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Henri Jayer: The Importance
The wines of Henri Jayer have a mythical status in Burgundy. Coveted by many but tasted by just a precious few, they are some of the region’s rarest and most desirable wines. In fact, they are considered by many to be the pinnacle of what can be achieved with Pinot Noir. In the words of Robert Parker: “Anyone who loves or makes Pinot Noir should study Jayer’s wines, for they serve as a modern-day reference point for those desiring to produce the best possible wines from this fickle grape variety.”
Jayer’s wines are now some of the world’s most collectable, with the price tags to match. The Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru has received a flurry of press attention over the years for being the world’s most expensive wine, exceeding the likes of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leflaive, with single bottles known to sell for upwards of £12,000. No wonder that Winehog writer Steen Öhmann called the Henri Jayer’s Richebourg ‘one of the most legendary wines in the world’.
However to focus merely on Jayer’s stratospheric prices is to do a winemaking genius a serious disservice. The man behind the headlines, the late Henri Jayer, was an innovator and pioneer of Burgundian wine, responsible for developing many of the techniques accepted today. He passed away in 2006, leaving an indelible mark on the history of fine wine. His estate, comprising of some of the finest vineyards in Vosne-Romanée, is now farmed by Emmanuel Rouget .
Henri Jayer: The Insight
Henri Jayer is believed to have invented many of the winemaking techniques which now characterise top end Burgundy. He was famously opposed to filtering his wines, and all bottles bear the declaration “Ce vin n’a pas été filtré” (this wine has not been filtered). Jayer is also credited with inventing ‘cold maceration’, the process of destemming grapes after picking and putting them in tanks prior to fermentation. While this can be risky in the hands of less-adept winemakers as it increases the chance of oxidation, in Jayer’s case the approach paid off, creating incredibly complex, individual wines that have given his wines the profile they enjoy today.
Jayer’s vintages range from the late 1950s to 2010, which was the last vintage he made before he died. Jayer previously stated that he felt his best vintages were 1978, 1980, 1985 and 1986, with Robert Parker calling the 1985s “quite profound”. That said, given the quality and rarity of Jayer’s wines, any vintage at all is worth serious consideration.
Henri Jayer: The Background
Henri Jayer was born in Vosne-Romanée in 1922, and continued to live and work in the village for much of his life. He studied Oenology at the University of Dijon and worked at Méo-Camezet for a time, before he began producing wine under his own label in the 1950s.
Jayer is especially noted for his work on Cros-Parantoux, described as “the sweet spot of Richebourg” by Steen Öhman. Once a vineyard that had been left to go fallow, Jayer began to acquire plots of Cros-Parantoux in the 1950s and worked hard to replant and nurture the terroir. In 1978, after several years of selling the grapes to négociants, Jayer bottled his first Cros-Parantoux wine. Henri also made some wine from his brother George’s vines, which were bottled under the label Georges et Henri Jayer.
Henri Jayer is also notable for playing a huge part in the vinous education of his nephew Emmanuel Rouget, who worked alongside him for several decades, and continued to farm the Jayer family vineyards after his uncle’s death in 2006. While wines are no longer made under the Henri Jayer label – a fact that undoubtedly makes the surviving bottles even rarer and more desirable than ever – his style and terroir lives on in the work of his nephew Emmanuel.
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