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 Morey Saint Denis ROUGE, En la Rue de Vergy

Price: $135.00
Size: 750ml
Availability: 

Out of stock

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

The Wine

Furthest to the north in his roster of star village climats is Clair’s Morey-Saint-Denis “En la Rue de Vergy”. This sits on a very steep slope directly above the grand cru, Bonnes Mares, and what many consider to have the greatest in potential of all the grand crus from this commune, Clos de Tart—for me a regular disappointment due to what I consider a result of misdirected good intentions, not faulty terroir. The altitude of En la Rue de Vergy rises quickly, and further up, it’s Chardonnay territory. Somehow this wine embodies that middle ground between Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny, as one might expect. Some contest this idea of describing wines from Morey as such, but it clearly fits on many levels, most of all due to its geography.

A Short Essay: High Altitude Vineyards & A Consideration On The 1930s Classification

The hierarchy established in the Côte d’Or for its vineyards in the 1930s is based on the resulting balance of the wines a given climat, or plot, typically renders. For the case of the grand crus, a vineyard’s combined elements must lead to wines with a certain level of consistent ripeness and strength in each vintage compared to other wines on the Côte, while maintaining a certain level of nuance and complex trimmings. To achieve this, a site must first have preferable exposure and altitude in order to consistently achieve optimal ripeness, which in the past, before climate change kicked in, was more difficult to attain. Second is the composition and depth of soil before the roots come into contact with the limestone bedrock. While these elements seem relatively consistent from one grand cru to the next (especially concerning exposition, save a total outlier like the sections of Corton and Corton-Charlemagne that face directly south and west), and the soil in particular needs to have the right mix. It must combine a deep enough clay topsoil to strengthen the wine’s body and richness, along with a nicely balanced rock mixture to ensure good drainage for wet years. And there must be plenty of bedrock access to etch out some finer lines to go along with the power.

I suspect that these elements in the distant past weren’t measured as diligently as they are today. The classification was born out of the appraisal by expert tasters and winegrowers of the region who separated and ultimately classified them based on their balance. But today we do actually know the depth of topsoil in vineyards and more often than not, it’s neither shallow nor excessively deep within most grand crus.

To risk further generalization, I think it could be fair to say that the grand crus had to at least be a bigger, fuller wine, without tipping the scales too far in either direction, veering toward being overweight or with less definitive characteristics, like some wines in the sections further downslope in heavier soils, or the converse of more angularity and a lighter body, which typically comes from wines grown in vineyards further upslope with shallower topsoil above the bedrock.

Much has changed since the Burgundy classification of the 1930s. The most obvious and relevant today is the change of weather, but just as consequential is what’s going on behind the scenes. Precision agriculture has changed the game, making it possible for vineyards with lower classifications to be worked in ways customized for their particularities, techniques that can optimize results beyond what was expected in the past. This is why we now see, more than ever, geologists and precision agriculture experts taking to the fields with the growers to help them navigate their terroirs and better understand each plot’s unique circumstances below the surface.

Innovations in cellar techniques and technology are moving just as fast as those of the vineyard. Science constantly improves our understanding of the processes involved, and extends into the minutest details that can benefit even the most natural winemaking practices. It might be useful for naturalists to see that a scientific approach to winegrowing might not necessarily be an unnatural intruder, but can be used to the advantage of nature as a winegrower crafts their wines. To name a few examples, consider our improved understanding of using sulfur in wines (not only how, how much and when, but also from where it’s sourced) as well as fermentation science to get the desired results while maintaining as much of a natural approach as possible. The reality may be that the advances in new scientific understanding of nature along with climate change may soon test the merits of the Côte d’Or’s nearly century old classification.

But what’s even more relevant today is less about classifications and science and more about how global drinkers are changing, especially on an increasingly warmer planet. With the world of wine at everyone’s fingertips today (literally a few keyboard clicks and a delivery truck away), with every shape, size and oddity available, there is a different calibration for each individual wine drinker and what constitutes their personal grand cru and premier cru wines. As far as preferences go, what one considers today to be perfectly balanced seems far less unanimous than it was in the past.

So, why should you care what the classifications are when you can make your own judgments, and when what some consider grand, per se, you may actually consider overdone?

The classification system of Burgundy is extremely useful and if you know how to navigate it along with a little detective work, there’s a Burgundy style for everyone who likes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. For example, if one is not a fan of new oak in young wines, they should avoid drinking and judging grand cru wines when they’re young, because I have yet to find one that doesn’t wear at least a bit of new wood in the smell and taste, if not far more than I want or think the wine needs. If you like more power and suppleness in your Burgs and a grand cru isn’t a regular old weekday option for you, maybe lower altitude premier crus and village wines are a good place to look. If you like more savory characteristics and are on a more modest budget (at least for Burgundy), you’re in luck, because those are often the more affordable wines on the Côte; you can find them everywhere in the Côte de Beaune off the main slope—like Saint-Romain, Monthelie, Auxey-Duresses, and the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune wines. And in the Côte de Nuits there’s Marsannay and Fixin as well as fabulous Hautes-Côtes de Nuits wines there too. And if you just love a delicious Pinot Noir and don’t want to concern yourself with all the hubbub of terroir this and terroir that, there’s always exceptional Bourgogne-level wines. Lastly, if you are like me, and you love the sensation of serious wines without a requirement of gobs of fruit and girth but rather led by natural vinous textures, mineralic impressions and lovely and pure aromatics, perhaps you might look higher upslope, just above some of the grand crus and premier crus.

