The Epicurean's Atlas: Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux Premier Cru 2001
Region: Côte de Nuits, Burgundy | Variety: Pinot Noir
“Henri Jayer planted vines in the former artichoke patch, and famously used dynamite to make holes for the roots”
T here is something both quaint and incongruous about one of the Côte d’Or’s most celebrated and sought-after vineyards, Cros Parantoux in Vosne-Romanée, being used to grow Jerusalem artichokes, but that was how this tiny Premier Cru was used during the Second World War. Not that it had had a distinguished past in the decades prior to that. It had been left uncultivated since phylloxera devastated the region in the late 19th century – a small vineyard considered too difficult to be worth the effort. For the record, Jerusalem artichokes are a forgiving crop, certainly much more so than Pinot Noir vines.
The future of Cros Parantoux changed after the war when, in 1945, the owner, Madame Noirot-Camuzet, asked the young Henri Jayer to look after her vineyards, in return for which he would be a sharecropper, keeping half of the harvest for himself. By all accounts, Jayer had not originally planned to become a wine producer. Between the two world wars his father had bought some vineyards for next to nothing in Vosne, Échezeaux and Nuits-Saint-Georges. When Jayer’s teenage brothers went away to fight in the war, he was left to take care of the family’s vines. His marriage to a grower’s daughter, Marcelle Rouget, and oenology studies at the University of Dijon in the 1940s confirmed him on the path that led to his becoming one of Burgundy’s greatest winemakers.
It is almost impossible to read about Jayer without encountering the words legendary, brilliant, venerated and celebrated. It is equally implausible to separate him from Cros Parantoux, a vineyard universally acknowledged as one of Côte d’Or’s finest, one that behaves and is treated by the markets as if it were one of the foremost Grand Crus.
Yet, while Vosne-Romanée is exceptionally well-endowed with Grand Crus (eight in total), Cros Parantoux is not one of them. Instead, it is the second smallest of the 14 Premier Crus, in what is a relatively small Côte d’Or appellation (less than half the size of Gevrey-Chambertin), but one that has a glittering reputation.
Jasper Morris says of Vosne-Romanée in his book Inside Burgundy: “No other appellation in Burgundy can combine the intensity of flavour with the refinement that typifies the fine wines of Vosne-Romanée.” Other experts agree on the almost-eerie perfection of the wines this commune produces.
The jewel that is Cros Parantoux is just 1.01 hectares, one of the smallest in the whole of the Côte d’Or, facing east, high on the slope rising from the western side of Vosne-Romanée. Its immediate neighbour, lower down, is the 8.03-hectare Grand Cru Richebourg, and Cros Parantoux also overlooks the 4.53-hectare Premier Cru Aux Brûlées. The altitude and easterly orientation mean that it is a slightly cooler vineyard than others, but there is plenty of sun, allowing the grapes to ripen more slowly and retain the natural acidity that gives the wines of Cros Parantoux their great longevity.
The soils are distinctive, too: shallower than those lower down and made up of very stony clay over hard limestone bedrock. Jayer cleared the former artichoke patch and planted the vines himself, famously using dynamite to make the holes in which to embed the roots.
Together with meagre soils that drive the roots deep, the cool climate regulates vigour and yields naturally, but low yields were also one of Jayer’s guiding principles. He believed unwaveringly that punctilious care of the vineyard, using few chemical treatments, was the only way to produce the healthy, fully ripe, concentrated grapes that he saw as a prerequisite to producing wines of purity, intensity and finesse. Scrupulous selection of the grapes in the vineyard and again in the cellar reinforced this.
He was equally precise and principled in his winemaking. He pioneered de-stemming – removing all stems to emphasise fruit and ensure that no green, unripe stalks could spoil the integrity and ripe flavours of the grapes and coarsen the wine. He also pioneered pre-fermentation cold soaks to extract aroma and colour. He used all new oak and did not filter his wines. The result was compelling complexity, precision and grace; wines that could be austere in youth but that had great ageing potential and, in Morris’ words, “striking minerality”.
Although Jayer began replanting Cros Parantoux in 1945, it was not until 1978 that he felt the vines were mature enough to bottle the wine under the Premier Cru name. Before that, the grapes went into his Vosne-Romanée village wine. It was an auspicious start: 1978 was superb, one of the greatest Burgundy vintages of the 20th century.
Domaine Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux has a distinguished history, but not a long one. In 1987, Jayer relinquished the Méo-Camuzet vineyards he had been sharecropping since 1945 and gave nearly all his remaining holdings (those inherited and those he had bought bit by bit) to his nephew Emmanuel Rouget, but he kept back a small amount of Cros Parantoux until 2001. It was to be the last vintage under his name.
Of itself, 2001 is not a great vintage. Winter was wet, gloomy and not particularly cold. Spring was much the same until the end of May, when unseasonal heat prompted the start of flowering, and a cool June prolonged it. July and August were nothing to write home about, until a heatwave at the end of the latter. Hopes of a fine, dry September were dashed by three weeks of cool, often soggy weather. The saving grace was that low temperatures and a fairly small crop meant that rot did not get much of a grip. And although sugar levels were not high, flavours were good.
In such a year, Cros Parantoux benefits from its altitude, orientation and poor soils, but above all it benefited from Jayer’s expert ministrations and dedication. It is in a lesser vintage that the greatest terroir and most talented winemakers truly come into their own, and Cros Parantoux in 2001 had both.