Domaine Marquis d’Angerville’s Volnay Clos des Ducs 1er Cru: 1920 - 2017


If I were a wine producer, I’d like to have a steep, chalky premier cru vineyard in my own backyard, one whose roots could be traced back a millennium, just like the one Guillaume d’Angerville has. Since I live in Manhattan that scenario is unlikely; the closest I will probably get to Clos des Ducs heaven is an extraordinary tasting of 26 vintages of Domaine Marquis d’Angerville’s flagship wine, which I attended this past spring. The event was staged by Guillaume d’Angerville, who has directed the family property since 2003. The historic d’Angerville estate was one of the earliest domaine bottlers in Burgundy, and its wines have amassed a stellar track record inside and outside France since the 1930s. Since Guillaume d’Angerville took over, top grower Burgundies have been elevated in stature—and price—in the international auction market, and d’Angerville’s Clos des Ducs has ascended to the level of the top collectible wines of the Côte d’Or—with justification, as the tasting made clear.

View of Volnay from the top of Clos des Ducs

The History of the Estate

There have been vines in Volnay for a thousand years, but history heated up in the last years of the 15th century, when the Dukes of Burgundy, who had maintained a summer residence in Volnay, surrendered to the kings of France and Burgundy was absorbed into the kingdom of France. Naturally, the kings (Louis XII succeeded Charles VIII in 1498) wanted to know exactly what vineyards they owned in the various villages; the inventory was eventually codified in a huge book—called a terrier—written in old French and still held in the archives in Dijon. 

When Louis XII sent a secretary to Volnay in 1507, plague was ravaging the village and the secretary didn’t dare enter. But a group of villagers provided him with a list of the kings’ holdings, including Taillepieds, Caillerets and Champans, as well as Clos des Ducs. For obvious reasons they did not use the word “Ducs” to name this walled vineyard, instead describing the parcel as being on the northern hill of the village, just below the tree line. They also noted that the parcel comprised 52 ouvrées, or about 2.15 hectares, which is its size today. The vineyard’s footprint has not changed for more than 500 years, and it can be assumed that this clos always had a single owner. 

In 1804 that the Baron Jean-Baptiste Eugène du Mesnil, sub-prefect of Autun, acquired a large estate, including a number of the parcels in Volnay that had been owned by the kings but were confiscated during the French Revolution and put on the market by the French government. It is unclear whether the Clos des Ducs parcel was part of the original estate purchased in 1804 or whether it was bought later, along with other prime parcels that had originally belonged to the Dukes of Burgundy, by the Baron’s son, also named Eugène, who ran the estate through most of the second half of the 19th century. In any event, the estate belonging to the two Eugènes was complete by the 1830s.

Eugène fils passed away in 1888 and as he had no direct heirs he bequeathed the estate to his nephew and godson Sem, the Marquis d'Angerville, then aged 15. Sem d’Angerville eventually took possession of the vineyards around 1905 and devoted himself to replanting all these historical parcels, which had been ravaged by phylloxera. It was in 1905 that the estate was first called Domaine Marquis d’Angerville. Incidentally, Guillaume d’Angerville told me that it’s quite possible that the original estate purchased in 1804 was larger than today’s. He believes that the estate was split later in the 19th century and that his grandfather Sem only inherited a portion of it. Today, Domaine Marquis d’Angerville owns 16.5 hectares of vines, including 12 in Volnay, 96% of which are spread among eight premier crus (the estate’s vines in the premier crus Pitures and Mitans are combined to make a Volnay Premier Cru bottling). While Domaine d’Angerville’s largest single holding is its 3.98 hectares in Champans, Clos des Ducs comes next, at 2.15. All of the wines made by Domaine Marquis d’Angerville have always come from estate vines.

