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 - 2017 Marsannay Rouge, Les Vaudenelles

Price: $79.00
Size: 750ml
Availability: 

Out of stock

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

The Wine

Bruno Clair’s red Marsannay lieux-dits are an insightful set of terroirs to taste together because of the different personalities from these vineyards that are hardly a kilometer apart.

In the cellar, the winemaking is more or less the same between them. Historically, they didn’t employ whole clusters in any notable quantity with any of their wines until the arrival of Bruno’s son, Edouard, in 2015. As with all of Bruno’s reds, the wines go through spontaneous yeast fermentation without added cultured yeast. These three wines have always had a portion aged in foudre of I believe around 15-25hl. The rest are aged in Burgundy barrels (228-liter, French oak) with somewhere around 20% of them new.

In navigating their differences we can start with altitude. Les Vaudenelles is the highest; Les Grasses Têtes is in the middle of the slope—you know, that sweet spot always talked about in Burgundy; and Les Longeroies runs the gamut from the top to the bottom—another telling attribute that leads to this wine’s broad range.

Then there’s the soil structure, which is quite diverse. The 1.28 hectare parcel of Les Vaudenelles is extremely shallow clay topsoil, with a top layer that’s only a dozen or so centimeters deep and very rocky. In Les Grasses Têtes there’s plenty of clay topsoil and those big limestone chunks they call grasses têtes, or “fat heads,” scattered about his two-hectare parcel. Clair’s Les Longeroies is divided among four sections, two in the top and two in the bottom. The upper zone, Dessus des Longeroies, is as rocky as one might expect, and the lower zone, Bas des Longeroies, has a lot more red clay and marl. Clair has 1.55 hectares total in this climat.

Then we can consider their exposures. Marsannay has a series of combes, small dry limestone or chalk valleys carved out long ago by erosion, the biggest of which also created the path of the D108 highway that goes up and out of the appellation, toward the west. The north side of the dejection cone’s fringe (or alluvial fan) is filled with debris, and Les Longeroies sits below it on a soft slope, tilted toward the southeast. Les Vaudenelles is toward the top of the hill on the other side of this wide dejection-cone area, facing mostly east, so subject to winds that keep it cooler than the other two climats. Les Grasses Têtes is completely outside of any combe and nestled on classical Côte d’Or horizontal limestone stratification.

Clair's Marsannay Lieux-Dits In-Short

Les Vaudenelles is high up and rocky with almost no topsoil, fully exposed and faces east. The result is that this wine is usually the most taut, high-toned, fresh, light in color and often feels as much like a white wine as it does a red.

Les Grasses Têtes is ideally situated on the mid-slope with deep clay soil and big chunks of rock. This combination brings power and coolness to the wine, and since it’s relatively protected from wind, it can fully ripen. Its east-facing slope brings tension, and the stratification of its bedrock (a result of not being inside one of the combes) all result in a classically balanced Côte d’Or wine with no extreme highs or lows.

Les Longeroies runs from the top to the bottom of the hill, giving it more diverse dimension; it’s exposed to the elements which may contribute to its elevated tension and aromatic lift; the southeast orientation brings more sun; the top parcel is stony—this may increase the strength of its mineral impressions; and the bottom contains more clay, which likely imparts it elegantly rounded edges and some weight. Les Longerioes often stands out in a tasting because of its aromatic lift and balance of tension, finesse and strength.

Each wine has its place: imagine a slightly chilled Les Vaudenelles on a warm day, Les Grasses-Têtes when you’ve got some time and someone to share it with, and Longeroies for any occasion, big or small, winter or summer. -TV

About The Wine

Bruno Clair’s red Marsannay lieux-dits are an insightful set of terroirs to taste together because of the different personalities from these vineyards that are hardly a kilometer apart.

In the cellar, the winemaking is more or less the same between them. Historically, they didn’t employ whole clusters in any notable quantity with any of their wines until the arrival of Bruno’s son, Edouard, in 2015. As with all of Bruno’s reds, the wines go through spontaneous yeast fermentation without added cultured yeast. These three wines have always had a portion aged in foudre of I believe around 15-25hl. The rest are aged in Burgundy barrels (228-liter, French oak) with somewhere around 20% of them new.

In navigating their differences we can start with altitude. Les Vaudenelles is the highest; Les Grasses Têtes is in the middle of the slope—you know, that sweet spot always talked about in Burgundy; and Les Longeroies runs the gamut from the top to the bottom—another telling attribute that leads to this wine’s broad range.

Then there’s the soil structure, which is quite diverse. The 1.28 hectare parcel of Les Vaudenelles is extremely shallow clay topsoil, with a top layer that’s only a dozen or so centimeters deep and very rocky. In Les Grasses Têtes there’s plenty of clay topsoil and those big limestone chunks they call grasses têtes, or “fat heads,” scattered about his two-hectare parcel. Clair’s Les Longeroies is divided among four sections, two in the top and two in the bottom. The upper zone, Dessus des Longeroies, is as rocky as one might expect, and the lower zone, Bas des Longeroies, has a lot more red clay and marl. Clair has 1.55 hectares total in this climat.

Then we can consider their exposures. Marsannay has a series of combes, small dry limestone or chalk valleys carved out long ago by erosion, the biggest of which also created the path of the D108 highway that goes up and out of the appellation, toward the west. The north side of the dejection cone’s fringe (or alluvial fan) is filled with debris, and Les Longeroies sits below it on a soft slope, tilted toward the southeast. Les Vaudenelles is toward the top of the hill on the other side of this wide dejection-cone area, facing mostly east, so subject to winds that keep it cooler than the other two climats. Les Grasses Têtes is completely outside of any combe and nestled on classical Côte d’Or horizontal limestone stratification.

Clair’s Marsannay Lieux-Dits In-Short

Les Vaudenelles is high up and rocky with almost no topsoil, fully exposed and faces east. The result is that this wine is usually the most taut, high-toned, fresh, light in color and often feels as much like a white wine as it does a red.

Les Grasses Têtes is ideally situated on the mid-slope with deep clay soil and big chunks of rock. This combination brings power and coolness to the wine, and since it’s relatively protected from wind, it can fully ripen. Its east-facing slope brings tension, and the stratification of its bedrock (a result of not being inside one of the combes) all result in a classically balanced Côte d’Or wine with no extreme highs or lows.

Les Longeroies runs from the top to the bottom of the hill, giving it more diverse dimension; it’s exposed to the elements which may contribute to its elevated tension and aromatic lift; the southeast orientation brings more sun; the top parcel is stony—this may increase the strength of its mineral impressions; and the bottom contains more clay, which likely imparts it elegantly rounded edges and some weight. Les Longerioes often stands out in a tasting because of its aromatic lift and balance of tension, finesse and strength.

Each wine has its place: imagine a slightly chilled Les Vaudenelles on a warm day, Les Grasses-Têtes when you’ve got some time and someone to share it with, and Longeroies for any occasion, big or small, winter or summer. -TV