The Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair is both ancient and modern: ancient because it was acquired by Louis Liger-Belair, Napoleonic General, in 1815; and modern in that it was re-launched by his successor Vicomte Louis-Michel Liger-Belair in 2000. Since 1827 the diamond in the crown of the estate has been the monopoly of La Romanée, one of the very few grand cru monopolies in Burgundy, and the smallest.
The minuscule climat of Romanée lies directly above that of La Romanée-Conti and is separated from it by a path. Further upslope is the premier cru Aux Reignots, to the north is Richebourg, to the south La Grande Rue. As all the Burgundian grands crus are appellations in their own right La Romanée has its own separate appellation contrôlée. At 85 ares it is the tiniest in France. (La Romanée-Conti, which covers 1.81 hectares, is the second smallest.)
Eighty five ares, of course, doesn’t produce much wine, especially if the vines are old and carefully pruned so that the production is severely limited. The Romanée yield has varied in the last decade from 25 hectolitres to 33. Thirty two hectolitres is equivalent to 37.8 hl/ha. And 350 cases of wine.
The vines of La Romanée form a square, lying at an altitude of between 275 and 300 metres, on a distinct slope. The soil structure is not that different from La Romanée-Conti below except that there is less clay: a limono-argileux feeble in the sand fraction, mixed with pebbles and decayed limestone boulders, based on a friable Premeaux limestone rock. The depth of surface soil is shallow.
Louis-Michel Liger-Belair was born in 1973. He took over some of his patrimony in 2000, and responsibility for La Romanée in 2002. For the next three years, i.e. until the 2005 vintage, the deal with Bouchard Père et Fils taking over part of the crop in cask after the malos had finished was to continue, so for these vintages there are two separate bottlings of what was originally the same wine. I've tried the two 2002s against each other. I find little material difference.
In 2006, one of the erstwhile share-croppers, a M. Lamadon, retired, and entrusted Louis-Michel with a lease on his own vines. This gives Louis-Mchel vines in Suchots, Petits Monts, Brulées, two Nuits climats (Lavières and premier cru Cras), as well as Echézeaux.
Subsequently, in 2012, Louis-Michel expanded further. The Clos de Grandes Vignes is a unique premier cru. It lies on the 'wrong side', i.e. to the east, of the main road, in the Prémeaux section of Nuits-Saint-Georges. It comprises 2.21 hectares. Formerly part of the Domaine Charles Thmas, it was acquired by the Châteaux de Puligny-Montrachet. It has now been bought by Louis-Michel.
Louis-Michel is a determined and thoughful wine-maker. The vines have been cultivated biodynamicaly since 2008, and part of the vineyard is ploughed by a horse, Fanny.
Louis Michel Liger-Belair has modified what Régis Forey used to do, wishing to produce a wine that is lighter, more aromatic, less tannic but with more elegant fruit. To achieve this he has prolonged the cold soaking to a week and shortened the post-fermentation maceration. There is more pumping over than treading down. The number of rackings has been reduced to one, delayed as long as possible. The domaine employs mostly new wood, and bottles after 16 to 18 months without fining or filtration. 'Finally,' Louis-Michel told me in 2010 – he was referring to his 2009s - 'I think I'm getting there.' I find his wines subtle, under-stated, harmonious and very elegant. Lovely examples of the purity of Pinot Noir.