One of Burgundy’s big names, Domaine Bruno Clair is known and recognised for a palette of elegant and intense wines that typify the kinds of cuvées we dream about. Both the easy-drinking and better-to-be-aged bottles are prestigious in their own way, and their rarity is likely to affect their price over time…
A family history
Joseph Clair (1889-1971), founder of the famous Domaine Clair-Daü in Marsannay, carries a weighty influence at the heart of this commune just north of Gevrey-Chambertin near Dijon. After the First World War, the Burgundian vineyards found themselves in a pitiful state with vast swathes of land simply abandoned. This pushed the wine makers of Marsannay to uproot their Gamay and Aligoté vines and replace them with Pinot noir and Chardonnay, these being nobler varietals. The Rosé de Marsannay wine was also created around this time, allowing many producers to survive – even prosper! – when difficult times came with problems selling red. Even to this day, Marsannay is the only Burgundian appellation to produce red, white, and rosé. Joseph’s son Bernard joined Domaine Clair-Daü in 1939, where they together formed a wonderful viticultural heritage in the form of 38 hectares of vines. These span some of the Côte de Nuits’ best climats (Chambertin Clos de Bèze, Bonnes-Mares, Musigny, Clos St-Jacques, Clos Vougeot…) as well as a superb mature vineyard in Savigny-lès-Beaune called la Dominode.
When it was Bernard Clair’s (1920-2005) turn to take the reins, he was a brilliant producer between 1939 and 1982, pushing Domaine Clair-Dau to become one of the region’s most recognised properties. He left his mark by carrying out a remarkable selection of Pinot noir and Chardonnay vines. He took things slow and steady, establishing what is now an inestimable estate of fine plants that can now be worked by a new generation of Burgundy producers.
Bruno Clair is one of the proud inheritors of this unique savoir-faire. Domaine Bruno Clair is an estate of 25 hectares, the result of working from 1979 when this producer founded a domain in his name. Some parcels of Marsannay and Fixin, a piece of La Dominode in Savigny-les-Beaune and a large parcel in the wilderness of Morey-Saint-Denis make up the productive vine land of the domain. After Joseph passed away, disagreements in the family led to Domaine Clair-Dau being dismantled in 1985. The following year, Bruno found the family vines entrusted to him; these plants cover Clos de Bèze, Cazetiers, Clos Saint-Jacques, Vosne-Romanée, Clos de Fontenay, and Chambolle-Musigny). New vineyards joined the estate in 1993, including in Corton-Charlemagne, Pernand-Vergelesses, and Aloxe-Corton, then in 1996 (Gevrey Chambertin Petite Chapelle), bringing the domain to the surface area it possesses today. With the help of his precious team, Bruno Clair cultivates, harvests, and bottles the entirety of his produce. The work of this domain can quickly be recognised for the quality of his crus, rare in how well they marry intensity and elegance.
From vineyard to bottle
Today, the vines of this domain span 28 appellations in 7 different villages, both in the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits. Want to get a flavour of the range? It includes Bonnes Mares, Clos de Bèze, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru Clos Saint Jacques and Petite chapelle, Morey-Saint-Denis « En la rue de Vergy », and Corton-Charlemagne, among others…9 cuvées are produced directly in the commune of Marsannay where the domain itself is established. The terroirs of this appellation are unfortunately little known, and its wines too often underestimated. Since this commune somewhat lacks the prestige of its illustrious neighbours to the south, Marsannay wines are sometimes opened too soon. The range is varied, with whites, reds, and a rosé, and covers appellations of all calibres. You are bound to find a bottle that suits you.
Domaine Bruno Clair limits chemical products as far as possible, using compost to fertilise the vines. The soils are ploughed in the case of most of the vines, apart from those towards the top of the slopes; here, the earth is too vulnerable to erosion. The grapes are harvested by hand, a process that finishes with a meticulous sorting process.
For the red wines, the grapes are put in vats after being partially destemmed. If necessary, the harvest is cooled, then there is a slow alcoholic fermentation instigated by indigenous yeasts?
The wines are matured in oak casks. The percentage of new wood varies from 20 to 50% depending on the cuvée. Maturation takes place on fine lees for 16 to 22 months, the specific duration depending on the vintage.
What do the guides say?
Le Guide Vert by the RVF gives 2/3 stars to Domaine Bruno Clair. “These are classic Burgundies, often lively and sharp. They are immediately recognisable with their stripped-back texture and lovely persistence. The whites, less well-known, are equally remarkable. The domain is laudable in its consistency and has never been in such good shape!”