Episode 467 of I’ll Drink to That! was released recently, and it features Burgundy vigneron Benjamin Leroux of the winery also named Benjamin Leroux, located in Beaune, France.
Benjamin Leroux began his wine career in 1990 at the age of 15 years old, and took on his first head winemaking job in 1999. In hindsight, it can be said that his winemaking generation was also the generation of climate change. Ben discusses 2003 in this interview, a vintage with unprecendented heat in the summer months. Having recently moved into a new home, Ben had stayed in Burgundy during the customary summer holiday travel time to instead settle into his new place. What he then saw in the vineyards caught him completely by surprise: dark colored grapes and high sugars already in July. Passing a much older vigneron in the vineyard a short time later, the man called out to Ben to “Enjoy this harvest! You will never again have the opportunity to harvest in August in your life.” And that was certainly the received wisdom: that the grape harvest would should be in September, typically one hundred days from the flowering on the vine. Back then there was even a prohibition against starting a harvest in August, an administrative restriction called the Ban des Vendanges. After 2003, Ben explains, a lot changed. In the region there have been several grape harvests in August, including most recently in 2017 and 2018. The Ban des Vendanges is history. And a hundred days from flowering seems like the quaint relic of a more innocent time. Looking back, it is clear how this experience shaped Ben’s view that you have to be ready for any kind of vintage that comes, both in the physical winery with different sorts of equipment, but also with an open mindset. With more dramatic sorts of differences in the raw materials from year to year, Ben feels it is no longer possible to approach each year in the same way. The trick is to take what the vintage has given the grapes in the year and to maximize that potential. But what does that mean, specifically? Ben does an excellent job of explaining the nuances in this episode.
I’ll Drink to That is the world’s most listened-to wine podcast, hosted by Levi Dalton. Levi has had a long career working as a sommelier in some of the most distinguished and acclaimed dining rooms in America. He has served wine to guests of Restaurant Daniel, Masa, and Alto, all in Manhattan. Levi has also contributed articles on wine themes to publications such as The Art of Eating, Wine & Spirits magazine, Bon Appetit online, and Eater NY. Check out his pictures on Instagram and follow him on Twitter: @leviopenswine