The toast maker


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair is home to the eponymous winemaker whose biodynamic vines encompass Richebourg, Clos de Vougeot and Nuits-St Georges Les St Georges. Here he shares his philosophy on all things vinous – and explains how he got into cooperage.

I believe that 80 percent of the work should be done in the vineyards.  Always try to make a good working vineyard to understand (and have a high quality of) the grapes.  If you have some good grapes and you don’t have to work too much with them, you just follow what they can give during vinification. My objective is to try to have the perfect grapes and the perfect sorting before they go into the vat.  After that, I don’t really intervene.

If there is just one word to describe what I want to try to do in my wine, it’s ‘balance’.  Every day I taste the wine during the vinification, and from the vineyard to the wine, I always prefer to do too little than too much. Otherwise I might do too much of something and then I can’t come back.

After the aging, my objective is always to use the barrel. It’s important to use wood with a good, light toast.

My first vintage was the 2002, and at the beginning I worked with three coopers. Two of them told me, “We’ll make you some great barrels, which will be very good for your style.”  I didn’t know what my style is, so how could they know? Now I go in the forest to choose my own tree for making our barrels. For the most part I look to the Fontainebleau forest, but I also have another, secret spot.

Just after you chop a tree down, you can cut a slice and see inside, and when you see the grain and the colour you can begin to think about the pairing between the wood and the wine. I produce 20 wines in the Domaine and, maybe, we have 30 different types of barrel. The main part of my barrel I call ‘tartare’ toast, or ‘raw’ toast or sometimes ‘white’ toast. I never want to have the taste of oak come through in my wines, and for me it’s a sort of balancing act.

The biggest surprise of the 2013 vintage was the capacity of the grapes to give more than what we expected. We certainly didn’t expect to have this body in the wine. The grapes always have something to tell us. This is why we must keep an open mind.

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