For those who love great Burgundy, this winery needs no introduction. However, for those who want to learn more about the region’s great terroirs, tasting the wines of Domaine des Comtes Lafon is a true education. Jules Lafon migrated to Burgundy’s Côte d’Or from his native Tarn-et-Garonne in the southwest of France in 1887. His marriage in 1894 to Marie Boch, the daughter of a vigneron and négociant in Meursault, marked the official beginning of the domaine. A lawyer by trade, Jules managed the domaine, increased his wife’s family’s holdings and eventually became the mayor of Meursault in 1923. As mayor, Jules reintroduced the tradition of la Paulée, Meursault’s post-harvest feast celebrated every year during the weekend of the Hospices de Beaune wine auction in late November. If you go to Meursault, you’ll find a street named for him.
Three generations later, in 1984, their great-grandson Dominique took over the domaine. Dominique’s father, René, had been working in Paris and had rented out most of his vineyards to other growers under the time-honored Burgundian tradition of métayage, or share-cropping. During this time, they produced small lots of wine under the Comtes Lafon label, using the juice that came from the vignerons as rent. As these long-term contracts were gradually ending, Dominique decided to reclaim the land and bottle the wine himself—a turning point for this historic estate. By 1993, all of the family’s 13.8 hectares were back under Dominique’s control, and he began slowly converting the vineyards to organic viticulture. Today, Comtes Lafon makes wine from four communes—Meursault, Volnay, Monthélie and Puligny-Montrachet—across fifteen appellations, including several premier and grand crus. Using ancient strains of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, all propagated by séléction massale, Dominque has taken organic farming to the next level: biodynamics. The domaine earned organic certification in 1995 and biodynamic certification in 1998, showing the family’s passionate commitment to the long-term sustainability of their vineyards. The team at Domaine des Comtes Lafon limits yields by de-budding vines in the spring. The harvest is all done by hand, and the grapes are sorted twice—once in the vineyards and again at the winery. Their vines average 32 years.
Traditional, natural fermentations are the hallmark of the domaine. Native yeasts, slow fermentations and long élévages allow the wines to express the complexity and nuance of each terroir. The Chardonnays are pressed gently and undergo a cool settling of the must for 24 hours before the juice is racked into both new and lightly-used oak barrels. Alcoholic fermentations last for three months, kept at a cool 22 to 24°C in their underground cellars. The whites are generally stirred on their lees, depending on the cuvee, and then undergo malolactic fermentation, which ends in May following the harvest. The whites are bottled unfiltered 18 to 22 months after the harvest. The Pinot Noirs are mostly de-stemmed to encourage the best expression of the fruit. Alcoholic fermentation occurs in temperature-controlled, stainless-steel tanks, with two daily punch-downs for about 12 days. At that point, both the free-run and direct-press wines are assembled and left to settle for two weeks. The reds are then racked by gravity into oak barrels, one-third of which are new. Malolactic fermentation begins late for the reds and generally occurs between March and May, after which the cuvees are racked back into their original barrels. Like the whites, the reds are bottled 18 to 22 months following the harvest. Sublimely silky and complex, the wines of Domaine des Comtes Lafon are a marvelous glimpse into the diversity of Burgundy’s terroirs and the extent to which this legendary family honors them.