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Tragedy in Burgundy

Vintner Denis Mortet takes own life in Gevrey-Chambertin

Bruce Sanderson, Mitch Frank
Posted: January 31, 2006

Denis Mortet, a world-renowned vintner from Burgundy, died on the morning of Jan. 30 after shooting himself with a rifle in the parking lot outside his winery in Gevrey-Chambertin. He was 51.

Mortet had become one of Burgundy's stars in the 14 years since he established Domaine Denis Mortet, focusing on single vineyard wines from 28.5 acres of small plots he owned in the Côte d'Or. Dozens of his wines earned rave reviews, including a Clos de Vougeot 1996 that scored 99 points on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale and a Chambertin 1998 that scored 98.

"I have known Denis since 1984," said his U.S. importer, Martine Saunier. "Henri Jayer was his mentor. I recall when I introduced him to Jayer and Lalou Bize-Leroy. He was greatly influenced by their wines and tried to achieve the same high quality in his own wines. It is a great loss for Burgundy. He is leaving behind many friends all over the world."

Mortet started his career working alongside his father, Charles, and his younger brother, Thierry, at Domaine Charles Mortet et Fils. After the 1991 harvest, Charles retired and the two brothers divided the 20 acres of vines. Mortet told Wine Spectator in a 1997 interview that at that time he was inspired to make outstanding wines after tasting barrel samples of the 1991 vintage from 24 different appellations in Domaine Leroy's cellar. The samples made him realize what was possible in Burgundy.

He focused on making concentrated, powerful wines—cutting yields in his vineyards, hand-sorting and destemming all of his grapes and allowing the resulting wines to age almost entirely in new oak. Mortet quickly became known as a perfectionist, candidly admitting when he thought he had made mistakes.

Mortet leaves behind his wife, Laurence; a son, Arnaud; a daughter, Clemence; his brother, Thierry; and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Mortet.

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