François Lequin completed his 21st vintage with the 2017 harvest at Domaine René Lequin-Colin, firmly establishing the substantial changes in farming and winemaking practices he has made since taking over the family estate in 1996.
The Lequin family have been vignerons in Santenay since 1673. Francois’ grandfather and great-grandfather were both only children, keeping the family vineyards intact until 1992. After harvest that year, the former Domaine Lequin-Roussot was divided between brothers René and Louis. René formed Domaine René Lequin-Colin with his wife, Josette Colin, of the noted Colin winemaking family in Chassagne-Montrachet. Her brother, Michel Colin, is the (semi-retired) winemaker at Domaine Colin-Deleger. René and Josette’s son, François, has family linkages to several Colin family vignerons, including Pierre-Yves, Philippe, and Marc.
François himself is now at the helm of just over 9 hectares of vines, split between Santenay and Chassagne-Montrachet. He also produces Pommard “Noizons,” Nuits-St.-Georges “Les Brûlées,” and the Grands Crus Corton-Charlemagne and Bâtard-Montrachet. François has made significant changes since taking over the estate. He was educated in Avize, Champagne, and then worked under David Ramey in California at Chalk Hill. It was during his studies that François decided he wanted to convert his family estate to organic farming. After a year back at home, he started ploughing the vineyards to control weeds and eliminated herbicides.
All of the vineyards have been organically farmed since 2009, and the domaine was Ecocert® certified in 2012. Biodynamic ideas were introduced in 2010 and François continues his exploration of producing terroir-driven wines in an environmentally sustainable way—with palate, precision and purity remaining his guiding principles.
Like all conscientious winemakers, François believes that the most compelling wines are made in the vineyard and not in the cellar. Chardonnay vines are pruned “Guyot Simple,” and pinot noir vines are pruned “Cordon de Royat,” and all of the vineyards are farmed organically. The grapes for all crus are harvested by hand and the picking time is determined by acidity level, not sugar. François believes that the pre-mox issue, which has affected so many Burgundian producers, was due to several factors. First, the arrival of the pneumatic press made it possible to press very gently, but also very quickly which didn’t allow the juice to be protected by the natural yeast from the vineyard. Second, François believes there was too much new oak introduced into the cellars in the 1990s. He also believes that the wines were bottled too quickly and that that corks were also an issue. To combat this, François employs a substantial crew during the season, reaching over forty employees at harvest. Of this compliment, nearly thirty employees are in the vineyards sorting and picking the grapes; three are on the winery team and the rest are on the sorting table and managing the press.
For the chardonnay, François uses a pneumatic press, but he presses very slowly, between three and a half and four hours per press. He then lets the juice “go-to-brown” to oxidize all the unstable, oxidative components in the juice; he lets it settle before racking the juice into barrels. On average, the goal is to have only 10% new oak for the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation for the chardonnay, and François prefers Chassin and Rousseau French oak. Prior to malolactic, light bâttonage is done and then after malolactic the chardonnay is left on the fine lees until Spring when it is racked for the first time. A second racking occurs around July or August and the wines are bottled in December. No sulphur is used for the chardonnay until after malolactic fermentation is complete and François’ goal is to use as little as possible, while assuring the wine is clean and stable. He determines the amount to add based on the pH of the wine though his total SO2 levels are lower than the Demeter maximum range for biodynamic winemaking.
For pinot noir, the process is a bit different. First, the harvest is handled the same as the chardonnay in terms of picking being determined by the acidity level rather than the sugar level. When the grapes come in, a determination is made on how much whole cluster to use for the pinot noir and this is entirely vintage dependent. François is a believer in the beneficial uses of stems in extracting color, as an antioxidant and for giving structure to pinot noir. However, he is also cautious because unripe stems will also add herbaceous and green characteristics to the wine. So, in some vintages, like 2015, 15-20% whole cluster was used for the pinot noir because the stems and pips were fully ripe. But in other years, like in 2004, all of the pinot noir grapes were de-stemmed. After the sorting table and the grapes are crushed in vats, François adds a little sulphur to the pinot noir mash to help extract color; the fermentation lasts between two and a half and three weeks, after which the grapes are pressed and racked into French oak barrels from Chassin and Hermitage coopers. Again, only about 10% new oak is used for the red wines and sulphur is added based upon the pH after malolactic fermentation is complete. The pinot noir is left on the fine lees after malo until the Spring when it is racked for the first time. The pinot noir is racked again in August and once more in the Autumn before bottling in February/March.
All of the cru wines from Domaine René Lequin-Colin are unfined and unfiltered, and the emphasis in “style” is on purity. Since all of the grapes are picked based upon their acidity level and not their sugar level, there is a freshness and brightness to their profile. You will not find a botryitisized, overly-rich chardonnay (which is in fashion now) in the Lequin-Colin range; nor will you find an overtly reductive style (also currently in fashion). What you will find is a transparent and evocative expression of chardonnay and pinot noir from the different climats that François owns. This is evident in the basic Bourgogne Chardonnay up to the Bâtard-Montrachet, and it is also manifest in the range of pinot noir wines.