Henri Jayer (1922-2006) was one of the world’s most influential winemakers, a name on a par with Dom Pérignon, Emile Peynaud, Lalou Bize-Leroy and Anne-Claude Leflaive.
His wines are highly sought after, not only because they are among the most delicious, beguiling and extraordinary red wines ever produced, but also because they were made in tiny volumes from his small holdings of some of the best terroirs in and around Vosne-Romanée in the Côte de Nuits region of Burgundy.
Jayer’s first vintage dates back to 1945; between then and 2001, he would produce 56 more. Since his death in 2006 at the age of 84, his silky and seductive Pinot Noirs have grown ever rarer, creating a cult following among connoisseurs and collectors the world over.
‘His wines are certainly among the finest I have ever tasted, particularly the Richebourg, Echézeaux and Cros Parantoux,’ says Christie’s International Director of Wine, Tim Triptree MW.
A true believer that care of the vineyard was fundamental to producing fine Burgundy, Jayer was meticulous in tending his vines and vinifying his wines. He minimised treatments, oversaw rigorous grape selection, kept yields low, and harvested at optimum ripeness.
To extract as much fruit intensity as possible, while also adding colour and flavour, he insisted on total de-stemming, as well as four or five days of cold maceration at 15°C before fermentation. He used only natural yeasts, thereby adding complexity and individuality to his wines. And he refrained from filtration, retaining nuance, multi-levelled complexity, texture and concentration.
Jayer was also responsible for the resurrection of the Cros Parantoux vineyard, which was in a sorry state after the Second World War. Beginning in the 1950s, he managed to purchase small plots from its myriad owners and replant the vineyard with Pinot Noir.
By 1978, he deemed the vines old enough and the grapes of sufficiently high quality to produce his first Cros Parantoux vintage; before this, the grapes had been used for his Vosne-Romanée Village.
Cros Parantoux is next to Richebourg and above Les Brûlées, which gives it ideal eastern exposure. At only 1.01 hectares, the Cros Parantoux Premier Cru vineyard is one of the smallest appellations in the entire Côte d’Or region, but the quality and reputation of the wines produced under Jayer’s stewardship match any of the more illustrious Grand Cru wines.
The 1978 vintage turned out to be one of the best ever for red Burgundy. Jayer himself recognised it as ‘one of the most beautiful vintages I vinified. Undoubtedly, one of the best in the century.’ He produced his last Cros Parantoux vintage in 2001.
Jayer’s wines are world-famous for their intensity of flavour and extraordinary complexity, and Cros Parantoux is arguably the most sought-after example.
On 28 July Christie’s London is offering an extremely rare six-magnum case of Henri Jayer, Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Cros Parantoux 1996 in the Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits sale. It could well be the final opportunity to secure six extremely rare magnums of this legendary wine.
Henri Jayer: six of his finest wines
Henri Jayer revolutionised viticulture and winemaking in Burgundy. Many other winemakers have subsequently adopted his techniques — and some have become standard practice. Below are six of his most sought-after creations.
Echézeaux Grand Cru: A jewel of the Henri Jayer estate. Jayer owned several parcels: the thin, stony soils of Les Cruots were planted with his oldest vines and provided his wines with body, richness and structure, while the deeper soils of Les Treux imparted finesse. Together, they were a match made in heaven.
Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Brûlées: A vineyard below Cros Parantoux and Richebourg that produces powerful, structured wines. The last vintage made by Henri Jayer was in 1987, when Méo-Camuzet took over.
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Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru, Les Meurgers: Named after the stone walls made from rocks that were found in the soil when the vineyard was planted, then piled up along the edges.
Richebourg Grand Cru: another of Jayer’s finest holdings, producing legendary wines from vintages such as 1959, 1978 and 1985. The majority of the vineyard was the parcel known as Les Verroilles. The last Richebourg vintage made by Henri Jayer was 1987.
Henri Jayer’s Vosne-Romanée Village: Produced by blending Pinot Noir from different parcels, including Les Saules, Les Barraux, Les Vigneux and, prior to the 1978 vintage, Cros Parantoux.
Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Beaumonts: Produced from a tiny 0.23 hectares of the total appellation of 11.30 hectares.