Les Vignes de Paradis: The Wines of Dominique Lucas

11/7/15 -

This is the only time I’ve ever said this: Chasselas saved my life. After a brush with food poisoning from a bad hard-boiled egg for breakfast in Arbois, a harrowing drive with numerous switchbacks over the Jura Mountains on our way to the Savoie, two liters of water, and a bag of strange Scandinavian “bread crackers” later, I had finally made it. Pulling up to Dominique Lucas’ house was like having a paramedic bring you back right before reaching the light at the end of the tunnel – a good thing as there probably isn’t any wine once you get to the end of the tunnel.

Just outside the small village of Ballaisons, on slopes overlooking Lake Geneva (on the French side of the border they call it Lac Léman), Dominique farms 10 hectares (2.5 of them in Burgundy in the Haute Côte de Beaune and Pommard, more on that later) of certified organic (practicing biodynamic) vines planted in rich yellow marl and granite soils with a limestone base, and some silex stones on the surface. His vines are separated into 27 parcels of different soil composition, each of which is harvested by hand (he says it takes 2.5 months to harvest here as Chasselas takes so long to ripen), and vinified separately. He is deeply committed to Chasselas, and has also added tiny parcels of Savagnin, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay. These are not old vines, but in the hands of this careful winemaker they are capable of producing wines of depth and complexity.

Dominique Lucas hails from a family of Burgundian winemakers – he is the 5th generation – who own a small estate outside of Pommard. After completing oenology school, he opted out of returning to the family estate simply because he did not want to work within the strict oversight of the AOC, choosing instead to settle in the Haut Savoie (in and around the AOC Crépy to be exact) in 2008. Though his family’s history is steeped in Burgundian ways, you won’t find much of this influence in his cellar. Dominique vinifies his grapes in an array of different amphorae, barrels, and concrete eggs – no doubt a hint at his close friendship with Dominique Belluard who lives about an hour away in Ayse. Fermentations occur naturally and the only addition to the wines is a bit of sulphur at bottling.

Not only are these wines the best that I’ve tasted in their category, they can truly hold their own in the world of French white wines as a whole. With ample cut and a sublime balance of fruit and minerals, all wrapped up in a package that is as clean, textured, and compelling as anything, these wines simply offer pure drinking pleasure. As Dominique continues to experiment – just this year he built a concrete pyramid out of sand, rocks, and water found on his property for future fermentations – and as his vineyards continue to mature and thrive, there is no doubt in my mind that these wines will only continue to get better. Tim Gagnon

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