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Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair: The Importance
Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair is a tale of fleeting rarity and a tumultuous two hundred year history come good. The Liger-Belair family have had it all, lost almost everything and rebuilt themselves. Now run by Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, the seventh generation of the family, the wines carry “class and breeding” according to Neal Martin. But he also notes that “their wines have become difficult and prohibitively expensive to track down, not least the La Romanée jewel that nowadays fetches a four-figure sum.”
La Romanée is the smallest Grand Cru and appellation in France, and it is also monopole, described by Jancis Robinson as “0.84 hectares (two acres) of grand cru vines immediately uphill of the vineyard known as Romanée-Conti, whose burgundies are the most expensive in the world.” Averaging around 300 cases per year, its quality and its scarcity put it on a pedestal that not many can compete with. As Neal Martin says: “few are privileged to taste La Romanée in a single vintage by dint of rarity.”
Its proximity, miniscule availability and the high price it commands will always result in comparison with Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Neal Martin has said that “recent vintages of La Romanée are more similar in style to Romanée-Conti in terms of that weightless intensity and that both are deceptively long-lived.” And Louis-Michel’s work has not gone unnoticed by his neighbour. According to Jancis Robinson: “…it is a significant compliment that Aubert de Villaine of the hallowed Domaine de la Romanée Conti has nothing but praise for his young neighbour.”
Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair: The Insight
When asked about his vision, Louis-Michel has said: “It's a very grand word for something as simple as wine. Wine is not science. It's a sensation, an emotion, a feeling, an instinct...” He believes that 95% of the work done in producing a wine should be on the vines themselves. He ploughs his biodynamically-farmed vineyards with the help of his horse Fanny, applies little or no fining or filtration and uses vigorous – verging on Germanic – sorting. But it is the short maceration, avoiding over extraction, and liberal use of new oak that give his wines their very unique, light and aromatic character. Louis-Michel’s cousin also makes wine in Burgundy at Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair, applying similar natural methods but using older wood.
Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair is one of Burgundy and the world’s greatest producers, Winehog’s Steen Öhman described a tasting of 72 of the domaine’s wines as: “a celebration of great wines… overwhelming is the first word that comes to mind when you taste so many brilliant wines.” Although La Romanée is the jewel in Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair’s crown, their Echezeaux and premiers crus Vosne-Romanée (called “The Pearl of the Côte” by Allen Meadows) offer a somewhat more accessible way to experience this incredible producer.
Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair: The Background
Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair was created by Louis Liger-Belair in 1815. As one of Napoleon’s wealthy generals, he was able to accumulate forth hectares , including sole ownership of La Romanée, La Tâche and La Grande Rue, as well as parcels of in Vosne Romanée (Malconsorts, Chaumes, Reignots, Brûlées and Suchots), Nuits St Georges (Saint Georges and Vaucrains), Vougeot (Clos Vougeot and Cras), Chambolle, Morey, Chambertin and a sizeable patch of Fleurie in Beaujolais. Louis also lived in the palatial Château de Vosne-Romanée. Unfortunately, Napoleonic law, war and Prohibition saw the estate gradually whittled down, only to eventually be auctioned off at Vosne-Romanée town hall in 1933. La Tâche was sold to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Luckily, brothers Just – a priest – and Comte Michel Liger-Belair – a soldier – managed to rescue La Romanée, Aux Reignots and Les Chaumes. Just Liger-Belair had a particular fondness for La Romanée, describing it as “…an upper class lady who never entirely abandons herself. She always holds something back for later." Comte Michel died during World War II before he could redevelop the domaine. His son, Henri, also pursued a career in the army, and on returning home continued the family business selling grapes to négociants. Until the 2000s the wine was sold largely under Bouchard Père & Fils.
In 1981, at the tender age of eight, Louis-Michel Liger-Belair decided that he wanted to move back to Vosne Romanée and produce wine. After studying engineering, he travelled to Napa and Bordeaux, before heading back to take a course in oenology at the University of Dijon. He then began to painstakingly rebuild the domaine, starting with Vosne-Romanée La Colombière, Clos du Château, and Les Chaumes, then later Aux Reignots and parcels of Echezeaux, Nuits-Saint-Georges and Vosne Romanée. In the words of Neal Martin: “in little more than a decade…” since his first vintage in the early 2000s, this young and ambitious winemaker “has restored Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair to its present eminent position upon the mantelpiece of Burgundy's elite.” Further expansion is expected, including a foray into Oregon where he consults with Mark Tarlov on Chapter 24 and Maison l’Envoyé.
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