Three years ago, Eric Asimov, the New York Times wine correspondent, profiled Jacques Lardière, the technical director of Burgundy négociant-producer Maison Louis Jadot, on the occasion of his retirement after 42 years with the company. As luck would have it, Lardière passed through Dallas recently, and I thought it would be an appropriate time to follow up, and find out how retirement was treating him.
When I posed that question at our first meeting, he burst out laughing. Retirement at age 65 is mandated by the French government, but someone as energetic as he wasn’t going to just take it lying down. Fortunately, Jadot has some astute leadership and they saw an opportunity to give him his second chapter while fulfilling a long-standing goal of their own. Jadot’s first property outside France would be in Oregon, where Jadot had just snapped up the purchase of Resonance Vineyard, and Lardière would be the winemaker. The 37-acre vineyard (19.5 acres planted in Pommard and 777 Dijon clone pinot noir) in the Willamette Valley's Yamhill-Carlton AVA would be his to craft and mold to his pleasure. He accepted the challenge and moved, hook, line, and sinker, to Oregon.
Lardière is quick to point out that he is not making Burgundy in Oregon. Wine is inseparable from its place, in his view. His feelings are expressed with expansive arm movements that resemble the rotors of a heavily laden helicopter struggling to get airborne. He expresses things discursively in a hybrid language of French, English, and personal abbreviations. You clearly get the message, if not chaque mot.
He is adamant that Oregon is the place to grow pinot noir in America. “Napa is too warm,” he declares. When I mention that Carneros is a Region I (the coolest wine-growing region) on the Winkler scale, he puts his head back reflectively. Maybe he is pondering taking a look. It is a scientific cast of mind at work. He has already scoured the usual suspects among sites in California and can discuss such domain-specific phenomena as lateral air movement through Santa Barbara County with expertise. Still, Oregon has a climate like Burgundy's and he has put roots down there.
We try the first fruits of his labor, the 2013 Résonance Vineyard Estate Bottled Pinot Noir ($65). The truth of his words about not being Burgundy is immediately evident. This is a masculine, granularly textured wine with emphatic but not harsh tannins and earthy, forest-floor notes with mushrooms, thyme, and pepper. The fruit is darker than I would have guessed based on Lardière's work in Burgundy. This is not in the bright-cherry style of wine. It is certainly not a fruit bomb. Overall, there is considerable complexity.
Lagardière sits back and lets others opine, but he must feel good as he affirms that it will keep 30 years. And there are only 12,000 bottles. Others liked it as well. Wine Enthusiast gave it 94 points and Robert Parker, 91.
On a technical note, the vineyard, planted in 1981, is dry-farmed (i.e. not irrigated) and the grapes grow on their own, native, rootstock. Soils are mainly old sedimentary deposits, known as Willakenzie, and ancient submarine basaltic soil, known as Yamhill.
The winemaking technique is traditional. He dismisses such modern enological massaging as micro-oxygenation, regarding it as a commercial expedient to enable early release that harms the full potential of the wine. He bemoans the damage done to Beaujolais by the advent of Beaujolais Nouveau and its use of carbonic maceration. Consumers have assumed that Nouveau is how Beaujolais tastes and never step beyond to the seductive and harmonious Cru Beaujolais. As if to prove the point, we taste a 2012 Jadot . It is soft, dancing with red fruit and a living example of the balance that well-made Cru Beaujolais can offer.
Next on Lardière’s packed agenda is a chardonnay from Oregon fruit. Pinot noir, chardonnay — it will be just like getting back to work in Burgundy. For a man who is supposed to have retired, this is remarkably prolific.