Bruno Clair

The Story

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. -TV

Lay of the Land

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

Bruno Clair - 2015 Gevrey Chambertin Rouge, 1er Cru Les Cazetiers

Price: $288.00
Size: 750ml
Availability:

6 in stock

Type of Wine: Red
Style: Mineral, Elegant and Aromatic

The Wine

On the hill of Saint-Jacques we find two of Clair’s most important wines, two premier crus of the highest quality: Les Cazetiers and Le Clos Saint-Jacques. This hill, removed from the grand cru hill just a bit south and across the Combe Lavaux, through the village of Gevrey-Chambertin and slightly to the east, is inside the upper Combe Lavaux—one of those former waterways that while now dry it’s a funnel for cooler winds from the cooler forest areas further toward the west. While this brings advantages against hot weather, it can also bring in hail and cold weather at a time when heat is needed. It appears that as the climate continues to warm up, the wines from this hill will begin to find more opulence than they have had in the past; a familiar story of our modern age.

Another interesting consideration is that the vineyards of the hill are on the average slightly higher than those of the Chambertin hill that maintains all the grand crus of the commune. For example, Le Clos Saint-Jacques begins more or less around 280 meters and goes up to 340 or 350, while the grand crus with the highest elevation top out slightly above 300. Altitude affects ripeness and alcohol balance with full fruit maturity, since the higher you go the cooler it gets.

Clair’s Les Cazetiers (which he labels without the Les) is high up on the slope somewhere between 310 and 350 meters, whereas his Le Clos Saint-Jacques (also missing Le on his bottle label), like the parcels of the other four growers of the commune, goes from the top to the bottom. His Le Clos Saint-Jacques vines were planted in 1957 and 1972, while Les Cazetiers was planted in ‘58, ‘72 and ‘96, and sit closer to the northern end of the vineyard.

The depth of topsoil from the bottom of the hill to the top varies, and of course the further you go up the thinner it becomes. So, you can imagine that Les Cazetiers from Clair’s parcel is on whiter colored clay with very little, if any red or brown tones. Le Clos Saint-Jacques is white on top and at the bottom more brownish clay. The separate parcels from the five different owners of Le Clos Saint-Jacques, like Gevrey-Chambertin’s grand cru, Clos de Bèze, are divided up so that the vine rows start at the bottom and go all the way to the top—making for more potential layers of complexity in the wine, but also perhaps less specific dominant characteristics.

Les Cazetiers gets a bad rap because it sits next to Le Clos Saint-Jacques, who many consider to be one of the Côte de Nuits’ top super second premier crus, alongside of Les Amoureuses in Chambolle-Musigny and Aux Combottes in Gevrey-Chambertin, for example. Les Cazetier is no pushover—and some would even throw it into the “super seconds” of the Côte’s premier crus, myself included—and is almost always more expressive immediately out of the gate compared to its more famous neighbor. Le Clos Saint-Jacques is one of the slower burns in all of Burgundy’s great wines. It, like Simon Bize’s Savigny-les-Beaune Rouge 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses, is better served to fewer people, while Les Cazetiers often performs in shorter order, at least from Clair. I get suckered into the allure of Clair’s Clos Saint-Jacques, but many vintages of his Cazetiers have a longer drinking window in their youth. Interestingly, Les Cazetiers is more often than not Bruno’s preferred of the two from the hill.

We can speak about Le Clos Saint-Jacques all day. With three of its five owners being some of the most compelling names in the business: Armand Rousseau, Jean-Marie Fourrier and Clair; the other two owners are Domaine Louis Jadot and Sylvie Esmonin. Le Clos Saint-Jacques is a king of a premier cru. Its demeanor is one of contemplation before action. It’s slightly more southeast facing than Les Cazetiers, which is an advantage needed to ripen it fully in cooler years—if they should exist anymore. That length from top to bottom is enviable for any great cru. Think about La Tâche, in Vosne Romanée, for example, compared to Romanée-Conti and La Romanée. The latter two are smaller and perhaps more particular, but imagine what kind of wine you’d have if you blended them together with a sizeable chunk of the best part of Romanée-Saint-Vivant below them. You’d get layered complexity like La Tâche does, and the same can be said of wines rendered from Le Clos Saint-Jacques. It’s got serious range and if one doesn’t have the patience to wait for it, one should save their money for Clair’s Cazetiers, or his premier cru Petite Chapelle.  -TV

