Virgile Lignier is the third generation of his family to work the vines of Morey St.Denis. He started to work with his father in 1988 at which time all the wine was sold in barrel to the négoce. Virgile says that his father, Maurice, was a good winemaker so he convinced him to start bottling some of his produce for the first time in 1992. Year on year the proportion of own-bottled wine increased until 2000 when everything was done this way. Virgile’s father stopped working in 2002, but 2000 was actually the first vintage where Virgile made all the decisions.
Virgile’s 8.5 hectare domaine specialises in Morey St.Denis: There is the villages cuvée of Morey St.Denis Vieilles Vignes which is a blend of Très Girard, Cougets and Chenevery – the Cougets was classed as Bourgogne 20 years earlier – plus the villages Morey St.Denis En la Rue de Vergy whose vines sit just above the Clos de Tart. Then there are three 1er cru Moreys; Cheneverys, Aux Charmes and Faconnières before we move to his two Morey Grand Crus; Clos de la Roche from just below Ponsot’s Monts Luisants section, and a tiny parcel of Clos St.Denis which produces only one barrel.
The Clos de la Roche is a mix of 45 and 18 year-old vines, whereas the Clos St.Denis vines were replanted in 2003. To round off his range, Virgile has tow villages cuvées from either side of Morey; a Chambolle-Musigny Vieilles Vignes and also a Gevrey-Chambertin. Virgile is very fortunate as a number of his holdings are parcels of old vines, including 50 year-old vines in Chambolle, and each of his three 1er cru Moreys, where the vines range between 55 to 60 years-old. In 2006, about 60,000 bottles were produced.
Father and son had worked well together, and without conflict, but in 2000, right from the start, Virgile chose to make changes that reflected his own philosophy – mainly in the vines. Green pruning and working the soil without herbicides were the starting point, but there were also some changes in the cuverie; a sorting table for the grapes and more new barrels for the elevage.
Virgile describes his wine making as ‘traditional vinification’; destemming (usually 100%), a short 5 day cool maceration with fermentation starting naturally thereafter – the vinification is usually about 20 days and there is no post-fermentation heating. There is much tasting to decide on the punch-down regime – and it is often tailored to each cuvée. Francois Freres is the main choice for barrels with medium toast Alliers and a little Vosges wood. As the barrel cellar cannot be extended from it’s current capacity of 130 casks, time in barrel is limited to 12-16 months.
There are typically 1 or 2 rackings; one for making the blends if required, and the second before bottling, which is done without filtration. Virgile also looks to make these operations in-line with a good phase of the moon.
And what is Virgile looking for in his wines? “Wine with good fruit, good ripeness and a good balance”. He can achieve this with yields of 40-45 hectolitres per hectare for the Villages and 1er crus, and 35-40 hectolitres per hectare for the grand crus. Of-course it is vintage dependent, for example he needed to make a very strict triage of the grapes in 2004, but was very happy with the final result.
Domaine Lignier Michelot pictures