In the early 2000’s, winegrower Pascal Lachaux of Domaine Robert Arnoux in Burgundy readily called on his teen-age son, Charles, to translate business conversations with English-speaking importers and journalists. The poised and engaging young man communicated confidently. His intelligence and the obvious bond of trust, mutual respect and collaboration between father and son made telling impressions.
Later after studying oenology in Beaune, Charles Lachaux left his village of Vosne-Romanée to work with wineries in the United States, New Zealand, South Africa and Bordeaux. The experiences proved essential to his formation as a winemaker, but unlike Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce’s fictional anti-hero in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” Lachaux returned home energized to pursue his freely chosen métier.
“Going away was part of the best times. You learn to hear, to open your mind and to discover there are other things happening in very different ways elsewhere,” Charles recalls. “It was a very rich experience that gave clearer ideas and understanding of what we want to do in Vosne-Romanée.”
Today thanks to Charles’ willingness to take risks backed up by hard work, the domaine’s wines are better than ever in terms of elegance, purity and sheer pleasure given. Tasting the 2015 wines from barrel at what is now called Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux was marvelous. But Charles is quick to attribute success to a family team effort with his father, Pascal, and mother, Florence.
“We are free as a family to take care of all aspects of the domaine,” he notes. “From the start after my return in 2011 my father gave me a lot of responsibility for technical winemaking. Gradually I have taken more responsibility for decisions and ideas in the vineyards as well. But my father still works with a close eye on what we are doing.”
“My parents have more time for themselves, and I have time to be involved with work,” he adds. “It is a clever way to involve and interest us all, because what we are creating and crafting here should give emotion. We always have to try to make wine with our guts.”
To this end, the still relatively young Charles Lachaux works with focused passion and a keen sense of the past, present and future.
“Working over nine hundred years the monks from the L’Abbaye Saint-Vivant in Vergy categorized the vineyards. They did hard work that we cannot do better today even with our modern tools,” Charles observes. “All our savoir-faire and techniques really start with them.”
Lachaux also acknowledges his late grandfather, Robert Arnoux, as playing a key role in setting the stage for the domaine’s current success.
“Before my grandfather’s generation, we were all farmers with some vineyards, animals, and fruit trees. We ate and drank what we produced because the wines were not so popular outside Burgundy,” he says.
His grandfather had his own vineyards and also worked for the owner of part of the famed Romanée Saint-Vivant Grand Cru. When the opportunity arose to purchase the vines, Arnoux did not hesitate. The Romanée Saint-Vivant wine remains the domaine’s crown jewel.
Today building on his own parents’ success in improving the vineyards and growing international demand for the domaine’s wines, Charles Lachaux also draws strength and camaraderie from a circle of slightly older colleagues who also learned from stages outside Burgundy. The likes of accomplished vignerons Thomas Bouley in Volnay, Nicolas Rossignol in Volnay and Beaune and Olivier Lamy in Saint Aubin share Lachaux’s open minded approach. They epitomize the best of the current generation of winegrowers working hard to maintain the Burgundy’s traditions while making their way successfully in an ever more competitive and fast paced context.
“We discuss what’s happening in the vineyards and cellars,” he notes. “We don’t have secrets which is really helpful in trying to go further in the quality of work. We share what can be done to get results, and it is the best way to go forward without losing time.”
Lachaux, like most accomplished growers, still believes 90% of quality comes from attentive, focused work in the vines.
“For me, it’s the interesting part, and it’s often difficult with unpredictable weather,” he says. “But if you aren’t passionate about the work and love doing it, you won’t produce a great product and great wines.”
Maintaining vibrant microbial life in the soils is a top priority. Which, of course, means foregoing chemical fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides while exploring alternative means to strengthen the vines.
“Vines are like human beings. If they exist in a healthy environment with good nutrients they will produce better results,” he notes. “It’s in our interest to bring back healthy soils so the vines can produce tremendous fruit and wines.”
For Charles, it is also about “respecting the life of the vine.” So for him the best chance for healthy vineyards producing quality fruit also involves intensive, thoughtful manual labor on the vines themselves. He favors meticulous, time consuming Guyot-Poussard pruning and training vines at high levels.
“By pruning late and tall, we try to push what the vineyard can do itself in producing quality fruit and resisting odium and mildew,” he notes. “The approach allows more leaves for photosynthesis, and then the vines are more focused on the grapes and root system for greater results.”
In the cellar, Charles spearheads another big change by favoring fermentation with significant percentages of whole Pinot Noir bunches, stems and all. It can render wines with bright, pure, transparent fruit and finesse instead of heavy concentration and high alcohol.
“For me it creates more seductive wines that suit my taste. It’s the style I prefer,” he says. Yet the approach carries risks especially in unripe vintages.
“With whole bunches you have to be careful to avoid greenness and harsh tannins in the wines. You must be more intuitive in the winemaking,” Charles notes. “But it creates the opportunity for more emotional wines. That’s why I like it as well.”
Continuing with an approach of taking risks calculated for quality, Charles allows fermentation with indigenous yeasts only. He also uses new oak barrels more judiciously during élevage, again in an effort to highlight transparent fruit and each climat’s distinct personality in the context of each distinct vintage.
Looking forward, Charles says his family has no immediate plans to expand its 14.5 hectares of vines.
