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On a recent trip to France, David Bowler and Michele Peters, our French brand manager, were introduced to Bénigne Joliet, the very talented winemaker and owner of Domaine Joliet, whose wines are made entirely from his monopole, Clos de la Perrière, the famous (but often overlooked) 1er cru site in Fixin, which many believe should have Grand Cru status (taste his wines and you will likely be in support of this argument!). The history of the domaine is impressive. Cistercian monks originally planted Clos de la Perrière sometime around 1142. Roughly 700 years later, after going through many different owners (due to warfare in the region), it was purchased by the Joliet family in 1853. Six generations later, it is still in the same family. And also of note: 871 years after Clos de la Perrière was planted, it has never been subdivided! Reportedly, all of the original boundaries are still in place. A rare occurrence in Burgundy! The first person in the Joliet family to make wine from the Clos was Joliet's great-grandfather, back in the 1930's. And while he was, according to Benigne, a talented winemaker ("I tasted the 1937, that my great-grandfather made, and the character was there...") this was not his primary focus. He made his living by selling off the majority of the grapes to other winemakers in the area. In the late 1970's Joliet's father was the first in the family to bottle under the domaine's name. By 1994, fresh out of enologie school, Bénigne began working with his father. He learned a great deal from him, but eventually, as he matured, their philosophies on farming and winemaking began to diverge. In 2002 his father retired and by 2004 Bénigne had purchased the entire Clos from his family, intent on taking the domaine to greatness.
Today, Bénigne farms the land very carefully. His practices are best described as lutte raisonee. As you can see in the photo above, flowers and grass grow in abundance between the vines and prunings are left in the vineyard to improve the humus. Bénigne is also very conscientious of soil compaction, so he only uses machinery that treads very delicately on the soil. The average vine age for both pinot noir and chardonnay is around 40 years.
Bénigne uses partial whole clusters for fermentation, depending on the vintage. Primary fermentation occurs in stainless steel. The wines are then moved to age in the cellar (which was built when the Cistercian monks made wine here in the 12 century). He has a very hands off approach in the cellar and the wines are never "forced"--malolactic fermentation is always spontaneous. The amount of new oak varies depending on the vintage. However, since 2005 his wines seem to have less and less new oak treatment. The wines are released to the market only when they are deemed ready. Typically, though, they are released after about three years of ageing in barrel. Production is relatively small with about 15,000 bottles of red and 2,000 of white produced each year. Wines that are currently available here in the NY market: Domaine Joliet 'Clos de la Perriere' 1er cru Fixin 2009: 35-85 year-old vines. Aged in a mix of new to five year-old barrels. "Pale ruby. Ruddy appeal and lots of sweetness. Real intensity and richness. With some purity and tension too. Long and satisfying already. Exciting! 13% " Jancis Robinson,jancisrobinson.com Review Score: 17 Domaine Joliet 'Clos de la Perriere' 1er cru Fixin 2005: 35-85 year-old vines. Aged in a mix of new to five year-old barrels. Domaine Joliet 'Clos de la Perriere' 1er cru Fixin 2009 (Young Vines): young vines cuvee sourced from the Clos de la Perrière. 15 year-old vines. Cheers, HF