“I want the wines to express by themselves what the vineyards have to say.”
— François Lequin
Beyond anything else, the wines of this historic domaine bear the imprint of the vineyard, with a distinct emphasis on purity and transparency. From enviable 1er and grand cru holdings in Santenay and Chassagne-Montrachet, vigneron François Lequin lets each site speak in the clearest possible voice, preferring to take “a small hand” in the cellar. The farming is certified organic and François is constantly exploring new ways to allow soil and vine to express themselves. There is a bright freshness to the wines’ profiles, from the unfined, unfiltered Retour aux Racines that is a complete departure from basic Bourgogne Blanc to the regal, but never overbearing Bâtard-Montrachet. The pinot noirs are charming and fruit-driven, marked by drinkability and finesse. Altogether, the Lequin-Colin range represents an all-too-rare opportunity to tap into a source of tremendous quality and value in Burgundy.
François’ family have been vignerons in Santenay since 1673. The story from there is an intricate tapestry of Leqins and Colins weaving back and forth over generations and across communes. The upshot is the 11-hectare inheritance François now holds in his hands: a carefully constructed collection of parcels divided between Santenay and Chassagne-Montrachet, with additional holdings in Pommard and Nuits-St.-Georges. Since 2014, François has also been involved in Domaine des Crets [INSERT LINK], where he and a partner bring a Côte d’Or sensibility to 4 hectares of vines in the northern Mâconnais.
Santenay marks the southern tip of the Cote d’Or. It shares a border with Chassagne. Geologically, it overlaps the Cote de Nuits. This makes it a fascinating point of intersection of terroir, tradition, and evolution. Over the past century, Santenay has gone from being a stronghold for pinot noir to a carveout for chardonnay. “It used to be 99% red until the ‘80s,” notes François. “Now I would say it’s 15-20% white, especially in the parcels close to the village itself.” It is best known for its clay-rich limestone soils, with structure and freshness being the hallmarks of the wines. In recent decades, Santenay, lacking a marquee producer, has become somewhat overlooked, making the discovery of the Lequin-Colin wines all the more exciting. The Lequin-Colins are fortunate to have lieux dits, 1er and grand cru holdings in Chassagne, including Morgeot, Vergers, and Caillerets among the former, and precisely 14 rows of vines in the majestic Bâtard-Montrachet in the latter. Further, they have a literal outlier in their holdings on the hill of Corton, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, from which the domaine’s grandest wine comes.
François was educated in Avize, Champagne, and then worked under David Ramey at Chalk Hill in California. It was during his studies that François decided he wanted to take the significant step of converting the domaine to organic farming. In 1996, he returned home to begin working alongside his father, eventually taking the helm himself. Year by year, he has gained a keener understanding of the character of each of the family’s parcels. It is this highly individualized character he takes such pains in the vineyards to capture and in the cellar to transmit. His philosophy is “back to the roots: working as my father and grandfather were doing.” He especially values the diversity of his holdings: “Making good wine is not enough. Having them be affordable, too, is very important to me.” Palate, precision, and purity are his guiding principles.
Vineyards and farming
All of the vineyards have been organically farmed since 2009 and Ecocert® certified since 2012. Biodynamic ideas were introduced in 2010 and François continues his exploration of producing terroir-driven wines in an environmentally sustainable way. Chardonnay vines are pruned “Guyot Simple,” and pinot noir pruned “Cordon de Royat.” The grapes for all crus are harvested by hand and pick time is determined by acidity level, not sugar. François believes that Burgundy’s bête noire — premox — which has affected so many producers, was due to several factors, including a lack of rigorous sorting. To combat this, he employs a substantial crew during the season, reaching over 40 employees at harvest. Of this compliment, nearly 30 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.
In the cellar
“The day after picking, the juice is in barrel,” François likes to say. For the chardonnay, he uses a pneumatic press, but 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, then lets it settle for a full year before racking. On average, the goal is to have only 10% new oak for the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation for the chardonnay; François favors Chassin and Rousseau French oak. Prior to malolactic, light bâttonage is done and after malolactic, the chardonnay is left on the full lees until just before harvest; the wines are bottled in December. François’ goal is to use as little SO2 as possible while assuring the wine is clean and stable. “Less and less” is the goal. He attains this through protective, reductive practices and by now his total SO2 levels are lower than the Demeter maximum range for biodynamic winemaking. 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 from the strikingly different climats in the Lequin-Colin stable.
For pinot noir, the process is a bit different. The harvest is handled the same way, in terms of picking being determined by acidity rather than sugar level. When the grapes come in, a determination is made as to how much whole cluster will be included. This is entirely vintage dependent. François is a believer in the beneficial uses of stems for extracting color, giving structure, as an antioxidant. However, he is also cautious about unripe stems adding herbaceous characteristics to the wine.
After the sorting table and the grapes are crushed in vats, François adds a little SO2 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. Again, only about 10% new oak is used for the red wines and SO2 is added based upon the pH post-malo. The pinot noir is left on the fine lees until spring, when it is racked for the first time. It is racked again in August and once more in the autumn before bottling in February/March.
François’ take on premox from a cellar perspective is that “we forgot to give the wines time.” The arrival of the pneumatic press made it possible to press very gently, but also very quickly. “You have to know how to use it,” he notes, “slower pressing keeps the protective natural yeasts from the vineyard.” François also believes there was too much new oak introduced into the cellars in the 1990s and that the wines were bottled too quickly — “an old winemaker’s saying holds that you only bottle a wine after two winters”— and that corks, which were bleached against TCA but became overly permeable as a result, were also an issue. Needless to say, he has used this experience and awareness to take all appropriate measures to protect his wines for aging with elegance, freshness and grace.