Jane Eyre’s story is an amazing one. From a very different early career outside of wine, she found herself immersed in great bottles down in the original basement outpost of Prince Wine Store in Acland Street, St Kilda. She soon managed the store and quickly completed a handful of vintages, travelling abroad to Burgundy each year.
“I decided I wanted to be a winemaker in the space of about two days,” Eyre recalls, and just look at what she has since achieved. Eyre has worked every harvest in Burgundy since 1998 with the exception of the 2003 harvest which she did with Ernst Loosen in the Mosel. She has also worked harvest at Cullen, Ata Rangi and Felton Road.
The vintage hopping lifestyle arrived at a crossroads in 2003 when Prince Wine Store expanded and moved to South Melbourne. Eyre had worked the 2002 harvest with Dominique Lafon and managed to secure some work back there in early 2004. That was followed by a stint with Frédéric Mugnier and one at Domaine de Montille before accepting her current role running the cellar at Domaine Newman in Beaune in 2006.
Head down for a handful of years and the opportunity to source pinot noir grapes in Savigny-lès-Beaune in 2011 marked the beginning of what has now established itself as a small and successful négoce. A friendship with Australian pinot maverick Bill Downie saw Eyre add an Australian pinot noir string to her bow in 2012 and that continues today with a trio of wines made at Downie’s winery.
Grapes in Burgundy have been scarce and highly prized since Eyre established in 2011 and so the idea to expand to Beaujolais manifested as an opportunity to grow production in a more manageable way. In contrast to the Côte d’Or, this also meant more freely accessible parcels from the top sites in the region like Fleurie and Chenas at a fraction of the price. Eyre’s philosophy of wine style has always been that good pinot is aromatic and that its appeal is in its texture and prettiness.
“I try to get the best possible fruit I can, it’s no secret that’s how good wine is made,” she says. “2017 is a Burgundy vintage that really suits my style of winemaking because the wines are so pretty and so transparent. The aromas and prettiness and complexity are all the things I find attractive in pinot.”
Eyre’s Côte de Nuits-Villages (A$95) has punched above its weight before and it does so again in 2017. This has superb fragrance and freshness with attractively subtle spicy oak and bright lighter red fruits. The palate has a very juicy and supple edge with a fluidity and elegance that really fits the vintage style of freshness and detail.
The 2017 Beaune 1er Cru Cents Vignes (A$130) has a very impressive array of vibrant cherry as well as a chalky, stony and briary nose. The palate has a succulent and very vibrant, elegant and chiseled feel with exceptional detail and a long, bright and upbeat finish.
Eyre’s Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses (A$125) is the wine that really informed the style Eyre has carried to her other wines. The 2017 is ethereally pale and fragrant with plenty of flowers and strawberry with sous bois complexity. The palate has a super fine web of tannin with an elegant array of strawberry and light cherry. Eyre crafts a delicate Burgundy from an appellation that is not usually this pretty. Drink this in the next six to eight years.
To the north and the 2017 Gevrey-Chambertin (A$140) is a beautiful rendition that has really bright cherry notes with some sous bois and sweet spices. There’s beautiful purity and energy to the palate with lithe and juicy texture and seductively sweet fruit. A great interpretation of this commune.
The 2017 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Corbeaux (A$235) offers deliciously earthy and spicy aromas that hover above a bed of attractive ripe red and darker cherry fruits and violet flowers. The palate delivers a very assertive core of gently muscular tannins and fresh, defining acidity with a smooth, plush and extremely vibrant, detailed finish.
Eyre’s three current Australian pinot noir wines from the 2018 vintage are now available. The Yarra Valley (A$62) wine is a fresh and crunchy style with blood orange and strawberry delivered in a sappy, smashable style. Gippsland (A$66) is the most complex and earthy with a rich, darker fruit core and grainy, slow-burning tannins, whilst Mornington Peninsula (A$62) is the wine that presents attractive strawberry and cherry front and centre for unfettered enjoyment.
The determination and drive that has seen Eyre cruise through obstacles which would derail most mortal dreams is something to really marvel at. In the final touches of writing this piece I asked her, “Why no chardonnay?”
“I love white wine and I always thought I’d be a white winemaker,” she said, "but I’d not been offered a chardonnay parcel with Burgundy’s low yields since I started in 2011. But I made my first chardonnay in the Jura in 2018. I’ve always loved the Jura, and now I’ll have a chardonnay too.”
NOTE: Jane Eyre will present her wines as a guest at Tasting Australia in Adelaide alongside Bill Downie and his new release pinots. The Tasting Australia Festival runs from 5 to 14 April. Full program at tastingaustralia.com.au
Thibault Liger-Belair runs a very different brand of Burgundy to Jane Eyre, although certainly no less compelling or determinedly successful. A recent visit to Australia to show his wines at Mornington Peninsula’s Pinot Celebration Australia gave me the opportunity to catch up with him and taste his excellent 2016 vintage.
Starting with the 2016 Bourgogne Les Grands Chaillots (A$90), which has a very smooth, sappy and dark cherry feel with a super fragrant edge that leads to a palate with plenty of richness and tannin cut. Liger-Belair’s 2016 Chambolle-Musigny (A$220) is a blend of five parcels with a savoury thread of dark cherry that flows onto a palate with a very supple, silky and lacy feel. This is linear, bright and fresh with trademark depth on the finish.
The 2016 Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru La Toppe au Vert (A$240) hails from an east-facing plot and offers a very silky, supple and much finer palate than the brawny style most often associated with this area. The succulent, supple fruits are impressive with fresh cherry on the finish. The 2016 Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Saint Georges (A$350) is a heartland wine for Liger-Belair. It has plenty of violets, flowers and earthy nuances with a rich, dark cherry nose dressed in plenty of toasted spices. The palate has depth in a very flavoursome style with supple and silky tannins.
His 2016 Richebourg (A$1,100) is a masterpiece. From a parcel of old vines planted in 1936 in the south of the appellation, this has a very deep array of red and dark cherry fruits with an earthy edge (30% whole cluster) and a deeply spicy, woody complexity. The palate has phenomenal depth and richness. Very powerful and commanding, the polished and glossy tannins hold such length and poise into the regal, endlessly long finish.
Just one white: the stunning 2016 Corton-Charlemagne Les Languettes (A$500) is from a parcel at the limit of the plot adjoining Clos du Roi. There’s an edge of praline here with ripe peach and yellow grapefruit, attractive reduction and a very complex nose. The palate has a grilled hazelnut edge, some praline, then a flinty, fresh acidity that leaves you salivating.