David Chan - My Passion for wine

  • Friday 16 January 2009

The New York Metropolitan Opera’s Burgundy-loving concertmaster
tells ROSI HANSON about the parallels between music and wine

In June this year, three concerts were held at Clos de Vougeot on Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits. American violinist David Chan brought a group of soloists from the orchestra of New York’s Metropolitan Opera to play – and taste.

Musique et Vin was the result, organised by a committee of music lovers, led by Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Bernard Hervet from Domaine Faiveley.

In the Romanesque arched cellar, the musicians and many of Chan’s favourite winemakers were relaxing together around a long table.

Growers from domaines Grivot, Gouges, Bize, Christian Moreau and Rousseau, to name but a few, who hadpoured their wines at a pre-concert tasting in the adjacent vat room, had brought their bottles to share with the meal.

Chan, the Met’s brilliant young concertmaster (or orchestral leader, to the Brits) grew up in La Jolla, California, unaware that wine would feature so strongly in his life; his parents drink very little.

It was as a music student, doing his bachelor’s degree at Harvard and later while taking his master’s at the Julliard School in New York, that he was exposed to wine. A rising young star – he was already known internationally since winning a top prize at the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow at age 17 – he was playing regularly at summer music festivals in the States.

‘Generous sponsors would open fabulous bottles and make sure the artists tasted them. It whetted my appetite,’ he says. In 2002, he married viola player Catherine Ro. His fatherin- law was a wine enthusiast who had bought Bordeaux in the 1970s and ’80s but had stopped drinking.

He gave his collection to the couple as a wedding gift – ‘The 1982 Cheval Blanc was the jewel in the crown,’ Chan recalls. ‘Wine appeals to a certain kind of brain. I had to know everything, it was like a disease! Soon I was reading everything and tasting as much as possible.’

His conversion to Burgundy was absolute. ‘It appeals to the inner geek in me that wants to get into the subtle differences, the way two sites in close proximity differ. Meursault Perrières and Genevrières from the same vintage and producer for instance.

There’s an uncontrollable attraction for me in the number of variables. All other regions became less interesting.’ He admits to buying ‘a fair amount’ of Champagne, but that’s because it’s closely related to Burgundy, geographically and in grape types.

He liked German Riesling in ‘the pre- Burgundy days’, and still has some. Nothing else gets a look in. Belonging to a four-man tasting group in New York gives him great pleasure between performances – four nights a week during the Met’s opera season, plus solo recitals and chamber music.

‘There’s Nick Eanet, [fellow violinist with the Met] – he and I happened on a sequence of Burgundy epiphanies together between 2004 and 2005. Then there’s a guy who’s been collecting Burgundy since the 1985 vintage, and another who’s been deep into Burgundy for some time.

We all prefer naturally made wines. It’s the same as being a musician. The result must sound like you, but the first intention is to interpret the composer’s music. The same as growers expressing the terroir – their personal touch is still noticeable.

For instance, DRC or Dujac – their house styles are very identifiable but each cru is very different. As a musician, the training is important, the technique has to be learnt, but at some point you have to prioritise the music and concentrate on communication.

It’s like winemakers who work so hard in the vineyard all year, sorting the grapes at

harvest, and then have the courage to trust it to go where it should.’ Chan sees winemakers as fellow performers; tasting with them is a concertfor him.

One of his best experiences was tasting La Tâche 2007, and Romanée- Conti 2006 – both in barrel – with Aubert de Villaine at DRC. ‘His insights were fabulous,’ says Chan.‘Winemakers always seem pleased to have musicians in their cellars.

Maybe they feel a connection with people who also spend a lot of time honing their craft…

‘I’ve always sought out winemakers who put terroir first, but where you also get a strong sense of their personality. Michel Lafarge (in Volnay) I admire enormously. I don’t know whether it makes me less discerning when I taste his wines, but there’s a personal connection there, a sense of the care he takes.’ Frédéric Mugnier, (Chambolle-Musigny), Jean-Claude Fourrier, (Gevrey-Chambertin) and Jean-Marc Roulot, (Meursault) are

similarly admired.

‘You taste that unusual quality in the product and you go to visit them to find out who they found a single person of that calibre for whom I haven’t come away with total admiration.’

There’s mutual admiration between the growers and musicians at the Clos Vougeot’s Musique et Vin.

‘I wanted to do something musically, to offer artistic fulfilment in a different way,’ Chan says. ‘I am so happy that winemakers have come and participated – it’s brought me even closer to their wines.’

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