The Legend: Henri Jayer

“Nothing in the world is easier than making wine” – Henri Jayer (Burghound #13)

In Burgundy, there will never be a shortage of great wines.  However when it comes to Henri Jayer, this takes on an entirely new meaning. Jayer has topped the ‘World’s 50 Most Expensive Wines”, with his Richebourg Grand Cru in recent years, and is considered worldwide to be the “godfather” of Burgundy wines.

 

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Henry Jayer’s private wine cellar

Developing a passion

Born in 1922, the adolescent Henri encountered World War II, his two elder brothers Georges and Lucien both fought on the front line, while being the youngest Henri dropped out of school and helped on the vineyards. At that time he had little interest in making wine, however his passion developed throughout the course of the following years. In 1941, Henri went to the University of Dijon to learn about wine technology and earned himself an enviable first degree in oenology. Following this achievement, Jayer made a 10 year agreement with Madame Noirot-Camuzet to look after and cultivate her vineyards in return for half of the grape harvest. For several years they produced under a shared label until Jayer produced the first vintage under his own label in 1951. His contract with Camuzet was extended multiple times, even exceeding Madame Noirot-Camuzet’s death. Jayer remained a consultant to the estate until 1988. Over the years Jayer continued to collect parcels of land until it finally amassed 80 hectares in the region.

 

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Henri Jayer with Jean Nicolas Méo of Domaine Méo-Camuzet

Wasted land makes great wines

One field that Jayer’s name is particularly synonymous with is that of the Cros Parantoux 1er. Situated high above the vineyards of Richebourg in Vosne Romanee and with an area of only 1.01 hectares, this patch of land had been considered by many to be far too cumbersome to undertake. The soil was thought to be too calcareous with too much gravel and the location was a cold microclimate. However Henri was convinced that all of these aspects of the soil and geographical position could produce the acidity of natural fresh wine. In 1951 Henri began work on the Cros Parantoux field. The field had previously been in use as an artichoke plot, and it took Henri almost 2 years to clean it up. Furthermore, to deal with the large stones in the soil, he had to use explosives in order to loosen it before planting any grapes. It is said that he bombed the field a total of 400 times. The first vines were finally planted in 1953. After 20 years of tending to it, Henri still felt that the vines were too young, despite the fruit being very high quality, it still did not meet his requirements. Instead he used it for his Vosne Romanee village wine. Finally in 1978, after being persuaded, Henri launched the first vintage of Cros Parantoux. It certainly did not let Jayer down. The wine was a clever fusion of power and elegance, fresh air, and silky tannis.

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Map of Cros Parantoux in Vosne Romanee

In 1995, Jayer was forced into retirement by the French government, who gave him the choice of retirement or forfeiting his pension. To avoid this Henri simply transferred his business into the name of his nephew by marriage, Emmanuel Rouget. In 1996 the winery began selling Henri’s personal collection. In 2001 Jayer officially retired, which was his last vintage. When asked if he would come back in 2002 he was said to have smirked and replied “You never know, my retirement plan is to release my private wine from time to time.”

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The Legacy

Henri’s nephew Emmanuel Rouget took over the winery and worked with Henri for over 20 years. Cecile Tremblay, the niece of Henri, is today one of the most promising winemakers in Burgundy. She has a strong personal style and the perfect blend of each crop of land. We look forward to the legend of Henri continuing and tasting several generations of winemakers, the mysterious land of Burgundy, and nature all blend together. Throughout his life Henri lived by the philosophy that ‘wine must not be brought up in cotton-wool’ and to ‘let nature go’. He was a strong advocate of producing wine as naturally as possible and that one could not replace components of wine artificially as this was not the way to achieve quality. He channeled his energy and expertise in producing top-class grapes. Sadly Henri passed away in 2006, however the influence of wine is eternal in Burgundy and beyond.

 

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In 2001 as the last year of the wine of Henri Jayer to be produced,
The wine label featured a special design
The above French reads:
My 57th and final vintage,
The barrel of friends, to be shared amongst them

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