About The Wine

On the hill of Saint-Jacques we find two of Clair’s most important wines, two premier crus of the highest quality: Les Cazetiers and Le Clos Saint-Jacques. This hill, removed from the grand cru hill just a bit south and across the Combe Lavaux, through the village of Gevrey-Chambertin and slightly to the east, is inside the upper Combe Lavaux—one of those former waterways that while now dry it’s a funnel for cooler winds from the cooler forest areas further toward the west. While this brings advantages against hot weather, it can also bring in hail and cold weather at a time when heat is needed. It appears that as the climate continues to warm up, the wines from this hill will begin to find more opulence than they have had in the past; a familiar story of our modern age.

Another interesting consideration is that the vineyards of the hill are on the average slightly higher than those of the Chambertin hill that maintains all the grand crus of the commune. For example, Le Clos Saint-Jacques begins more or less around 280 meters and goes up to 340 or 350, while the grand crus with the highest elevation top out slightly above 300. Altitude affects ripeness and alcohol balance with full fruit maturity, since the higher you go the cooler it gets.

Clair’s Les Cazetiers (which he labels without the Les) is high up on the slope somewhere between 310 and 350 meters, whereas his Le Clos Saint-Jacques (also missing Le on his bottle label), like the parcels of the other four growers of the commune, goes from the top to the bottom. His Le Clos Saint-Jacques vines were planted in 1957 and 1972, while Les Cazetiers was planted in ‘58, ‘72 and ‘96, and sit closer to the northern end of the vineyard.

The depth of topsoil from the bottom of the hill to the top varies, and of course the further you go up the thinner it becomes. So, you can imagine that Les Cazetiers from Clair’s parcel is on whiter colored clay with very little, if any red or brown tones. Le Clos Saint-Jacques is white on top and at the bottom more brownish clay. The separate parcels from the five different owners of Le Clos Saint-Jacques, like Gevrey-Chambertin’s grand cru, Clos de Bèze, are divided up so that the vine rows start at the bottom and go all the way to the top—making for more potential layers of complexity in the wine, but also perhaps less specific dominant characteristics.

Les Cazetiers gets a bad rap because it sits next to Le Clos Saint-Jacques, who many consider to be one of the Côte de Nuits’ top super second premier crus, alongside of Les Amoureuses in Chambolle-Musigny and Aux Combottes in Gevrey-Chambertin, for example. Les Cazetier is no pushover—and some would even throw it into the “super seconds” of the Côte’s premier crus, myself included—and is almost always more expressive immediately out of the gate compared to its more famous neighbor. Le Clos Saint-Jacques is one of the slower burns in all of Burgundy’s great wines. It, like Simon Bize’s Savigny-les-Beaune Rouge 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses, is better served to fewer people, while Les Cazetiers often performs in shorter order, at least from Clair. I get suckered into the allure of Clair’s Clos Saint-Jacques, but many vintages of his Cazetiers have a longer drinking window in their youth. Interestingly, Les Cazetiers is more often than not Bruno’s preferred of the two from the hill.

We can speak about Le Clos Saint-Jacques all day. With three of its five owners being some of the most compelling names in the business: Armand Rousseau, Jean-Marie Fourrier and Clair; the other two owners are Domaine Louis Jadot and Sylvie Esmonin. Le Clos Saint-Jacques is a king of a premier cru. Its demeanor is one of contemplation before action. It’s slightly more southeast facing than Les Cazetiers, which is an advantage needed to ripen it fully in cooler years—if they should exist anymore. That length from top to bottom is enviable for any great cru. Think about La Tâche, in Vosne Romanée, for example, compared to Romanée-Conti and La Romanée. The latter two are smaller and perhaps more particular, but imagine what kind of wine you’d have if you blended them together with a sizeable chunk of the best part of Romanée-Saint-Vivant below them. You’d get layered complexity like La Tâche does, and the same can be said of wines rendered from Le Clos Saint-Jacques. It’s got serious range and if one doesn’t have the patience to wait for it, one should save their money for Clair’s Cazetiers, or his premier cru Petite Chapelle.  -TV