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9 January 2012  |  Wine   |  Article

Making the Wines

Henri Jayer was meticulous about every aspect of wine production, from the treatment of the soil to the care of the vines, the picking of the fruit, and how the wine matured and was bottled.  It is this attention to detail that has ensured him a place in the starry pantheon of Burgundy winemakers. He emphasized above all the importance of terroir. This French term refers to the special characteristics conferred on a wine by the place that the grapes were grown. Each unique combination of soil, landscape, weather and grapevine will yield a particular result and one that is discernable year after year in the vines from that location. Jayer believed that terroir and vintage character were more important to the wine than the skills of the winemaker and said that remaining true to this ideal was a more essential goal than quality in an absolute sense. 

Jayer looked for fruit that retained its freshness: bright color, crisp acidity, firm tannins and a lush fruit character. This overall balance, more than a single-minded focus on ripeness, is the hallmark of his wines. The way in which he achieved these aims is through an absolute mastery over the production of the grapes, and ultimately, the wine. Partnering with his brother, Lucien, who was responsible for tending the vines, this philosophy remained consistent from the beginning of the process to the end.

Jayer’s concerns began with the soil. An opponent of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, he advocated the manual tilling of the soil, which provided aeration and encouraged microbial life. The vines themselves were also of great concern. Jayer was adamant that the old traditions of propagating the vines—known as massal selection—be continued. This method selects vines by taking cuttings from exemplary vines that are already producing in the vineyard. A crusader against some modern practices such as clonal selection of vines, Jayer championed the preservation of old vine stock, resulting in fruit that produced wines of great concentration.

No less important than the type of vine is the way in which it is handled. Jayer mandated that the grapes be picked and transferred into a small basket without being crushed in the process—a precaution that was put in place to avoid oxidation, which changes the resulting flavor. Reducing oxidation also allowed Jayer to minimize the amount of sulfur used as a preservative, giving the wine a pure flavor and encouraging the growth of natural yeast.

Once brought into the winery, the fruit was destemmed and the juice and skins were allowed to macerate at a cold temperature prior to the fermentation in concrete vats. This gives the wine a lovely color and an impressive fruity character. Following this “cold soak,” the fermentation proceeds with natural yeast found on the grape skin rather than through the use of cultured yeast. This technique is more challenging, but can yield greater complexity in the end. The fermentation process is carried out at a controlled temperature, another means of preserving the freshness of the fruit character. The fermenting wine is carefully worked to ensure a gentle extraction of tannin and color from the skin. The juice is pumped over the skins until near the very end of the fermentation process, and only then are the skins manually punched down into the juice. The finished wine is allowed to macerate on the skins and is then run into casks for maturation. All of the wines of premier cru level or above are aged in new oak casks produced from trees from the Tronçais forest, a particular favorite of Jayer. Finally, the wine is fined with egg whites, but bottled unfiltered.

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