The Two-Headed Eagle of Jura

Sometimes you meet a guy and you just know he’s doing something right. That's exactly what I thought when I met Henri Le Roy, the man behind Domaine de l'Aigle a Deux Têtes, earlier this year in LA. I was first introduced to Henri’s wines when a friend and I shared a bottle his chardonnay one night in Paris at a little bistro called Le Bon George (I mention the bistro because it is truly worth seeking out). I tasted the Griffez chardonnay and was blown away, telling my dining friend Thomas (who had also recently discovered the wine and became Henri’s agent in the United States) that this was a producer we needed to have on our shelves. Then Henri himself came to town, we had dinner at a wine bar in the mid-city called Marvin (I mention it because it is also worth seeking out and has one of the most progressive lists of Jura wines anywhere in the LA area), I told him how much I loved his wine, and it began from there! We placed an order with him, the wines came in and—of course—the Griffez blew out. It was the beginning of something special, you could tell.

Understated but extremely thoughtful, Henri had no real personal background in wine when he started a domaine, nor did he have a multi-generational family history in the subject. For all intents and purposes, he's a first generation winemaker. He does have a background in science though and a passion for wine. He worked in pharmaceuticals, but eventually decided he had had enough of that racket. A true self-starter, he forged ahead and began his search for vineyards. Loving the style of Burgundy, but not possessing the resources to pay for some of the most expensive land in the world, he landed in Jura; partly because the land is much cheaper, but primarily because you can make true terroir-driven wines in the style of Burgundy.  I should also mention that Henri is not a fan of the sous voile style of wines from the region.  He prefers the more expressive, clean style of wine that he and a few other producers make, believing this to be the future of the region. I decided to meet Henri at the domaine on my recent trip to the Jura to catch up and check on his operation.

We met early in the morning to tour some of the vineyards. The winery dog ran up to greet me and Henri’s son came out of the cellar to say hello. He called his father to let him know I was there. While we waited, he showed me that they were actually labeling the new order for K&L, soon to be picked up (and now, actually in the stores).  I would have loaded it all into my car and brought it back with me if I could have, but it seemed impractical for my next two weeks on the road. Henri arrived, so we hopped in the car and went in search of his great vineyards.   It was a bit rainy that morning so he outfitted me with a pair of galoshes. There is a ton of marl in the vineyards which is a sedimentary form of calcareous soil. It’s like a really compact form of clay. The surface really sticks to your boots.  We drove back into the canyons behind his village to visit a site he had acquired a few years ago, a vineyard is named Derrier les Roches that is almost entirely surrounded by woods.  Sadly, the last few vintages from this site have either been struck by hail, or been picked clean by the birds from the surrounding forest.  Derrier les Roches is planted to Chardonnay with the average age of the vines over fifty years of age on blue marl, one of the region’s most desirable soil types. Taking protective precautions last year by netting the vines, Henri will release a 2015 bottling of this wine.  

We proceeded to the Les Clous vineyard which is home to his savagnin and poulsard varietals.  We charged up the hill, surrounded by wildflowers and wild grass. Henri pointed out some animal tracks and asked me if I could identify them.  My first and almost always my best guess is wild pigs but the tracks were not hoof shaped. They were from badgers!  Though it took us awhile to figure out the word in English. The Les Clous is on a mix of blue and red marl. Ideal for the two regionally classic grapes. There is a third vineyard which Henri had recently acquired but it was a bit too far off for us to visit this day.  We headed back to the cellar to do a little barrel tasting instead. We started with the 2015 chardonnay from the newest vineyard, Lices et Peria. It was full of distinct apple and pear notes with great intensity and nerve, but it was still going through malolactic so full judgment will have to be reserved. Great potential seems to be there. The 2015 Derrier les Roches was to die for, delivering such minerality and weight that I can see why the birds were so fond of eating these grapes. We moved into 2015 Les Clous Savagnin. It was vibrant with notes of fresh figs, melons, and lemon rind. This clone produces small berries which means more concentration. Unfortunately, he only has five barrels of this vintage when normally there are fourteen.  Next the 2015 Les Clous poulsard.  I’ve never experienced the weight and intensity of poulsard like this; such dynamic flavors and so much weight. It was the best young poulsard I have ever tasted.  We finished with his macvin, a local specialty of grape juice fortified with marc (grape spirit) from the region.  His macvin, though not technically macvin because he doesn’t boil the grape juice down, was loaded with sweet candied fruit—like those Japanese hard candies with melon and plum flavors.  Not boozy at all, this had wonderful acidity.  

After tasting, we adjourned to his house for a lightish lunch.  We opened a bottle of the 2014 poulsard (the one being labeled at the time, but which has now arrived).  It had beautiful high note spices of cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice.  Red fruits of strawberry and bing cherry permeated the nose.  The texture was pure with its bright acidity.  It reminded me of a Cru level Marsannay with its tone and resonance.  We had a bright cauliflower salad with shallots and balsamic and olive oil, a salad of endive and then a delicious Beef Bourguignon. I asked if he used any of his wines for the stew?  Of course not. Too precious. Can’t spare a bottle. Henri’s son joined us and we talked about music, the culture of the region, and his desire to make great wines. Also his love for Absinthe. If you find your way to the region and visit, he would never say no to sharing a little if you brought some along.

-Keith Mabry

Keith Mabry