A Cathedral for Chardonnay
Domaine Leflaive at Puligny Montrachet in Burgundy can boast the ideal location. On the southern point of the Cote d’Or, it has warmer summers than its northern neighbours.
It is one of the few places in the world where exhaustive research has been undertaken to explain the superb quality of its wines. Generations of oenologists, winemakers and scientists have dedicated their lives to the study – and yet it is still not easy to pin down. Nonetheless, it is generally accepted that the rich limestone soil of this beautiful village plays a crucial role, making it the Holy Land of Chardonnay with Domaine Leflaive as the cathedral at its heart.
The history of Domaine Leflaive dates back to 1717 when the Leflaive family began cultivating the land and making wine.
Today, very few winemakers are fortunate enough to own some of the best vineyards in the world and inherit so much knowledge from their ancestors.
One factor is crucial to their success. Normally in Burgundy the land becomes fragmented because inheritance laws insist on the equal division of property among family members. What makes Domaine Leflaive so exceptional is that the family decided to form a company to keep their holding intact, resulting in an uninterrupted production of some of the most iconic wines to be found anywhere in the world – particularly the four Grand Cru and the the four Premier Cru in which they have holdings.
Burgundy is famous for its love of continuity. For centuries it has followed an unwavering tradition of winemaking, always relying on the same method of cultivation and the same process of vinification. Domaine Leflaive, on the other hand, succeeded in being a pioneer of change while remaining true to its heritage.
It began in 1905 when Joseph Leflaive returned to Burgundy to take care of the family vines. The whole of Europe was still recovering from the blight of phylloxera and land was for sale at relatively low prices. Joseph, an engineer by profession, decided to invest in some of the prime vineyards of his village. He undertook an extensive programme of replanting the vines with new American rootstock, and focused on monitoring the character of his vineyards, parcel by parcel, to find out which produced the best grapes.
Most importantly, he stopped selling his wine in bulk to merchants and instead began bottling it. In short, Joseph was responsible for establishing the modern Domaine Leflaive.
Moving to more recent times, Anne Claude Leflaive took over the domaine in the 1990s. Convinced that healthy soil would produce healthy grapes and ultimately a great wine, she started experimenting with organic and biodynamic practices. By 1997, the domaine was fully converted to biodynamic farming. It was one of the first to do so in Burgundy which, in such a conservative environment, was tantamount to a revolution.
This innovative spirit continues after Brice de La Morandiere took over in 2015. He rebuilt many of the facilities using modern building materials and improved thermal insulation.
He ruffled feathers with the introduction of DIAM corks and some light oenological changes to speed up vinification, but the winery still remains wholly committed to biodynamic methods.
When you buy a bottle of Burgundy, do you choose it because of the appellation or winemaker? In most cases, people choose to drink Burgundy because it is Burgundy. But with a family like Leflaive and an appellation such as Puligny Montrachet, you get the very best of both worlds.
Because the domaine has remained united, because the land is farmed with meticulous care and because the family has always focussed on quality, the results have proved spectacular. Their flagship appellation is Puligny Montrachet, and Domaine Leflaive boasts some of the most authentic, immaculate and complex white Burgundies.
The mark of the terroir can be found in every bottle, but so too is the character of the Leflaive family. Their wine is a reflection of their character, embodying two extremes. On the one hand, it is vibrant and powerful, but at the same time somehow manages to be soft, delicate and peaceful. It is a rare combination.
Domaine Leflaive has always had superlative land, even more so when Joseph Leflaive added the Grand and Premier Cru. The conversion to biodynamic farming was another giant step forward in the pursuit of excellence.
In the words of Vincent Leflaive, father of Anne Claude: “Two principles are imperative for us: allowing nature to do its work, and maintaining a clinical cleanliness in the equipment used to stock and transport the wine.”
And the future? The ultimate goal Domaine Leflaive is nothing less than the production of the perfect Chardonnay.