During the 1920s, Sem d’Angerville became one of the first Burgundy estate owners to bottle his own wines for commercial purposes. He had called out the négociants for their fraudulent practice of blending Burgundy with lesser wine from the south of France, and when the shippers then refused to buy his wines, he had no choice but to begin domaine bottling. Not surprisingly, Sem d’Angerville, and Henri Gouges, who had similarly objected to the practices of the merchants, were then asked by their peers to establish a hierarchy of Burgundy vineyards, which they completed in 1935 with the creation of the Appellation d’Origin Controlée (AOC) system. Sem was a founding member of the National Institute of Appellations of Origin (INAO). Fun fact: When d’Angerville and Gouges were mandated to devise the Burgundy classification, they publicly announced that there would be no grand crus in their home villages of Volnay and Nuits-Saint-Georges, so that they could not be accused of taking advantage of their mission to advance their own interests.

The Reigns of Jacques and Guillaume d’Angerville

Jacques d’Angerville, the son of Sem, cemented the estate’s reputation as one of the elite producers of the Côte de Beaune through more than a half-century of rigorous direction of the family domaine. Having joined his father at the estate in 1945 at the age of 18, Jacques took over on the death of Sem in 1952 (he had actually started making the wines in 1951), and he shared his father’s passion for making authentic wines. He also became an ambassador for the wines of Volnay in general through his involvement in the professional bodies of Burgundy. He served as president of the Interprofessional Committee of Burgundy Wines (the precursor of the BIVB) between 1979 and 1981, then again between 1983 and 1985, and he was a co-creator and the first president of the University Institute of Vine and Wine in Dijon. He became a member of the Académie du Vin de France in the 1960s and served as president of that organization from 1982 to 1987, and afterward continued to serve as honorary president.

D’Angerville had a courtly manner and was never one to run his mouth; I always looked forward to tasting with him, usually in the late afternoon, as the few minutes we typically spent discussing the new vintage in his quiet office before descending to the cellar was a rare respite of calm in the middle of an intense day of producer visits and tasting. His comments were always pithy and candid.

Jacques d’Angerville died in the summer of 2003, after vinifying 52 harvests, since 1978 with the collaboration of his agronomist son-in-law Renaud de Villette, who served first as a consultant and later as an employee. By then, he had established the family domaine as one of the superstars of the Côte de Beaune through what he always described as non-interventionist winemaking, relying on small berries and low yields from his outstanding sites, and a high percentage of old vines, many of them planted to a small massale selection that came to be known as “Pinot d’Angerville.” Pinot d’Angerville was originally a joint project of Sem and Jacques d’Angerville at the beginning of the 1950s. In their attempt to isolate their best vines, the two eventually chose a few favored vines in their Taillepieds holding—actually a small sélection massale—that produced small berries with a high skin-to-juice ratio and low yields. They made this selection available for reproduction, and many local growers planted it in their own vineyards in subsequent years. Even today, Pinot d’Angerville is still conserved in its original form in a nursery but at this point it would more accurately be described as a clone.

Multimedia: A Conversation with Guillaume d'Angerville

Jacques d’Angerville’s son Guillaume d’Angerville, who was working as an investment banker in Paris when his father died suddenly in July of 2003, returned to the family domaine barely six weeks before the harvest of ’03. While his father’s death was premature (Jacques contracted an infection while being treated for leukemia in a hospital in Dijon), Guillaume d’Angerville told me that it was always in the cards that he would eventually take over the family domaine. But he reached that station via a circuitous route. “During my teenage years, my father made it clear to me that he didn’t think it would be a good idea for us to work together right after I finished school,” he told me in a recent conversation. After all, these were not exactly boom times for Burgundy and a small estate would have trouble supporting two family members working full-time simultaneously. “And he also probably thought that working together was a recipe for a clash between father and son,” said d’Angerville. 

So Guillaume d’Angerville went to business school and became an investment banker, spending the ‘80s, ‘90s and early ‘00s working in New York, London and Paris. But he always had it in his mind that he would return to the estate at some point. “And for sure I did not want it to be sold,” he told me, as it had been in his family for nearly 200 years.

