Lucien Le Moine

Burgundy, France

In two decades of work, Lucien Le Moine has become one of the most talked about Burgundy producers, making some of the most sought after wines from the region.  The approach is extreme – two people, together doing everything by hand, working with a dazzling array of Burgundy’s great terroirs. In the late 1980s, Mounir Saouma’s visit to a Trappist monastery in the Middle East led to a prolonged stay during which he worked in the monastery vineyards and first learned to make wine.  He subsequently studied Viticulture and Oenology in Montpellier, followed by six years working in Burgundy, other areas of France, and California.  During this time he became fascinated by traditional methods of viticulture, vinification, and aging.  In 1999 he decided to push to the extreme all he had seen and experienced, and with his wife Rotem created a small cellar dedicated to the philosophy of making wines of purity and typicity.

Rotem comes from a cheese-making family, and studied agriculture in Dijon, eventually orienting her studies toward wine.  After winning a national prize from the French Academy of Agriculture for her study of the Côte d’Or, she participated in numerous harvests in Burgundy and California.  The name for Mounir and Rotem’s winery, Lucien Le Moine, is comprised of two references: the Lebanese “Mounir” means light, hence the equivalent French “Lucien”; “Le Moine” translates as “the monk”, and refers to Mounir’s initial wine experiences at the monastery.

From their years spent in Burgundy, Mounir and Rotem knew many superb growers in the region.  They devoted themselves to select production of Crus from these growers.  They only produce Grands and Premiers Crus, trying each year to have the most beautiful Crus in each village.  They revise their selection of Crus every year, depending on the quality of a particular vineyard in a given vintage, but do not produce any more than 100 barrels (2,500 cases), the absolute maximum for Mounir, who feels that any greater production would rob him of the ability to give each his personal touch.

The couple produces one to three barrels from each Cru.  This provides the biggest technical challenge, since each barrel needs to be perfect, from selection, through aging, to bottling: there is no blending to cover up even the slightest errors at the end.  They work with growers who are scrupulous with their vines, taste the wines very early (right after press), vinify (in the case of whites) or guide vinification in the methods they prefer (emphasizing phenolic ripeness, acid retention, and some employment of whole clusters), and put the wines in their barrels.

All wines are aged entirely on their lees.  Gentle batonnage is done a few times a month, less or more depending on the vintage, and the wine is never racked during this process.  The cellar is naturally humid and very cool, which pushes malolactic fermentations late into summer.  The natural CO2 produced during these long fermentations allows Mounir to use little SO2 (it should be noted it is best to decant all Lucien Le Moine wines as they can have some residual CO2). Once malolactic fermentation is complete, he and Rotem follow each barrel, tasting several times a month.  Bottling is done by hand via gravity feed when the wine is ready, always after a full moon (when atmospheric pressure is favorable).  No fining, filtration, or addition of sulphur takes place at bottling.

Wines

Montrachet Grand Cru

Burgundy

No superlatives need be stated here about Montrachet. Mounir has worked in several areas of Montrachet, both on the Pernand and the Chassagne side, and has even once bottled them separately. He does not produce a Montrachet every year, only when he feels it will be worthy of the vineyard’s renown, and can stand at the pinnacle of his white wines.

Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru

The gentleman, as Mounir calls Chevalier-Montrachet, a wine that always shows lovely definition and everything in place; classic grace.

Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru

Bâtard-Montrachet borders Montrachet on the west, and is typically a fatter, more open and more exotic wine than Chevalier-Montrachet, with less grip and a more flowery, honeyed richness.

Criots-Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru

The soils in Criots are a combination of marl, clay and chalk. In fact, the word “Criots” means chalk in French. The south-east facing slope lies at an altitude of around 780 feet - slighly lower than neighboring Chevalier-Montrachet and Le Montrachet, so the slopes tend to have a higher proportion of clay. Mounir describes this wine as “a bridge between the body of Bâtard and the class of Montrachet.

Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru

The commune of Aloxe-Corton, has the unusual distinction of having over half its area covered in grand cru vineyards. These occupy 298 acres divided among 19 climats which take the Corton grand cru appellation for red wines; five among these, totalling 120 acres, take the Corton-Charlemagne grand cru appellation for white wines as well as the Corton grand cru appellation for red wines.

