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Burgundy Diary: Dominique Laurent

Dominique Larent.jpgDay in day out our favorite winemaker is Nuits St. George’s Dominique Laurent. Though he now owns several vineyards, he made his mark innovatively: he developed relationships with many small growers throughout Burgundy. These were people working very old vines whose grapes, or newly made wines, were usually sold to large négociant houses, who would then blend them with those of other, lesser producers. Laurent offered these vintners more money for their special production, and he would advise them throughout the year on growing grapes of the finest quality. As a result, many of these folks decided not to grub up their old vines in favor of higher yielding modern clones of pinot noir.

Laurent would then take over the élevage of each individual wine in his own cellars: a process that can take several years. Using his own custom-made barrels (“magic casks,” according to the best known French wine writer, Michel Bettane) and a set of old-school techniques — Laurent is a student of historical writings about winemaking, and he has learned a great deal, he says, from several elderly Burgundian winemakers — he fashions wines at all price levels of extraordinary richness, balance and complexity. Needless to say, his wines are made in a non-interventionist style: Laurent eschews the broad range of additives and technical manipulations that mark most New World wines.

We visit Laurent’s cellars each spring, and we have been drinking his wine for almost twenty years; his bottles from the mid-1990’s are still in the prime of their lives. In 2011, the most recent vintage that he has for sale, he produced dozens of different, site-specific wines. In the photo above, Laurent has drawn a glass pipette of his 2011 Beaune 1er cru. The wine is on sale now for €21 ($28). As French wine critic Bernard Burtchy wrote about Laurent’s range of appellations: “Tout est bon.” It’s all good.

Addendum: France’s finest winemakers — people like Laurent, Aubert de Villaine, Jean-Marie Raveneau, Anselme Selosse, Christophe Roumier, Noël Pinguet, Jean-Michel Deiss, Dominique Lafont, André Parcé (now deceased) and others — have the soul of an artist, but they work under constraints imposed by nature, commerce and France’s labor laws. If you ever have the chance to taste with them or visit their domaines, do not pass it up.

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