Unlike most Burgundian estates, whether they have been bottling for a number of decades or only embarked on this path recently, the Domaine Dujac is a recent creation. It dates from 1968. Jacques Seysses, the founder, is in his early 70s, and has now taken a back seat in favour of his sons Jeremy and Alec and Jeremy's wife Diana, a trained wine chemist (oenologue). They have been working as a trio now for a few vintages. Have things changed? Should we expect more radical differences in the wines to come compared with the Dujacs of old? I went up to Morey-Saint-Denis to find out.
Jacques Seysses' father, a rich man in charge of a firm who made biscuits, was a well-known connoisseur of food and wine, at home in three-star restaurants, with a fine cellar of his own. Jacques remembers as a teenager visits to three-star restaurants in Paris and elsewhere. 'I can't tell you exactly what was the first great bottle of wine I had,' he says, 'But it was most likely a Rousseau or a Gouges from one of the great vintages we had immediately after the War. What I do recall was a visit to La Tour d'Argent. My father selected a bottle of La Tache 1938 (not a great vintage). It was almost rosé in colour. Our guests were rather shocked. But the aroma and intensity of this wine was remarkable. This must have been in 1958 or so, when I was 17. I remember my father ordered that the rest of the stock be reserved for himself.'
Jacques tried banking and working in the biscuit business. But his heart was in wine. (Though, to tell the truth, having had ambitions to be an actor when he was 15, he would have liked to become an architect – but this is in retrospect). He spent two years in Burgundy learning the ropes. Land at the time was cheap. Seysses père had been an initial investor in the Domaine Pousse d'Or, when it was set up in 1964. They found a run-down property in Morey-Saint-Denis. The first vintage was not the 1968. The wines were too poor to bottle themselves. It was 1969. Vines elsewhere were acquired, and within a few years the domaine measured 11.5 hactares spread over 11 different appellations, a typically Burgundian morcellation. With the help of father's entrées into the nation's top restaurants, the Dujac wines soon began to be noticed. Jacques has never had much problem selling his crop.
Jacques remembers the first time the American merchant Colonel Frederick Wildman came to call. 'He was a gaunt, rather frightening old man. He didn't say much. And I thought the wines weren't showing very well that day. He tasted around the cellar in complete silence, and, not hearing any grunts of approval I was beginning to think: well, that's it. He doesn't like the wine. And then suddenly he said: I'll take the lot! I was stunned. But I didn't want to put all my eggs in the one basket, so I said: 'I'll sell you half.' It was the beginning of a fruitful partnership. Wildmans would represent Dujac in the USA for the next 20 years.
So, who helped you make the wine in the early stages? I ask. 'Gérard Potel, of the Pousse d'Or; certainly Aubert de Villaine of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti; but perhaps most importantly Charles Rousseau of Domaine Armand Rousseau. I soon began to realise the importance of the attention to detail in the vineyard: training high, to maximize efficient photo-synthesis, hoeing and ploughing as much as possible, reducing the potential yield from the beginning, and so on. A lot of replanting was necessary.' Originally Jacques Seysses was a great believer in clones. He's less convinced now, and he can make his own selection 'massalle' from the best of his old own vines. At vintage time he soon decided to employ a large number of people to collect the fruit. 'They can take more time, and the triage (sorting through to eliminate the sub-standard) is more efficient.' In the winery, following the DRC, Seysses vinified with all the stems, and matured his wine in new oak, but bottled quite early.
Jacques and his attractive American wife, Rosalind – she came over to work the vintage and never went back – have three children, Jeremy, born 1975, and Alec, born 1977, both involved in the business, and their younger brother Paul, who runs an embryonic chain of restaurants in Burgundy called My Wok. Both Jeremy and Alec went to university in England; Jeremy to University Collge, Oxford, Alec to the L.S.E.. While working at Mondavi Jeremy met his future wife Diana, a Davis graduate, whose family own the Snowden winery up in the hills above Rutherford in the Napa Valley. She is now the wine-maker at the Domaine Dujac, and they have two boys; Aubert, born 2007, and Blaise, born 2009. Whose wines are their yardsticks? I asked Jeremy and Alec. Frédéric Mugnier and Christophe Roumier, they both echoed, and Jean-Marc Roulot for his whites. I was rather dismayed when Jeremy declared that his first remarkable bottle memory was a Château Guiraud 1975. By no means a great wine, in my view! But apparently Jacques had bought quite a lot of it, and it was always wheeled out on birthdays. Jeremy was on more comfortable ground with his recollection of the bottles for his 21st.: Bâtard-Montrachet 1976 from Ramonet and 1966 La Tache. Diana's most impressive early wine is a 1993 Aroujo Cabernet, which I confess I have never sampled.