Corton Les Grandes Lolières Grand Cru

Sometimes this cru forms part of Lucien Le Moine’s Corton Blanc, other times it is bottled separately. A cru that is not often seen, and is a red cru above all. It has an exotic spicy side to the aromas and flavors, and a broad body that maintains its precision.

Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Morgeot”

This vineyard lies on this Santenay end of the road that leads down from Chassagne to Santenay, widely considered the best area for white Chassagne. The wines here are racier and have more depth than most other white Chassagne.

Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “La Romanée”

Mounir says that Chassagne-Montrachet “La Romanée” is, to make an analogy, the most “Puligny” wine from Chassagne. It has a lot of silkiness and sweetness, and low acidity compared to other Chassagnes; it is a very clean wine, with a particular crème brûlée character that gives way to sweet fruit.

Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Embrazées

This vineyard lies on this Santenay end of the road that leads down from Chassagne to Santenay, widely considered the best area for white Chassagne. The wines here are racier and have more depth than most other white Chassagne.

Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “La Grande Montagne”

This tiny vineyard is located - as the name suggests - on the steep hillside of the same name just west of Chassagne-Montrachet. La Grande Montagne itself is the most southerly of the limestone hills which make up the Côte d’Or escarpment. It is located in the heart of the band of the best Chassagne 1er Crus at the top of the slope that includes Grandes Ruchottes, la Romanée and Caillerets.

Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Cailleret”

Chassagne-Montrachet Caillerets is defined by minerality. It is a very classy wine, with lots of dustiness. It’s the wine in Chassagne that you can’t totally pin down with an easy description, and that’s why some consider it a Grand Cru level. Minerality is the main point – little white stones, lots of limestone.

Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru “Les Folatières”

The Folatières climat lies near the summit of this slope, above Clos de la Garenne roughly midway between Meursault and Montrachet. It is the largest of Puligny’s premiers crus and is always sweet, has a lot of ripeness, showing apricot and other similar flavors. After 18-20 months the minerality comes out in the wine.

Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru “Champ Gain”

Champ Gains is high on the hill, and produces a wine in which a sense of dryness overshadows the sweet fruit - the sweetness that comes out is not an easy sweetness, and while you get apricot and other fruits on the palate, there is always a sense of dryness pulling them back.

Puligny-Montrachet 1er “Champ Canet”

Mounir describes Champ Canet as a frustrated Puligny. It has a lot of vivacity, it is racy and salty, influenced strongly by Meursault. You can think of it almost as a Meursault Perrieres in Puligny.

Meursault 1er Cru “Charmes”

Charmes is larger than both Perrieres and Genevrières put together, extending all the way down to the Meursault-Puligny road. The upper part of the vineyard produces extremely compelling Meursaults, with a soft flowery character that is less racy than Perrieres and less spicy than Genevrières, but just as intense.

Meursault 1er Cru “Genevrières”

Genevrières is defined by viscosity. The vineyard is mid-slope, and in the Lucien Le Moine Genevrières there is always notable acidity (even in low-acid years) and alcohol. “Mr Too Much of Everything” is how Mounir likes to describe this wine. It ferments slowly, and for some reason it always has a touch of cloudiness – something never precipitates out. It’s a wild child.

Meursault 1er Cru Les “Gouttes d’Or”

The first Premier Cru heading south into Meursault, Gouttes d’Or is characterized by displaying a full body offset along with a firm structure.

Meursault 1er Cru “Porusot”

Mounir likes to call Meursault Porusot the ambassador of Meursault – it takes from everything around it, Gouttes d’Or, Genevrieres, Charmes, and other vineyards, and shows a little bit of all their characters. It is a wine that doesn’t rest, it keeps changing all the time. Sweet yet flinty, as well as phenolic, it is an intellectual’s wine. Mounir was delighted to bottle Porusot for the first time in 2009.

Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Les Terres Blanches”

Les Terres Blanches is a 2.4 acre vineyard in the steepest area of Nuits-St.-Georges, and not far from the top Nuits-St.-Georges vineyards of Les Vaucrains and Les Saint-Georges. There are few producers in this small vineyard, and this very rare Nuits-St.-George white proves intriguing for its Nuits-St.-Georges character in spite of its variety and color.

Corton Renardes Grand Cru

Corton Renardes displays the sweet side of Corton, as opposed to Corton Bressandes. It has more viscosity, more tannin, color and sweetness than Bressandes. It is both an easier wine to understand that Corton Bresandes, and more immediately attractive.

Pommard 1er Cru “Les Epenots”

The vineyard for Lucien Le Moine’s Les Epenots has a clay and humidic soil, down on the bottom of the hill. It is compact soil, with not a lot of drainage. The wines as a result are very tannic, and need time. Les Epenots is a very powerful Pommard, with a lot of depth and muscle, and plum and spice notes. It is, as Mounir says, almost Bordeaux-like.

Pommard 1er Cru “Les Grands Epenots”

The 25 acre Les Grands Epenots vineyard is considered by some one of the very finest climats in Pommard. The fruit for Lucien Le Moine’s “Les Grands Epenots” comes from higher up in the vineyard leading to a classic and very fine expression. The vineyard is higher, it has better drainage, and there is more limestone, resulting in a wine that is both silkier and more easygoing than “Les Epenots.”

Volnay 1er Cru “Santenots”

The Santenots vineyard comprises about 56 acres. Down in Meursault, actually in the village of Meursault, Santenots is really planted on white wine soils. Sometimes you can even find the smokiness of Meursault in the wines. They are light and fruity wines, easily gliding through the palate because they don’t have firm structure.

Volnay 1er Cru “Clos des Chênes”

Clos des Chênes is a Premier cru site located at the southern end of Volnay. It is just up the hill from neighboring Les Caillerets, but is opposite in style: Clos des Chênes is typically a fuller wine than les Caillerets, with more body, tannins, depth and spice.

Grands Échezeaux Grand Cru

Grands Échézeaux is a 23 acre vineyard, one that only recently Lucien Le Moine has started working with to produce wines that show unusual subtlety and harmony. Mounir describes Grands Échézeaux 22 as the “Les Amoureuses” of Vosne. It sits between Échézeaux and Clos de Vougeot, which are big and tannic, but Grands Échézeaux is very balanced and straight - nothing is exaggerated.

Échezeaux Grand Cru

Lucien Le Moine has been producing one of the very finest examples of Échézeaux for several years running. Mounir says that you can make the analogy that Échézeaux is the syrah of Burgundy. On the Flagey side there is a flat exposition and the limestone is not as evident. As a result the wine has a licorice, smoky note which almost brings you to the Côte-Rôtie.

Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru

The largest Grand Cru in the Côte-de-Nuits, at 125 acres, Clos de Vougeot possesses differing soil structures and expositions and, notably, a large number of growers. The top of the vineyard features soils of pebbly limestone, which become marl further down the slope, and finally more alluival at the 23 bottom. Notoriously variable, from the best producers Clos de Vougeot produces generous, complex wines that can stand alongside any Grand Cru Burgundies.

Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru

Mounir thinks of Bonnes-Mares as the ambassador of all the Côte d’Or – taste 15 wines from the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits, and when you come to Bonnes-Mares it will have all the fruit, tannin, sweetness, and spice of the wines you just tasted. Because of its multi-dimensional power and beauty, Bonnes-Mares has become one of if not the signature wine from Lucien Le Moine.

Masiz-Chambertin Grand Cru

The Mazis-Chambertin parcel used by Lucien Le Moine lies in poor clay soils, from the highest part of the vineyard where there is only 4 inches of soil. Mounir likes to say that the sun almost touches the roots. As a result, this wine has powerful, jammy, almost barbecue flavor and a lot of smokiness (some will attribute this to oak, but it is the natural character of the site). There is an animal side to the wine that at Lucien Le Moine is tempered by an extended aging which brings out notably a red currant character. In addition, with bottle age the fruit becomes more apparent.

Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru

As the name suggests, wines from this vineyard are full of charm - beautiful aromatics and weight. Mounir looks for the “charm” in Charmes-Chambertin - a wine with sweetness, fruit, spice, chocolate notes. He feels it is at its best when it is attractive and approachable.

Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru

Latricières is often thought of as a “sturdy” Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru, Le Moine’s 2014 has an overtly elegant side that comes through, surprising and exceptionally promising.

Griotte-Chambertin Grand Cru

Griotte-Chambertin is one of the most elusive Grand Crus in Burgundy; it’s the smallest Grand Cru in Gevrey at only 3 hectares in size. The vineyard faces north-east, which means the vines are not fully exposed to the morning sunshine - this contributes to the fresher, less masculine style of its wines.

Chambertin-Clos de Bèze Grand Cru

A vineyard sitting between Mazis-Chambertin and Chambertin, Chambertin-Clos de Bèze is on the same limestone as Montrachet - you can almost think of it as a wine from Chassagne, a white wine with red color. It has almost an essence on the palate, it is supple, long, and without a lot of body or tannin. A sublime wine.

Clos de la Roche Grand Cru

Clos de la Roche lies on an easterly-exposed slope at the northern end of Morey-Saint-Denis, divided by the road leading to Gevrey-Chambertin, and shares some of the nuances associated with the grands crus of the commune. It is divided into eight parcels totalling 41.75 acres.

Clos Saint-Denis Grand Cru

The soils of Clos Saint Denis are very drained, and the fruit achieves a lot of ripeness and flavor Mounir calls this a humiliating wine, because your first impression is of a wine that is full of earthy, dirty notes, but when it emerges after time to breathe, or with age, it displays sweet red fruits and a sweet finish. The soil here is rich in iron and phosphorous, giving this wine a contrast between dirty and sweet.

Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Les Amoureuses”

This esteemed vineyard bordering Musigny and Clos de Vougeot regularly produces one of Lucien Le Moine’s most celebrated wines. Mounir says that the vineyard parcel from which his wine comes from has roots that go deep into the rocks, and the wine can be described as one with a lot of minerality, but with very little tannin or acidity, and notably a character of a very limited attack that draws out to an incredibly persistent finish.

Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Les Hauts Doix”

Les Haut Doix is a small vineyard between Les Charmes and Les Amoureuses. It sits within Les Amoureuses before the road to Les Charmes, but the wines show more acidity and fresh fruit than Les Amoureuses. It is crisper, less spicy, with fruit that is less ripe in character than Les Amoureuses. There is less drainage in this vineyard, and the soil is more viscous.

Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Les Baudes”

Lying just under Bonnes-Mares, Les Baudes shows a more structured and powerful side of Chambolle-Musigny.

Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru “Les Genavrières”

The 1er Cru Genavrières is located on the highest part of the Clos de la Roche vineyard. The wine has both the body of the Clos de la Roche and the finesse of this high part of Morey St Denis. The vines here were once exclusively white, but have gradually been taken over by Pinot Noir. The site is very rocky, with a visibly high content of limestone in the soils.

Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Estournelles-Saint-Jacques”

Estournelles St Jacques sits just above Lavaut St Jacques, a five acre vineyard at the top of the slope. Mounir Saouma describes this wine by staying it is in character between Les Cazetiers, which is fine and subtle, and Lavaut St Jacques, which is more powerful and tannic. Estournelles St Jacques has a beautiful balance, and a lovely weight that also displays subtlety.

Reviews

    Lucien Le Moine Montrachet Grand Cru 2016 (98 VM)

    Vinous Media - “Bright yellow. Very shy aromas of pear, crushed rock and iodine; conveys an almost 2015-like ripeness without any loss of its Montrachet character. This brooding, thick, sappy wine began a bit shy but gained in vibrancy and definition with oxygen, conveying increasing purity. Dominated today by crushed-stone minerality and medicinal herbs, this reserved, utterly seamless wine is barely at the beginning of its evolution. Finishes with remarkable unflagging length. When I remarked to Mounir Saouma that there was something almost obvious and deceptively tastable about this wine, he responded that he still wanted it to develop a bit more volatile acidity before he racks the wine prior to the ‘18 harvest and then returns it to barrel for another couple months before bottling it.”

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