Grape(s): 100% Pinot Noir
Localization: Clos de Vougeot, Cote de Nuits, Cote d'Or, Burgundy, France
Tasting Notes: Is this a wine expressing the Cistercian rigor that gave birth to it? No, its image is that of a refined gentleman: the grapes mature early here but still give wines of great finesse, with a lace-like texture that lines the palate and superb length.
97 Points Jasper Morris: Apart from 2017, Jean-Nicolas Méo only makes one commercially available cuvée of his substantial holding of Clos de Vougeot. Even purple throughout. This is a sturdy, weighty, richly dark-fruited, multi-layered wine with great potential for the long term. Ripe but not exaggerated.
The Domain: From winegrowers to engineers
For more than four centuries, the members of the Méo family have devoted themselves to growing vines and making wines. They came originally from the Burgundy village of Selongey, in the north of Côte d'Or, where today, even if the vines have disappeared, a pressing house dating from the year 50 AD, bears witness to the presence there of Gallo-Roman winegrowers.
From the 19th century onwards, the Méo children chose the course of study. The great-grandfather of Jean-Nicolas, for example, was a primary-school teacher, his grandfather graduated from the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées (civil engineering) and his father, Jean Méo, was a graduate of the École Polytechnique and an engineer in the Corps des Mines. Jean was later to be elected a Member of the European Parliament and sat on the Council of Paris.
It was thanks to Jean Méo's mother, Marcelle Lamarche-Confuron, originating from an old winegrowing family in Vosne (with already a small activity as négociants), that the Méos came to settle in Vosne-Romanée.
Jean Méo's grandmother was the first cousin of Étienne Camuzet, a very colourful character.
Étienne Camuzet (1867-1946) was a winegrower in Vosne-Romanée, mayor of the village, and an MP for Côte d'Or from 1903 to 1932. In 1920, he had the opportunity to purchase the Château du Clos de Vougeot with some of the vines, but instead of living there, he preferred to lodge his tenant farmers in it (indeed, because of his political activities, he no longer had time, himself, to look after his own vineyards). He was to sell it in November 1944: not surprisingly, the château had suffered during the war. He had (already!) understood the importance for Burgundy to have a "temple” to help promote its wine. Étienne Camuzet thus chose to pass it on to the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.
As for the vines, the 20 hectares (50 acres) at the top of the Clos were for sale ... Étienne Camuzet enlisted the help of his fellow winegrowers from Vosne-Romanée to acquire them. He would keep 3 hectares (7.5 acres) himself, immediately below the château.
Following the death of Étienne Camuzet, his daughter, Maria Noirot, inherited the estate from her father and retained the tenant farmers. She had no children, however, and when she died, in 1959, she bequeathed the estate to her nephew, Jean Méo, who at that time had already left Vosne-Romanée, and since 1958 had been a member of General de Gaulle's cabinet. Having been regularly in close contact with his uncle, who had shared with him his passion for the vine, teaching him to respect and love wine, the youngest of the Méos could not allow the winegrowing saga of the family to come to an end. He decided, therefore, to take the estate in hand, with help from his father, Gaston, initially, and then from his mother. In that way, Jean Méo was able to remain with General de Gaulle and to pursue his career in Paris, which would lead him to manage in succession several large companies: ELF, France Soir, Agence Havas, Institut Français du Pétrole and others. He was also elected to the European Parliament and sat on the Council of Paris. Throughout that period, he relied on four tenant farmers, including the great winegrower Henri Jayer, who was one of the first to control temperatures systematically during vinification, always bringing out the freshness and the fruit, thus making the nose and the texture of the wine more attractive. Jean Méo was to manage the estate from 1959 to 1984, after which he called upon the new generation.
In 1981, the Camuzet estate became Méo-Camuzet, and the first wines bottled under that name were those of the 1983 vintage.
The ingenious winegrower
Jean Méo and his wife, Nicole, had three children: Isabelle, Angeline and Jean-Nicolas.
In 1984, Jean Méo proposed that his son take over the estate's reins. Just 20 years old and a student at ESCP (the Paris business school), Jean-Nicolas had had no preparation to become a winegrower. After eight days considering the proposal, he agreed to give it a try, finished his studies in France (not without making a detour via the University of Burgundy to study oenology) and set off for the USA, at the University of Pennsylvania, finally coming back to live in Vosne-Romanée from 1989 onwards. It was then that he began to immerse himself in the estate, the vineyards, and the winemaking with his father as his mentor, of course, but also Henri Jayer, who was taking retirement but agreed, nonetheless, to share with him his technical know-how and his art of winemaking. Christian Faurois, son and nephew of other historic tenant farmers, taught him about growing vines and passed on to him his passion for the vineyard.
Taking advantage of the wind of change that was beginning to blow around the region, Jean-Nicolas expressed his opinions, tried new experiments and succeeded in creating a very much his own method, which he has never stopped refining.
At this time, the sale of wine in bottles with the Méo-Camuzet estate label had already begun (with the 1983 vintage). This was the decision of Jean Méo, who had immediately aimed at a high level of exports, particularly to the USA. Previously, the wines had been sold to négociants in Beaune or Nuits and the few bottles kept for the family carried the Camuzet or Veuve Noirot-Camuzet label marked "Jean Méo, propriétaire à Vosne-Romanée”.
Our new winegrower, having graduated from a business school, promoted his wines by creating an international distribution network and was to be selected by the most famous sommeliers, which explains the unique position enjoyed by Méo-Camuzet in great restaurants around the world.
By 2008, the tenant farmers had all taken retirement, and Jean-Nicolas farmed all of the estate's vineyards. His main difficulty was managing the insufficient supply in increasing demand. At the turn of the century, therefore, he decided to set up a new company in collaboration with his sisters. As négociants, they could better meet that demand and widen the range to take in more affordable wines.
Thus was born the Méo-Camuzet Frère & Soeurs company, with its own specific label. Jean-Nicolas' conception of négoce, though, is not the traditional one. Indeed, he buys harvests, on the vine, in Fixin, Marsannay, Bourgogne or other vineyards, but that doesn't mean just buying grapes. Several interventions are carried out during the growing season by the estate's teams, and most of these plots are monitored for several years, which makes it possible to get to know them as well as the grower does. It's very much like renting land.
Today, the Méo-Camuzet is among the most renowned estates in Burgundy.
Jean-Nicolas and his team continue to work on their wines' noses and taste, showing respect for nature and passion for the terroir and their profession. Jean-Nicolas is married. They have three children with his wife, Nathalie: Adrien, born in 1993; Tristan, in 1996; and Séverin, in 2000.
A new generation of engineers or winegrowers, it is too soon to write that new page in the family history.