The valleys and slopes of Burgundy in eastern France produce some of the most famous wines in the world. But no history is more intertwined with the region and its terroirs than that of Domaine Leflaive. The family’s establishment in Puligny-Montrachet dates back to 1717, and the estate itself was created by Joseph Leflaive in the turn of the 20th century, with its legacy passed on through the family lineage.
Mr. Brice de La Morandiere is the fourth generation of his family to manage the estate and create its renowned wine. Now, he is following the estate’s traditions of working in concert with nature, while harnessing new techniques to ensure every bottle is its own unique work of living art.
Melding new technologies with old techniques
At Domaine Leflaive, traditional winemaking processes don’t have to stand in conflict with more experimental approaches. Both the rhythms of nature and promising technologies play a crucial role in the winemaking process, and this thoughtful combination of history and modernity is what makes their wine stand apart.
‘It's very important to respect the tradition but even more important to understand why it is the way it is,’ de La Morandiere says. While science can be beneficial, ‘you always want to ask yourself whether those new technologies, new science, new techniques are they true to expressing the terroirs of Puligny-Montrachet.
‘Does this new idea add anything - a little bit of complexity, some beauty to the wines? Does it reflect well the character of the terroir and of the wines? That's what we are looking for.’
Creating a breakthrough egg-shaped cellar for storing wine at the right temperature is one example of Leflaive’s desire to continuously innovate. However, de La Morandiere is keen to point out that this is not a stunt or purely for aesthetic purposes, but just one element of its inventive approach. There are many different means of storage the vineyard has experimented with: ‘Egg shaped, big containers, small containers, big vats, stainless steel, concrete, wood…’ de La Morandiere lists.
‘It’s trial and error, but what you'll find in the end is that the diversity of what we are trying to do is closer to the answer than just provide a single answer.’
Wine crafted by nature
Domaine Leflaive’s philosophy is that each plot in the vast vineyards deserves specific and focused attention. Each has its own personality, crafted by the vagaries of the climats and condition of the soil. Some things are simply out of the winemaker's control - it is all part of a cyclical, energetic process.
This is why de La Morandiere believes crafting wine is much more than simply striving for perfection. In fact, he says, ‘we like the fact that there are some good vintages and then some average vintages - that's part of the beauty of what mother nature is giving us. We want to reflect it in the wine making.’
‘Wine is not perfect every year. In a way, perfection could be perceived as horribly boring.’ Rather, ‘the whole wine making process in a way is an artistic expression.’
And like a true artist, de La Morandiere is never satisfied, always thinking about the next thing. ‘If you say to yourself, I can bring more, a little more, just a tiny more, that's also the artistic intent,’ he says.
This intense and imaginative process culminates in the moment of truth: the first sip of wine. ‘When, after the year of harvest, you are tasting the wine, there is something magical,’ he says. ‘There is the emotion, that spark in your heart. A moment where you say, “Ah! Wow!”
‘Surprisingly, there is nothing big in making wines. There is no secret. We are doing what's, in a way, is already written in the books. But there is the way you are doing it, the attention to small details, their reflect your philosophy.’
Like all great art, Leflaive’s wine brings people together to share something beautiful. ‘There’s a big connection between us and whoever is tasting our wines,’ he says. Recent YouTube videos from the team at Leflaive are one way they are striving to enhance this connection.
Sharing family values
Making excellent wine is of course the goal of any vineyard. But for de La Morandiere, the final result isn’t everything - the rhythms of the terroirs, the unexpected moments, and the winemakers who play a pivotal part in it all, are just as important. As a family run business, people are at the heart of Domaine Leflaive.
‘I need to be surrounded by people who understand why details are important in the end, and who can share our family values,’ de La Morandiere says of Pierre Vincent the current régisseur who arrived at Domaine Leflaive in 2017.
It’s also pivotal to the philosophy of Leflaive that it can look outside itself to the broader impact of winemaking on the local environment. ‘We need people who have a true belief in the biodynamic, which benefits the wines and the planet,’ de La Morandiere says.
Nature as a partner in winemaking
Biodynamic techniques have been implemented in Domaine Leflaive since 1997, and entail that the winery works in harmony with nature, without chemical intervention, to produce wine without negatively impacting the ecosystem. Biodynamics enables each grape to reveal their true expression, the final note in a long, underground process that is set in motion by the mysteries of nature.
The instability brought on by climate change is at the forefront of many winemakers’ minds, and more recently, the estate has undergone a broader shift towards sustainability.
‘We are making three different buildings at the moment. They all will be carbon neutral,’ says de La Morandiere.
‘And two years ago, we decided that we are not going to burn the woods that you take out when you are pruning the trees. We send it to a recycling factory. It is a very costly process. But at the same time, we thought it was the right thing to do.’
Domaine Leflaive’s deep respect for nature, and artistic approach to refining its wines, means whatever the next harvest brings will undoubtedly be as wonderful and surprising as those throughout its 300-year history.
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