A Vertical Tasting with Anne-Claude Leflaive - Wine & Spirits Magazine

A Vertical Tasting with Anne-Claude Leflaive

Anne-Claude Leflaive Anne-Claude Leflaive
“When Pierre and I arrived,” she said, “we decided to change the way we farmed.” At the time, they faced a problem with erosion. With conventional farming, they were losing topsoil. “The soil is gold for us,” she explained, having found that the best way to keep it in place was “to foster a living population in the soil. I didn’t know anything about biodynamics at the time. We decided to make an experiment for eight years–to farm some rows organic and some biodynamic.”

They ran experiments in the domaine’s three biggest parcels–Bourgogne Blanc, Clavoillon and Bienvenues–comparing blocks farmed organically and biodynamically. “The prior manager had wanted to pull out the vines in Bienvenues because they were so ill,” Leflaive continued. “We thought biodynamics might give good health to the vines.

“We observed the behavior of the soil, the illness of the vines, the maturity of the fruit and the result in the glass. We tasted the wines with friends in Puligny-Montrachet. After a few years, our blind tastings focused on biodynamics. We had found that the microbiological activity in the soil was more important in those parcels we were farming under biodynamics–not in the top soil, but below 20 to 25 centimeters in the deep soil.” By the autumn of 1997, Domaine Leflaive was farming all of its vineyards under biodynamic principles.

Pierre Morey retired in June, 2008. Eric Rémy, who is now in charge, has worked with Morey and Leflaive as cellar master since 2003. A young engineer, Antoine Lepetit, helped with the creation of L’Ecole du Vin et des Terroirs and is managing the school, which provides courses in biodynamic farming.

Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles

Here are Anne-Claude Leflaive’s comments on the wines, followed by Joshua Greene’s tasting notes in italics.

Pucelles is close to Bienvenues. The name comes from an old French word that means a young lady. It’s six hectares in total; Domaine Leflaive owns three hectares in three blocks. The wine has the depth of Clavoillon and the minerality and finesse of Folatières. It needs time to give all its details. It develops more white flower, then honey, then truffle. If you have the patience to wait more than twelve years, then you have aromas that are incredible.

[Comparing the first two wines,] there’s more alcohol in 2006 than in 2005, but not one point. The 2006 is about 14°. It’s very ripe, but with a natural good level of acidity.

2006: Delicate floral scents and lasting mineral flavors. The texture is rich and creamy with a hint of warmth in the end.

2005 was a big vintage in whites, one of the most perfect in years. No problems in the vineyard, no specific illness in the vines. All the elements are in place and the wine is more tight and focused than the 2006. Elegance, minerality, purity, harmony: the definition of Pucelles. It’s rather closed today. You feel the tension and strength.

2005: Powerful and expansive, the ripe fruit checked by minerality. The beautiful texture feels like suede, the rich impression lasts for minutes, developing into yellow peach against the bracing acidity.

The 2004s have a very high level of acidity, like 1996. We decided not to de-acidify. The vinification was quite long; malolactic finished after twenty months. It gives a wine that is very salty with minerals, very good just before lunch. It reflects the terroir: I like it for the minerality. 2004 was a tough proportion of oidium. Thanks to the work in the vineyard we had a safe harvest. One of our neighbors said he was surprised by the quality of our grapes. [With biodynamic farming,] the difference was obvious.

2004: Dramatic and powerful, though less powerful than the 2005. Beautiful integration with a lighter intensity. Deep flavors of hazelnut that last.

2004 and 2003 were two extremes–incredible to have such extreme wines, extreme climate conditions, extreme levels of acidity. As you know, 2003 was a very, very hot summer and the maturity came very quickly. Most winemakers in Puligny harvested in mid-August. But it was very dry and it was 32° [C.; 90° F.] outside. We waited. We knew the new moon was coming at the end of August–and when the moon is changing, usually the weather is changing. On Friday, before the moon was changing, a little rain came and the temperature began to go down. Just after the rain, when you tasted the grapes, it had nothing to do with the previous taste. We began to harvest on Saturday, in the last week of August. The fact that the vines were deeply ploughed and the roots were deep, we could get a balanced wine in the vintage. The level of acidity is very, very low. So low, our enologist told us to add tartaric acid. So we decided to make an analysis using sensitive crystallization. [A drop of wine is mixed with copper chloride in a Petri dish and, through controlled evaporation, a crystal formation appears.] Then you have a print, like a picture–you can tell if the wine is in good balance. The analysis told us not to do anything; we did not acidify. You really have the print of the climate in your glass. Nothing has been disturbed. You drink the heat, it is very warm, with a lack of minerality.

2003: Rich rather than aromatic, with broad flavors of hazelnut and dry honey. The warmth shows in a pale burn at the end.

A normal vintage, with good conditions and normal acidity. Yields were much more generous for 2004 than 2002.

2002: Gentle yet deeply concentrated, with beautiful integration of minerality and fruit. A scent of crushed oyster shells melds with silken layers of white fruits, hinting at nectarine and kumquat. The finish has potent length and drive.

Thanks to biodynamic farming, we could keep the vines in Bienvenues alive. They are now the oldest vines we have, 50 to 55 years old. The wine from Bienvenues is shy when young, sometimes difficult to understand. It has big length and a lot of subtlety. 1998 had everything: snow in April, storms and hail in July, heat in August.

1998 Bienvenues Bâtard-Montrachet: Bright, zesty, sweet and salty. The minerality lends potent structure to the richness of the wine. Fresh pear in the middle, with high notes creating a pyramid of flavor above the rich base.

This is a W&S web exclusive feature.

Joshua Greene is the editor and publisher of Wine & Spirits magazine.

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