High up toward the top of the Côte, topsoil is typically spare thanks to gravity, while rock and bedrock access for the vine roots are abundant. Also, at higher altitudes the alcohol is generally lower by the time the fruit is ripe compared to those lower on the slope. Its fruit characteristics tend to be more taut and fresh (if the vintage didn’t suffer hydric stress), its bones hard, and its flesh without slack.

Clay is sticky stuff, so thankfully it’s able to remain on the slopes better than loose sands, silts or rocks, while helping to keep those different soil grain elements still in their clay mixture. Clay keeps it all together and makes it possible for special wines like those from higher altitudes to really perform. High altitude village wines are usually my version of premier crus, and high altitude premier crus tend to be my personal grand crus. It may seem strange, but I feel sometimes many of the grand crus can be so supple and well-balanced that they’re actually boring; they’re in a way kind of inhuman. And imperfections in something extraordinary are as compelling as something considered perfect—they give the wine an interesting personality.

Bruno Clair has some seriously special high altitude village climats, like Morey-Saint-Denis “En la Rue de Vergy”, Chambolle-Musigny “Les Veroilles” and the Vosne-Romanée “Les Champs Perdrix”. I suggest exploring all of them if you can because this trio offers an experience notably above what their classification may indicate.

What’s more is that many of the higher altitude spots along the Côte were not replanted (or planted to begin with) until well after the time of phylloxera—including two of Clair’s wines: Chambolle-Musigny “Les Veroilles” and Morey-Saint-Denis “En la Rue de Vergy,” which he replanted in the 1989 and 1980, respectively. His parcel of Vosne-Romanée “Les Champs Perdrix” was planted in the late 1940s and may not have been lost to phylloxera for long. Perhaps if these vines were replanted or planted before the 1930s classification their classifications would be different today.

What should pique one’s interest in Clair’s trio of high altitude village wines is they all sit directly above grand crus. And that is a rare and privileged position for a village wine in the Côte d’Or. -TV

About The Wine

Furthest to the north in his roster of star village climats is Clair’s Morey-Saint-Denis “En la Rue de Vergy”. This sits on a very steep slope directly above the grand cru, Bonnes Mares, and what many consider to have the greatest in potential of all the grand crus from this commune, Clos de Tart—for me a regular disappointment due to what I consider a result of misdirected good intentions, not faulty terroir. The altitude of En la Rue de Vergy rises quickly, and further up, it’s Chardonnay territory. Somehow this wine embodies that middle ground between Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny, as one might expect. Some contest this idea of describing wines from Morey as such, but it clearly fits on many levels, most of all due to its geography.

A Short Essay: High Altitude Vineyards & A Consideration On The 1930s Classification

The hierarchy established in the Côte d’Or for its vineyards in the 1930s is based on the resulting balance of the wines a given climat, or plot, typically renders. For the case of the grand crus, a vineyard’s combined elements must lead to wines with a certain level of consistent ripeness and strength in each vintage compared to other wines on the Côte, while maintaining a certain level of nuance and complex trimmings. To achieve this, a site must first have preferable exposure and altitude in order to consistently achieve optimal ripeness, which in the past, before climate change kicked in, was more difficult to attain. Second is the composition and depth of soil before the roots come into contact with the limestone bedrock. While these elements seem relatively consistent from one grand cru to the next (especially concerning exposition, save a total outlier like the sections of Corton and Corton-Charlemagne that face directly south and west), and the soil in particular needs to have the right mix. It must combine a deep enough clay topsoil to strengthen the wine’s body and richness, along with a nicely balanced rock mixture to ensure good drainage for wet years. And there must be plenty of bedrock access to etch out some finer lines to go along with the power.

I suspect that these elements in the distant past weren’t measured as diligently as they are today. The classification was born out of the appraisal by expert tasters and winegrowers of the region who separated and ultimately classified them based on their balance. But today we do actually know the depth of topsoil in vineyards and more often than not, it’s neither shallow nor excessively deep within most grand crus.

To risk further generalization, I think it could be fair to say that the grand crus had to at least be a bigger, fuller wine, without tipping the scales too far in either direction, veering toward being overweight or with less definitive characteristics, like some wines in the sections further downslope in heavier soils, or the converse of more angularity and a lighter body, which typically comes from wines grown in vineyards further upslope with shallower topsoil above the bedrock.

