(Sept. 2016) Hidden off a narrow road in the tiny wine village of Gevrey-Chambertin is the entrance to a Burgundian winery called Domaine Philippe LeClerc. Located in a 13th century building with yellow limestone walls covered with flowing baskets of colorful flowers, the domain is not only the home to some very excellent pinot noir wines, but also houses a cellar crammed with antique winemaking equipment and a bizarre collection of taxidermy animals.
I visited here twice with relatives during my three months in Burgundy, and both times we were welcomed by a friendly employee who encouraged us to visit the museum in the cellar first (free of charge), and then come back upstairs to taste some wines (€10 euro charge, refundable with wine purchase.)
About Philippe LeClerc
The owner, Philippe LeClerc, was born in Gevrey-Chambertin and raised in a winemaking family that sold their wine to negotiatants. When he took over from his father in the 1970’s, he decided to take the business in a new direction and bought an old building to establish a winery where he could sell directly to consumers. Around the same time, he started collecting old winemaking equipment and taxidermy animals – both items that people were glad to part with, because neither was in vogue.
Over the years, Philippe was able to purchase some of the surrounding buildings, which had old cellars – a common architectural feature in Burgundy. He connected several of the caves so he would have room to store his wine, and then began to display his collection.
One of the Few Tasting Rooms in Burgundy Open on Sundays
Today visitors are welcomed to stop by seven days a week between 9:30am and 7pm to tour the cellar and museum for free, and then to enjoy a wine tasting. These long opening hours are rare in France, especially when most businesses close for two hours during lunch and are rarely open on Sundays.
With such welcoming hours, it would be expected that the wines may not be up to par, but this is not the case. Philippe owns vines in some of the top premier cru vineyards in Gevrey-Chambertin, including the famous Les Cazetiers and Les Champeux vineyards. Sustainable practices are used, and many of his pinot noir wines are aged for 22 months in French oak barrels. The wines have won awards and wine critics have rated many in the 90’s.
Unique Cellars with Stuffed Animals and Antique Wine Equipment
Upon arrival visitors are encouraged to take a self-guided tour of the cellars, which generally takes about an hour. Descending a steep stone staircase, long arched hallways stretch out in multiple directions, and dusty bottles can be seen sleeping in side caverns. Turning a corner, a large baronial dining room comes into view with tall antique red velvet chairs and wooden tables rescued from monasteries. All along the wall are stuffed animals, including badgers, fox, deer, small boar and a mountain cat.
Then, descending into another cellar, a huge lighted tunnel comes into view. Collections of antique winemaking equipment line the walls, as well as a suit of arms, and hundreds of other bizarre antiques that Philip has collected over the years from estates all over France. At the end of the first tunnel, three other tunnels branch off and loop around, filled with even more bizarre items, such as life-size models of cows and horses, as well as stuffed pigs. The site of a large stuffed dog is a little off-putting, but is most likely testimony to someone’s favorite pet from decades gone by.
Tasting the Wines of Philippe LeClerc
Though it is possible to tour the cellars and museum without tasting the wines, it would be folly to miss the inspiring pinot noirs that reflect the different vineyards and vintages of Gevrey-Chambertin. After all, Chambertin is reputed to be one of the favorite wines of Napoleon Bonaparte, who supposedly said, “Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.”
During my first visit, we tasted the following seven wines:
- 2013 Village Chambolle Musigny – soft, floral and elegant €30
- 2011 GC Village En Champs – earthy, tannic, interesting €36
- 2012 GC 1st Cru Champeaux – ripe cherry nose, vanilla, velvety tannins, long finish €42
- 2012 GC 1st Cru Les Cazetiers – mineral on nose; black cherry and vanilla on palate, velvety tannins, more concentrated the Champeaux – €46
- 2013 GC 1st Cru La Combe Aux Moines – strange nose of tar and charred oak, black anise on palate. Perhaps just in a dumb stage. €50
- 2011 GC 1st Cru Les Champonnets – Earthy, big tannins, no fruit. Not approachable yet €56
- 2006 GC 1st Cru La Combe Aux Moines – older vintage so showing secondary notes of truffle and spice. Very complex, with new notes on each taste. Long finish. €68