One could say Bruno Clair is a vigneron’s vigneron. His wines are loved worldwide by everyone lucky enough to know them, and what’s truly impressive is the respect he garners within Burgundy, where his fellow growers consider him one of the greatest of their ranks. They admire his attention to detail in the vineyard, his organic practices (even if he doesn’t bother with certification), and the long hours he and his crews put in. In the cellar, along with his longtime enologist Philippe Brun (they have been called “the Batman and Robin of Marsannay”), Bruno produces wines that are loved for their purity of expression. They show no ego or even style, but just seem to be true to the essence of each individual vineyard.
Bruno’s grandfather was Joseph Clair, who created (along with his wife, Marguerite Dau) one of Burgundy’s most celebrated domaines, Clair-Dau. It started in the 1920s, with Marguerite’s family holdings in Marsannay, the Côte d’Or’s most northerly village, which is now starting to be inundated with development from the sprawling city of Dijon. Joseph, just returned from WWI, took over farming and began to grow the domaine. This expansion would continue for the next 50 years, collecting glimmering holdings up and down the Côte de Nuits, from Bonnes Mares to Clos de Vougeot to Le Clos Saint-Jacques. By the 1970s it was one of the greatest estates in Burgundy, made more remarkable because it had been achieved by a humble and hardworking farmer, not inherited via aristocratic ancestors.
Sadly, the apparently unavoidable Burgundian family soap opera set in, and disputes among the five children caused the domaine to be hacked apart, with some bits sold off to Jadot, while others were locked into long-term lease agreements. This denied Bruno the brilliant domaine he should have inherited, but also allowed him to become the Bruno we know today. Channeling his grandfather, perhaps, the resolute Bruno set out on his own, with a few of his family’s plots in his hometown of Marsannay, and a couple other locations. Happily, over time, some of his extended family’s larger plots began to come out of rental agreements, and were placed into Bruno’s able hands. He hasn’t reclaimed the full extent of Clair-Dau, but he’s put together a sizable (around twenty-three hectares) of great plots stretching as far south as Savigny-les-Beaune. Together, his collection acts as an intonation of Bruno’s style, whilst maintaining diversity and clarity in terroir. Bruno Clair symbolizes structure and grace and is destined to become one of Burgundy’s true greats.
Most wine Francophiles are familiar with Burgundy. It’s divided into a few major areas, starting from Chablis in the north, the Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and finally Beaujolais to the south, just above France’s second largest city, Lyon. The grapes are principally Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on Jurassic limestone bedrock (pretty much all the vineyard bedrock between Chablis to the Mâconnais is from this same general geological period), and Beaujolais’ red grape, Gamay, where the soils are largely derived from granite and metamorphic bedrock from the ancient formations in France’s Massif Central.
Bruno Clair’s domaine is near the hamlet of Marsannay-la-Côte in the Marsannay appellation that stretches the length of three hamlets in total, with Chênove in the north, Marsannay-la-Côte in the middle and Couchey in the south. Clair sources Pinot Noir for his rosé, Chardonnay and a trio of fabulous lieux-dits Marsannay Rouge wines. The remainder of his vineyards are further south, starting in the Côte de Nuits with Gevrey-Chambertin (where a large proportion of his wines come from), then on through the south in Morey-Saint-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée. He also has a quiet stable of wines within the Côte de Beaune in Aloxe-Corton, Pernand-Vergelesses and Savigny-lès-Beaune, all cleverly selected over time for their prime locations.
There’s so much written about Burgundy, with special attention to the Côte d’Or, that it seems redundant to have yet another lengthy explanation of the big picture, and futile to get caught up in all the specifics for every given wine. It’s from the regions that are not excessively or even barely written about where I will make the effort to bring forth details that are difficult to find, at least on the internet.
For more extensive and general information on Burgundy, I suggest exploring the many thorough accounts by authors like Jasper Morris, Remington Norman and Clive Coates. Plus, there’s an immense amount of coverage from critics who uproot tons of new and interesting details with each new publication, with some notables being Burghound, A View from the Cellar, Winehog and Vinous. Also, one shouldn’t miss out on Becky Wasserman’s website www.beckywasserman.com for a lot of great content, and the website www.bourgogne-wines.com, where a good collection of videos and free downloadable vineyard maps are available, along with general overview content for each area.
Within each of Bruno Clair’s product pages on our website are details of each of terroir (or climat) and with some details on the winemaking. You’ll find information on some of the product pages that discusses some of the particularities sort of skipped over in the aforementioned Burgundy bibles. I’ve written somewhat extensively on a few terroirs, and less so on others. -TV