Today, 85-year-old Lalou Bize Leroy can rightly be name as the well-deserved queen of Burgundy, owning or partly owning three of the best wineries in the region. Of course she was lucky to inherit a stake in one of the best wineries in the world, however the rest of her story is a testament to her own individual skill as a winemaker and business person.
In 1974, Lalou inherited a share of her father’s ownership of the Domaine Romanée Conti, an estate now managed by Aubert de Vilaine. Due to years of disagreements on distribution with both Aubert and her own sister Pauline, Lalou was ousted from the estate in 1992.
It would almost appear, in retrospect, that Lalou foresaw the likelihood of this happening, as in 1988 had purchased a number of Domaine Charles Hudelot-Nöellat’s holdings in Vosne Romanee, followed by some of Domaine Philippe Remy in Gevrey-Chambertin, to found “Domaine Leroy”. Domaine Leroy boasts 10 Grand Cru appellations (Chambertin/Latricières-Chambertin /Clos de la Roche /Musigny /Richebourg /Romanée-Saint-Vivant /Clos de Vougeot /Corton-Renardes / Batard Montrachet /Corton-Charlemagne). Some holdings are as small as 0.06ha, which limits production to a few hundred bottles for many of the wines and has helped the prices reach the top echelon in Burgundy.
Today, Domaine Leroy and Maison Leroy both fall under the Leroy S.A. company, which is owned in large by Lalou, but also 30% by Leroy’s longstanding Japanese importer Takashimaya. Lalou also owns 25% of Domaine Romanee Conti, since the unpleasant split of 1992. However Domaine d’Auvenay remains entirely under the ownership of Lalou. This domaine consists of just 12.35 acres, based in St. Romain and has an annual production of about 350-500 cases a year. Auvenay mainly produce white wines, but is also fortunate to hold gems of Bonnes Mares and Mazis-Chambertin Grand Crus.
Domaine Leroy’s wine is one of the hardest to find, but among the best in Burgundy, the total output being just a few thousand bottles. And Lalou Bize-Leroy is strict in her bottling “we only brew 150 standard bottles a year of Criots Batard Montrachet, I want 150 people to taste it, but if we bottle magnums, that number would half.”
Madame Bize-Leroy can be seen as slightly fearsome, for better or for worse, with very unusual views on staunch biodynamism in the vineyard, she has been known to disagree with her Burgundian neighbours, and sees more in common with her counterparts in Bordeaux, “[Other Burgundy vignerons] think I’m crazy, I’ve always been isolated from the rest of them. With the Bordelais, yes. They are kinder to me, they don’t think I’m crazy.” Lalou was the first person in Burgundy to completely convert the estate to biodynamic methods. Domaine Leroy never used chemicals over the past 25 years, which hasn’t always been easy. During the notoriously difficult 1993 vintage, mildew sprung up almost overnight. Most Burgundy producers increased the chemicals in the vineyards in order to protect the vintage, however Lalou took the decision not to interfere and compromise the vines for future vintages. As a result, she lost most of her grapes that year, and her peers thought she had made a terrible mistake. However, two years later, her tiny production of ‘93’s began to receive incredible reviews, with her Romanee Saint vivant receiving near perfect points by the critics.
Having established that Madame Bize-Leroy produces outstanding wines, one might find themselves very tempted to go out and purchase some. However, this is not so simple. Low yields in her vineyards (to allow for the best produce), combined with a meticulous selection of allocations means that this wine is hard to find on the market. What’s more, Lalou doesn’t release her wines until they are of drinking age- adding to the anticipation on the market once they are finally detached from the vineyard.
– Lucy Kelly