So. Who is in charge now, and has anything radical been changed?
'It is a triumviate,' says Jeremy, 'plus Jacques as the Wise Old Man in the background. Diana makes the wine. But otherwise all three of us are involved in the cellar. Alec is in charge of the picking team and the logistics of the vintage – the vineyard manager is Lilian Robin – while I am more responsible for the commercial side, the allocations and so on. But I decide on the date of the harvest.
Nothing has fundementally altered as far as the wine-making is concerened, but there have been some subtle changes. 'I feel', says Jeremy, 'that hitherto our wines were more 'Dujac' than Chambolle, Gevrey or Morey. We are trying to make the family signature less instantly obvious.' Partly, I suggest, this is because, under Jacques it was always 100 whole clusters and 100 percent new wood. Since 1999 the domaine destems on occasion. The cellar is now permanently air-conditioned, so is a little cooler, and as a result the malo-lactics are later. This, plus the fact that in the new, enlarged cellar, half the fermentations take place in concrete vats, which retain heat – though it is the later malos which have the greatest influence - results in more colour in the wines than hitherto. As well as the small amount of de-stemming, and with the same wines, the village ones, the percentage of new oak has been reduced from 100 to as little as 25 percent with the youngest vines. 'The origins of the wines necessitate us to change our techiques,' says Jeremy. 'For instance I find that totally whole cluster fruit doesn't work as well in Gevrey than in the villages further south. However, if we had a parcel where there was lots of millerandage we would not destem at all.'
'We tend to add nearly all the press wine; keep the wines on their fine lees a year; then rack – as much to liberate excess carbon dioxide as for any other reason; and bottle in February/March. Getting back to the amount of new oak, We normally now use 40 percent for the village wines, 60-80 for the premiers crus, up to 100 for the grands crus. The tendency is that we use less new oak in the riper vintages, where there is less malo-lactic, more in those less fortunate.' But then he points out that you have to order your casks early, well in advance of the vintage, at a time when you might have no idea whether your vintage is going to be generous or not. And you can't lerave a cask unused.
In 2005 Jacques and Jeremy were approached by Etienne de Montille. Through his banking connections – he used to be a merchant banker before returning to Burgundy to take over the family estate on a full time basis (he also runs the Château de Puligny-Montrachet) – Etienne had heard that the Domaine Charles Thomas was for sale. It was an undertaking he couldn't afford on his own. Were the Seysses interested in sharing the estate? They were. So the Thomas vineyard holdings were acquired and shared, with Dujac basically taking over the northern end, chiefly Romanée-Saint-Vivant, Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, Les Beaumonts and a large slice of Vosne-Romanée, Les Malconsorts. Some of these are owned and leased back by outsiders, such as Wilfred Jaeger in the Romanée-Saint-Vivant. A few lesser parcels were disposed of to help finance the deal, and the first vintage was 2005. The Dujac domaine now covers 15.25 hectares. Hence the extention to the cellar.
The Dujac style has always been one of great elegance and purity, wines of poise and balance, and this has been enhanced of late, as much because the average age of the vines has increased as to any nuancing of the wine-making processes. Though not bio-dynamic, the viticulture is, and always has been, firmly ecological. Judging by the 2005s and most of the vintages since – though I am rather suspicious about the 2006s (the Clos de la Roche as well as the Clos Saint-Denis) - the wines are even better than they used to be. What I like about them is that they are always ripe, fresh and fragrant without ever hinting at excess acidity. This is one of the great Burgundy domaines.
I have been fortunate in the past to have participated in at least three important vertical tastings of Dujac Clos de la Roche, so this time I opted for Clos Saint-Denis. Before we sat down to taste I asked Jeremy how he would describe the difference between hese two adjacent climats.
'Aromatically they are both unmistakably Morey-Saint-Denis.' Jeremy began. 'That is there are suggestions of nutmeg and cinnamon to go with the cherry-raspberry-strawberry. But texturally they are quite different. Clos de la Roche (where the Dujacs have 1.95 hectares in six parcels with an overall average age of 45-50 years) has more structure, more tannin, and is generally more masculine. There is a minerally graphite aspect I don't find in Clos Saint-Denis.'
