It is always a challenge marketing a ‘young’ winemaker that who is already blazing a trail but about whom so little has (yet) been written. The words ‘legend in the making’ and ‘bright young thing’ are banded around excitedly by sommeliers when discussing Yann Durieux but this only creates the canvas upon which to start painting Yann’s truly unique portrait.
So when he came to London we were ready to start painting the portrait: dreadlocks down to his waist, casual in style and with a shy smile which hides a focused and steely determination. He is young, with a baby called ‘Manon’ (after whom one of his wines is named) and is from a family of Burgundian winemakers, based in Nuits St Georges. He has no time for hobbies – he spends all his time with his vines or with his family.
In 2000, he left his family’s traditional cellars in search of an alternative and new inspiration. He went to work with organic and biodynamic winemaker Julien Guillot in Macon for two weeks and stayed for a year. He was immediately taken with this new philosophy and, in particular, the absence of sulfites in the winemaking process.
His friendship with Henry Roch, to whom he be introduced back in ’96, led him to a job at Domaine Prieuré-Roch, Henri’s personal vineyard. The vineyard embodied every element of the non-sulfite, organic and biodynamic philosophy that Yann had bought into under Guillot, and he has been working there ever since, taking care of the work in the vineyard and helping in the cellar too.
Finally he was able to buy his own small vineyards in the Cotes de Nuits and work them according to the natural philosophy he had immersed himself in. He remains so passionate about this move away from chemicals that he refers to himself creating ‘true wine, in fact, medicine wine’ – with no additives to kill goodness, he believes wine can be positively good for us. Hear Hear.
He was candid about his move away from the strong vinous traditions he was brought up amongst. He started by stating that since Burgundy was, in his opinion, the best place in the world to produce wine, certain winemakers of his father’s generation had allowed themselves to become complacent; they could still produce great wine with real ease.
Nowadays, with dramatically increased competition, Yann argues that it is the younger generation who have had to start thinking creatively to produce better wines.
So with this, we tasted his ‘Love and Pif’ – his entry-level (in the loosest sense of the word) Aligoté which is so pure, elegant and alive it is a little disarming. This super-bright, seductively coloured wine clearly reveals the real benefits of Yann’s philosophy. This is clearly what ‘true wine’ is all about.
When questioned on the name, Yann said that it is inspired by the Serge Gainsbourg song, ‘Love on the Beat’ with ‘pif’ referring to the French slang for wine and also for the ‘nose’ of the wine. Quirky and individual – typical of Yann.
He also makes a Chardonnay ‘Manon’ in very small quantities (so small it is not available here in the UK…yet) and enjoys the challenge of working it in a completely different way to the Aligoté. Clearly the Chardonnay shows a better potential to age, but he is keen to point out that he looks to find a fragility in all his wine which is could effect its aging potential. His belief is that you can’t have finesse and elegance without fragility. This is also the case with his two Pinot Noirs – Black Pinot and Les Grands Ponts.
The fact that he has not kept any of his first vintages suggest many things, not least that demand of this nectar is heavily outstripping supply… perhaps the best form of promotion available. So despite my questioning, the wine is already doing the talking. What is true is that Yann is a very sincere, focused and dedicated man. The passion and emotion he puts into hand-crafting such a fine, unique and rare product is truly awe-inspiring.