The 11 hectare Domaine Lamarche has had its ups and downs – the latter perhaps inevitable during a period where until relatively recently profit was hard to come by – but is now definitely on the up. Progressively since 1990 or so quality has moved from 'good' to 'very fine'. In a village replete with over-achievers it is a relief that such an important establishment, and possessor of one of the four grand cru monopolies in the commune of Vosne-Romanée, now produces wines as good as they should be.
The Lamarches begin with Jean-Constant, born in Sombernon in the Hautes Côtes in 1835, who married a local lady and installed himself in the village. She brought with her some vines as a dowry, and all the generations since have gradually expanded the estate. These two produced Henri, who I will call for the sake of convenience Henri 1, born in 1871, and two other male children. Henri 1 married into the Chambolle-based Grivelet family, thereby gaining more land, and was also a barrel maker. His son Henri 2, born in 1903, was, alongside the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and that of the Gros family, one of the first to start selling wine in bottle to the restaurant trade. He was also a broker and cellar master for the Marey-Monge estate, owner of what is now the DRC's parcel in Romanée-Saint-Vivant. Under his aegis the Lamarche domaine was further enlarged.
His uncle Edouard, rich and widowed, and with no successors of his own, on the occasion of Henri 2's marriage in 1933 to Jeanne Demur, (she brought with her land in Pommard) bought him the vineyard of La Grande Rue as a wedding present. He also left money to his two nieces, daughters of his brother Alfred. At the time it was thought that the girls had had the best of the arrangement.
Henri 2 had three children. The eldest, Elizabeth, married Joseph Moissenet of Nuits-Saint-Georges, and it is their successors who look after the Pommard vines. Then Francois, born in 1944, and finally Geneviève, born in 1949. Francois retired in 2007. His daughter Nicole is now in charge of the wines and the cellar, while Geneviève's daughter, Natalie, works alongside her aunt Marie-Blanche on the commercial side. Did Marie-Blanche, like her predeccesors, bring a dowry of vines? 'No. I come from the Lorraine. I was born in Metz.'
La Grande Rue is a thin strip of land lying between La Tache and Romanée-Saint-Vivant, La Romanée-Conti and La Romanée. The wine it produces has been classed, if not quite as highly as Romanée-Conti and Richebourg right at the top of the tree, at least in the very next rank, i.e. alongside La Tache and Romanée-Saint-Vivant, by the Abbé Courtépée in the 18th century, and his succssors Dr. Denis Morelot and Jules Lavalle in the 19th. It belonged before the French Revolution to a wealthy Nuits family, the Lamy de Samereys, was sold as a bien national to the influential Marey family (who seem to have been involved in just about all the top vineyards in the Côte d'Or at some stage in their history) and then passed by marriage to Louis-Charles Bocquillon, Comte Liger-Belair, and then to Bocquillon's son-law Joseph de Champeaux, proprietor of the Château de Vosne-Romanée. It was Champeaux's successors, in the straitened times of the 1930s, who were forced to put La Grande Rue on the market.
One hundred and fifty years ago La Grande Rue measured 1.33 hectares. It seems to have grown since. Current records put it at 1.65 ha. Over the years since the Lamarche acquisition parcels have been exchanged with the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, for there were vines in La Tache belonging to the Lamarches and vines in La Grande Rue owned by the DRC. Things have now been tidied up.
But why was La Grande Rue not appointed grand cru in 1936 alongside the rest? It seems to have been Henri Lamarche's decision not to apply. He feared he would have to pay higher taxes. It was Marie-Blanche, wife of Francois, who was the driving force behind the application for re-classification. She started this in 1984. The decree was finally issued on July 8th. 1992.
The domaine is rich in enviable parcels of all that is best in the immediate neighbourhood. In the Clos de Vougeot (two thirds at the top, one third lower down) the Lamarches own I.35 ha.; in Grands-Echézeaux 30 a.; in Echézeaux, from the three lieux dit of Champ Traversin, Cruots and Clos-Saint-Denis, there is 1.32 ha. There are four premiers crus in Vosne-Romanée: Chaumes, La Croix-Rameau, Malconsorts and Suchots; and one in Nuits-Saint-Georges, Les Cras. In addition there is village Vosne, Bourgogne, Hautes Côtes de Nuits and Bourgogne Rouge and Aligoté.