Much has changed since the Burgundy classification of the 1930s. The most obvious and relevant today is the change of weather, but just as consequential is what’s going on behind the scenes. Precision agriculture has changed the game, making it possible for vineyards with lower classifications to be worked in ways customized for their particularities, techniques that can optimize results beyond what was expected in the past. This is why we now see, more than ever, geologists and precision agriculture experts taking to the fields with the growers to help them navigate their terroirs and better understand each plot’s unique circumstances below the surface.

Innovations in cellar techniques and technology are moving just as fast as those of the vineyard. Science constantly improves our understanding of the processes involved, and extends into the minutest details that can benefit even the most natural winemaking practices. It might be useful for naturalists to see that a scientific approach to winegrowing might not necessarily be an unnatural intruder, but can be used to the advantage of nature as a winegrower crafts their wines. To name a few examples, consider our improved understanding of using sulfur in wines (not only how, how much and when, but also from where it’s sourced) as well as fermentation science to get the desired results while maintaining as much of a natural approach as possible. The reality may be that the advances in new scientific understanding of nature along with climate change may soon test the merits of the Côte d’Or’s nearly century old classification.

But what’s even more relevant today is less about classifications and science and more about how global drinkers are changing, especially on an increasingly warmer planet. With the world of wine at everyone’s fingertips today (literally a few keyboard clicks and a delivery truck away), with every shape, size and oddity available, there is a different calibration for each individual wine drinker and what constitutes their personal grand cru and premier cru wines. As far as preferences go, what one considers today to be perfectly balanced seems far less unanimous than it was in the past.

So, why should you care what the classifications are when you can make your own judgments, and when what some consider grand, per se, you may actually consider overdone?

The classification system of Burgundy is extremely useful and if you know how to navigate it along with a little detective work, there’s a Burgundy style for everyone who likes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. For example, if one is not a fan of new oak in young wines, they should avoid drinking and judging grand cru wines when they’re young, because I have yet to find one that doesn’t wear at least a bit of new wood in the smell and taste, if not far more than I want or think the wine needs. If you like more power and suppleness in your Burgs and a grand cru isn’t a regular old weekday option for you, maybe lower altitude premier crus and village wines are a good place to look. If you like more savory characteristics and are on a more modest budget (at least for Burgundy), you’re in luck, because those are often the more affordable wines on the Côte; you can find them everywhere in the Côte de Beaune off the main slope—like Saint-Romain, Monthelie, Auxey-Duresses, and the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune wines. And in the Côte de Nuits there’s Marsannay and Fixin as well as fabulous Hautes-Côtes de Nuits wines there too. And if you just love a delicious Pinot Noir and don’t want to concern yourself with all the hubbub of terroir this and terroir that, there’s always exceptional Bourgogne-level wines. Lastly, if you are like me, and you love the sensation of serious wines without a requirement of gobs of fruit and girth but rather led by natural vinous textures, mineralic impressions and lovely and pure aromatics, perhaps you might look higher upslope, just above some of the grand crus and premier crus.

High up toward the top of the Côte, topsoil is typically spare thanks to gravity, while rock and bedrock access for the vine roots are abundant. Also, at higher altitudes the alcohol is generally lower by the time the fruit is ripe compared to those lower on the slope. Its fruit characteristics tend to be more taut and fresh (if the vintage didn’t suffer hydric stress), its bones hard, and its flesh without slack.

Clay is sticky stuff, so thankfully it’s able to remain on the slopes better than loose sands, silts or rocks, while helping to keep those different soil grain elements still in their clay mixture. Clay keeps it all together and makes it possible for special wines like those from higher altitudes to really perform. High altitude village wines are usually my version of premier crus, and high altitude premier crus tend to be my personal grand crus. It may seem strange, but I feel sometimes many of the grand crus can be so supple and well-balanced that they’re actually boring; they’re in a way kind of inhuman. And imperfections in something extraordinary are as compelling as something considered perfect—they give the wine an interesting personality.

Bruno Clair has some seriously special high altitude village climats, like Morey-Saint-Denis “En la Rue de Vergy”, Chambolle-Musigny “Les Veroilles” and the Vosne-Romanée “Les Champs Perdrix”. I suggest exploring all of them if you can because this trio offers an experience notably above what their classification may indicate.

What’s more is that many of the higher altitude spots along the Côte were not replanted (or planted to begin with) until well after the time of phylloxera—including two of Clair’s wines: Chambolle-Musigny “Les Veroilles” and Morey-Saint-Denis “En la Rue de Vergy,” which he replanted in the 1989 and 1980, respectively. His parcel of Vosne-Romanée “Les Champs Perdrix” was planted in the late 1940s and may not have been lost to phylloxera for long. Perhaps if these vines were replanted or planted before the 1930s classification their classifications would be different today.

What should pique one’s interest in Clair’s trio of high altitude village wines is they all sit directly above grand crus. And that is a rare and privileged position for a village wine in the Côte d’Or. -TV