I caught up with Diana Snowden-Seysses in October whilst on a brief pit-stop in Burgundy. Diana herself was just back from Napa, as she balances her work according to Mother Nature’s harvest times via Burgundy and Napa.
I stand with her in the cellar in Morey-Saint-Denis, where we get ready to taste the 2017s from barrel, which are just about to be racked: a good time to taste. It’s her first time tasting them since June. She says, “Closing the bung for a while helps me to not intervene. It’s important to let the wines become what they want to become.”
We taste extensively from one year old barrels, all of which (apart from some experimental Stockinger additions) are from the Rémond cooperage, which the domaine has worked with since Jacques’ very beginnings. They have refined and crafted their signature toast over many years; a long toast over relatively low heat, which give a slightly sweet structure to the wine. Diana muses that while the barrels still create their Dujac-stamped wines, vintages (and thus fruit) are getting riper. Global warming is very real.
“Global warming is changing our oak regime. Jacques used 100% new wood, whereas we are reducing that to 40% for villages and 70-80% for premiers and grands crus.”
The oak regime at Dujac is the ultimate partnership, even mastery, of wood and wine, and this is the ultimate example of human intervention to guide soil, vineyard, plant and climate to show its utmost capacity for wine. Often in wine, we omit one key factor of terroir; human interpretation. Dujac is an exceptional example of the human hand aiding terroir, as Diana muses, “wine is the ultimate form of human civilisation.”
Each barrel we taste has backbone, guidance and a structure, allowing the fruit to express itself in its purest form. This is what the carefully skilled work of the cooper, and many examinations of barrels and listening to the results, gives to a wine.
SO2 is kept low, and Dujac was one of the first domaines to trial UV lightbulbs for sterilising barrels instead of sulphur candles, enabling the domaine to avoid residual sulphur in barrels.
The Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts showed crunchy, bright, fresh but dense with cherry flesh, with such lift and raciness. Tense and bright with a shadow of poised, smoky reduction; this has an exciting future.
Diana muses that it’s important to walk the line of reduction; a pure form of reduction that comes from fine lees and environments poor in oxygen.
We study the Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Aux Malconsorts “four ways;”
1. From one-use Rémond barrel – this seems more mineral, with a crunchy, earthy core, but light footed and with such length and gentle floral tones. The sort of wine that makes you question and look deep in the glass. Diana says, “Yes. I love wines that you have to go and find.”
2. From a new Rémond barrel – so beautifully integrated; oak and wine; a supportive marriage. A high tone wine – bright, dense cherry skin, more closed and tightly fisted with a smoky, ashy edge.
3. In Stockinger, “Y+” - a soft, textural component. Slightly broader shoulders, a little more oomph here, with some subtle reduction – definitely still in early stages of its life, still figuring itself out.
4. In Stockinger, “Y” – open, pretty, giving in its red fruits; plums, raspberries and cherries upon cherries. Fleshy and so pretty, with a floral, peony edge. Diana muses that this feels more Dujac.
A cooler profile; raspberry skin, perfumed notes; irises and rosehip with an underlying serious, stony, almost iron-like side. Still rather tight fisted.
This took my breath away; very much a being of its own. Ephemeral, gentle, flirtatious and shy, all at the same time. A wine that carries different notes with every aroma; a song that gives different meanings every time. Bergamot and lillies, lavender, earth and white truffle. Imagine peonies held hands with wild strawberries and have a dust bath together with a sprinkling of wild herbs.
Clos St Denis
A darker fruit profile here, somehow more brooding. Black cherries and gentle mint with rosemary and undergrowth, met by cherry stones and a lick of graphite. Earthy and deep, still hiding a little.
Clos de la Roche
Lifted, with prominent blood orange and orange rind on the nose; a beautiful and bright partner to the perfumed cherry flesh. Distinct minerality on the palate, zippy and textured; very fine tannins led by a mineral, gravelly, gently dusty profile.
Tight, white smoke profile. More reductive at this stage. Violets, lilacs, wet earth, olive tapenade and savoury, herbal elements. Some real grip, with a brisk edge, this is going to be quite something when it comes into its own.
2016s, bottled wines
“I love the energy of the 2016 wines,” Diana says.
Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Aux Malconsorts 2016
So bright and youthful, a youngster seeing the world through its own eyes for the first time. A herbal approach – thyme with cherry skin. There is a distinct crunchy stoniness on the mid palate with a lifted, scented edge. Rosehip oil with fresh roses on the finish. Elegant and delicate.
Diana notes, “it took me ten years to really love Malconsorts. It is elusive, hard to pin down. Beauxmonts is more obvious; they are dense wines. I think it took ten years of biodynamics to get these vines to really show their stuff.”
Clos St Denis 2016
Bright red cherries and violets, peony petals and juicy bramble berries, even with a lifted grapefruit edge. There is a delicate floral profile of dried roses and persimmon. So textural on the palate; plush, silky, satin-like, with delicate fine grained tannins.
Clos de la Roche 2016
Cloves, blood orange and ripe cherry fruit, fleshy and giving lots early in its life. Nutmeg joins on the palate, with a juicy, sappy core of fresh cranberries, with delicate earthy tones of undergrowth and tobacco. A lifted finish of exotic spice and frankincense and liquorice.
Whole bunch here tends to sit at 80%, whereas for the Romanée-Saint-Vivant and Les Gruenchers the domaine carries out 100% whole bunch, due to the ancient vine material giving small clusters and small berries.
We discuss the role of stems in winemaking. Due to the potassium in the stems, you lose tartaric acid in the wine, but the stems give the ever-important freshness and lift to wine. Therefore, even with lower acid in hot years, the wine is capable of lifting itself and of showing its floral, perfumed side. The bunches give explosive and beautiful aromatics; for Diana this scent is home.
Diana ponders on our conversation and disappears back into the cellar, resurfacing with a bottle.
“I thought on the topic of stems we should taste this.”
It is Echezeaux 2003.
2003 was hot. Due to the early nature of the vintage, the harvest crew had not yet arrived, so it was Diana and Jacques in the cellar, and Jeremy in the vineyards. Diana laughs, remembering;
“There were only eighty five days from flowering to harvest, usually it is 100. I spent the vintage on the forklift! It’s the only year where we did everything with 100% whole bunches. Cleaning the destemmer would have been too much to cope with!”
It is deeply perfumed, light on its feet with underlying deep, rich bramble and black cherry fruit. A side of dusty roses and peonies lifts the wine and helps it to dance on the palate. There is some white pepper here, with bergamot and rose oil, finishing on undergrowth with a wild, mossy character.
It is the perfect example of the potential of stems. Even in one of the hottest years of the past two decades, 100% whole bunches here give this wine such lift. When hot vintages, winemakers risk jammy fruit profiles, but stems offer the fruit a hand to the dance; carrying the wine and adding wild dimensions that leave you seeking descriptors in the glass.