Mike Turner attends a masterclass on Clos Vougeot through the years and discovers how head winemaker Frédéric Barnier steers the mighty helm of Louis Jadot, having taken over the reins from the legendary Jacques Lardière with a clear brief on maintaining the status quo. Most people would have got stuck into the 1979 and 1969 vintages, not our Mike who starts waxing lyrical about Beatles albums and such like. As is his wont.
In tasting different vintages of Louis Jadot’s Clos Vougeot what shines through is a winemaking philosophy that allows the terroir and wines to speak for themselves, rather than suppressing them with winemaker style.
In 2010 Frédéric Barnier took on a new job. And the job description was an interesting one. His new employer wanted him to do the exact same thing as his predecessor, steady as she goes, no rocking the boat.
For a young winemaker that could be misconstrued as a bit of a ‘flattening’ brief. But as Frédéric was about to learn, as he slowly took over the reins of the great Burgundy house of Louis Jadot from the legendary winemaker Jacques Lardière, the skill required to do just that is a test for the best.
I met Barnier for the first time very recently. He was over for a Fine Wine consumer event at the (amazingly plush) Landmark Hotel in London’s Marylebone area. He started by apologising to the crowd. If it were up to him he’d be back in the cellars talking to his barrels, they’re a less intimidating crowd than we were.
From the brief on the masterclass booklet, he was there to extol the virtues of the strangely maligned Grand Cru vineyard of Clos Vougeot. We were very lucky boys and girls as we proceeded to get a guided tour through some interesting recent vintages, and look a bit further back at 1979 and 1969.
I was in a bit of a poetic mood when I sat there sniffing and sipping the later two, imagining the harvest pickers listening to Unknown Pleasures and Abbey Road respectively as they worked. Not that they’d have had anything to listen to them on in the fields. Probably why I don’t get poetic that often, I’m not very good at it!
But, aside from the wines, it was his clear intention to make sure everyone in the room knew that Louis Jadot was a serious winemaking company. I’ll be honest, first time I drank wines from Louis Jadot they were inexpensive, well made Mâcons I’d picked up at Majestic.
The wine snob in me thought about looking elsewhere as I went up the quality scale in Burgundy. Big companies, however, only survive in the ‘guise Louis Jadot has by having an ethos we can all buy into, and making wines we can all love.
Most importantly it was the idea of making every wine, the exact same way, every year. Don’t reinvent the wheel, and definitely don’t rock the boat. That was Jacques Lardière’s way, that’s now Barnier’s way. It’s the Louis Jadot way.
There are just north of 600 potential AOCs in Burgundy (if you include all the Cru vineyards) of which Louis Jadot make 150. The ethos of minimal intervention and consistency in the winemaking process is all about making sure that for a given vintage the terroir of the different regions shine though. And for any given region, the vintage can shine though. If you’ve got it, flaunt it!
But why would that attract you as a hungry winemaker? How do you put your stamp on something like that? When I spoke to him after the presentation he chuckled at the question.
“Jacques was iconic because of his personality,” Barnier began, “but also how he let the wines show themselves off. He didn’t believe in impressing a style on the wines, more letting the wines impress on your style.”
Thinking about the 90-minute presentation I’d just heard, I’d be amazed if more than 5 minutes was spent talking about winemaking. The Louis Jadot ethos of roots-to-glass as efficiently as possible, however, was etched all the way through.
There’s pressure there for Barnier. He’s now the man behind 150+ wine labels for a house that’s stood strong since 1859. But that’s where his skill comes through, handling that pressure. And on this showing he seems the perfect person to do it.
Smart, articulate, and very easy to talk to. I was very impressed and look forward to trying more from Louis Jadot knowing he’s the magic hands behind them all.