This summer we made our usual trek to Burgundy for a little work and play.  We visited with Emmanuel Rouget at his home and tasted from his barrels the 2009 vintage of his Bourgogne Rouge, Côte de Nuits Villages, Savigny-lès-Beaune Villages, Nuits-Saint-Georges Villages, Vosne-Romanée Villages, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Beaux monts, Échezeaux Grand Cru, and the Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Cros Parantoux.

When we first arrived at Emmanuel Rouget’s home, the first thing I noticed while shaking his hand was how large and hardy they were.  These were the hands of a farmer.  Looking at his hands you would not have known that this man is a legendary winemaker, whose stature could warrant much grander illusions than the modest surroundings we found ourselves in.   (Although perhaps you could say that this honesty is exactly what is being translated in the elegant quality of his well balanced wines.)   This past September, we saw the auctions fetch USD $650/btl for a bottle of 1999 Cros Parantoux.

I imagine that Emmanuel Rouget might not be comfortable with being called legendary.  When asked what he thought of his own wines (and the prices that they can command) he shook his head in bewilderment of it.  As we tasted the 2009 vintage from the barrels, he watched us with careful intent.  He is famously reserved but as our barrel tasting with him progressed we found him to be thoughtful, modest and playful – a quiet charmer – very much the opposite to his late great uncle Henri Jayer who is described by Jancis Robinson as being the “a perfect interviewee: clear, confident, obviously knowledgeable and completely unselfconscious.”

Tradition and Ancestry

The late Henri Jayer is credited with being the father of modern Burgundian winemaking.  During the seventies, as the wine world was going through a “clean wine” movement Henri became a very vocal opponent of this.  This is evidenced through his explicit strip label that reads “Ce vin n’a pas ete filtre” – this wine has not been filtered.  This rebelliousness gained him a lot of attention and merit was brought to him as well as his wines were heralded by wine critics and lovers.

In the eighties, one can presume that Henri Jayer was thinking about who to pass on his legion to.  He had two daughters but both were not interested in winemaking so Emmanuel, his nephew by marriage, came to work for him in the early eighties.  During this period, Rouget learnt to strictly follow his uncle’s methods of viticulture and winemaking and in most cases the wines are said to be insperable.  In 1996, Henri retired and transferred his vineyards to Emmanuel.

Terroir in miniscule proportions

The most famous of Jayer/Rouget’s wines come from a tiny vineyard called Cros Parantoux in Vosne-Romanee.  This small premier cru lies above Richebourg and comprises of a very thin layer of clay limestone soil sitting on a bed of rock.  The conditions of the soil allow for a very good natural acidity.  In whole, it is only 1.01 hectares in size and Rouget owns 72% of it with Meo-Camuzet owning the rest.  On average, about 3,500 bottles are created annually from this small plot of land.

Family tradition

The obvious highlight of our barrel tasting with Emmanuel Rouget was of course his wines.  He not only generously shared his wines and his time with us but he topped it off with a playful blind tasting – a Vosne-Romanée from 1999.

During our tasting with Emmanuel, there was yet another simultaneous hosting going on.  Emmanuel’s second son was going through the barrels himself with a few of his friends.  This was a special highlight for me, being able to witness family tradition in its purest moments.  If true to Burgundian spirit, we may well be drinking and collecting this teenager’s wines in the future.

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