Domaine François Lamarche, Vosne-Romanée
Unlike so many of Burgundy’s illustrious wine estates, Domaine Lamarche doesn’t have decades of prestige to proudly look back upon. In fact, it’s only been somewhat recently that the quality achieved by François’ daughter Nicole and her cousin Nathalie has been noticed and praised by aficionados (most notably, Clive Coates MW, who was one of Lamarche’s most scathing detractors in the 1990s, wrote in 2010, “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 primary reason that any attention was paid to a decidedly mediocre estate at all prior to this actualization of quality is that Lamarche owns an amazing array of vineyards, the most distinguished and controversial of which being La Grande Rue. To see this vineyard on a map several decades ago raised many questions – it borders La Tâche to the south, Romanée-St.-Vivant to the east and Romanée-Conti and La Romanée to the north and yet unlike these others, it was classified only as Premier Cru instead of Grand Cru.
The story goes that Henri Lamarche, who received La Grande Rue as a wedding gift from an eccentric uncle in 1934, saw no need to pursue its elevation to Grand Cru status when such an appellation came into legal existence. He wasn’t the only one at the time to assume that such prestige would only result in higher land taxes and not superior recognition.
So for many decades La Grande Rue remained an anomaly by being a premier cru vineyard almost wholly surrounded by the most legendary Grand Cru vineyards of them all. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that François and his wife Marie-Blanche began the process of having their vineyard upgraded to Grand Cru status. This was finally consummated in 1992 (granted as a retroactive status so you might hear of bottles from 1990 and 1991 labeled as Grand Cru) and is an achievement only shared by Clos des Lambrays.
For those who argue that despite this legal recognition, La Grande Rue is still not the qualitative equal of neighbouring Grand Cru vineyards, we would like to point out that nor is it the financial commitment of any other Grand Cru vineyard in Vosne. Domaine Lamarche’s other holdings include parcels in Clos de Vougeot, Échezeaux, Grands-Échezeaux, Malconsorts, Suchots, Chaumes, Croix Rameau and Le Cras, as well as village Vosne-Romanée and Bourgogne.
Since taking over from the previous generation, Nicole and Nathalie have implemented organic viticulture and restricted their yields in the vineyard. They have adjusted their oak regime, using less in general and taking a pragmatic approach with sensitivity to vintage and site influences.
They have also made major investments in the winery and chosen to forego fining and filtration. Their aptitude has resulted in wines that are as assertive and confidently flamboyant as one might expect from Vosne-Romanée, but with confident steps towards wines of great sophistication as well.
Lamarche wines from 10 years ago were good, but not as consistent as one might have desired and some had hard edges that weren’t so easily forgivable considering their origins. Now the wines are reliably lush and shimmering – no less ageworthy but more vivid, eloquent and refined.
You might say that there’s a feminine side that was once lacking but perhaps this would be to read too much between the lines. Regardless, Domaine François Lamarche is now an address that can be relied upon for utterly rewarding wine.
A most unfortunate postscript that must be added is that in June of 2013, François Lamarche was killed in a tractor accident.