Heights: Duroché’s Lavaut Saint-Jacques 1969-2019
BY NEAL MARTIN | JULY 27, 2022
likes to make things as complicated as possible. It’s the Rubik’s cube of wine
regions. For this reason, most Burgundy experts take a trip to the tattoo
parlour to have a jigsaw of vineyards inked down their arms. I have the Côte de
Beaune on the left arm and Côte de Nuits on the right. (Don’t ask me where Irancy
is inked.) As my tattooist was drawing Mazi-Chambertin, he asked whether it was
spelled “Mazy” or “Mazi”? So confusing. The answer is both, of course. We had
the same quandary broaching Lavaux Saint-Jacques…or is that the more unorthodox
Lavaut Saint-Jacques? Both identical, but in the end, it is a moot point when
the wines are the calibre of those of Pierre Duroché.
November, Duroché invited me to his winery/home in Gevrey-Chambertin for a fascinating
vertical of Lavaut Saint-Jacques. I have played my own small part in Duroché’s
ascent, waxing lyrical about his wines since I first encountered them at a
blind tasting in Holland and visiting him soon after. So impressed by the
wines, I began writing them up in my car before the following appointment.
history of the estate stretches back to the beginning of the 20th
century. Its timeline commences in 1906 when Louis Duroché became the first
generation to cultivate a smattering of parcels. He was succeeded by Émile, who
successfully and presciently bottled the first wines in 1933, then Philippe
Duroché, together with his wife Odile, expanded their holdings to
five-hectares. It was, in fact, Philippe who decided to use the “Lavaut
Saint-Jacques” variation. Gilles became the fourth generation to farm the vines
in 1973, bringing the family’s holdings up to a modest 8.5-hectares.
son, Pierre, spent a great deal of time in the vineyard when growing up and was
awarded a scientifique baccalauréat when he was 18, followed by a BTS in
oenology and viticulture in Beaune. Having spent months at Château La Gardine in
Châteauneuf-du-Pape, he worked stages in Australia, California and Spain,
though it was always his priority to learn about the terroir in Burgundy. He
commenced working at the estate in 2003 at the age of 21, working alongside his
father and taking full responsibility for the wines from the 2005 vintage. Together
with his better half Marianne, who he met at the Rock Climbing Gym in Beaune, he
set Duroché on an upward trajectory.
split his time between his two great passions: rock climbing and winemaking.
Indeed, Duroché represented his country in rock-climbing competitions, but
eventually he dedicated his entire time to turning grapes into wine, which
given recent travails, is arguably riskier than dangling off a cliff edge miles
above the ground.
Duroché with his wife Marianne looking on and keeping him in order.
practices meticulous viticulture out in the diaspora of holdings that centre
around his base in Gevrey-Chambertin, his Griottes-Chambertin probably the
tiniest cuvée in the entirety of Burgundy, just a few dozen liters (he usually
sends me a picture of the tiny vat each harvest to confirm that it does
actually exist). Fruit is fully destemmed and undergoes moderate extraction
using no sulphur or enzymes during vinification and little new oak during their
relatively short élevage of 12 months without racking. Around 10% to 20% new
oak is used for his Premier Crus, wood sourced mainly from the Cadus cooperage.
“We buy around 10 to 15 barrels per year, so less than 10% [or our total
stock],” Duroché tells me. “We use the new ones for our Bourgogne Rouge and Gevrey-Chambertin
Village where many barrels are used, so the impact is minimal. For the Crus and
lieux-dits with smaller quantities, we just use neutral barrels.” Wines are
bottled without fining or filtration.
vertical focuses on a single vineyard. Duroché’s holding in Lavaut
Saint-Jacques comprises of six parcels that total 1.2025 hectares. Best to be
precise as the holdings are so small. There are actually two cuvées. Duroché
separates the oldest plot planted in 1923 adjacent to Clos Saint-Jacques to
make a Vieilles Vignes cuvée. This is tended by horse and between one and three
barrels are made. I asked Duroché the reason for splitting the vineyard. “We
decide to separate Lavaut Vieille Vignes for the 2014 vintage. We just wanted
to try to vinify it separately, just to see how it would turn out. It was a
good success, so we decided to continue every year.”
remaining parcels planted up until 1980 are blended to create the regular
cuvée. It tends to be a late-ripening plot due to the cooling effects of the
wind barrelling down the Combe de Lavaux. Lavaut Saint-Jacques is one of the
appellation’s most prized Premier Crus, though that does not shield it from
malevolent weather conditions. At time of writing, Pierre Duroché told me that
he had just lost 40% of the crop this year to hail after a deluge of 200mm of
rain the previous week that flooded several cellars. Like I said, winemaking or
mountaineering, it’s contentious which is the riskier pursuit.
tasting focused on recent vintages that demonstrate the heights that Pierre
Duroché has taken his wines. They are more elegant and ethereal than powerful,
but I find that people often make the mistake of pouring them straight from
bottle, whereas decanting often allows them time to gain weight and depth. It’s
inexplicable and quite miraculous – his wines’ innate ability to pluck mass
from the ether. Duroché also kindly served some older vintages, and to be
frank, I thought they highlighted the progress that has been made over the last
decade. That said, I adored the 1969 Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaut Saint-Jacques that
had the audacity to surpass my birth-vintage, 1971.
leaving, I cannot complain too much about multiple spellings. How many times am
I referred to as “Neil” and not “Neal”? I supposed the only difference is that
it is written Lavaut because Pierre Duroché’s grandfather decided upon that
spelling whereas my father simply misspelled it on my birth certificate.
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