Michel Lafarge, a leading vintner in Burgundy, died Jan. 15 at age 91. His winery, Domaine Michel Lafarge, is among Volnay's leading domaines, and for decades he made wines with a quiet air of confidence. Along with Domaine Marquis d’Angerville, Domaine de Montille and Domaine de la Pousse d’Or, Lafarge’s wines brought prominence to the village and pushed neighbors to raise quality.
Importer Becky Wasserman has represented Domaine Michel Lafarge since the early 1980s. “We knew each other for over 40 years. Michel was one of my first teachers—an excellent advisor,” she told Wine Spectator. “Michel never rushed into anything until he was reasonably sure. This too was part of his character. Time spent in [the] cellar. Long, careful tastings. A sense of humor.”
The Lafarge domaine was established by Michel’s great-great-grandparents early in the 19th century. Lafarge began working with his father at the age of 18, in 1946. When his father died in 1967, Michel took over the family’s vineyards in Volnay and Beaune, eventually buying out his two brothers, who weren’t interested in becoming vignerons. He later added parcels in Pommard and Meursault, bringing the total vineyard holdings to nearly 25 acres. Like his father and grandfather before him, Michel also served as mayor of Volnay.
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Lafarge believed in old vines and selection massale for his Pinot Noir. “[I] learned about old vines from him, the tight-knitted weave of old-vine wines. When we started working together, Volnay was not popular,” said Wasserman. “[He was] a living encyclopedia of vintages, from when he was a youngster and one of the last times we were together, he said that 2019 reminded him of 1959 and that he had never seen such 'voracious yeasts.'”
He never used fertilizers in the vineyards and, in 2000, converted to biodynamic farming. The Lafarge philosophy aims for ripe Pinot Noir, balance and expression of each climat, or specific site. Thus, there was very little new oak, about 20 percent at most. The wines can be tightly wound in their youth, yet pure and precise and built to age.
Lafarge's son Frédéric joined him at the domaine in 1978 and today Frédéric and his wife Chantal are co-managers.