I mention that it gets really cold in Otago, but is very sunny. « They are doing really interesting things, but it will take a long time before the wines in Otago in New Zealand or Mornington peninsula in Australia have the soul, the heart, which is in Burgundy. These soils have been worked since Roman times. People have also changed the soils. It’s part of the equation. Pinot came before the monks, but they refined it. »
I say that I’ve seen him quoted as saying that the New World has a long way to go. He straightens and pauses. « Look, this was all done by people. It wasn’t a question of the terroir saying: « I am very good and you are going to make a great wine with me ». No, it was people for historical and all sorts of reasons who were led to making wine here, but they had in their heads the idea of making a great wine, and they learnt to take the handicaps, the difficulties (because, after all, this is the limit for pinot maturity) and transform them into an advantage. Here we are always trying to push the limits; the limit of planting concentration, the limit of the picking date. We have a few light nights’ sleep right at the end. But if we are well prepared, the plants are balanced, it is rare that the climate doesn’t give us a window. »
Hesitantly, I ask about the role of spirituality in all this. « Burgundy is rich in so many ways, rich for the spirit, too, » he says. « The monks didn’t get it wrong. I think that the way wine is made, the philosophy of wine, has a link with the spiritual side. There is a force which goes beyond the generations; an idea which was already put in place by the Romans in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries, abandoned during the invasions and which the monks brought back, an indestructible idea. »
We grab a couple of glasses and descend to the vault. “All of our 2007 wine, the whole range, is here. The normal bottles, not the magnums. There is not a lot of it, is there? It will be sold in 2010. Look, this is cut into the rock itself. I don’t know when it was cut; there have been so many changes here in Vosne Romanée with all the buying and selling. »
« We hardly do any tastings, » he says as he leads me into a sort of inner sanctum, and leaves me to fetch a bottle. It feels just like the time I baksheeshed my way into the chamber in the middle of the Pyramid of Cheops. Instead of a stone sepulchre, a wooden vat cut along its circumference has been placed face down on the gravel, its flat end forming a table. Candlesticks, water jugs and corkscrews form a perfectly straight line across the longest axis.
« I am taking advantage of your visit to open something I haven’t opened in a while. » He pulls the cork and places the corkscrew back exactly where it was, not a millimetre out of line. Scary, very scary.
« It’s a Grands Échezeaux, of a year without a very good reputation, 2004. We had bad weather throughout August, then it was nice in September. We’d planted it at 14,000 per hectare. We thought that with greater density, the roots should be forced to go deeper, therefore there should be fewer bunches and greater maturity. I’m not all that happy with the idea now. »
Sniff, swirl, sip, spit. Mmmm… « It’s very aromatic, » he says. « But it lacks a bit of richness in the middle, due to the young vines. It lacks depth. It has a very pure nose, but it lacks profoundness. »
I suggest that it’s a bit like the monk getting close to enlightenment, for whom the steps keep getting smaller, and each one is more important. « Exactly, and what is missing in this wine becomes for me more important than what is has. »
— But it’s good for you isn’t it?
— I’m never satisfied.
— Perhaps 1989.
We go up to the warmth of the courtyard and he apologises for the fourth time for not having more time to receive me. As I am pulling out my card, he says, « Voilà mon assistant. Why don’t you give it to him? And bravo for what you are doing, listening to life like this. I’d like to be able to listen to life in different parts of the world. » And he is gone.
His assistant guides me through the gates. « He liked the idea. You know, to see him like that… it is truly exceptional. »