Browse using the new Vinous website now. Launch →
Printed by, and for the sole use of . All rights reserved © 2015 Vinous Media
Domaine Dujac Clos Saint-Denis 1970-2004
BY NEAL MARTIN | MARCH 31, 2020
Walking back from a dinner last year, a friend asked if I was aware of the current market price for mature bottles of Domaine Dujac. “No,” I replied. All I knew was that they are beyond my budget. He whipped out his smartphone and dug up the price for a 1990 Clos de la Roche. I was gobsmacked – it was a cool £5,000 per bottle. Of course I am inured to the escalation in Burgundy prices in recent years, but even so, I found it staggering how much 750ml of Pinot Noir could cost. Then I remembered a bacchanal in Paris the previous January with a gaggle of high-rolling, wine-loving friends vowing serious damage to Tour d’Argent’s astonishing wine list. Jeremy Seysses joined us for a dinner that ranks among the greatest in my life, one where my already lofty estimation of Dujac went up a few notches. It was not Clos de la Roche that blew my mind but mature vintages of Clos Saint-Denis. I confess to an ardent passion for this vineyard, one shared by a number of winemakers, though it seems to lie unfairly in the shadow of Clos de la Roche within the context of Morey-Saint-Denis. So, when I was invited to a vertical of Dujac’s Clos Saint-Denis in London last April, there was no way I was going to miss it.
vertical tasting was organized by collector Jordi Orriols-Gil and took place at
Hide restaurant in central London, with around fifteen Burgundy lovers in
attendance. The bottles were arranged in flights and served from youngest to
oldest. The restaurant provided a menu to accompany the flights, although I
stuck to fish courses that actually matched the wines extremely well.
The history of Domaine Dujac is well documented, so I will not dwell upon the backstory. Louis Seysses was head of Biscuits Belin and president of Club des Cent, the latter not unlike the Food & Wine Society in the UK, a collective of oenophiles and gastronomes that foraged Michelin-starred restaurants around the Continent. Seysses’s passion for fine dining exposed his son Jacques to the best producers in both Bordeaux and Burgundy from a young age. A stint following in his father’s footsteps at Belin never clicked; however, it did serendipitously introduce the younger Seysses to Jacques Ferté, a member of the Club des Cent and also a shareholder in Domaine de la Pousse d’Or in Volnay. In 1966 Jacques Seysses began working at the domaine, and it became clear to him exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to be a winemaker.
These two vintages spent in Volnay played an important part in Seysses’s understanding of winemaking, especially with respect to cleanliness in the winery. Now all he needed was some vines. Seysses began scouting around for vineyards, thankfully at a time when they did not cost the GDP of an equatorial country and one could potentially repay the outlay within three or four vintages. He finally acquired land from Domaine Marcel Graillet in Morey-Saint-Denis, which became the foundation of Domaine Dujac, a twist on his first name (something obvious that I completely overlooked until writing this piece). Graillet’s five hectares of holdings included a 1.1-hectare parcel in Clos Saint-Denis, which formed the centerpiece of Dujac’s holdings from day one, even if the 1968 crop was so bad that Seysses sold off every grape. The following year Seysses constructed a winery to vinify his 1969, his first proper vintage. During this early period he sought the sage advice of Charles Rousseau, as well as Gérard Potel at Domaine de la Pousse-D’Or. One thing I did not know was that Jacques Seysses kept his day job at Belin until 1973, so the earliest vintages included in this tasting come from a period when he was not a full-time vigneron. Over time, in order to sustain a living, Seysses added more parcels to the domaine’s holdings, including an additional 0.45 hectares of Clos Saint-Denis purchased from Domaine Alfred Jacquot in 1977.
Jacques Seysses with his son Alec, pictured in November 2019 when I tasted the 2018s from barrel.
The central tenets of Dujac include a focus on planting the right clones, which Seysses believes is better for controlling yields than sélection massale, since there is less risk of viral degeneration. Between 1978 and 1983, Seysses replanted much of his vineyard with an emphasis on matching clone and terroir. In addition, Seysses has vinified whole-bunch, using the stems as an antioxidant, to slow down alcoholic fermentation and impart more complexity. His sons, Jeremy and Alec Seysses, who today oversee the running of the domaine, along with Jeremy’s American-born wife Diana Snowden, have continued this practice. The major change has been a gradual conversion toward organic viticulture from the 2001 vintage so that all the vines were organic in 2008.
During my previous visit to the domaine to taste the nascent 2018, I asked Alec Seysses if he could give me his own perspective on Clos Saint-Denis.