'In the Clos Saint-Denis (1.45 hectares in two parcels; also an average age of 45-50 years) the silky tannins are first and foremost. There is intensity without weight. Texturally there are similarities with Chambolle but in character our Clos Saint-Denis is quite different. There are aromatic fireworks to be found and a 'peacocks tail' as the wine opens out in the mouth that I find most appealing.'
I sampled the following wines in May 2011.
CLOS SAINT-DENIS2009From 2022
Full colour. Impressive nose. Ripe, succulent, profound, classy and gently oaky. Fullish body. Very classy tannins. Very good grip. Ample and rich and complex. Lots of finesse. Very fine.2008From 2020
Medium to medium-full colour. I expected a bit more. A touch of austerity on the nose. More substance than the colour would suggest. More generous on the palate. Medium-full body. Very good tannins and grip. A lovely, subtle combination of fruit and acidity. Lots of originality. Long and very stylish. Very fine for the vintage.2007From 2015
Medium colour. Generous nose. Showing no weakness. Ripe, fruity and positive. Medium body. Fresh and stylish. Balanced and attractive if no real depth. Good finish. Will be ready quite soon. Fine for the vintage;2006From 2016
Fullish colour. More than the 2008. Not a lot on the nose at first. But more character on the palte. There is fresh fruit here but at the same time an astringent touch. Decnt acidity nevertheless. Medium-full body. But it is an unrelaxed, somewhat four-square wine, lacking style and grace.2005From 2017
Full, immature colour. Lovely nose. Quite marked by the new wood. But rich, concentrated and potentially voluptuous. Full body. Still firm. But now beginning to soften up. Splendid rich fruit. Lots of energy. Complex, harmonious and very high class. Excellent.2002From 2014
Medium to medium-full colour. Fully mature. Some evolution on the nose. Fresh, ripe and quite rich; with very good grip. Essentially gentle on the attack now. More vigour and depth on the after-taste. Lots of class. Yet a bit more forward than many at this level. Lovely.1999Now-2025 plus
Fullish colour. Just beginning to show signs of maturity. Open, accessible, plump nose. Medium-full body. Just about ready. Very fresh. Complex and ample. Composed and harmonious. Perhaps not the greatest power and vigour and concentration, but long on the palate and a most delicious bottle.1998Now-2020
Fullish colour: identical to the 1999. Cooler and less ample on the nose. Medium-full body. On the palate the wine is plump and attractive, but there is less to it than the above. Most enjoyable nevertheless. And à point now.1996Now-2020 plus
Medium to medium-full, mature colour. Fresh, complex nose, with a bit more of the stems apparent than most. This is because the fruit is less ample here. On the palate quite full. Certainly vigorous. Interesting sweet-sour flavours. Good grip. Riper than the nose would suggest. Good long finish. Fine.1995Now-2025 plus
Fullish mature colour. Rich, fresh, quite sturdy nose. Plenty of depth and vigour. Fulllsh and youthful on the palate. Very good energy and grip. Ripe tannins. Fresh, plump, complex and full of character. Plenty of backbone. Much more complete than the 1996. Good creamy-rich finish. Very fine.1993Now-2025
Medium-full, mature colour. Less weight than the 1995 on the nose. But ripe and round, classy and complex. Medium-full body. Good fruit. Very good acidity. Not as profound as the 1995, but very long and subtle. Lovely.1991Now-2018
Full vigorous colour. Lovely nose. Roses and slight herbal fragrances. Good weight and depth behind it. Medium body. Now beginning to lose its energy at the end. But fresh and balanced and stylish and still with life. Fine, especally for the vintage.1990Now-2020
Medium-full colour. Fully mature. Soft, rich, very Dujac nose. Medium-full body. Alive and complex and à point. Less volume than many 1990s at this level, but plenty of depth, vigour and finesse. Now more than fully ready. Lovely finish.1985Now-2020
Medium-full colour. Fully mature. Aromatic nose. Fresh and concentrated. But gamey nonetheless. A fullish wine which is a little less fresh and has a little less acidity than the 1990. But it is sweeter and more seductive. Splendidly classy and harmonious. Very lovely.1980Drink soon
Medium-full colour. Fully mature. Smoky, oaky nose with a hint of bonfires on the nose. This is now beginning to show a bit of age on the palate. Medium body. Still sweet but geting a little ungainly with suggestions of astringency. Was a fine wine in its prime.1978Will still keep
Medium-full colour. Fully mature. Lovely nose. Aromatic, ripe, mature, complex and vigorous. Lots of depth and interest. This is really fine. Medium-full body. Very fine grip. Excellent fruit. A real treat.