One of Burgundy's most important winemakers, Jacques Lardiere, said something to me over lunch not long ago that you would simply never hear in the U.S., or possibly anywhere else outside of Burgundy.
Lardiere makes more than 140 different wines a year for Maison Louis Jadot, one of the largest producers in Burgundy. Founded in 1859 by its namesake, and sold in 1985 to the family of its American importer Kobrand, the winery has 154 hectares of vines from Chablis to Beaujolais. You can find Louis Jadot wines at all price points; almost any fan of Burgundy is likely to have downed more than a case of its wines over the years.
Now let me tell you something important: When buying Louis Jadot wines, you really better pay attention to the vintage. Of course this matters for everyone in Burgundy, but I find some producers are more consistent across different growing seasons than others.
At Louis Jadot, however, vintage variation is not a factor to be wrestled against but rather the reigning philosophy -- for better and worse.
The Lardiere quote that blew my mind, and that I have been repeating to people for nearly two months without writing about it (until now), was this: "We accept the conditions of the vintage."
It's significant philosophy because he acts on it: "We don't adapt the winemaking to the wine or the vintage. We do the same thing every year."
"We don't make wine. We reveal the potential and the richness of a place. That's why we do exactly the same thing every year for all the wines. For 42 years."
You just won't hear that from anyone else. Imagine that: The only adjustment they might -- might -- make is to pick a couple days early if rain is forecast. But otherwise, it's supposed to be the same regimen of harvest date, fermentation time, barrel time, every year, regardless of how the weather was or what the grapes look like.
At least, that's what Lardiere told me. That said, Louis Jadot has one of the most modern facilities in Burgundy, so the valuable single-vineyard wines aren't exactly being crushed by foot and pumped into a giant oak tank; they move along now gently by gravity.
Moreover, while he told me that each wine spends a pre-determined amount of time in oak every year, I've since learned he has told others that he sometimes adjusts the barrel regimen depending on the character of a vintage’s fruit.
But still, it's the underlying philosophy I find interesting, and it seems to be at the heart of what differentiates Burgundy from everywhere else.
We got started on this topic when I asked about the 2003s being too ripe. "Too ripe means nothing," he said, sounding insulted. "That's not the way we understand the wines. We accept what Mother Nature gives us."
In other words, why add water or acid, or pick super early, when you can appreciate a low-acid aberration as just that? It reminded me of the only time I visited Ayers Rock in Australia's outback. I was disappointed because it was raining -- a rarity in that season -- but our guide was thrilled, because he got to see water cascading off the rock.
If you're a regular Burgundy drinker, maybe this philosophy isn't news to you. But I still can't get over it. I'm just so accustomed to winemakers adding a little Petite Sirah for body or Syrah for flavor or Cabernet Sauvignon for tannin, or whatever. In the US, even a single-vineyard wine can have 5% of its grapes from another vineyard, and many do. I don't want to provoke an outrage from the many American winemaking purists I know, but I will say very few work at companies that make as much wine as Jadot.
I asked about problems in fermentation, such as a takeover by spoilage yeast. "We have very few problems," Lardiere said. "But we are here for that. Clearly if we have a big problem, we will do something. We are here just in case."
I said, "You have the easiest job in the wine world." He smiled and said, "Easiest, I don't know. But full of satisfaction."
The dark way of looking at the Jadot philosophy -- and the way many large wine companies would look at it -- is to say that they recognize that some years they will make wine that could have been tastier.
But for the Burgundy aficionado, maybe it is successful counter-intuitive marketing: it appeals to loyalty and connoisseurship and an ever-growing personal history with the wine.
"If you like a vineyard you like it in all conditions," Lardiere said. "You always come back to the wine from that vineyard."
Perhaps to demonstrate, the wines Lardiere brought for lunch weren't top flight: A 2006 Meursault with good mouthfeel and acidity, but no real fruit flavor, surprising in a still relatively young wine, and a 2007 Corton Pougets Grand Cru that was tannic and closed, really not yet ready for prime time. With 140 wines to choose from, you'd expect the winery to put its best foot forward with the media. I liked the Meursault well enough but the Corton Pougets stayed nearly untouched in our glasses
I guess that means I didn't accept the conditions of the vintage.