hilippe Drouhin's grandparents were wise. Despite hard times in the wine business they made sure to invest in prime land on the Côte de Nuits. Thanks to them, 42 per cent of today's Domaine Drouhin-Laroze is grand cru vineyards, from Chambertin Clos de Bèze down to Clos de Vougeot.
– They would only buy the best parcels, says Philippe Drouhin. It was expensive already back then and they didn't know if they would make any money off it. Now we are very happy they bought it.
Domaine Drouhin-Laroze owns a total of six different grand crus - Chambertin Clos de Bèze, Chapelle-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, Bonnes Mares, Musigny and Clos de Vougeot. Putting together a domaine like that today would be impossible. Financially it would be impossible because of the strong increase in land prices in recent years. It would also be impossible because very little grand cru land come up for sale nowadays.
– The last parcel we bought was the Musigny in 1996, says Christine Drouhin, Philippe's wife. That was the last time a part of Musigny changed hands.
In addition to the grand crus there are four premier crus, all in Gevrey-Chambertin – Craipillot, Au Closeau, Clos Prieur and Lavaut St Jacques – and village appellations from Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis and Chambolle-Musigny.
– For the village Gevrey-Chambertin I have eight different parcels around the village. During vinification I make five or six different cuvées. Then I blend all before bottling. I don't choose certain parcels for the different cuvées. When one vat is full I just continue with the next one. I don't separate young and old vines, or anything like that.
Domaine Drouhin-Laroze is right in the middle of Gevrey-Chambertin. It is one of the few domaines on the Côte to have a two-level cellar.
– It was built in 1815 by the Prussian troops, says Philippe Drouhin. We don't know why. The army was not rich, so perhaps it was a way to make money.
– The lower cellar has the same temperature all year round, 14°C–15°C. The upper cellar has a bit more humidity. After the alcoholic fermentation I open the cellar door for a while and the temperature drops to 10°C and stays like that during the whole winter. In the spring I open the door again and the temperature rises to 14°C and the malolactic fermentation starts.
Philippe Drouhin is the fifth generation in his family making wine. Generation six has just started working at the domaine.
– Our children work with us now, says Christine Drouhin. Caroline is focusing on the commercial part, while Nicolas is out in the vineyards. They are both involved in the vinification with Philippe.
– Caroline also started a négociant business, Laroze de Drouhin, in 2008, says Philippe Drouhin. She buys grapes and we make the vinification together.
Prior to 2004 the two premier crus Craipillot and Au Closeau were bottled together as straight Gevrey-Chambertin premier cru. Philippe Drouhin decided to make an experiment to see if they had the qualities to be bottled separately. Two cuvées were made, the results were promising and Craipillot and Au Closeau went separate ways.
You will find Craipillot behind the village, on the western side. Au Closeau is just outside the village on the southern side, where you have all the grand crus.
– Perhaps the quality in Au Closeau is a bit higher, says Philippe Drouhin. Craipillot is tougher. Au Closeau is a good place, right below Mazis-Chambertin. But the vines can be high-yielding, so if you are not careful you can get a wine that is too light-weight. Green-harvesting is necessary.
Domaine Drouhin-Laroze are the only ones offering Au Closeau. It is not a monopole, but Au Closeau is one of the smallest premier crus covering only 0.53 hectares and the Drouhin owns 80 per cent of it. What is left is not enough to make a separate cuvée.
– I treat all the wines the same way, explains Philippe Drouhin. It's the same in the vineyards. During vinification. The only difference is the amount of new oak – 80 per cent for the grand crus, 50 per cent for the premier crus and 20 per cent for the village appellations. Apart from that it is all the same. The difference is the terroir.
– Chapelle-Chambertin is elegant and Latricières-Chambertin has more power. The reason for that is the small valley above Latricières-Chambertin and the cool wind that comes from there. The soil is also more mineral in Latricières-Chambertin than in Chapelle-Chambertin.
He describes Chambertin Clos de Bèze, of which Domaine Drouhin-Laroze owns one hectare and a half, as a very masculine wine. He says that it is perhaps a wine that is slightly easier to make than the neighbouring Chambertin.
– Chambertin Clos de Bèze is very elegant, he says. Naturally elegant. Perhaps too elegant, because unless you are careful you might lose some of the structure.
Moving down to Chambolle-Musigny the two grand crus of the village – Bonnes Mares and Musigny – Philippe Drouhin thinks Musigny is the real star of the two.
– Despite the same treatment Musigny always produces a better wine. It is always one step up from the Bonnes Mares.
Domaine Drouhin-Laroze has one hectare in Clos de Vougeot. Philippe Drouhin smiles and says they have their vines in the best place, well aware that this is what every winegrower with vines in this grand cru claims the same thing. Historically few have been willing to admit they have their vines at the bottom of the clos, by the RN74, since this was considered as inferior.
– For a long time that was true, he says. Today you can have very good Clos de Vougeot from the lower part as well. You have growers there like Grivot, Leroy, Bouchard and Mortet.
The Drouhin-Laroze vines are located in the middle of Clos de Vougeot, mid-slope and up, surrounded by the vines of Château de la Tour, Domaine Christian Confuron, Bouchard Père et Fils and Domaine d'Eugénie.
– Of course, he smiles, you could make a bad Clos de Vougeot at the top too. Today when you taste different Clos de Vougeot it is not possible to tell whether they are from the top or the bottom of the clos.
© 2012 Ola Bergman