Frédéric Lafarge, Domaine Michel Lafarge, Volnay.
– V

olnay, to me it is about balance. There is always a lot of balance and harmony in the wines. You have the elegance, the finesse, the distinction, the power, the length and the silky tannins.

Frédéric Lafarge has a firm grip on Volnay. Domaine Michel Lafarge has been in the village since early 20th century and has established itself as one of the top names of Burgundy. The twelve hectares are equally divided between premier crus, village and regionals – one third of each.

Volnay, Burgundy.Back in 1887, in his book ”Histoire de Volnay”, Abbé Bavard wrote ”This land is rich in aromatic components. In this respect Volnay is, together with la Romanée and le Saint-Georges, is one of the most privileged pieces of land in the world”. Prior to that, in 1855, Dr Lavalle had pointed out that, with the exception for Beaune, Volnay was probably the commune that produced the largest number of great wines.

Soft-spoken, with a clear focus on what he wants to achieve, Frédéric Lafarge talks passionately about the wines from and around Volnay. He rates the premier cru Les Mitans, just east of the village of Volnay, very highly.

– I think Les Mitans is the most volnay-ish of them all, he says. A very nice wine with lots of complexity.

Domaine Michel Lafarge has four different premier crus in Volnay – Les Mitans, Clos des Chênes, Les Caillerets and Clos du Château des Ducs. The latter is a monopole covering 0.57 hectare.

Volnay, Burgundy.– The Clos du Château des Ducs has been in the family for a century, explains Frédéric Lafarge. The soil is a bit more brownish here. There are 40 centimetres of soil on top of a layer of gravel. Below that is the bedrock. It's a very good terroir. Lots of finesse and complexity. Very good distinction. The tannins are always very well integrated.

Clos des Chênes is considerably larger. 15.41 hectares shared between about 30 owners.

– Our parcel is just above the road, the RN73, says Frédéric Lafarge. The soil is very red, lots of iron. But as you move up the hill the soil becomes whiter, with more shale. So you have two types of wine in Clos des Chênes. Myself, I prefer the lower part of Clos des Chênes.

He believes that the often used image of Volnay and the neighbouring village Pommard as producing feminine and masculine wines respectively has some bearing.

Clos des Chêns, Volnay.– In general one could say so. Volnay is a feminine wine in the sense that it has a lot of elegance. Often you can drink it quite young, four to five years. A Pommard wine demands more time to come around.

Over the years Domaine Michel Lafarge has been a pioneer in several ways. The domaine was one of the first to start selling their wine in bottles, instead of selling it in bulk to the négociants. They were also one of the first to convert to biodynamic viticulture.

– The 1934 vintage was the first my grandfather bottled. Demand increased and by the 1960's everything was sold in bottle.

In 1990 the move towards biodynamic viticulture began. Seven years on the first part had been converted and by the year 2000 all of Domaine Michel Lafarge was biodynamic.

Volnay, Burgundy.– Even if there is more work involved with biodynamic viticulture I would definitely say it is worth it, says Frédéric Lafarge. Especially with the climate we have today, which can be quite brutal. The vines are better equipped to cope with extreme weather conditions. I find this way of working very interesting.

The domaine has been growing steadily since its creation. The most recent acquisitions were the Volnay premier cru Les Caillerets in 2000, and the Beaune premier cru Les Aigrots and the Volnay premier cru Les Mitans in 2005. Les Aigrots is on the Pommard side of Beaune, just north of Clos des Mouches. The parcel of Domaine Michel Lafarge is planted with both chardonnay and pinot noir.

Volnay, Burgundy.– One quarter is white, says Frédéric Lafarge. The southern part of the parcel is planted with chardonnay vines that are 30 years old. The remaining three quarters are red, lower down on the slope. These vines are 45 years old.

– The part where the white is planted has soil which is a bit whiter and stony. It is a part that suits the chardonnay very well.

The third of the domaine producing wine from regional appellations consists of five different cuvées – one Bourgogne Pinot Noir, two Bourgogne Aligoté and two Bourgogne Passetoutgrain. Some producers claim that the Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, a blend of gamay and pinot noir, is a wine bound to disappear‚ a wine difficult to sell and rarely asked for by the customers.

Volnay, Burgundy.– Nooo, says Frédéric Lafarge and shakes his head. We are doing very well with the Bourgogne Passetoutgrain. All is vinified in barrels. We have the Cuvée L'Exception, which comes from very old vines – 85 years old. It is half pinot noir, half gamay. The appellation in itself is not regarded as much. It is the name of the domaine that creates the quality.

Similarly, there are is one basic Bourgogne Aligoté cuvée and one from old 75 year old vines, the Raisins Dorés cuvée. The old aligoté vines were planted by Frédéric Lafarge's grandfather and they produce small bunches that ripen well.

– You'll find the passetoutgrain vines above the RN 74, on the border to Meursault, says Frédéric Lafarge. The aligoté vines are on the opposite side. For a regional appellation they are very well-located.

– I believe the regional appellations have an important role to play. They give young Burgundy lovers with limited means a chance to to drink the wine. Also, you can't drink premier crus all the time. There are occasions when more simple and ordinary wines are better suited. There is a lot to be found in a Bourgogne, a Bourgogne Passetoutgrain or a Bourgogne Aligoté.

© 2012 Ola Bergman