“It is hard to describe Clos Saint-Denis without mentioning Clos de la Roche,” he explained. “It is a mixture of structure and charm, with plenty of spice. Clos Saint-Denis is more delicate and subtle than Clos de la Roche, whereas Clos Saint-Denis is more feminine. We have two parcels: 1.1 hectares and 0.37 hectares. They were never planted in one go and so the vines are of various ages. One parcel is located in the lieu-dit of ‘Clos Saint-Denis,’ just down from the house of Domaine Ponsot [one deduces this is the original plot from Graillet] and the other is located in the lieu-dit of Calouére, which was replanted in 2010 and 2013. The vines are a mixture of Cordon Royat and Guyot Simple. Some vines planted Cordon Royat in the 1990/2000s yield very little and so we are going back to Guyot Simple. It was one of the first vineyards converted to biodynamics in 2001 when we started converting all the Grand Crus. From 1999 we have aimed for late malolactic fermentation. My father always used as much whole cluster as he could, but there are exceptions. For example, the 1991 Clos Saint-Denis was almost completely de-stemmed.”
At that moment, Jacques Seysses happens to pass through. Naturally I grab him for a brief moment and ask for his views of Clos Saint-Denis. He told me that one of the most significant changes, incidentally one not only germane to Clos Saint-Denis, occurred in 1978 after meeting with the renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff in Napa Valley. Seysses’s winery could be cold and since he was adamant about using wild yeasts, it could delay alcoholic fermentation. Tchelistcheff advised Seysses to practice cold maceration in order to enhance complexity. Upon returning to Morey-Saint-Denis and examining his records, Seysses found that his beloved 1969s had unintentionally undergone a cold maceration and so heeding Tchelistcheff’s advice, in 1978 he deliberately put some cuvées through a 3-4 day cold maceration. Pleased with the results, the domaine has continued with this practice. Jacques Seysses told me that this experience influenced Christophe Roumier, a classmate at the University of Dijon when Seysses returned to study for a diploma.
The 1970 Clos Saint-Denis hails from an
ordinary growing season flanked by superior ones, yet at almost half a century
old, it continues to give pleasure, albeit simple and clearly lacking the flair
of subsequent vintages. Jacques Seysses was still learning his craft. The 1973 Clos Saint-Denis was hollow and
flabby. Granted, it was a difficult vintage, but I suspect this has more to do
with the bottle. We were given the chance to compare two bottles blind that
turned out to be the 1976 Clos Saint-Denis
and the 1976 Clos de la Roche. This
is a vintage where many Pinot Noirs suffered during the infamous prolonged
summer heat and drought, though in my experience some of the finest terroirs
produced wines that seem to be getting a second wind in their dotage. Both
these bottles had much to offer, and lo and behold, it was the Clos Saint-Denis
that I preferred over the Clos de la Roche, the former endowed with so much
depth and grip that I suggested it must be a 1978 before its identity was
revealed. That should take nothing away from a very impressive Clos de la Roche,
which just did not quite possess the same ethereal precision and class. Both
continue to give immense pleasure, overcoming the challenges of the season with
considerable style. The 1978 Clos Saint-Denis
perhaps did not live up to the vintage reputation, but it still has plenty to
offer. This bottle just exhibited a little VA on the nose, and I found it
rather rustic compared to some other examples from Dujac in this era. Could
there be better bottles out there? Quite possibly. The 1979 Clos Saint-Denis should have been great. A bottle at Tour
d’Argent in Paris a few months earlier was brilliant, as my tasting note shows.
However, this example could not disguise a vegetal streak underneath the
carapace of fruit, and I observed it falling apart in the glass. What a shame.
Moving on to
the next decade, the less said about the anemic 1982 Clos Saint-Denis, the better. The 1983 Clos Saint-Denis comes from a difficult Burgundy vintage, but
it put in a decent performance, offering enjoyment to those who like mature
Pinot Noir, though I would not cellar bottles for much longer. Alas, there was
no 1985, but the 1986 Clos Saint-Denis
compensated with a very impressive showing given that this was a tricky growing
season in the Côte de Nuits and one in which Seysses presciently eschewed the
use of herbicides and fungicides. I adored the transparency and floral scents
on the nose, and the firm palate, while a bit stocky and missing some finesse, was
surfeit with charm. Wonderful. This was the first vintage with Loire-born chef de culture Christophe Morin, who
worked in the vineyard until his passing in 2001. No doubt his expertise helped
Jacques Seysses create some masterpieces. Certainly one of the high points of
the vertical was the magnificent 1988
Clos Saint-Denis. This is another bottle that I had tasted a few months earlier
at the Tour d’Argent blowout, and unlike the perplexing 1979, it replicated its
previous brilliant performance. Precise, almost pixelated on the bouquet,
loaded with mineral-rich red fruit, it proved the heights that this vineyard
can achieve. The palate conveys a sense of symmetry that is utterly beguiling,
and this bottle pulled out of its sleeve a magical touch of menthol right on
the finish. Bon vin!
