There are some winemakers so legendary that they barely require an introduction, so sought-after that the chance to enjoy a bottle becomes an experience that is treasured for life. Tucked away in the hills of St Romain, a few minutes south of Beaune and a stone’s throw from some of Burgundy’s most famous villages, is one such producer.
Domaine d’Auvenay is the fabled home of winemaking legend Lalou Bize-Leroy, one of Burgundy’s most fastidious and talented vignerons. Madame Leroy is truly a master of her art, producing microscopic quantities of magnificent white wines of unrivalled intensity and concentration that are exceptionally true to the unique terroir of each of her vineyards.
Madame Leroy hails from a family that can only be described as Burgundian royalty. Her father Henri operated his grandfather Joseph’s négociant business, Maison Leroy, with such success that in 1942 he acquired a 50% stake in Burgundy’s most iconic estate, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. DRC is co-owned by the Leroy/Roche and de Villaine families to this day.
Lalou’s career has been of an extraordinary kind. She first joined the family’s négociant business in 1955, then in 1974 stepped into the role of co-gérant of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti alongside Aubert de Villaine, where she remained until 1992. During this time, she made a name for herself by hosting wine tasting events for critics, sommeliers and others in the wine trade at her home, the Domaine d’Auvenay. Today, this kind of event is taken for granted, but Madame Leroy’s invitations in the late 1960s were an unprecedented strategy; she received rave reviews from the most prestigious winemakers, chefs and wine professionals of the era.
Eventually the time came for Madame Leroy to take a step back from Romanée-Conti and focus on her family’s own business. She had expanded the family portfolio in 1988 with the purchase of new vineyards in areas such as Vosne-Romanée and Gevrey-Chambertin and began to make wine under the name Domaine Leroy; but also pursued her own personal passion project, Domaine d’Auvenay.
Comprising just 4 hectares of vines in miniscule parcels spread across several appellations (Lalou’s holdings in Criots Bâtard-Montrachet, for example, amount to just 0.06 ha) the name d’Auvenay today is synonymous with some of the finest, rarest and most prized wines to be found anywhere in Burgundy – and therefore, the world.
In the vineyard, Madame Leroy practices an extreme form of biodynamic and organic viticulture that requires endless hours attending to each individual vine, all of which have a notably high average age. Exhausted vines are replaced by massale selection – germinating new life using cuttings from the finest old vines in each vineyard. Strict pruning and bud removal restricts yields to as low as 4 bunches per vine. Each individual grape is given a meticulous inspection both pre-harvest and on the sorting table, before arriving in whole bunches into the fermentation vats.
Yields, meanwhile, are eye-wateringly low. In 2010, d’Auvenay production averaged 10 hectolitres per hectare (yields for an average Burgundian Grand Cru vineyard are around 35 to 40 hl/ha) with the 2019 harvest so memorably low that just a single barrel of each cuvée was produced.
These ultra-low yields create superb wines, but so tight and concise in their early years that it is imperative to allow them enough time and rest to come into their own. This process is overseen by Madame Leroy herself, whose philosophy is to hold her wines back from early release regardless of vintage year or market demand. She will only distribute her wines when she believes they are truly ready for presentation, usually with Himalayan price tags to match.
Buyers can therefore rest assured that upon their release, the wines of Domaine d’Auvenay have unfailingly blossomed into some of the most beguiling and exceptional white Burgundies in the world. As a result of this painstaking process, buying Domaine d’Auvenay wines can be one of the most challenging enterprises in the world of fine wine – but also one of the most rewarding.
Each wine is an ultimate expression of its type, with a strikingly pure expression of terroir and identity in its character. The power of these wines is dramatic, with intensity accompanied by an ethereally fine depth of flavour and unforgettable persistence across the palate. The Chelsea Vintners team have simple advice when it comes to d’Auvenay … buy whatever comes your way, as even the village level white Burgundies offer some of life’s most exceptional drinking experiences.
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