Under the stewardship of Anne-Claude Leflaive, Domaine Leflaive produces magnificent wines, the hallmark of which is loyalty to and typicity of individual terroir. The wines have personality and extraordinary purity – perfect ambassadors for Anne-Claude Leflaive’s passionate belief in biodynamic viticulture. At the heart of the biodynamic philosophy is the individual treatment of vines by plant-based compounds, according to a strict timetable, governed by the lunar cycle. Pesticides and chemicals have long been confined to the past but Anne-Claude started biodynamic experiments in the early nineties, and the practices were fully endorsed from 1997. The prime motivation initially was concern about the sustainability of the land but the rewards have extended far beyond the vineyards, which have thrived, to very obvious improvements in quality in the finished wines – a welcome and unexpected bonus.
Burgundy is a region which has too often witnessed the dilution of great estates as a result of Napoleonic Law (whereby a property is divided equally among offspring). Despite the constant risk to their family heritage and potential loss of identity, Domaine Leflaive has survived unscathed, remaining a strong family house which treasures its vineyards. The Domaine, with Anne-Claude Leflaive currently at the helm, has an extraordinary respect for the past and for the historic vineyards over which they preside. The family is well aware that they are but temporary caretakers of the history, present and future of this truly great property.
Domaine Leflaive – the vineyards
The grape makes the wine. This simple statement, stark and to the point, absolutely underpins the Domaine's philosophy. The quality of the harvest dictates the quality of the final wine. Anne-Claude had seen this whilst working with her father but, on taking over the management, she wanted to extend the boundaries of viticultural management. A woman in a man's world, Anne-Claude would have faced an enormous challenge just to maintain the status quo, but the Leflaives, particularly Anne-Claude, don't do laissez faire. It seemed ludicrous to Anne-Claude to sabotage natural ecosystems with synthetic products, fertilisers and herbicides, but she was not content simply with organic viticulture and embarked on experiments with biodynamics. The art or science of biodynamics warrants a tome or three even to chip at the surface of what now is a rapidly growing movement worldwide. In the most simplistic terms, it is a method of cultivation based on an understanding of natural phenomena. It embraces cosmic rhythms, philosophy and metaphysics as much as agricultural disciplines. It is not, in itself, a method of control nor can it be used to eradicate pests or diseases but through conducting agriculture in harmony with the basic forces of nature, terrestrial and celestial alike, it encourages a complex variety of species which, in turn, limit parasites. The Domaine quotes their biodynamics consultant François Bouchet's explanation, "Biodynamics develops all living species, thanks to specific preparations made from yarrow, camomile, nettles, dandelion, valerian, compost and silica, which are real energy catalysts. It is through the plant that the whole organism is invigorated as much by deep-rooting as by the leaves which capture solar energy. The resulting wine represents the balance between terroir and the atmospheric environment"
Domaine Leflaive – the cellar
After a very severe sorting in the vineyard the grapes are speedily pressed and left to settle overnight. The crus are fermented in oak, the villages in foudres – with the temperature maintained at 18ºC. The wines are transferred to stainless steel for settling before bottling, which is generally eighteen months after the vintage.
Domaine Leflaive – the wines
Bourgogne Blanc: 2.74 hectares, average age 18 years. Two plots behind the cuverie deliver opulence and intensity and, given its provenance, the wine is an absolute steal – a Puligny-Montrachet in all but name.
Puligny-Montrachet: 4.28 hectares, average age 39 years. From seven separate parcels; vines on the Chassagne side provide richness and density while those behind the village and towards Meursault contribute mineral character and steel.
Domaine Leflaive – premiers crus wines
Meursault 1er Cru Sous le Dos d’Ane: Formerly planted with Pinot Noir, Sous le Dos d’Ane was replanted in 1995. Chardonnay fares better in the cooler soils of this single plot, south-west of Meursault Charmes.
Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon: 4.8 hectares, average age 28 years. Further down the slope and slightly to the east, Clavoillon offers the greatest value of the premiers crus, with some very old vines planted on deep, stony soils – a wine to watch.
Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières: 1.25 hectares, average age 23 years. This vineyard lies west of Clavoillon. The highest of the premier cru vineyard sites, on poor, chalky soil, this is the most flamboyant of the premiers crus.
Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes: 0.71 hectare, average age 38 years. This lies alongside Meursault. Old vines here produce intense wines which marry the rounded opulence of Meursault with Puligny elegance.
Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Pucelles: 3.05 hectares, average age 31 years. The heart of the premiers crus and without doubt their finest wine, separated from the grand cru Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet by a narrow road. The wines here are sublime.
Domaine Leflaive – grands crus wines
Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru: 1.15 hectares, average age 44 years. This is a single parcel of vines planted in 1958 and 1959, the oldest plantation at the Domaine, providing wines with tremendous finesse and complexity.
Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru: 1.91 hectares, average age 30 years. Deeper soils produce greater weight than further up the slope but the acidity seems to up its game to compensate, making for effortless balance.
Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru: 1.92 hectares, average age 32 years. The vines are old here, planted on poor, chalky soils at 250m, above Le Montrachet, with south-east exposure – prodigious power yet subtlety here.
Le Montrachet Grand Cru: 0.08 hectare. In 1991 Domaine Leflaive finally acquired a tiny part of Le Montrachet, for which they had to commission one slightly over-sized barrel – magnificent balance of power and refinement.