Slowly but surely since he took over completely on the death of his father in 1985, Francois, aided by the capable and energetic Marie-Blanche, began to invest in the quality of the Lamarche wines. The two wish they had been able to spend more money sooner, but there were the inevitable financial constraints. Firstly the harvest was reduced. Figures quoted by Jean-Francois Bazin (La Romanée-Conti, 1994) show yields of as much as 50 casks of La Grande Rue in some of the more abundant vintages in the 1970s: far, far too much. In 2009 there were 24.
A new cuverie was installed in 1990, and at the same time a general cleaning up of the cellar. One of the downsides of tasting chez Lamarche twenty-five years ago was the smell of drains in the farthest part of the cave, where the top wines were stored. This part of the cellar lay underneath the main drain running outside under the road. Naturally this did no good to the wine. There was an extension of the cellar and the offices in 1991. New, more sophisticated temperature control of the wine-making process was introduced in 1998.
Nicole, diplomé in oenology, joined her father Francois in 2003. Naturally at first he was in charge. In 2006 the roles were reversed, and in 2007 Nicole made the wines on her own. One of the first things she did was to change her consultant: she wanted someone more expert who shared her objectives. Attention was required in the vineyard. From 2010 the vines are being cultivated biologically. The barrel suppliers were altered: more Francois Frères and a bit of Remon and Seguin-Moreau; less Rousseau, which she found gave adapterd less well to the wine. There is less new wood than hitherto, but the effect is a more sophisticated oaky background in the wine. Now that the cellar is better equipped the domaine can better nuance things such as cold soaking before the fermentation starts, and the length and temperature of the fermentation and maceration. Not to mention the amount of new wood, which today averages 50 percent for the top wines. Each vintage brings with it its own recipe.
'My over-riding objective' says Nicole, 'Is to respect the Pinot Noir. Of all the varieties it is the most complex. In order for it to express its terroir we must respect the environment and keep the viticulture traditional.' Yes, she adds, in answer to my question, it would be nice to revert to horses for the ploughing, as they do in the neighbouring La Tache. 'Perhaps in the future. It's very expensive.'
'La Grande Rue, in my view, is a more feminine wine than La Tache. It is closer to Romanée-Saint-Vivant. The age of the vines is now getting venerable, but there is still much to do; more personality to extract. For instance, not all the porte-greffes (root-stocks) are the optimum ones for the clamat.'
Lamarche is now a top domaine, with wines which express themselves through their subtlety rather than their power. Since 1999, and more especially since 2005, the quality has been top-knotch. This is now a three star domaine.
The following vintages of La Grande Rue were tasted in Vosne-Romanée in November 2010.2010 (Date of the start of the harvest: 24/O9)
Still very young, and the malo-lactic fermentation yet to take place. Good colour. Medium-full weight. Good grip and concentration. Ripe and fresh. Seems very good indeed at the very least.2009 (12/09)
En masse. Racked two or three weeks ago. Will be bottled in the spring. Good colour. Rich, indeed opulent nose. Some oak in a roasted chestnut sort of way. Good fresh acidity. Not a bit aggressive. Succulent; rich; balanced; very seductive. Lovely long complex finish. Very fine for the vintage. From 2021.2008 (26/09)
Medium to medium-full colour. Quite oaky on the nose. By no means a blockbuster. Indeed quite gentle. Though fresh, the acidity is not a bit dominant. Medium body. Ripe, good grip. Just a little tannin. Lacks a bit of real vigour and concentration, but it is long and elegant. An attractive bottle with a positive finish. Fine plus. From 2018.2007 (07/09)
Medium colour, a little development. Soft, fruity nose. Not weak, but lacking a bit of backbone and energy. Ripe and fresh though. More too it on the palate. Decent volume and vigour. Good grip. No lack of dimernsion or richness. Long on the finish. This is very fine for the vintage. From 2016.2006 (23/09)
Medium colour. Some development. Gentle, ripe, oaky nose. Balanced and attractive but a little one-dimensional. Quite forward. Once again better on the palate. Medium to medium-full body. Good grip. Good vigour. Good dimension. The tannins are ripe and the wine fresh and positive. Finishes very well. Very fine for the vintage. From 2016.2005 (17/09)
Splendid colour. The nose has gone into its shell a little. But is full, firm, rich and concentrated. Lovely touch of oak. Lots of dimension. Very fine grip. Full body. Very good tannins; This has a lot of depth. This is a much bigger wine than the 2009. Real energy. Very high quality and a marvelous finish. A great wine. From 2020.
