Friday, 11 January 2013

Domaine Bruno Clair

Posted by Justerini & Brooks

Domaine Bruno Clair is perhaps the grandest under the radar producer in Burgundy. Its origins lie in one of the great old Burgundian domaines, Domaine Clair-Dau. For a full account of the fascinating, if ultimately saddening, history of Domaine Clair-Dau please see Clive Coates excellent book Cote D’Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy. The story, in a nutshell, begins with a soldier, Joseph Clair (Bruno’s Grandfather), returning from the first world war to convalesce in Burgundy and falling in love with Marguerite Dau. Marguerite had inherited, along with her sister, eight hectares in Marsannay. Joseph took over these vineyards, replanted and began to expand the domaine. Through the 1920s and 30s he purchased land in Combe aux Moines and Estournelles St Jacques in Gevrey-Chambertin, Amoureuses in Chambolle-Musigny and Bonnes Mares. With the help of his son Bernard, he aquired more Bonnes Mares and some Clos Vougeot followed swiftly by Gevrey-Chambertin Cazetiers and Clos St Jacques through the 50s. They then added a venerable plot in Savigny-Les-Beaune La Dominode with vines planted in 1902 (many of the same vines are still producing for Bruno today!) and the year after almost a hectare of Chambertin Clos de Beze. In the early 70s Bernard added Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru Clos du Fonteny and Vosne-Romanee Aux Champs Perdrix which is just up the slope from Romanee-Conti. Not a bad haul. It is very hard to equate the steady acquisitions of a French farmer with the recent sale of the Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin with its two hectares of vineyards for eight million Euros. How things have changed in Burgundy.

Unfortunately when Joseph died in 1971 the domaine started to fall apart. The competing interests of his children ultimately resulted in the domaine being broken up with a chunk being sold to Louis Jadot with a further chunk under a metayage agreement; Monique Bart ran her quarter of the domaine which is now run by her son Martin and around half of the domaine was ultimately inherited by Bernard’s son, Bruno. As the metayage agreements with Jadot and also with Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair recently ran out Bruno has been able to reclaim even more of the old domaine. While the family war waged, Bruno quietly developed his own domaine which he build up to nine hectares, about a third of these holdings were vineyards that had been neglected since the phylloxera epidemic at the end of the 19th century. These days Bruno has a substantial domaine under his control (circa 21 hectares) with many outstanding parcels. He still has the old vines in La Dominode, a superb parcel in the centre of Clos de Beze and a significant parcel of Bonnes Mares much of which is from the original Clair-Dau domaine. A recent bottle Of Clair-Dau Bonnes Mares 1971 showed the amazing potential of this vineyard. An astonishing wine, it showed why in the right hands Bonnes Mares is up there with the very greatest vineyards in Burgundy.

Bruno is a true vigneron; knowledgeable, thoughtful and gentle. He has found a great oenologist in Philippe Brun and between them they combine a respect for tradition and deep understanding of the vineyards with openness to new techniques and a drive to improve. They quietly turn out a range of wines exceptional for their quality and breadth. As attentive to the Marsannays as they are to Bonnes Mares and Clos de Beze, the range at Bruno Clair is totally reliable, consistent and ageworthy. They also offer incredibly good value, especially in Marsannay and Savigny; whilst at the same time making Clos de Beze and Clos St Jacques which are on level with the very best wines of these two great vineyards. Bruno is known as an excellent viticulturalist. He is the kind of winemaker that other winemakers hold in high esteem. During a recent lunch, Sylvain Pitiot of Clos de Tart made the point to our buyer Giles that he thought that Bruno is one of the best vine-growers in Burgundy. He is similarly respected by the critics. Clive Coates and Jasper Morris both show great admiration for the domaine in their excellent tomes and Allen Meadows offers a perfect summary. He writes that “the wines demand involvement from those who drink them”. We feel that they enormously reward that involvement and are very proud to represent Bruno. We just don’t shout about him enough!

By Martin Buchanan