The header may make this post appear more derogatory than it is meant to be.
Madme Bize-Leroy, 86 years old, has a superb reputation. She charges a fortune for her wines, but apparently has no problem selling them.
What I find striking about what she does is that even her wines from very modest appellations receive unanimous praise.
I have seen one of Madame Bize-Leroy’s vineyards that had been oddly pruned (don’t know if all her vineyards are like this). This could certainly be one of the factors in the quality of the wines. But there must be much more. How does this woman transform grapes from humble appellations into wines connoisseurs drool over and that sell for impressively high prices?
We all know that buying Burgundy is not easy. One often hears that the main criteria is: producer, producer, producer! Still, one wonders exactly what someone like Mme Bize-Leroy does to catapult her wines into the stratosphere… Any ideas? Can her “recipe” be perpetuated, can others achieve the same results?
Once again, that a Leroy grand cru should be rare, expensive, and superlative is kind of normal. But why do the village wines and wines from relatively unsexy appellations, and even Bourgogne blanc and rouge, rise to such levels?
What in the world does that woman do that the others don’t?
While on the subject, can someone please enlighten me as to the exact relationship between Maison Leroy and Domaine d’Auvenay, as well as the approximate percentage of their wines that come from their own vineyards, as opposed to buying grapes and/or wines (négociant activity)?
This is a great question that is rarely asked in forums like this. I would love to hear some answers from the wisdom of the long time Burg buyers, drinkers, etc. Better question than “Why Burgundy is different from everywhere else” …I have only consumed 1 bottle of GC Leroy Burgundy, a 2000 Clos Vougeot, some years ago. Surely I committed infanticide, but it was not incredibly different than other CV bottles that I have had from other producers. Perhaps a poor example, but are there any frequent Leroy drinkers out there who care to weigh in?
Maison Leroy, which celebrates its 150th anniversary, a négociant that purchases wines and bottles them, releasing them under its label. Traditionally the Maison was a serious négociant and often sourced from good growers, e.g. the Charmes-Chambertin came from Pierre Dugat. Obviously, as more and more of the best growers bottle themselves, that gets harder and harder. It’s Maison Leroy that produces Bourgogne Rouge and Blanc. For the Japanese market, they even bottle a Beaujolais Nouveau. Prices are quite high from the cellars, especially for older wines, and they also benefit from the cachet of the Leroy name. But there is a big difference between e.g. a Clos Vougeot from Maison Leroy and the Clos Vougeot from Domaine Leroy.
Domaine Leroy. Assembled in the late 1980s from estates that Lalou purchased, as well as vineyards the family already owned (Maison Leroy owned a parcel of Chambertin back into the 1930s, for example). Viticulture is biodynamic and the canopies are rolled instead of being hedged. Yields are low, and vine genetics tend to be good. With the exception of a white Corton-Charlemagne and an Aligoté, all the Domaine Leroy wines are red.
Domaine d’Auvenay. A domaine Lalou inherited and assembled at an old diary farm in the hills above Saint Romain. With the exception of Mazis-Chambertin and Bonnes-Mares, all the d’Auvenay wines are white. The portfolio includes an incredible aligoté and an Auxey-Duresses Les Boutonniers which would embarrass many grands crus. The pinnacle is the Chevalier-Montrachet which I would argue is the best white wine made in Burgundy.
Because the labels are similar, entities (1) and (2) are frequently conflated, but they couldn’t be more different.
When you say the canopies are rolled not hedged, that’s not a term I know. Does this mean that when the vine growth exceeds the trellis height and would normally be hedged back that instead they allow the growth to roll over and grow down? I’ve never seen this so cant judge but intuitively it would seem to create a higher probability for mildew and rots by delaying the dew burn off in the morning. I saw plenty of downy mildew when I visited in 2016 and assumed that’s normal for the area.
Very few white wines can hold a candle to D’auvenay whites. As mentioned above even the Boutonnières is superior to many grand crus. Two bottles of 99 Gouttes d’Or recently were literally drops of gold.
The Leroy website answers your final question, Alex.
It does not address the relative volume differences and I do not think that information is disclosed publicly. The negociant volumes vary year to year and crus vary. I suppose that there has to be an official record for the AOC tracking, but I have no idea how the general public can access that data and expect it is anonymous at our level of access.
As for the recipe, the Domaine wines do have a notable quality uptick from the Maison wines. The stylistic signature has changed from the years of Andre Porchoret (1995 and earlier, IIRC). The new regime is much less extractive in their winemaking and I love the outcomes (as young wines at least).
The Maison winesvary in quality. Some are real duds. Some are exceptional. All are priced exceptionally now. I no longer dabble and treasure my dwindling stash. Maison wines are not all treated the same. Some are purchased in bottle, some in cask. You can tell by the cork - the purchased-in-bottle wines do not have Leroy corks in them. I speculate some of the wines with Leroy corks are purchased as must and grapes (in addition to in-cask wine). How much of the Leroy “recipe” can be applied to these wines therefore differs. The Maison wines are almost exclusively released as library selections, which drives the price control - there is no in-market competition (intentionally) when a release tranche occurs. You can get some well-aged Burgundies, but you may find that some of them are rather flat on their feet. The Domaine wines (both D’Auvenay and Leroy) are released on a more traditional cadence (perhaps with more time in the elevage, but generally not held for release at full maturity).