Good colour. Quite full. Only a little development. At first this was a little pinched and vegetal on the nose. But it got a bit more civilized as it deleloped. Better on the palate. Quite full. Less oaky than the wines above. Some weight – more so than the 2006 – but less attractive. The tannins are a bit dry and the wine lacks charm. I hope it will mellow as it ages. But I doubt it. From 2014.2003 (30/08)
Fine, full, youthful colour. Ample, voluptuous nose. Rich and fullish but soft and fat. Very good acidity for the vintage. And not a bit cooked or pruney. On the palate this is full bodied, rich and full of summer pudding fruit, supported by very good grip. Most attractive. Very fine for the vintage. Only just about ready. Now-2023.2002 (22/09)
Good colour. Classy nose. Less oaky than the recent vintages. Balanced and profound. Fullish body. Cool. Very harmonious. Subtle and very long on the palate. Very lovely fruit. Quite delicious. Can be enjoyed now, but all the better in five years time. Very fine for the vintage. From 2016.2001 (22/09)
Good colour. No undue development. Attractive, fresh, fruity nose. Really quite a lot of depth here for a 2001. Medium weight. Good fruity attack. Good acidity. No great vigour or concentration on the follow through. But a wine of charm. Fine for the vintage. Now-2018.2000 (16/09)
From magnum. If anything, this has a deeper and more youthful colour than the 2001. But more developed on the nose: even a little bit oxidized. Less flesh. Medium weight. A slight touch of astringency yet decent grip. This does not have the class or balance of the wine above. Not short, but rather ungainly. Now-2015.1999 (20/09)
Medium-full colour. Just about mature. Ripe, full, quite concentrated, quite gamey. Good grip. But it doesn't have the flair of the post-2002 vintages. On the palate full body, but somewhat robust, cooked and 'hot'. Decent grip and vigour, and it still needs a couple of years. But only 'very good indeed' for the vintage. The maceration was prolonged too long. Now-2020.1998 (22/09)
In contrast this is delicious. Good, quite vigorous colour. Very good nose. Fresh, sophisticated, balanced and profound. Medium-full body. Good tannins. Most attractive fruit and good grip. It doesn't have the volume of the 1999, but it's a much better wine with a lovely finish. Very fine for the vintage. Now-2020.1997 (20/09)
Medium colour. Mature. No undue age. Soft, ripe nose. But it lacks vigour. Medium weight. Fresher than most 1997s, but a little one-dimensional. Ripe and pleasant though and positive at the end. Very good for the vintage. Now-2016.1991 (01/10)
From magnum. Very good colour. Quite full and still vigorous. Fresh nose. Good grip. Mature and complex and plenty of energy. Fullish body. Lots of depth. Very slightly lean perhaps, but a lovely profound wine which will still keep well. Fine plus for the vintage. Now-2020.1969 (06/10)
From half bottles. These varied. Luckily I had one of the better examples. Fullish, fully mature colour. Lovely fragrant, mature, subtle Pinot on the nose. Still fresh. Elegant, complex and fine, with very lovely fruit. Aged quite fast in the glass, but an impressive wine. Now-2017.1955 (06/10)
The colour is fully mature if not even a bit aged. Soft, ripe nose. Subtle, gentle and very classy. Medium-full body. Getting towards its end, but still very lovely, and, as it turned out, lasting better in the glass than the 1969. Quite a robust wine originally, but it has matured well. Very fine. Drink soon.