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Questions always arise when a domaine is passed down to the younger generation. Will the wines be as good? Is he or she ready to take over? How can she understand the terroir to the extent of her father – OR does terroir speak louder than the winemaker and there is no change to the wines? It’s an interesting question and it’s subject to opinion. The stakes are high when the wines that you are making are some of the rarest and most sought after in the world. In the case of Romanée Saint Vivant for Charles Lachaux, he only had one chance in 2012, as he only made a single barrel. Talk about pressure! Charles Lachaux visited the Bowler team in April and he seemed very calm about his first vintage. He explained that harvest was so busy, that he didn’t have time to consider an undesirable outcome.
Earlier in the year, the Bowler team tasted the 2014’s from barrel with Charles’s father, Pascal – who is still very much present in the winery. It was unanimously a highlight of our trip in 2016. We’ve always been impressed when tasting at Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux. After all, they have some of the most prized vineyards in Vosne-Romanée and equally high-quality vineyards in Nuits-Saint-Georges.
It's no doubt that Pascal Lachaux must have gone through the same pressure when he took over from his father-in-law, Robert Arnoux, in the early nineties. Pascal worked side-by-side with Robert for more than ten years. The changes that Pascal made in the nineties were a natural progression at the time: pruning for lower yields, working the soil, destemming grapes 100%, and using more new oak for aging. The reputation of Domaine Robert Arnoux soared with Pascal Lachaux at the reigns. In 2010, Remington Norman and Charles Taylor MW said, “This is one of the very best domaines of an exceptional village.”
Charles Lachaux gives an immense amount of credit to his father for the work that he has done over the last thirty years. He said that if he has elevated the wines to a new level today, it is thanks to the health of the vineyards and the organization of the winery when he started in 2012. Today, Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux has 14.5 hectares. The vines average fifty years-old and the oldest, Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos des Corvées Pagets, were planted in 1921. In 2010, Pascal purchased a vertical press, making Arnoux-Lachaux one of just a handful of wineries using this type of press in Burgundy. They prefer it to a pneumatic press because it presses very gently and extracts less. In 2012, Charles’s first year, they introduced some partial whole-cluster fermentation and pleased with the results, they used a higher proportion of whole-clusters in the 2013 and 2014 vintages. In general, the 1er cru wines have up to 55% whole-cluster and the grand cru up to 100%. The amount of new oak has been reduced since 2012 as well: a total of 20-25% on village wines, 40-45% on premier cru and 80% on grand cru.
Father and son are very happy with the results.
2014 Vintage Review from Vinous "The Consistently Delectable 2014 Red Burgundies" (Jan 2016): Pascal Lachaux described his estate's 2014s as "soft and round but fresh and pure." They finished their malolactic fermentations early (last January) and were racked in October. The wines were precocious from the start, according to Lachaux: "When we tasted them in the press, they tasted like wines in barrel. And when we sampled them in barrel, they tasted like wines after the racking."
Under the growing influence of his son Charles, Lachaux is doing steadily less extraction and cutting back on the use of new oak. But as it was difficult to purchase one-year-old barrels following the short crops of 2011, 2012 and 2013, Lachaux actually upped his percentage of new oak for his grand crus in 2014 in order to hold down the percentage for the rest of his wines.
Lachaux eliminated some rot at harvest time but noted that, thanks to grass between the rows, the percentage of rot was minimal and yields in 2014 were normal. There was some incidence of fruit affected by the Drosophila suzukii, but mostly in the younger vines where the berries were more likely to explode as they swelled with water.
Arnoux describes both 2014 and 2013 as "fresh and transparent, with the delicacy of Pinot." Incidentally, son Charles has been responsible for introducing a significant percentage of vendange entier in just the last few years here; no fewer than eight of the family's 2015s were vinified with 100% whole clusters. It was not too many years ago that Pascal Lachaux destemmed all of his fruit.
2013 Vintage Review from Burghound Issue #57, Q1 2015: I was met this trip by both Pascal Lachaux and his son Charles who has now taken over responsibility for the vinifications. They describe the 2013 vintage as one where "you had to be on your toes viticulturally speaking. If you did that though and allowed for adequate aeration and controlled your yields you didn't have much in the way of rot. We did a late green harvest which we believe accounts for why we had reasonable if generous yields because we had very low sorting losses. There were those who elected to plow their vineyards in late September because the weeds were getting so high and that was a disastrous decision as is liberated massive amounts of humidity into the vines. By contrast we chose to cut the weeds by hand, which is a hell of a lot more labor intensive but no humidity escapes and thus we necessarily had less rot. We chose to begin picking on the 4th of October and brought in ripe and as we noted very clean fruit that required only minimal sorting. While it varies from wine to wine, on average 40% whole clusters were used in the vinifications. We also used a bit less new wood and we will probably continue that policy going forward. The malos were quite long and it is only in the last few months that the real character of the 2013s is becoming apparent as the malic acidity was high. The wines are classic burgundies that will probably appeal most to those who like racier vintages." Pascal Lachaux also noted that in more than 30 years of experience, 2013 was the latest that he has ever picked.
2012 Vintage Review from Burghound Issue #53, Q1 2014: There has been a sea change here as Pascal Lachaux’ son Charles has now taken over responsibility for the vinifications. To be sure Pascal is still very much involved in running the domaine though it seems clear that little by little Charles will eventually assume the mantle of directing it. One of the major changes he has instituted is that most wines in the portfolio were vinified with a minimum of 30% whole clusters and the Reignots was vinified with 100%. The younger Lachaux describes 2012 as a “tough vintage from a weather and viticultural standpoint but we reacted well. Moreover our policy of growing grasses between the rows once again saved us as they really soak up excess water. This helps to avoid over production in some vintages plus we consistently have less concerns with rot relative to those vineyards which do not use this approach. Unfortunately no strategy can effectively combat a poor flowering and it’s a sad truth that the flowering in 2012 did not pass well due to cold temperatures. Across the board we were down fully 40% and as much as 70% in Suchots. On the plus side the low crop load allowed the fruit to attain an excellent level of phenolic maturity. It was this high level of phenolic maturity that persuaded me to use a whole cluster approach to our vinifications and I’m very happy that I did as the wines have energy and a certain sweetness that makes them appealing, at least to my taste.” I have to agree with Charles that his approach worked exceptionally well. However I would point out that long-term fans of the domaine will find the 2012s to be stylistically different from that which was extant in prior vintages. I would also like to laud the quality of the domaine’s 2011s as they are terrific and while I wouldn’t say that they are better than the 2012s, they are certainly competitive with them. The 2011s, some of which I revisited below, were bottled in February 2013. Note that this domaine used to be called Robert Arnoux.