Alex, you are a knowledgeable sort. I am surprised you ask these questions. Are you trolling for a more heated response? I cannot provide it.
Brian - it’s an alternative to hedging, which is basically cutting off shoot tips like you would to make a hedge for your patio. The problem is that removing the tips can promote more growth, and then you need to hedge again. Plants want to grow upward and towards the sun and there’s usually one tip that dominates the others - it’s called apical dominance. The plant produces hormones that let the one shoot take the lead, so if you have a tree and you cut of the branch going skyward, another one will start heading that way. With vines, the end of the shoot will want to grow but if you cut it off, the vine will fairly quickly produce lateral shoots and the story starts again.
An alternative is what they call palissage, in which they don’t cut off the tips of the shoots but instead they wind them back into the vine. You leave the tip but head it in a different direction, like down. By the time the vine figures out that you’ve screwed it, you’re way ahead because if you had cut the shoots, you’d be getting ready to trim again.
Things aren’t necessarily simple though, and you wouldn’t use that technique everywhere. I didn’t know she was using it, but she’s not alone.
“Palissage” is just the French word for ‘trellising’, as I understand it. Rolling the canopy is given a different name, I forget what and will ask.
But Greg’s explanation is spot on.
The downside is indeed reduced air flow and thus more disease pressure.
But with their large, high canopies, the Leroy vines ripen earlier and the domaine is usually one of the first to harvest. There are then about 30 people on the sorting tables. So disease pressure simply means lower yields, it isn’t going to impact the wine.
You ask “Alex, you are a knowledgeable sort. I am surprised you ask these questions. Are you trolling for a more heated response? I cannot provide it.”
Although much more knowledgeable than the average person, I am also well aware of my ignorance on many fronts with regard to the world of wine. That means that I find it refreshing and normal to throw out questions as basic as I did. The intent, as explained in the first line of my post, is not to be critical, but to try to understand.
It seemed odd to me that in the same village or climat, one producer sells wine for two, three, or more times greater than someone else. What is the secret I asked myself, and then others on this forum. If I could afford them, I would love to buy the Domaine Leroy and Domaine d’Auvenay wines. I have no quarrel with a producer who is extremely successful, selling fine wines at extremely high prices. More power to them.
I might have asked a similar question about Domaine Coche-Dury. I’ve only ever had a village wine of theirs, a Meursault. But it was fantastic. Why was (and presumably still is) it so much better than a village Meursault made by most other people? Surely terroir is only part of the story.
Also, my knowledge is specialized in Bordeaux and, although I spend a very full week to 10 days a year in Burgundy, this is unquestionably a much more difficult region to understand.
Special thanks to William Kelly for his learned replies.
Domaine Leroy’s reputation significant preceeds the new pruning methods of the domaine. But rather than working to a recipe she’s still looking to innovate. The rolls / horse-tails were her first real change to pruning, saying that ‘it takes three years to make the buds’ hence not simply lopping the tops of the vines to make neat rows. The issue with that was that because the horse-trails were bound with a little twine, the treatments couldn’t penetrate effectively, hence, yields that anyway rarely exceeded 15 hl/ha dropped to well below 10 hl/ha because the tails became sources of mildew et-cetera.
Enter the new higher posts and training - they have converted the whole domaine over the last 2-3 years - specifiying non-standard post lengths - so bespoke. The advantage of this is that they no-longer need to bind the ‘tails’ and can make regular training, if at half a metre higher. Now the treatments are more effective and yields are restored - though still much lower than DRC, for example.
Re the ‘maison’ it’s important to make the point that this is very-much an old-style négoce operation - as in her father’s time - they make zero wine. They buy some in barrel, and more in bottle, storing for many years before releasing - one or two domaines are still (privately) very proud to be suppliers in bottle…
Also Raveneau, who makes 1er Cru wines that are better than many producers’ Grand Crus. Why was Giacosa’s Santo Stefano so much better than that of Castello di Neive, from whom they purchased the grapes? How about the handful of producers in Sancerre and Muscadet making wines that are so far above those of most others, even from some of the same vineyard sites? I am sure the list goes on. I suspect that in each case the answer is a large number of small details forming a very complex picture. I often wonder how these things are possible too.
The very low yields are important in the Domaine wines. Doug’s point on a large number of small details resonates. I expect that there is singular focus on the end result and it works (most years). The 2004 declassification is, perhaps, the exception that proves the rule.
She is visited by the woman hosting the show.
A segment later on with Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy shows her in her vineyards discussing her method of rolling the vines and tucking them between double wires.
She doesn’t prune or cut the vines.
It’s a great Documentary as is Red Obsession narrated by Russell Crowe.
One of the first issues I got of Wine Spectator (maybe was the first a few years ago} was the issue with her on the cover as the Queen of Burgundy.
I like her no nonsense approach to doing it her way.
If I could afford Great Burgundy I would love to own something of hers.
Pretty much all biodynamic as she does not use chemicals.