On the 23rd I have had the chance to participate in a seminar organized by importer Jeroboam featuring Monsieur Thibault Liger-Belair and eight of his wines, five different Moulin-à-Vent and three Les Saint Georges from different vintages.
I think this was my first time tasting his wines: I had seen his bottles countless time when working in the retail, but I had always considered him upscale and a bit too much for my pocket.
The link between the family and wine business is quite old, dating back to 1720, when they were already operating as négociants, but the firm was rebuilt in 2001, the year when Thibault bought back the merchant business and started working the family vineyards that had been leased in the meantime.
Now, I am not very good in writing engaging tasting notes and I am still recovering from a cold I got last week, so my nose was working at 70% of its potential. I could get quite well the differences between the three Saint Georges, but the Moulin-à-Vents (same vintage, different vineyards) were a bit more difficult.
So instead I will just jot down the points that I found relevant during the explanation.
I like Thibault: I don’t know his age, though I guess he is between 5 and 10 years older than me. Very inquisitive eyes, looking younger than his age, very open and eager to share what he knows and what he does.
I was really interested by his philosophy behind oak usage: not wanting to have too much oak flavor in his wines and unable to find the right oak for his style, he actually started visiting oak forest with his cooper to choose the actual trees to be used. Since the grain size differs even inside the same tree, he makes specific request on what portion of the trunk he wants. He supervises the cooperage as well and the barrels are made differently each year (in terms of toast levels etc), adapting the vessel to the expected style of each specific vintage. When I asked him if he adopts the same approach with the cork trees for his corks, he answered that he does not directly control that part, but he has a collaborator choosing them and supervising their production.
Next: the stems. He includes a portion of them during vinification, but what I did not imagine is that stems have different quality in different grape varieties (now that somebody told me I am like “Elementary, Watson”, but I had never thought about it). So the stems in Pinot Noir have more fiber and less sap, while the opposite is true for Gamay and that is why their usage must be different as well (I need to make more research on this topic). To assess maturity he does not just taste the berries, but he eats the stems as well! Good fibers for your intestine I guess.
He seems to really believe in the potential of Beaujolais: he was already familiar with the area when he studied there in the 1990s and old documents testify that the price of a Moulin-à-Vent in 1911 was on par with that of a Vosne-Romanée Aux Réas. Then the 1929 crisis came and the two regions, Beaujolais and Burgundy, reacted differently, with the former gaining a reputation as a bulk producer. However he believes that in the future a classification system like that in Côte d’Or will be enacted in Beaujolais as well and he is working to make it happen.
Finally a word on Les Saint Georges: why this is not a Grand Cru? The version that I was taught tells that Henri Gouges, owner of this climat in the 1930s, was also in the commission drawing the classification. Caught in a conflict of interest, he did not want to appear self serving and decided to vote for the vineyard to be made only Premier Cru. Thibault has a more prosaic version: the négociants pressured against it becoming Grand Cru because they wanted keep down the price of the grapes. The tax would have also been higher in this case, so the growers were convinced and Les Saint Georges ended up in the second level of the hierarchy.