LM Archer travels to Beaune to meet François Labet, one of the pioneers of organic viticulture in Burgundy, and the largest producer of Clos Vougeot Grand Cru. His two estates, Domaine Pierre Labet and Château De La Tour, are not just about making premium, iconic wines, however, his outstanding value Vielles Vignes Pinot Noir outsells the nearest other red Burgundy that Bidendum sells, by three to one. Archer hears first-hand about Labet’s minimalist approach to both viticulture and winemaking and samples a range of his wines, including the Corsican Pinot that he makes under his own name.
“Burgundy wines have never been better,” Labet concludes, “Not only producing gems, but also everyday wines. All across the region, you will find something that will please you.”
Despite a pandemic and trade tariffs, Burgundy wines still command top billing, as the recent, record-breaking 160th Hospices de Beaune wine auction illustrates. Results speak for themselves – the event garnered its second-highest sales ever, totaling £13,043,220 /$17,343,183.
Rarity, combined with incomparable quality, contribute to Burgundy’s iconic status. But Burgundy (or ‘Bourgogne’ to the locals) also offers many regional and village-level values. François Labet of famed stands out as one such producer offering Bourgogne wines at all levels.
“What makes the price of a wine is, of course, its availability, and the demand,” says Labet. “In Burgundy, there’s a strong relation between price and quality.”
Hands in the dirt
Also the dirt under a vigneron’s fingernails. “It’s very, very often the owner of the vineyard – we are are putting our hands in the dirt, you know? We are farmers, we are heirs,” says Labet. “The reason why we got the distinction is not only because of the beauty of the landscape – it’s also because of our estates. Our domaines are run by families, from one generation to the next.”
Indeed, Labet’s own family dates their vinous heritage back to the 15th century in Burgundy. Labet recalls a childhood raised at the family’s ancient fortified estate in Beaune, Bastion Notre Dame.
Family holdings total 25 acres, stretching from Meursault to Gevrey-Chambertin, but chiefly in Chorey-les-Beaune and Savigny-les-Beaune. Château de La Tour, inherited from Labet’s mother’s family, comprises 6 hectares (14.82 acres) in grand cru Clos de Vougeot. “Clos Vougeot has 80 producers,” Labet says. “I am the biggest (800 barrels).” Built in 1890, the château famously overlooks the La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin’s Cistercian-built manor.
In addition, the estate encompasses and . Domaine Pierre Labet honours Labet’s father’s family, proffering Cote d’Or premier cru and village-level selections. François Labet wines present both regional Bourgogne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, as well as affordable Corsican Pinot Noir.
Labet assumed estate management in 1984. Production methods remain consistent throughout the portfolio. During his tenure, both red and white grapes undergo meticulous hand-sorting, all performed at Château de La Tour. Since 1987, Labet insists upon whole cluster for both white and red wines.
Whites immediately undergo whole cluster pneumatic pressing, followed by cold-racking of the juice, and native-yeast initiated fermentation in French oak barrels. Red whole cluster bunches also undergo native-yeast initiated fermentation, but in concrete vats. Open vat fermentation with intermittent pigeage continues for three weeks prior to oak barrel ageing. Post-racking and barreling, bottling occurs without fining or filtering.
All ageing occurs in custom-made barrels fashioned from fine-grained oak with a light toast. Labet laughingly refers to this as his ‘oak couture.’ Typically, Domaine Pierre Labet wines age approximately 12-15 months, usually in 40-50% new French oak. By contrast, Château de La Tour wines typically age 18 months in 50-100% new oak.
Finally, Labet’s Ile de Beaute vineyard resides 20 miles northwest of Porto Vecchio, along southern Corsica’s eastern coast. Proximity to the Mediterranean sea and nearby mountains temper the area’s ample sunshine. Here, Labet opts to de-stem these grapes prior to pressing and fermentation, in order to achieve greater freshness. As a result, the wines reflect Corsica’s unique terroir and sunny approachability.
Commitment to terroir
A commitment to terroir ties all of Labet’s wines together. “My first job is to try to produce the best fruits, the best grapes, possible,” he says. Thus, Labet farms organically – his choice since 1990. “It’s for the good of the land itself, for the soil, for the fruit, for the final product.” Additionally, Labet prefers massale selection to clones, with vines derived chiefly from the Beaune Choucherias site.
Ultimately, Labet notes a trend towards organic and biodynamic farming throughout Burgundy. “Everyone is very much concerned with that here, very, very much… especially the young generation coming with their own ideas – they’re very sensitive to the health of the planet. ”
This includes grappling with global warming issues like increasing hail, frost, vine disease, and early harvests. Yet, despite all the challenges, Labet remains upbeat. “Burgundy wines have never been better,” he concludes, “Not only producing gems, but also everyday wines. All across the region, you will find something that will please you.”
Meursault Les Tillets, 2017, Domaine Pierre Labet – Aged 14 months in 50% new French oak. Clear gold robe. Stony golden apple and delicate, telltale lime blossom aromas carry through on the palate. Vivid acids. A wine of balance and grace.
Clos Vougeot, 2017, Château de La Tour (A blend of mid-appellation young and old (~67 years.) Aged 18 months in 50% new French oak. Dark ruby robe. Fragrant violet, loam, and balsam on the nose. Dense, dark, rich. Solid structure.
Clos Vougeot Vieilles Vignes, 2017, Château de La Tour (Sourced from a 1-hectare parcel planted mid-clos in 1910.) Aged 18 months in 100% new French oak.
Deep ruby robe. Wow. A heady perfume of violets, dark tea, and dark berries on the nose. On the palate, kir, black berries, and blue plum. A wine with body, soul and a story to tell. You’ll want to cellar this one.
Beaune 1er Cru Coucherias, 2017, Domaine Pierre Labet – Aged 15 months in 40% new French oak. Brilliant ruby robe. Floral, red fruit, slight mineral notes. Delicate yet earthy.
Beaune Rouge Marconnets, 2017, Domaine Pierre Labet – Aged 15 months in 25 % new French oak. Clear ruby robe. Deft tannins, ethereal red fruit notes, interesting mineral core.
Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes, 2017, Domaine Pierre Labet – Beautiful ruby hue. Light bodied, exquisite balance. Stony, red cherry and spice notes.
Corsica Pinot Noir, 2018, François Labet – Dark ruby robe. Robust, aromatic, textured.
All photos © LM Archer (except main image @Bibendum)