of one is heavily timbered, the other is spiderweb-gossamer. Both are awe-inspiring. The Lafarge Clos des Chenes is about as good as this vineyard gets; also there is superb commune-level Volnay.”
     — Matt Kramer

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All the best!
Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommeliere


Pousse D’Or – “The DRC of the Cote de Beaune”

This is my fourth vintage with the great Patrick Landanger, and this is without question one of the greatest; scoring exactly as high as the 2002s and within 1 point of the coveted 2005s (from Burghound)!  I’ve shared with some of you, my long-time Burgundy clients, the story of this estate.  But there are a few new friends to the e*base.  So the story is worth telling again.

To tell this story, we go back to 1855, when the original estate, known then as La Bousse d’Or (the golden Earth) was in its first glory days.  At that time, this estate owned a vast amount of land by Burgundy standards.  In its holdings were the entire vineyards of Romanee-Conti and Clos de Tart, two of the most illustrious Grand Crus in the world.  Through the decades, the estate was sold and divided until the 1960s.

That’s when the estate came up for sale once again.  And that time, a man by the name of Jean-Nicolas Ferte’ comes into the picture.  Ferte’ was a man who loved to live.  A man passionate about everything in life that was exquisite, especially great food and outstanding wine.  A man they called a bon viveur.  He had a niece, Florence, who intended to marry.  The man of her intentions?  Gerard Potel.  Ferte’ “adopted” the young couple and set them up in their new abode.

Now you long-timers in this Burgundy business – and my clients who’ve read this tale before – know who Potel is.  He is known the world over as one of the single greatest wine-makers in all of Burgundy.  But before Potel became the Potel, he met Ferte’ and the niece, Florence, in Beaune.  When the three of them came together, Potel was already a wine-maker, but not in Burgundy.  But Ferte’ would drink only Burgundy, so he set out to find an estate to buy so as to complete this picture.  He told all of his richest friends in the Cote D’Or to be on the watch for something suitable.

The man that would contact Ferte’ about the news of the perfect estate would be Mr. Ramonet.  Ramonet sent a letter that the sale was to begin at a certain date but Ferte’, it seems, was on vacation.  The letter never reached Ferte’.  As the date came closer, Mr. Ramonet actually phoned to Ferte’ to announce the news.  This was a moment in history – Ramonet hated using the phone! 

The sale was completed by 1964, with about half of the former estate being sold to Ferte’ and his partners.  The name was changed to Pousse D’Or, in accordance with French laws, and Potel was placed in charge of wine-making.  For years, there were partners to deal with.  Ferte’ had formed his partnership with his good friend Louis Seysses, the father of Jacques Seysses, the latter being another of the more famous names of Burgundy, as the wine-maker of Dujac. 

Seysses and Potel – WOW that’s a dynamic duo – worked together for a few years at the new Pousse D’Or until 1978 or so when Seysses went full time at Dujac.  But is wasn’t until 1985 after many years of trying to find the “right” group of buyers that Potel finally bought out the shares from that original partnership from the 1960s.  And all through this time, Potel continued to make the greatest wines of the southern part of Burgundy, the Cote de Beaune, at this glorious Domaine de la Pousse D’Or.

Tragically, Gerard Potel died in 1997 and the entire wine world lost one of its greatest stars and most gentle souls.  “His legacy absolutely must be carried on”, was the cry, and one man stepped in to carry the torch.  That man is Patrick Landanger!  He purchased the estate in 1997, invested hundreds of thousands, and hired a new team of professionals from vineyard to cellars.

Landanger is such a perfectionist, such a control freak, that he made the decision to only release the wines that he had complete control over.  That meant he passed over the entire 1997 and 1998 vintages.  His first complete vintage, the 1999s, set not only a new standard for Cote de Beaune wines, but a new standard for Pousse D’Or as well. 

And when Landanger and Hinkle got together in 2001 and started their selections — well, the proof is in the bottles.  I’ve tasted the 2003s, 2004s and 2005s. 

And when I tell you – as a long time collector of Burgundy, dating back more than 2 decades – that you should very strongly consider these wines for your collection, I do so as a fellow enthusiast; as a man who knows how great a “great” Burgundy can be.  And how rare they are to find….

Finally, remember the words of Burghound regarding this classic vintage for the best wine-makers:

        “At their best, the ’06s are indeed classic burgundies that are exceptionally aromatic and elegant with the best transparency to the underlying terroir since the 2001s, all wrapped in admirably persistent finishes with fine detail and a more pronounced sense of minerality than most vintages possess.
         They really are gifted in terms of their transparency, indeed the finest examples are what I would call crystalline and because they are moderately concentrated, neither light nor dense and moderately ripe, neither surmature or under ripe, there is relatively little to get in the way of this clarity….
         Stated differently, the very finest ’06s are complete wines and should provide much pleasure over the medium term, meaning out to 20 years….”
                  — Allen Meadows’

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All the best!
Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommeliere