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The Gros Family dynasty

by Neal Martin, 2002

The village of Vosne-Romanée in the Côte de Nuits is the jewel in the crown of the Côte d'Or; it represents the apogee of finesse, complexity and longevity of the Pinot Noir. Walking around the idyllic, silent streets on a deserted frosty morning, hallowed family names can be seen chiselled into the flagstones of courtyards: Conti, Camuzet, Jayer and Gros.

The Gros dynasty began in 1830 when Alphonse Gros married Madame Latour, settling in Vosne-Romanée in what is now the home of Jean Gros. It was he who encouraged mechanisation and new viticultural techniques such as high vine training, long before they became standard practice. When Jean retired in 1995, the estate was divided amongst his children, Michel and Bernard (who manages Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur) and their cousin Anne, who I met individually that morning. I speculated on whether such different characters would mirror the differences in their wines.

First up is Bernard Gros whose cellars in the centre of Vosne-Romanée back onto those of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. At present a large scale excavation is being carried out in the courtyard which Bernard joked could act as cover for a secret tunnel leading directly into his neighbours priceless cellar! Bernard is the liveliest, most jocular and ebullient of the Gros family. On our first meeting in 1999 I remember clinging for dear life as he sped round the village in his jeep after a long tasting in his cellar.

Bernard maintains a traditional approach to wine-making. On that bitter morning the low temperature was impeding the malolactics of the 2001's and so a rudimentary ring-heater was holding the temperature constant. His vineyards are in rockier areas than Michel's, and his wines tend to be more powerful and sturdy than his brother's. Recent vintages have expressed more finesse as the age of his vines increase. Bernard grows vines in Richebourg, Grand Echézeaux, Hautes-Cötes-de-Nuits and village Vosne. But on this tasting it was his stunning Clos de Vougeot 2000 which held the most promise: all silky smooth tannins and vibrant acidity.

Michel Gros' character seems more introverted and traditional than Bernard's, but he has a wider array of vineyards (Hautes-Cötes-de-Nuits Rouge, Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Aux Brulées and a monopole in Clos des Reas amongst others.) According to Clive Coates, he is sceptical about the use of green-harvesting, but he told me that he practised some for the 1999 vintage, and may possibly extend it to all vines in the future.

For the 1er Cru, Michel uses between 50% and 80% new oak, with 100% for Grand Cru, depending on vintage and climate. One racking is made at the end of malolactic fermentation, usually at the end of winter following harvest. Michel's wines are not as powerful as those of Bernard's, and they are not as subtle as Anne's, but they convey a happy medium between the two. The pick of his 2000's was undoubtedly the classy Vosne-Romanée Les Brulées, which had a magical, mineral core, complex berried fruit and wonderful definition - an exceptional wine embodying everything great in Pinot Noir, and promising even greater heights for Michel in future vintages.

Lastly it was a short walk three doors down to visit the diminutive, ever-youthful Anne Gros. She combines wine-making with raising her three children, each depicted in a stained-glass window in the spiral stairs down to her cellar. Her heart and soul is in Vosne-Romanée, and whilst Bernard was preparing to travel to the Far East to show his wines, Anne has little interest in venturing beyond the Côte d'Or, preferring to let the wines to the talking themselves.

In some ways I find Anne Gros (left) as complex as her wines; on the one hand her life is dedicated to wine-making, yet on the other she laments the lack of time she can spend with her family. She is a somewhat private person, yet has a quirky and irreverent sense of humour and a refreshing frankness.

Anne Gros' vineyards are located in Richebourg, Clos-Vougeot (Maupertui), Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée. She also makes a very high quality Bourgogne Rouge and Blanc. Natural yeast are used, with little destemming, and her wines are lightly filtered (unfashionable, but Anne has a mind of her own).

Personally I hold her wines in the highest esteem of the three Gros siblings, even though 1990 was the first vintage that was entirely domaine bottled. There is certainly a beguiling femininity and sophistication about her wines, in particular the Richebourg which displayed more complexity and finesse than that of Bernard.

A beautiful perfumed nose soared from the glass of the 2000, soon followed by a concentrated, multi-layered palate, with velvety tannins and great concentration.

It is clear that Bernard, Michel and Anne Gros are all conscientious viticulturalists who maintain their own personal styles in their wine-making. I had envisaged all three sitting round a table comparing and discussing each others wares, but Anne told me this rarely happens. Although their homes virtually neighbour one another, they each maintain their own privacy and adhere to their own philosophies in wine-making. Anne said "we have to open-minded but must maintain our own identities".

It is the intriguing array of personalities, married so intrinsically to their craft, that can make drinking Burgundy wine such a personal, life-affirming experience. Compared to the sometimes sterile, business-like nature of some Bordeaux châteaux, meeting the Gros family reminded me why it is Burgundy that has given me some of my most pleasurable memories.

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