Since taking over, Guillaume d’Angerville has modernized the estate while retaining his father’s non-interventionist approach to winemaking and passion for preserving terroir character. Perhaps the most significant change Guillaume d’Angerville has made since taking over has been his adoption of biodynamic principles. “Anne-Claude Leflaive convinced me to do it,” he told me. In 2005 he hired François Duvivier, who had degrees in science and enology from the University of Dijon, as chef de culture, and Duvivier oversaw the conversion to biodynamie between 2006 and 2009. Duvivier was later promoted to régisseur. D’Angerville and Duvivier make all key decisions together. Duvivier also supervises Domaine du Pélican, the estate in the Jura where he has been d’Angerville’s partner since the latter first started buying vineyards in 2008. Meanwhile, Renaud de Villette retired a few years ago but still returns for the harvest—and to walk the vineyards during the growing season, where his input as an agriculture engineer continues to be valuable.

One of Domaine d’Angerville’s barrel cellars

The Unique Clos des Ducs Site 

This monopole vineyard is quite steep and high by Burgundy standards, stretching to an altitude of nearly 325 meters. It is located on the northern outskirts of the village and is essentially Guillaume d’Angerville’s back yard. The soil includes a high percentage of chalk along with clay and white marl and is particularly stony at the top. But Guillaume d’Angerville pointed out that the clay in Clos des Ducs enables the vines to keep more of their foliage in hot, dry summers than, for example, his nearby piece of Volnay Frémiet, whose soil is stonier and poorer and more vulnerable to stress from heat and drought. Moreover, notes d’Angerville, an underground stream flows through the middle of Clos des Ducs, contributing much-needed moisture in the driest years.

Clos des Ducs actually benefits from a double exposure, according to d’Angerville. The northernmost part of the slope faces due east and receives the first morning light, while its warmer southern flank faces south and gets the warmer mid-day sun. And the breezes that come down from the hills through the village of Volnay, which is nestled between its southern and northern hillsides, give much of the Clos des Ducs good air movement and additional protection against both rot and frost.

Today, the vines average more than 45 years of age. A large chunk of the vineyard dates back to 1955, and another two-thirds of a hectare was planted in 1964 and 1966. The rest of the vines were planted in the ‘70s, except for a small parcel replanted in 2000 that was vinified apart from the Clos des Ducs (it originally went into the Premier Cru blend) until the harvest of 2011. 

Clos des Ducs is essentially Guillaume d'Angerville's back yard

A Long History of Hands-Off Winemaking

Jacques D’Angerville was known for his non-interventionist, minimalist approach to winemaking. His main objective was to allow his various terroirs to express themselves clearly, as opposed to imposing his own signature on his wines. He maintained consistently low yields, due mostly to severe pruning in late winter but also to his use of Pinot d’Angerville. As a general rule, d’Angerville harvested later than most of his colleagues on the Volnay hillside, and Clos des Ducs was normally the last vineyard he picked since it takes longer to ripen at its altitude. Prior to the early 2000s, the frequency of chaptalization was very high, but since then, thanks to global warming and earlier ripening, very little sugar is typically added to the Clos des Ducs.

Guillaume d’Angerville has made minimal changes in the cellar, most of them aimed at gentler handling of the fruit to preserve the aromatic purity and complexity of his wines. He purchased a sorting table in 2004, and in 2005 he switched to a gentler system to take the fruit from the destemmer to the fermentation vat by gravity, which avoided crushing the grapes. D’Angerville totally destems his fruit, as his father did. While there is no special pre-fermentation cold soak, d’Angerville keeps the fruit cool enough (around 12 degrees C.) so that the fermentation, which always takes place with indigenous yeasts, does not start for three or four days. The fermentation itself normally lasts 10 to 12 days, reaching a maximum temperature of 30 to 32 degrees C., during which time d’Angerville does two pumpovers per day to keep the cap wet but does not do punchdowns. He summarizes his vinification as “soft and natural extraction to get noble tannins only.”

