Andrew Jefford is inspired by a single bottle of Château de la Tour 2018 Clos-Vougeot Vieilles Vignes.
Step into the world of wine, where difference is celebrated, and new experiences are constantly sought after. The wine world knows no center or periphery; it thrives on exploration and surprises. And yet, if we delve into the depths of time, we find a place that may hold a special gravity in our wine universe. Picture a little upstairs room, bathed in soft light, where I had the pleasure of tasting a remarkable wine that embodies the restorative beauty that wine can bring.
Welcome to Château de la Tour, the only winery nestled within Clos Vougeot, the grand cru vineyard with the largest holdings. The building itself dates back to 1890, but the vines and their predecessors have stood proudly for centuries. Imagine the swallows gracefully swooping above the vines in summertime, while the crows cawed their way through the frosty winter air. This vineyard has witnessed the patient work of Cistercian monks who painstakingly cleared, planted, and eventually walled the vineyard over two centuries, starting in 1109.
Originally a local vineyard, Cîteaux, which was founded just 9 miles away, played a pivotal role in cultivating the region’s winemaking traditions. Under the leadership of Bernard de Fontaine, Cîteaux became the motherhouse to 400 abbeys after years of struggle. The monastic grange, known as the Château du Clos de Vougeot, is the older and larger building within the vineyard walls. While it no longer ferments wine, its rafters are still filled with the sound of song.
Clos Vougeot: Grand cru joy
Inside the clos, the wines of Château de la Tour come to life under the care and expertise of François Labet, his son Edouard, and their dedicated team. As Edouard supervised the barreling of the latest harvest, we gathered in the sunlit upper room to taste these splendid wines. Laughter filled the air as father and son shared their passion for winemaking. But the wines themselves were the true stars of the gathering—joyful, exuberant, and full of character. This is Clos Vougeot at its finest—a red grand cru that may not be the sternest, grandest, most exotic, most courted, or most delicate, but certainly the most joyful.
As François shared his insights, he described the ideal wine as a ball in your mouth. These wines perfectly embodied that description—round, smooth, and full of substance. Each sip revealed layers of fruit, enhanced by the effects of whole-bunch fermentation and the gentle presence of tannins. Edouard mentioned that they now practice infusion winemaking, comparing it to the process of brewing tea. With each taste, I couldn’t help but envision the wine as an athlete, moving and energizing the palate.
Each vintage showcased its unique character: the zesty and bright 2019 still infused with youthful sweetness, the aromatically allusive 2017 that charmed with its approachability, the elegant and detailed 2016 reminiscent of a meticulously crafted book of hours, and the monumental and dense 2015 with its majestic presence. However, let’s focus on the 2018 vintage, which seemed to reflect the essence of the Cistercians’ vision—a wine that captured the essence of summer itself, with its pastures, meadows, brambles, stones, spices, and herbs. It was a wine that evoked a sense of love and joy.
Bernard once wrote, “You learn more in the woods than in books.” The trees, rocks, and vineyards themselves have stories to tell, lessons to impart. And within the walls of Château de la Tour, you will discover not just a remarkable wine, but a journey through time—a celebration of the rich winemaking heritage that has been passed down through the ages.
So, if you’re seeking a wine experience that goes beyond the ordinary, venture into the world of Chateau De La Tour. Let the spirits of the Cistercians guide you through a tasting that will transport you to the heart of Clos Vougeot. Discover the joy and beauty that can be found in every sip as you raise a glass to the past, the present, and the future. Cheers to Chateau De La Tour!