Most of our world and our lives are occupied with narrowness. Linear processes, limited ways of executing tasks, myopic behavioural expectations, risk-aversion to steer clear of the wrath of the powerful. All of this leads to mindless drudgery. Narrowness prevents change and creation.
Burgundy is a traditional place – its entire reputation is built on 1000 years of incremental understanding and reverence for the monks’ decisions on soil. For many years this resulted in mediocre wines, with some exceptions. A few leaders started to break this narrow mind-set in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but it was not until the 2000’s that production quality started to increase more fulsomely. That said, there remain many narrow growers and producers. Pricing is so high there isn’t always an incentive to change.
Narrowness also leads to platitudes and false-truisms. It takes a bold creative process within a smart, capable and experienced person to break through that nonsense. Benjamin Leroux spent the first 15 years of his career as winemaker at Comte Armand, making one of the greatest red wines in the Cote de Beaune – Armand’s famed Clos des Epeneaux. During that tenure, Leroux convinced the domaine to permit him time to develop a side project, which started as a negocient business. It was here that Leroux experimented, learned how to make white wine, and built up capital and reputation until he could go out on his own (he agreed to a 10 year tenure at Armand in exchange for their permission to give him creative freedom in the side project). Today, Leroux makes wine at his eponymous domain. Today he is one of the most creative, and arguably best, winemakers in Burgundy.
An example: over time Leroux has experimented with stem inclusion. He says that traditionalists who seek the benefits of stem-inclusion may want to consider evolving at this point. Ten to twenty years ago stem inclusion allowed semi-carbonic maceration in the wines. Today, presses have evolved and become so gentle that you can achieve the same impact while also de-stemming the grapes. De-stemming and using such a press, says Leroux, gives the wines greater immediacy alongside the benefits that previously only came with whole cluster. Leroux is constantly looking for ways not only to improve his wines, but to evolve his understanding of how to make them and about what Burgundy can be.
Another example comes from his white wine making practices. Leroux detests overly-reduced whites in youth and thinks it is making many White Burgundies too hard in their youth. Over-sulphering adds unpredictability because that approach relies on the cork to do its job and allow sulpher egress and oxygen ingress. Not all corks are the same and there are such significant problems in the cork industry that white Burgundy made this way can be inconsistent and often unpleasant. As such, Leroux has decided to dramatically reduce sulphur, but also change the closure to Stelvin to remove this problematic variable. He seeks, again, to make wines that drink beautifully at all points in their development – including youth – but that can also age. It takes an open, wide-thinking, mind to come up with these creative insights and solutions.
Leroux’s 2016 Volnay Les Mitans is a perfect example of what he can achieve. It is an exceptional wine. Stunning in its aromatics, extremely pleasurable in texture, and it has an accessibility and openness that is extremely rare for young Burgundy. It is in an entirely different aesthetic class than many other Burgundies and is a successful example of Leroux’s philosophy – in fact being the most currently awesome 2016 I have tasted.
The greatest facet of wine appreciation is its ability to provide tools for life-reflection. I find Leroux an inspiring thinker who reminds me of the value of breaking away from the narrow things in life.
$130 + tax at Marquis Wine Cellars