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Every winter, David Bowler and his team taste the new vintage from barrel; tasting at Arnoux-Lachau was unanimously a highlight of our trip in 2016 and 2017. We’ve always been impressed when tasting at Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux; after all, they have some of the most prized vineyards in Vosne-Romanée and equally high-quality vineyards in Nuits-Saint-Georges.
Questions always arise when a domaine is passed down to the younger generation. Will the wines be as good? Is he or she ready to take over? How can she understand the terroir to the extent of her father – OR does terroir speak louder than the winemaker and there is no change to the wines? It’s an interesting question and it’s subject to opinion. The stakes are high when the wines that you are making are some of the rarest and most sought after in the world. In the case of Romanée Saint Vivant for Charles Lachaux, he only had one chance in 2012, as he only made a single barrel. Talk about pressure! Charles Lachaux visited the Bowler team in New York that year, and he seemed very calm about his first vintage. He explained that harvest was so busy, that he didn’t have time to consider an undesirable outcome.
It's no doubt that Pascal Lachaux must have gone through the same pressure when he took over from his father-in-law, Robert Arnoux, in the early nineties. Pascal worked side-by-side with Robert for more than ten years. The changes that Pascal made in the nineties were a natural progression at the time: pruning for lower yields, working the soil, destemming grapes 100%, and using more new oak for aging. The reputation of Domaine Robert Arnoux soared with Pascal Lachaux at the reigns. In 2010, Remington Norman and Charles Taylor MW said, “This is one of the very best domaines of an exceptional village.”
Charles Lachaux gives an immense amount of credit to his father for the work that he has done over the last thirty years. He said that if he has elevated the wines to a new level today, it is thanks to the health of the vineyards and the organization of the winery when he started in 2012. Today, Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux has 14.5 hectares. The vines average fifty years-old and the oldest, Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos des Corvées Pagets, were planted in 1921. In 2010, Pascal purchased a vertical press, making Arnoux-Lachaux one of just a handful of wineries using this type of press in Burgundy. They prefer it to a pneumatic press because it presses very gently and extracts less. In 2012, Charles’s first year, they introduced some partial whole-cluster fermentation and pleased with the results, they used a higher proportion of whole-clusters in subsequent vintages. In general, the 1er cru wines have up to 55% whole-cluster and the grand cru up to 100%. The amount of new oak has been reduced since 2012 as well. In 2015, a total of 15% new oak on village wines, 25% on premier cru and 40% on grand cru.
Father and son are very happy with the results.
2015 Vintage Review from Vinous (November 2016): Pascal Lachaux's son Charles has made a host of changes in the vineyards and in the winery in just the past three or four years and Pascal has been smart enough to give him free rein. The Arnoux-Lachaux '15s hold out the promise to be the best wines made at this estate in a generation.
The estate has changed its approach to canopy management, pruning tall and late one month after the flowering, which Charles says provides the vines with twice as many leaves. The enhanced photosynthesis, he added, allows the estate to harvest a week earlier than their neighbors. (In 2015, they started picking on September 4 and finished in four days.) Charles began vinifying with a significant proportion of whole clusters in 2012 and in 2015 he used a minimum of 70% in all of his cuvées, including 100% in seven different wines. The pHs of the wines made with a substantial percentage of vendange entierare in the rather high 3.7 range. But Lachaux noted that the whole clusters offer the advantage of slowing the fermentations, which now go no higher than 29 degrees C. The result, he went on, is more red fruits than black, which has given his 2015s an impression of vibrancy. “With vendange entier, we’re making less use of a recipe,” explained Lachaux. “We’re just working by taste. We’re making wines more with our guts, in the hope that they will speak with more emotion. Today we’re getting back to classic wines using modern tools. And we're making the style of wines we like to drink." Beginning with the 2014s, Lachaux is filtering only the bottoms of the tanks at bottling.
Yields were down 50% in 2015 due to more grass between the rows. "The cover crop helped to suck up water in 2014 and 2013," Lachaux explained, "but it hurt us in the dry 2015 season." Yields were barely 25 to 30 hectoliters per hectare in the family’s village holdings, around 20 in its premier crus, and just 16 to 18 in its grand crus.
2014 Vintage Review from Vinous "The Consistently Delectable 2014 Red Burgundies" (Jan 2016): Pascal Lachaux described his estate's 2014s as "soft and round but fresh and pure." They finished their malolactic fermentations early (last January) and were racked in October. The wines were precocious from the start, according to Lachaux: "When we tasted them in the press, they tasted like wines in barrel. And when we sampled them in barrel, they tasted like wines after the racking."
Under the growing influence of his son Charles, Lachaux is doing steadily less extraction and cutting back on the use of new oak. But as it was difficult to purchase one-year-old barrels following the short crops of 2011, 2012 and 2013, Lachaux actually upped his percentage of new oak for his grand crus in 2014 in order to hold down the percentage for the rest of his wines.
Lachaux eliminated some rot at harvest time but noted that, thanks to grass between the rows, the percentage of rot was minimal and yields in 2014 were normal. There was some incidence of fruit affected by the Drosophila suzukii, but mostly in the younger vines where the berries were more likely to explode as they swelled with water.
Arnoux describes both 2014 and 2013 as "fresh and transparent, with the delicacy of Pinot." Incidentally, son Charles has been responsible for introducing a significant percentage of vendange entier in just the last few years here; no fewer than eight of the family's 2015s were vinified with 100% whole clusters. It was not too many years ago that Pascal Lachaux destemmed all of his fruit.