The 1990 Clos Saint-Denis, yet another
vintage previously tasted at Tour d’Argent, was deeply impressive though not
quite as stellar. Yes, the bouquet is bordering on transcendental, reminiscent
of Armand Rousseau in terms of purity and precision. I just felt that on this
particular bottle, the palate was molded by the warmth of the growing season,
which shaved away a little terroir expression. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful,
absolutely delicious wine. Unfortunately, the 1995 Clos Saint-Denis was an off bottle. The 1996 Clos Saint-Denis was another outstanding showing, a little aloof
on the bouquet as 1996s can be, yet blossoming with aeration and evolving
previously hidden red fruit and crushed stone scents, plus a hint of chai tea. The
palate delivered the essence of Pinoté,
framed by fine-boned tannins and a reassuringly persistent finish. While the 1998 Clos Saint-Denis comes from a
vintage that seems to blow hot and cold depending upon the bottle, this showed
well, offering a vibrant, marine-influenced bouquet and a sapid palate with a
pleasant bitter edge. Alas, it was predestined to stand in the shade of the
imperious 1999 Clos Saint-Denis,
arguably the highlight of this vertical, blessed with a sensational bouquet
that captures the refinement of the vintage and displaying life-affirming
precision on the palate. Whereas some 1999s can come across a little top-heavy
with concentration and muscle, this is exquisite, and it is beginning to drink
perfectly now, so let me know when you want me round to share it with you.
Pity the 2000 Clos Saint-Denis lying in the
shadow of the 1999. This was the “dark horse” of the tasting and provided more
evidence that maybe this vintage was underrated when first released. Showing plenty
of red fruit on the nose, and supple and focused on the palate, bottles can be
broached now, but I feel this is on a gentle upward curve. It dared to outshine
the supposedly superior 2001 Clos Saint-Denis,
which was missing a little nobility compared to other vintages. Lilian Robin,
who had worked alongside Morin in the vineyard, took over as chef de culture and oversaw the splendid
2002 Clos Saint-Denis, with its rose
petal bouquet and chiseled tannins on the palate. It is quintessentially ’02
Côtes de Nuits, and I noticed how it gained weight and density with aeration,
so don’t be afraid to decant this if you are in the mood to crack open a bottle
now. Finally, the 2004 Clos Saint-Denis
comes from a vintage that is nearly always green/vegetal. I wish this one were
different, when you juxtapose the ‘04s with other vintages, the greenness is
really highlighted. The bouquet was fine, yet the palate felt rather disjointed,
with capsicum on the attenuated finish.
This was a unique vertical that encompassed almost the entire history of Dujac’s Clos Saint-Denis. Prices are such that unless you have been ferreting away bottles since the beginning, it is almost impossible to assemble these vintages together. In particular, bottles from the Seventies and now the Eighties are becoming hard to track down, and no doubt the Nineties too. The vertical did nothing to diminish my appreciation for Clos Saint-Denis. At its best, the wine rivals Clos de la Roche, as proven when those two 1976s were served blind; most attendees voted for the Clos Saint-Denis. Of course, that might be due to how those bottles performed on the day – worth bearing in mind because some of the older bottles from weaker growing seasons had fallen by the wayside. It happens. On this occasion, my favorite bottles leaned toward the younger vintages, the 1996, 1999 and 2002 all transfixing in their beauty. The leitmotif throughout these wines was a deceptive delicacy, in the sense that their fineness of tannins disguises a Grand Cru with considerable longevity. One can argue that compared to Clos de la Roche, Clos Saint-Denis needs a benevolent growing season to achieve its full potential, although I have encountered several supposedly weaker vintages that produced great wines – step forward 2000, in this case.
It is a shame that these wines have become prohibitively expensive. There is nothing Dujac or anyone can do about it; these are the laws of supply and demand at play. But underpinning that fervid thirst for Dujac’s wines is the idea of drinking a wine made not by a historical domaine that traces its winemaking heritage back through generations, but a domaine created by an individual who caught the wine bug and possessed the foresight and fortitude to establish one of the most respected and well-liked producers in the Côte d’Or. The biscuit industry’s loss was wine-lovers’ gain.
See the Wines from Youngest to Oldest
You Might Also Enjoy
Complex, Not Complicated: 2017 DRC in Bottle, Neal Martin, February 2020
Refusing to Follow the Script: Jean-Marie Guffens, Neal Martin, February 2020
2018 Burgundy: Confounded Expectations, Neal Martin, January 2020
Through the Other Side: Burgundy 2016 in Bottle, Neal Martin, October 2019