Why Burgundy is becoming laissez-terre
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Winemaker Vincent Dancer is renowned for doing nothing – or very little, at least – at his organic domaine in Chassagne-Montrachet. He doesn’t use enzymes, acids or cultivated yeasts to give his wines a tweak; he eschews battonage (stirring the lees, or spent yeast, for extra flavour and texture), fining and filtering, and bottles his wines with minimal sulphur.
His ethos is low-intervention – but his wines aren’t “natural” in the stylistic sense. To the contrary, they are known, above all, for their stellar clarity, brightness and poise. He says: “I really like the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry quotation: ‘Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away.’ We want people to drink the exact reflection of the vintage and the terroir. This is why we intervene very little.”
Dancer was born and raised in Alsace, but had the good fortune to have relatives with vineyards in Burgundy – and today he farms eight hectares in some of the most vaunted terroir in the Côte de Beaune. One of his most prized plots is in La Romanée, the premiere cru vineyard which sits at the highest point of the steep, pebbly slope above the village of Chassagne-Montrachet. “The vines are protected from the cool north wind by big oak trees,” he explains, “so the shape of the wine is a mix of sun and freshness thanks to the limestone soil.”
That duality served him well in 2016, which saw extremes of frost and heat: he describes Vincent Dancer 2016 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru La Romanée, rather tantalisingly, as a “mix of ice and sun!”
“Dancer’s wines are wonderfully precise and bright and clean, they have real verve and intensity,” says Matt Cirne, consulting sommelier at Michael Tusk’s three Michelin-star Quince restaurant in San Francisco. “I think of his La Romanée wines almost more like a Grand Cru Chablis than a classic Côte de Beaune.”
Cirne likes to pair Dancer’s chardonnays with “lightly-breaded Petrale sole and lemon or lobster. Because they tend to run more mineral than fruit forward, they are good with vegetables too.”
“All the most exciting new-generation producers in Burgundy are now leaning towards this brighter, snappier style – no one’s trying to make creamy decadent white wines any more,” says Cirne. “A lot of them, I imagine, would say they look to Dancer as an influence. Someone who can lean into the vintage without compromising his style.”