Driving away from the monkishly spare cellars of Domaine Denis Bachelet, I joked to J that for M. Bachelet to raise neither his production nor his prices despite years of acclaim and overwhelming demand seemed to indicate a lack of imagination. "He's got all he needs," said J. "What would you spend the money on?"
First thing, I said, is I'd go everywhere via helicopter. To hell with traffic. If you can afford to be a prince of the earth, why waste time?
We were to remember this conversation about thirty minutes later, while tasting Richebourg with Bernard Gros at the rather more elaborate cellars of Domaine Gros Frères et Soeur in Vosne- Romanée. The tasting room looks like it was lifted straight from a David Lynch set, magenta lighting, piano, and all. Then in the course of some topical repartée about the Greek crisis, M. Gros mentioned that while he could not accept payment in drachmas, he was happy to accept payment in dollars - because he used the latter currency to pay for helicopter fuel.
Bernard Gros is often cited as being the most outgoing of the current generation of Gros siblings, the other two being the more reserved Michel Gros and Anne Gros, whose respective substantial eponymous domaines were split from the same uber-Gros holdings of their father Jean Gros when he retired in 1995. Our experience with Bernard was perhaps atypical due to the hour of the rendezvous, still quite early in the day; only the absurd opulence of the tasting rooms hinted that we were in the presence of someone who was probably capable of partying like a rock star.
Gros' other passion is the piano, hence its centrality in the tasting room-slash-nightclub we found ourselves in. His other other passion is, amusingly enough, lighting: before taking over his share of his father's domaine, he'd studied to be a lighting technician. He kindly gave us an example of what the room is capable of, which I attempted to capture on my iPhone:
The tasting room was designed by his daughter, an architect, who selected many of the materials for their significance to the winemaking operation. The glass in the floors is the same as the glass in Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur's bottles; the metal is the same as the cuves they use.
What's funny is, the wines are even more ostentatious. Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur has 21ha, including three Grands Crus: Richebourg, Clos de Vougeot, and Grands Echezeaux.
Plenty of new oak is used, a full year on most of the Grand Crus, although in the best examples the sheer terroir brilliance of the 2009's we tasted shone through their somewhat forceful production methods. (I read later that Bernard Gros employs a concentrator to remove water content from the grape must, thereby avoiding chaptalisation. I wonder if this is still the case? This strikes me as a little like getting a boob job to avoid over-eating.)
My favorite that morning was the 2009 Grands Echezeaux, significantly more savoury and funky on the nose than many of the others. It was a little rigid, masculine, but possessed terrific licorice and mineral tones, along with a lightly briny acidity.
While tasting the frankly angelic 2009 Richebourg, to make conversation, J asked at what age did Bernard Gros think wines like these showed best. Gros replied, "When is a woman the most beautiful? It all depends on taste."*
J, who was in the process of collecting some older vintages for the restaurant list he manages, asked Gros whether by chance any older bottles were available for purchase. They were not. Gros explained this was because the tax burden on his domaine's library of old bottles had become so onerous that recently he had decided to re-bottle everything in new bottles and sell it all off to his biggest market, Japan. (80% of the estate's production is destined for export, of which 50% goes to Japan.)
All in all, a very different conversation than the one we'd had earlier that morning with Denis Bachelet, who'd more or less given us the Spanish Inquisition about the potential future of his individual numbered bottles were he ever to sell them to us. Bernard Gros, on the other hand, gave one the impression of being vaguely trapped by the outrageous value and responsibility of his patrimoine - like, if it were fiscally prudent, he might one day just flog it all and helicopter off into the sunset.
* This struck me as an impressively ambiguous maxim, almost Nabokovian.
Tel: 03 80 61 12 43
An in-depth but somewhat hagiographic profile of the Gros family by Neal Martin @ Wine-Pages
A sort of laughably cold, ratings-driven profile of Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur @ AthertonImports, who might as well be describing racehorses
A brief profile of Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur @ CheminDesVins