She’s not universally loved, and her wines are beyond most of us, but Stephen Brook is in thrall to the indefatigable Lalou Bize-Leroy
Lalou Bize-Leroy scarcely looks different than she did when she used to come to London in the mid-1980s to present the wines of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, of which her family is part-owner. She has a slight, elfin figure, with bright blue-grey eyes and hair that is now silver-blonde rather than pure blonde; her clothes are chic but understated. It’s entirely plausible to think of this lithe, trim figure as a dedicated rock-climber – which she has been for decades. Until one pauses to consider that at her age, she might want to give it a rest. But not a bit of it.
Bize-Leroy lives and breathes Burgundian terroir. Until 1988 her main concern was the family négociant business, Maison Leroy, which she still runs, keeping the Meursault cellars stocked with a million bottles of fine Burgundy. Her great-grandfather founded it in 1868, but it was her father who started building up the stocks of old wines from 1919 onwards. ‘We still have some bottles of that vintage for sale.’ Not to mention every great vintage since. ‘My father’s main occupation was running Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, so he never got round to selling the wines he bought.’ Bize-Leroy joined him in 1955.
Such experience and perspective places her in a formidable position within Burgundy’s hierarchy. ‘I have no contracts with growers, and start from scratch each year. If I like a wine, I buy it. If not, I don’t.’ With such enormous reserves to draw on, she doesn’t feel obliged to buy every year.
The Maison Leroy wines are enormously expensive, but she has complete pride in them. She tastes the range about once a year, and decides what to release, what to keep. Often those released are mature old vintages, swiftly snapped up by collectors, especially in the US and Japan. She also owns the 4 hectare Domaine d’Auvenay in St-Romain, which her husband Marcel Bize ran until his death a few years ago. Now she runs it by herself. Despite its modest address, Auvenay has a number of grands crus in its portfolio, but quantities are minute, and the queue for allocations is long.