"When we first went to Burgundy, the great 'mythical' character we needed to meet was Lalou Bize-Leroy [owner of the Domaine d'Auvenay and Domaine Leroy wineries]. She’s often referred to as the ‘Queen of Burgundy.’
So in this first meeting, I was quite scared. I mean, she has to be 80 if she’s a day, and she is a wiry, tough, highly fit woman who still climbs mountains. She is up at dawn: a whirling dervish of energy with a bright eye that is twinkling with merriment and a minute later could look at you as if it’s an eagle’s eye and you are a small mouse running away.
We sat – I don’t remember we were offered anything other than a glass of water – and she asked about the project and the films I’d done before. Then she put a couple of really tough questions to somebody like me who’s had no formal training in wine. And I said, ‘I want to know why. Why it matters so much to you, why your heart and soul are in this.’ She said, ‘Well, we’re going to go down into the cellar, and I’ll find you something that will answer that question.’
Her right-hand man does exactly what he’s told and snaps to it immediately, so he gets the keys out and we go down in an elevator – which I hadn’t imagined there would be in this house – into the cellar area.
So we go through the main cellar, then through another part where she’s got her barrels, and then through a door into her private reserve cellar. This is very low-ceilinged, a cave, which is very old: tons of mold, completely black, and almost no lighting. She said, ‘Wine likes to sleep.’
Our eyes got used to the lack of light and I realized that all the wine is in little pyramids: half a dozen here, 10 here, four, five here. They’re only marked on the bottle, there’s no label, they’re only marked with chalk. And this is Lalou’s private, private reserve of ones she particularly likes.
She says to her factotum, ‘Should we offer him this?’ And basically the guy says, ‘Well, whatever you think, Madame.’ Rather like King Louis of France saying to the Lord Chamberlain, ‘Do you think we should spare these people?’ ‘Well, whatever you think, Sire.’ Finally, she says, ‘What’s the time?’ He looks at the watch and it’s quarter to eleven, and she says, ‘Not a bad moment for this.’
There was a slight beat when she said, 'La Romanée-Saint-Vivant 2008.' Her senior assistant kind of gulped, because she’d obviously picked a slightly better bottle than he’d envisaged that we were worth. He checked to make sure he’d heard correctly.
And, so, with notable lack of flimflam, the bottle is opened and we get two enormous sniffing glasses. To cut a long story short, I then had the finest red wine I’ve ever tasted in my life. What was so extraordinary was there was no ‘This needs decanting’, there was no ‘This will have to breathe for 45 minutes.’
She was very generous with the amount she poured. She said, ‘Look, I hate this thimbleful. Hey, you want to have at least one good mouthful, don’t you?’ And then she said, ‘Well, for goodness sake, you should take this bottle with you.’ So off we went with this bottle. But of course it was terribly difficult to know what to do with it, because you’re going to be in the car and driving somewhere else, it’s going to slosh around...
I think that’s the bottle that actually made me realize why people are willing, if they’ve got that kind of money, to write checks for seriously stunning wine. And to have it actually presented in that way, by the woman who takes this incredible personal care with all of her wines, who is a real artist, it was a bit like Picasso saying, ‘Well, there you go, you know, take it – fine. I’ve got another couple in the back.’”
As told to Rose Sneyd
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