Friday, October 29, 2010

Not This Time

I recently spent an evening dining with Patrick Leflaive at The Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood. Mons. Leflaive shares a partnership with his brother Olivier in the negociant wine house of Olivier Leflaive. They make their home in Burgundy. The company came into existence in 1984 when Frederick Wildman & Sons (the US importer for Olivier Leflaive) was seeking a Burgundy producer that could supply the US market with a shit load of good Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Burgundy. As the story goes, the contract between Frederick Wildman and Louis Latour was up and Latour was taking their brand direct. It was a nice "thank you" for building a brand in the US marketplace (insert sarcasm) and a lesson of loyalty in the wine industry. Not thrilled with the idea of diluting the family's Domaine Leflaive production and prestige, the Leflaive family declined.  Instead, the family allowed Patrick and Olivier to "split" from their family's estate and create a "negociant" firm. The two brothers began sourcing fruit and establishing long term relationships with some of the best Chardonnay farmers in Burgundy. In 1988, they hired Franck Grux as winemaker and started crafting wines to meet the demands of the US market. Today, the two brothers still manage the company.  Patrick, now 80, charms the world and the ladies. His wife Annick gets a kick out of him flirting like a single thirty-something. I caught her laughing a few times with a look that said "that old gag!" He's got skills.  Honestly, how else does one move 11,000 cases of Bourgogne level Chardonnay through the marketplace?  You could also start with great wine-making too.  Some 22 vintages later, both Olivier and Franck are still pulling the strings in the winery. They've got skills. But if you ask me, Patrick got the better end deal. The older brother usually does.

Browsing through the Olivier Leflaive portfolio is a dizzying trip through the villages of Burgundy. Since 1984 they have been producing benchmark wines for enthusiasts that understand a wine is not about a point score, it's about time and place. We tasted eight wines that evening ranging from village level Puligny Montrachet to 1er Cru Pommard. Olivier Leflaive produces nearly 80 different cuvees from all over Burgundy. Production is focused on Chardonnay with very small amounts of Aligote and Pinot Noir. Impressively, the Leflaive brothers manage to produce wines of tremendous character, true to variety, place and vintage. With 80 wines under production, that is no small feat. These wines are not created to impress critics, garner lavish praise from trade publications or become highly sought after investment wines. In a wine world that is slowly becoming homogenized, it's refreshing to see a winemaker create wines that speak for themselves.  In a marketplace rife with disloyalty and scandalous practices it is awesome to see two firms with such a strong relationship.  After 22 vintages, Frederick Wildman and Olivier Leflaive continue to work together and bring top quality Burgundy to the marketplace.  If you ask me, I think they both got the better end of the deal.  Not this time older brother.

For more information on Olivier Leflaive wines please visit:
Frederick Wildman & Sons
Oliver Leflaive

To purchase the wines, please visit:
Nicholas Roberts Fine Wines

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