Domaine Dujac; Elegant, Aromatic and Bio-Organic
Dujac is one of the most renowned domaines in Burgundy, known for their signature elegant, aromatic and now organic wines. The domaine was founded by Jacques Seysses in 1967. In those early years, he purchased the 4.5 hecatre Domaine Graillet in Morey-St-Denis, later adding vineyard blocks that included Echézeaux, Bonnes Mares and Clos de La Roche. Jacques got in at the right time, when it was still possible- and affordable- to buy enough serious vineyards to form a top domaine. Not so now, in this eye-wateringly affluent terroir.
A Family Business
Domaine Dujac is now managed by two of Jacques’ sons, Jeremy and Alec, as well as Jeremy’s wife, oenologist Diana Seysses. Here, Jeremy talks to us about his role in the family business.
With such a celebrated heritage, Jeremy really had no choice but to step into the family business. Although he was curious about wine, it wasn’t until he worked the 1994 harvest, when he was nineteen and just about to head to university, that a deeper interest really took hold. Once he got to university, he says ‘I joined a wine tasting club and really enjoyed it. There was a lot of learning involved and it really stimulated my curiosity.’ And just like that, he found himself completely committed to wine.
That’s not to say that working that first harvest with his father wasn’t a bit of a learning curve! The experience, he admits, ‘was a bit mixed…I knew nothing about wine and needed to learn a lot and it's easier learning from people who are not your parents.’ Though that fist harvest he was working only with his father, later harvests have brought workers from all over the world- the US, New Zealand, France, Italy, Germany and South Africa. He continues to enjoy the collaborative process and exchange of ideas that comes from working with such an international crowd, ‘There’s lots of learning, but it’s a different form of learning you can have with your peers- exchanging questions and helping each other. I have always liked that exchange aspect.’
The 1994 was not an easy vintage, it was a rainy harvest. But despite its manifold challenges, ‘I have to say I did like the work. I really enjoyed seeing the transformation that happens from the beginning onwards. Just going from juice to wine.’
A Move to Organic Wine
The major change that Jeremy has overseen since taking over from his father has been moving the domaine towards organic winemaking. Going organic felt like the next natural step, although he regrets not having made the move earlier. His father always wanted to do what was best for his terroir, but organic wasn’t an option back then. ‘In the 1960s the world was convinced that herbicides prevented erosion. We have now moved away from this and since 2001 have been moving towards becoming bio-organic.’ Has he noticed any changes? Absolutely. ‘There has been a big rise in quality in our vineyards, it really has been quite spectacular. Echezeaux really went up in quality as well as Charmes Chambertin. I really feel this has been entirely due to going organic.’
A Low-Intervention Philosophy
This respect of the natural world is also highlighted in the domaine’s long-standing low-intervention philosophy. ‘It's taken a lot of precision and observations to get the timing right. And once we get the timing right, the rest becomes very easy. But if we don't, then we start compensating for things and it becomes much more complicated. We try to be low intervention; we would never do something that we wouldn’t do in all circumstances. I think there's a scale of intervention, so we try to get right so that the wine can be completely right from the start… with that said every good agriculturist and every good viticulturist I met is pragmatic.’
He goes on to talk about the philosophical dogma found in a lot of current winemaking. ‘Winemakers’ philosophical ideals must not take precedence over making a good product… People who talk about their dogma bottle wines that are more of a reflection of their wine-making philosophy then they are a reflection of the grape and terroir. And similarly, some winemakers try to push the ripeness to the highest they can to make the highest alcohol wine these days. Again, I think they sacrifice the pleasure of the experience… so obviously when I was talking about dogma, I feel closer to the natural wine movement than to industrial wine.’
Due to the changing climate, Jeremy notes that it is becoming easier to pick too late, when the grapes are over-ripe. Last year’s harvest was picked on August 19th, a week earlier than in 2003, which was the earliest they had ever harvested before. ‘We used to harvest in September, waiting for the grapes to be as ripe as possible. On the other hand, waiting for this long means you have to compete with Botrytis [ a necrotrophic fungus that affects wine grapes]. It usually rained in September back then so you had to be careful on that front.’
So what’s the difference today? ‘Now we have to deal with drought very often in the summer… we have to deal with heat waves. We haven't had Botrytis in the last five years. I've never heard of five consecutive years with no Botrytis issues in Burgundy. We also have to deal with water stress and we are not a region which is allowed to irrigate. We do not have the infrastructure to irrigate so that's a very difficult thing to manage, there's a lot of stress associated with that.’
The 2020 harvest was particularly stressful for the domaine. Because the grapes had ripened so early, there were only three or four other domaines who were picking at the same time as them. ‘I had to wonder, have I missed something? Am I doing things completely wrong?’ And what does he expect for the 2020 vintage? ‘Some of the wine has been very successful- very vibrant and very good. There's a few that seem perhaps just a bit flatter… but it's very early, it could surprise us. Overall, though, I think it’s been a good harvest, but we will see. Wine needs patience.’
The Effects of Climate Change
Climate change, Jeremy observes, isn’t just affecting the domaine. ‘It's infecting the entire world. We definitely have insight into it through vine growing because the grapes are very much a reflection of the climate in which they grow. And we're seeing the harvest date get earlier and earlier. Before the harvest, we’re seeing the bud birth happening earlier, we’re seeing that flowering happens earlier.’ Every domaine in the area has noticed the same issues. With the harvest happening earlier every year, the sugar levels in the grapes increase, giving a riper taste and in many cases increasing the alcohol level. ‘I don't think you'll see anyone denying climate change in viticulture, or very few people…and people who don't see it, I think they are detached from the reality. It's very present and it's very much a concern.’
Quality Ensure- Worldwide
The team work hard to ensure the quality of each bottle of wine that leaves the domaine, despite the distance it travels. Wine exported overseas, he explains, will often end up totally different to how it started, going off by the time it has even arrived in another country (let alone been purchased by the consumer). ‘If a wine is put in the bottle good, but then shipped five times and the consumer has a bad experience, who cares that it was ever good?’
At Domaine Dujac, every wine shipment is temperature controlled, to ensure customer satisfaction. Jeremy is adamant that it is each domaine’s responsibility to ensure the quality of their wine. Absolute control of the wine once it has left the domaine is of course impossible. The domaine actually had to destroy two shipments in the past few months- one having arrived in the midst of Covid lockdown and sitting in a warm ship for weeks, and the other having experienced a temperature control malfunction. ‘In both cases, we asked the importers to destroy the wines. This sort of thing it's very financially punishing, but there is also a real cost in giving wine that is expensive and not good to your clients.’
Jeremy describes his organic winemaking process as both an art and a craft. ‘There is a bit of both. It might be difficult to see wine as the finest art. We're making something that is ultimately consumable. But I think as you move to finer wines, they have a more artistic sensibility to them.’ And this is really the crux of Domaine Dujac’s philosophy, to make wine that reflects the grape and in accordance with the nuances of their celebrated terroir- an artistry that nobody can deny.