Charles Lachaux is just 29, but he’s got the responsibility of running the family domaine, Arnoux-Lachaux (previously known as Robert Arnoux), with 14 hectares of vines spread across some of Burgundy’s top sites. On Thursday I met him at the offices of his importer, Corney & Barrow, to taste through the 2016s, followed by a rather good lunch when we drunk some older wines.
Lachaux takes an empirical approach, rather than a strictly scientific one, keenly observing and seeing what works best. In the vineyards he has taken the techniques of Lalou Bize Leroy, allowing the vines to grow a bit more and not mechanically hedging them. All the trimming, which is done very late, is done by hand, and is based on observation. Lachaux thinks there is more precision this way, and to him it’s important that each vine is treated differently. ‘At night I dream of what we do in the vineyard,’ he says. ‘At the time Lalou was considered completely crazy. She is still thought of as crazy by some.’ The first ploughing under the vine is also done by hand. ‘We are trying to get more simple, with fewer machines and more hand work.’
‘In viticulture, what satisfies the eyes isn’t good,’ he says. In the past, clean rows without any grass were thought to be a sign of good viticulture. ‘Instead of clean, neat vines, we have branches everywhere; it is about respecting the cycle of the vine.’
Lachaux has been combatting trunk diseases by using a pruning technique called Guyot Poussard. This is an old technique that respects the sap flow of the vine. He has also been doing curettage, cutting out dead wood from affected vines using a small chain saw. The result is no more Esca (one of the main trunk diseases), better yields and healthy vines. But it takes time: for his Suchots plot of half a hectare it took 36 days (he worked alone), and for his one-third hectare holding in Romanee St Vivant it took 20 days. But for old vines in famous vineyards, it’s worth the effort.
He doesn’t have organic or biodynamic circulation, although 95% of the products he sprays are organic. For the last four years he’s been using some plant-derived sprays that aren’t yet certified. Charles is convinced that the future is going to involve moving beyond biodynamics, and that it isn’t good to be reliant on copper (permitted and pretty essential in biodynamic farming where downy mildew is a risk). Also, the problem with biodynamics to him is that it considers what you spray but not how you work.
He has vineyards in 15 appellations. ‘We are looking for the most nuances we can have,’ says Lachaux. ‘I’m looking for differences between the wines; I want to let the appellations speak.’
Lachaux thinks that with the high prices that Burgundy producers are getting for their wines, there can be a risk of complacency. ‘Many producers work to be secure,’ he says. ‘There are too many wines that are disappointing for the price. Now it is quite easy to make a good wine with no faults. With the price of Burgundy, if we don’t push further, who else will in the wine world?’ He adds, ‘too many people are more passionate about the money they are going to make than the wine. People are thinking about money.’
One of the threats for Burgundy is because of the extreme value of the vineyards, the succession process will mean family members who want to stay in the vineyard won’t be able to buy out other family members who don’t. As a result, domains will have to be sold. This is already starting, for example with Pinault’s purchase of Rene Engel. ‘In a few years we will turn like Bordeaux,’ says Lachaux. ‘You lose a bit of the Burgundian spirit; you lose a bit of the soul.’
Lachaux isn’t playing it safe. He has been replanting a portion of the Aux Regniots vineyard that was previously occupied by an almond tree. This patch has been replanted at an incredibly high density of 25 000 plants per hectare, with each vine on a wooden stake.
He’s also using a lot of whole cluster in his winemaking. Most of the village wines are 70% whole cluster, and beyond this everything is pretty much 100%. For the whole cluster he just puts the grapes into the vat (the size will vary by the plot). After this, fermentation starts, and there’s no recipe for how this is managed: it is judged by taste. Usually, the wine is pressed off after 10-11 days, so there’s no cold pre-soak or post-ferment maceration. He’s also not keen on new oak, and uses 10% in the village wines, rising to a maximum of 30% in the Grand Crus.
Charles Lachaux loves wine, and he understands wine, and I suspect this is why he’s making some very exciting wines indeed.
These were all bottled wines.
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Bourgogne ‘Pinot Fin’ 2016 Burgundy, France
Very fresh and linear with red cherry and plum fruit. Juicy and nicely tart. Fresh, detailed and with nice focus. 89/100
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Nuits-Saint-Georges 2016 Burgundy, France
There’s nice concentration and freshness here with some detail. Cunchy and pure with nice structure to the red fruits. Has a little flesh. 92/100
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Chambolle-Musigny 2016 Burgundy, France
Supple and fine with nice elegance. Pure and fine-grained with lovely raspberry and red cherry fruit. Has a fine grippiness to it. This is very pretty and focused. 94/100
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Vosne-Romanée 2016 Burgundy, France
Very bright and focused with fine spiciness. Linear with a lovely grippy structure and a sweet, pure focus. Primary red cherry and berry fruits. 93/100
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Vosne-Romanée Les Hautes Maizières 2016 Burgundy, France
Fresh and quite pretty with some silky red fruits and a little juiciness. This has a fine, sappy green note supporting the generous, slightly fleshy fruit. Very expressive. 94/100
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Nuits-Saint-George 1er Cru Les Procès 2016 Burgundy, France
This is very pretty: there’s some sweetness to the red cherry and raspberry fruit, but with also some lovely fluid green notes. This has an ease to it. An elegant, ripe, pure style. 95/100
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Clos des Corvées Pagots 2016 Burgundy, France
Detailed, spicy red fruits nose. The palate is concentrated and fresh with fine raspberries and cherries. It’s quite fleshy with nice structure and an easy elegance. Ripe, pure and refined. 95/100
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Chaumes 2016 Burgundy, France
Taut and structured with nice grip to the focused raspberry and red cherry fruit. Lovely red fruits core here. Layered and structured. Quite tight but with potential. 94/100
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Suchots 2016 Burgundy, France
Very perfumed and open with a green stemmy edge and some sweet, elegant fruit, as well as a touch of beetroot. Fleshy, ripe and structured with silky fruit. The green stemminess is quite strong but I suspect this will integrate with time. 94/100
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Aux Reignots 2016 Burgundy, France
Lovely potential here. Very pretty and pure with sweet blck cherry and red cherry fruit. Has flesh and purity, and is fine and expressive. Good weight and nice acidity, too. 96/100
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Echezeaux Grand Cru 2016 Burgundy, France
Very silky but also nicely defined with smooth, pure, concentrated red fruits and refined texture. So pretty. 96/100
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru 2016 Burgundy, France
So perfumed with a fine, floral nose and hints of sappy green. Has a firm, expressive red fruit palate with a linear drive. Fine with real purity and concentration. Thrilling wine. 97/100
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru 2016 Burgundy, France
This has purity and freshness with a green edge to the structured red cherry and plum fruit. Grippy and nicely structured with good freshness. Pretty yet also serious. 95/100
Exclusive UK agents: Corney & Barrow
Their offer, with more details on the domaine, is here