What do you see when you look in the mirror?
An incredibly handsome and witty fellow.
Where did you grow up?
In Morey-Saint-Denis, spending summers in the U.S. Then, from the age of 17 I began boarding school in England, then university and also worked there a little. I spent a total of seven years in England before returning to work in Morey full time.
What drew you to wine?
My father is a winemaker, but it was very much a choice rather than something that was forced on me. My passion really grew while I was at Oxford University, where I ran the wine tasting club and competed against Cambridge in the Pol Roger-sponsored blind-tasting competition.
What do you most like in a wine?
Balance, elegance, complexity, sense of place and something impossible to quantify or even describe, that one might refer to as soul. It's hard to pinpoint, but it's that extra dimension that makes your heart beat a little faster. It's the repeat of what people call 'wine epiphany.' You know that something special has happened.
You not only make the some of the finest Burgundies at Domaine Dujac, but you also have an interest in Domaines Triennes near Aix-en-Provence, and your wife, Diana, makes the wine at Snowden in Napa Valley. How do these broad experiences impact your view of winemaking?
Every place teaches you something about the others. You can look at terroir definitions from several angles: it’s a very broad concept. As a winemaker, you could say that a great terroir is a place that makes great wine spontaneously or almost: making great wine from grand cru is easy – you do less.
When you’re dealing with less hallowed vineyards, you have to accept there’s a hierarchy – some places are more special than others. End of story. Garden tomatoes are better than greenhouse. And garden tomatoes from the Mediterranean are probably better than Holland (no disrespect to the gardening ability of the Dutch). But you go to these other places and you learn something.
Provence taught us a lot – about growing grapes, about making wine from varieties other than pinot noir, about the wine market. In Burgundy, we’re very privileged since people just come and knock on your door. If the wines are any good, they sell. For the rest, you actually have to convince people that they should try a cabernet syrah blend from the south of France.
You’ve been organic for about a decade. Why is that important?
We started dabbling with organics in 2001; about a third of our vineyards were farmed organically. It grew over the years and we applied for certification in 2008. We were already fully organic at that time, but I started seeing the political side. We’re fortunate: winegrowers have a public voice that potato farmers and meat farmers don’t. So we can spread what we think is the good word.
I don’t think organic is a perfect system, but I do think it is a good system and better than many of the alternatives. I’ve got issues with some people who just talk the organic talk and have no certification. People who have the right haircut, they’ve got the right talk: you just assume organic. I’ve seen it in countless articles. I find myself saying, 'Well, if organic uses Roundup…' Certification brings some clarity to the matter.
What is your take on natural wine, which emphasizes winemaking more than viticulture per se? Do you have a T-shirt that reads 'I heart SO2' – as [NYC sommelier] Robert Bohr does?
I was given one – I wear it with pride. I think SO2 is a really useful tool, as is chaptalization, and this is where the conversation is really difficult; all these things are arbitrary. What is an acceptable level of SO2? There’s no question: too much chaptalization, too much acidification, too much of anything is disastrous for the wine. [But] to just cut yourself off from these tools feels so dogmatic.
I think it’s fine to do a no-SO2 wine if your wine is consumed within a 100-mile radius of where it’s made. Our wines travel too much. People wait for them for 20 years. In an ideal world, people would buy them on release, cellar them and drink them. But that’s far from always the case. They can get shipped three times or more before they’re consumed. At least for the initial shipment, SO2 is necessary. I’ve bought bottles that have re-fermented – you’ve had those – or oxidized. Sometimes, I feel people are a little casual about that.
Your 2010 Clos de la Roche was amazing: my wine of the day in a room crowded with great wines. How do the 2010 and 2012 vintages look for you?
I love both vintages. 2010 had a small crop and a lot of shot berries. 2012 had an even smaller crop and even more shot berries. Tricky growing seasons, but really healthy in the end. Precise, bright wines, intense without being cloying or weighty. It’s the kind of vintage that when you like Burgundy, it’s what you’re looking for. There’s a grain of tannin in 2012 which I’m really excited about. They’re silky, elegant... I don’t like calling vintages too early, but 2012, it feels special. But the quantity is also special in the wrong kind of way.
There were bad flowering conditions so anything that is old vine and tends to shatter anyway – there was coulure out the wazoo. The yields dropped massively, then there was a bit of sunburn in June and that impacted yield – maybe 20 percent down from that. And in Côte de Beaune they got hail and in Marsannay they got hail, but in most of the Côte de Nuits we ultimately did quite well.
I don’t bullshit on this sort of thing: it’s a notch down. Generally speaking, I’d say our wines are perhaps not fully representative of the vintage; they’re a little more structured than many. 2010 is an incredible vintage, end of story, and I think 2012 could be the same. So when you’re coming from that level of intensity, 2011 feels a little light.
If we stopped by on your table on a random weeknight, which wine would we find on your table? Is it all Snowden, Dujac and Triennes?
No, no, no – it’s never those wines. We drink enough of those wines professionally, at dinners. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, it’s that I enjoy diversity. So, if we go to a local restaurant, I’ll order a colleague’s wines.
I love the wines of everyone out there, but in the local restaurants Chevillon is one of my go-tos because [otherwise] I never see Christophe Roumier’s wines. I live in Nuits-St-Georges so the restaurant has a lot of Nuits on the list, as you might expect. I drink a lot of Northern Rhône, Mosel Valley, Piedmont, and then always have a bottle of sherry open in the fridge.
What do you think of the crazy prices some Burgundy wines are selling for today?
High, yes; crazy – I sometimes wonder. The wines of Burgundy are rare and can be extraordinarily fine. I think many do have that emotional dimension and do make some people's hearts beat a little faster. Some of those people are willing to put some real means into chasing such moments. I understand the passion and money paid for Burgundy considerably better than many other expensive pursuits.
When it comes to critics, what role do they have today?
As a consumer, I feel they have more of an educational role than the buying guide role. When I’m reading a critical publication – and currently I’m trying to find out more things about Tuscan wines, and Brunello in particular – what I want to know is what the producers are like.
I would like critics to help me get a clearer picture of areas. I feel like – unfortunately – many are just there to tell you it tastes of cassis, pain grillée, and it’s worth 96 points. [If] this extraordinary wine is 15 percent alcohol then I know I’m unlikely to like it, since my taste doesn’t run that way. Have a bit more enlightened writing.
Where would you like to be buried?
What would you want the last wine you taste to be?
I think I'd like it to be a young wine I made, and I'd like to find myself thinking as I taste it, 'This will be special.'
Do you have any regrets?
All the time. I'm a perfectionist, meaning I live in a state of near-constant dissatisfaction, thinking about what I could have done better – and there is always something that could have been done better with the advantage of hindsight. I'm working on relaxing a little.
What brings you the greatest happiness?
Hearing my sons laugh.
What do you think would make the world a better place?
People being more aware of the consequence of their actions and taking responsibility.