Burgundy legend Jayer dies

Burgundy legend Jayer dies News Wine News
  • Friday 22 September 2006

Henri Jayer, regarded as one of the greatest Burgundy winemakers of his generation, has died aged 84.

Jayer died on Wednesday in hospital in Dijon after a long battle with prostate cancer, his daughter Dominique Rolin said.

Viewed by Burgundy connoisseurs as a supreme master of Pinot Noir, Jayer ‘influenced the skill and morale of younger growers in Burgundy over the last two decades,’ a note on the Berry Bros website says.

‘His reputation is founded securely on an almost unbroken succession of superlative wines from his small Domaine, 6.30ha that are concentrated in and around Vosne-Romaneé and comprising everything from Passe-Tout-Grains to Echézeaux.’

The son of a winegrower, Jayer left school at 16 to work the fields after his two older brothers left to fight in World War II. Over the years, he purchased new plots, but never cultivated more than six or seven hectares.

In an obituary, the New York Times writes, 'At the height of Mr. Jayer’s fame in the late 1980s, not even the wines of the legendary Domaine de la Romanée Conti were as prized as the frustratingly small quantities of wines he produced. To own even two or three of his Échézeaux or Richebourg, or his Vosne-Romanée Clos Parentoux, was to possess a vinous treasure.'

Jayer was a strong believer in letting nature have its way. ‘Eightly per cent of red Burgundy is good at the outset, but only 20% after bottling,’ he said in 1985, Clive Coates recalls in his Burgundy bible, Cote d’Or.

As Berry’s points out, ‘Jayer’s vinification methods [were] not particularly unusual but he reminds us that wine “wine is for pleasure so one seeks as perfect an equilibrium as possible”.’

Tributes are pouring in on websites and bulletins boards worldwide for a man variously described as ‘emblematic’, a ‘guru’ and a ‘father figure’ to a generation of young Burgundians.

Perhaps the most poignant comes from Coates again, writing ten years ago: ‘This fit, young-looking 74-year-old (you’d take him for 60) is, like Philippe de Rothschild and Pere Ramonet, a vinous legend in his own lifetime.

‘The history of present day Burgundy could not be written without him.’

Jayer is survived by his wife, Marcelle Rouget Jayer, and two daughters.

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