“The aim will be to keep what we have which will be a difficult task already,” he wryly notes. “Trophy hunting” buyers of Burgundy vineyards continue to drive land prices to inconceivable heights. The spiral inflates inheritance transfer taxes and complicates carrying forward family domaines in tact. One senses, though, that this family of clever and creative winegrowers will adapt and find their way forward together especially with Charles as one of the most dedicated growers of his generation.
Meanwhile Charles Lachaux’s intense focus on producing quality shines brightly in the 2015 wines. Lachaux calls it a powerful, hot vintage but with fine acidity and relatively short production. Notes are presented in order with presentation of the wines at the domaine:
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Nuits-Saint-Georges: Fermentation with 70% whole clusters and 70% in stainless steel tank. The wine’s dark red color offers aromas of framboise and spiciness. Juicy, dark red fruit flavors; moderate concentration and well balanced acidity; fine tannins. Drink over 5 to 8 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Vosne-Romanée: Fermentation with 70% whole clusters and aging in 15% new oak. Ripe red fruit and spice aromas. Juicy, fresh red fruit flavors and moderate concentration. Well balanced vibrant acidity and fine tannins. Drink over 8 to 10 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Poissets”: Made from 60 year old vines in marl and limestone. Fermentation with 100% whole clusters and punch down by foot. Fresh raspberry and spice aromas. Fresh red fruit flavors, moderate concentration. Firmer tannins but a fine, long finish. Drink over 8 to 10 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,Vosne-Romanée “Les Hautes Maizières”: Made from 40 year old vines just below Suchots 1er cu. 80% whole cluster fermentation. Ripe red fruit aromas, sweet, pure red fruit flavors, moderate concentration and plenty of fresh acidity. Fine, firm tannins. Drink over 8 to 12 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Procès” 1er Cru: Made from 40 year old vines in the line of premier cru, limestone rich vineyards on the slope just south of the village. Partial whole cluster fermentation. Aging in one year old and a small portion of new oak. Dark red fruit and spice aromas. Ripe, velvety fruit. Fine tannins. Long finish. Drink over 8 to 12 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,Nuits-Saint-Georges “Clos Des Corvées Pagets” 1er Cru: Made from 45 year of vines in a walled clos with linestone and sandy soils near Premeaux. Big, ripe red fruit flavors; ample concentration and richness balanced with freshness and fine tannins. Very classy. Drink over 10 to 15 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Vosne-Romanée “Les Chaumes” 1er Cru: Made from 40 year old vines at the top of the vineyard in limestone and clay soils just below La Tâche Grand Cru. 70% whole cluster fermentation. Ripe, dark red fruit aromas with spice and earthiness. Big, rich dark red fruit flavors; full bodied concentration; terrific freshness and supple, powerful tannins, but well balanced. Will age gracefully 15 to 20 years easily.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,Clos-de-Vougeot Grand Cru: Made from vines high on the hill near the old Château itself. Fresh, pure red fruit aromas open to similar flavors. Moderate to full concentration; fine, ripe tannins, fresh, fruity finish. Drink over 10 to 20 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Echézeaux Grand Cru: Made from vines in limestone and iron rich soils. 100% whole cluster fermentation. Aged in mostly new oak. Terrific, seductive red fruit aromas with spicy notes; pure, transparent red fruit flavors; tremendous, fresh acidity; rich, supple concentration; fine, elegant tannins; a long, vibrant finish. Drink over 10 to 20 years. Highly Recommended.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Latricières Chambertin Grand Cru: Made from a combination of 60 year old vines and younger vines near the top of the vineyard with a cooler microclimate and plenty of limestone. 100% whole cluster fermentation. Understated red fruit aromas with spicy notes. Pure, ripe red fruit flavors; medium concentration; pronounced, fresh acidity; tight, fine tannins; Lovely, tense finish. A refined wine requiring 15+ years to knit completely.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,Vosne-Romanée “Les Suchots” 1er Cru: Made from very old vines, some over 90 years old and planted by Charles’ grandfather. A higher percentage of new oak for aging and all whole clusters for fermentation. Has spicy, dark red fruit aromas with floral notes. Firm, pure dark red fruit with full depth, and concentration, yet well balanced with freshness and fine, firm tannins. Will require long patience in the cellar, but the beautiful structure will last.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,Vosne-Romanée “Aux Reignots” 1er Cru: This vineyard holds a special spot for Charles. It sits above La Romanée-Conti and La Romanée on a steep hillside with meager, stony soils. “It makes a very tender, pure wine with great tension and a focus on red fruits,” he notes. It cannot be plowed by tractor, so the domaine manages a very high canopy where pruning has been curtailed. “We are attempting to lift the terroir a bit further through what we know for the moment,” he adds. It is a great experiment for now. The 2015 wine has marvelous transparent red fruit aromas with spicy notes. Sweet, pure red fruit with terrific fresh undertones that lift and frame the wine beautifully. Firm, very fine tannins, and a long, resounding pure fruit finish. A wine of pleasure and fine emotion built for the ages.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru: All of the domaine’s savoir-faire and hard work comes to fruition in this marvelous, complete wine. 100% whole cluster fermentation. 80% new oak for aging. A big, spicy nose of black and red fruits. Round, ripe red fruit flavors with tremendous depth. Plenty of fresh acidity and mineral tones with fine, smooth tannins. Fresh, seamless finish. It could drink now with pleasure, but will also last for decades.