Guillaume d’Angerville had to eliminate the old oak vats that dated back to his grandfather’s days as they had become too leaky, and he purchased a new set of oak vats that feature a refrigeration system for chilling the must when necessary. He also bought some stainless steel tanks, but does not use these for the Clos des Ducs. d’Angerville does not do any post-fermentation maceration; when the sugars have finished fermenting, the wine goes directly into barrels for 15 to 18 months of aging. The estate uses relatively little new oak—just over 20% for the Clos des Ducs, which d’Angerville describes as “the highest that Volnay needs.” Jacques d’Angerville had made extensive use of François Frères barrels, but nowadays d’Angerville uses a blend of Taransaud, Berthomieu and Remond.

The wines are racked only once, following the malolactic fermentation in spring or early summer, and are then returned to the same barrels for further aging. Here, too, d’Angerville has softened this process, using neutral gas to move the wine, rather than pumping it as his father had. The wines are then assembled in stainless steel, usually late in the second winter, for six to eight weeks of settling. Bottling normally takes place without fining or filtration. Guillaume d’Angerville has reduced sulfite additions since taking over, and today the wines are bottled with about 20 parts per million free sulfur.

But d’Angerville emphasizes that changes in the winery have had less impact on the wines than his conversion to biodynamic farming, which he credits for giving the wines more energy and purity, the two characteristics he prizes most. Today’s wines, he adds, are more complex, spicy and minerally, and more complete, largely due to biodynamics.

Grape sorting during the 2019 harvest

Revelations from the Vertical Tasting

Volnay has historically been referred to as a feminine style of wine, particularly for its round, silky texture—and for its significant difference from the generally more tannic and muscular wines of Pommard. But Clos des Ducs is typically tightly coiled in the early going. It’s not generally an opulent style of Burgundy (with some exceptions in the ripest years), and it’s never massive, although it is dense. The Clos des Ducs has plenty of tannic support, due in part to the high ratio of skins to juice. The wines often show distinct floral qualities, sometimes immediately and sometimes with age, but strong mineral and soil tones as well. Redcurrant, raspberry and red cherry are common fruit aromas, but the wine’s fruit character can be blacker in the ripest years. Even when the wines start out silky, elegant and perfumed, they have always had a strong reputation for longevity, with the better vintages typically requiring at least a decade to approach peak drinkability—or 15 years or more in bigger, more structured vintages. The vertical tasting made it clear that, in terms of staying power, d’Angerville’s Clos des Ducs leaves most other Côte de Beaune reds in its dust.

With all due respect to the many remarkable vintages made by Jacques d’Angerville, the wines made under the direction of Guillaume have shown greater consistency and purity and clearer mid-palate delineation. Today’s wines are also more filled in early on than ever before. The Clos des Ducs in the past has sometimes been described as Cistercian in its nature, particularly compared to other Volnay premier crus—i.e., less open and more austere in the early going—but truly ascetic Cistercian Burgundies have largely gone extinct with the arrival of global warming. 

Still, it’s worth noting that although the high-altitude Clos des Ducs ripens its fruit much earlier today than it did as recently as the 1980s, Volnay has endured more than its share of weather challenges in the 21st century. In addition to vintages with rot issues (2001 and 2004) the village of Volnay has had to contend with multiple years in which severe hailstorms significantly reduced the size of the harvest: 2001, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014. The last three of these years were especially brutal vintages for the d’Angerville estate. I recall a visit in 2013 or 2014 when one of the rooms in the barrel cellar was literally empty.

But assiduous work in the vines, on the sorting table and during vinification, not to mention biodynamic farming, enables the estate to outperform, if not excel, even in the trickiest years. Domaine Marquis d’Angerville has long had a reputation for making particularly strong wines in the outstanding vintages. But one of the revelations of the tasting this spring was how good—and long-lived—the wines can be in more challenging years of middling quality. And the top Burgundy crus, after all, earned their exalted position in the hierarchy of favored sites based largely on their ability, proven over centuries, to ripen their fruit under a wide range of growing season conditions. Certainly, the vertical tasting made it clear that the Clos des Ducs is frequently a wine of grand cru intensity, aromatic complexity and staying power.

See the Wines from Youngest to Oldest

Read more about Stephen Tanzer's 2019 Burgundy verticals

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