Joseph Roty: The Man, The Myth, The Legend


This is how critics and press use to describe Joseph Roty himself (not the wine): individualist. Reclusive. Exasperating. Iconoclast. Eccentric. Annoying. Annoyingly difficult.

Not exactly the most glamorous words I must say, however, the wines produced from this family estate seem to consistently find their way into cellars of exclusive wine collectors and connoisseurs, while receiving accolades from well known critics across the globe. The element of mystery behind this Domaine might have sparked such interest, but the quality of the wine is undoubtedly superb in many aspects.

Joseph Roty and his family have been producing wine in Burgundy since 1710, a staggering eleven generations. While some Burgundian families can boast for having lived in the same town for centuries, there are very few estates who can claim with credibility that they have been working the same vineyards for 300 years, as Roty can. The family owns 12 hectares  in the villages of Gevrey-Chambertin and Marsannay. Given the family history, Roty works with some of the oldest vines in the area which is one its key advantages. Of note there is on one tiny production cuvee called, appropriately, Charmes-Chambertin Très Vieilles Vignes ( lit. “really old vines”) from grapes off Pinot Noir vines planted around 1881.


Joseph Roty, notorious for being the stand-out among Burgundy winemakers, is best described by Clive Coates: “Both he and the rest of his family: madame, sons Philippe and Pierre-Jean seem to have an almost paranoiac distrust of outsiders, the local bureaucracy, and other people in general. They do not consort with their neighbours, play no part in Gevrey-Chambertin promotional activities, and are closed to almost all journalists, including myself.” On the other hand, some say that his reclusiveness is the secret of his success. Him and his family go a very long way to preserve their method of production and do not succumb to trends or criticisms.  Roty’s productions are low in yields, some stems are used and raised in plenty of charred new oak. After a severe triage (sorting through the fruit to eliminate the sub-standard) there is a week’s long cold soaking before the fermentation is allowed to commence, and thereafter it takes place at a maximum of 25/26 degrees, which is surprisingly low.


Joseph Roty passed away in 2008 and the Domaine has since been operated by his son Philippe, who seemingly adopted the methods of his father’s winemaking. Today there are a couple of labels, the label of Domaine Joseph Roty is augmented with the label of Domaine Philippe Roty who has added some more Marsannay to the Gevrey. Whilst the wineries are completely separate – by law – they are actually separated only by the main road through the village.


I have had the luxury to taste a 2007 Charmes-Chambertin TVV (thank you Robin) – and its really quite something. Its aroma doesn’t strike the nose from the start but rather grows subtly along the way. Tannins are silky. Complex and well-structured wine.


Some additional praises on Roty:

“Roty has made an extended push in Marsannay over the past 3 years and is now by far and away the quality leader for this appellation.” (Allen Meadows, Burghound, Jan 2005)

“The village wines, including those from Marsannay, routinely outperform most premier crus from the northern Cote de Nuits. And they are reasonably priced” (Stephen Tanzer, I.W.C., Mar/Apr 2001)

“Roty wines are very distinctive. They are full, very intense, very perfumed and very harmonious. They are certainly immensely seductive.” (Clive Coates, Cote D’or, 1997.)

“This is winemaking of exceptional quality at every level.” (Remington Norman, The Great Domaines of Burgundy)



So…what about Domaine Leroy’s 2004 Vintage?



Domaine Leroy. If you are a serious Burgundy drinker, you probably recognise Domaine Leroy as one of the icons of Burgundian wines, and Lalou Bize-Leroy being one of the most influential winemakers in the business. After inheriting her father’s negociant business in 1955, she went on to co-manage DRC and brought Romanee Conti into the world stage as one of the most sought after wine in the world. After departing DRC in 1992, she started Domaine Leroy and has ever since created top-rated wines and receiving numerous accolades from wine critics around the world.


Leroy’s wines are low yielding and she emphasises on long fermentation before careful ageing. Her consideration for the terroir and her obsession with quality are very noticeable in her marvellous wines. Leroy is also one of the biggest advocate for biodynamic wines, meaning the wines are free of chemicals treatments, pesticides, fertilisers etc., essentially all-nautrale. 


2004 was a unique yet controversial vintage for Leroy.That year, Madame Leroy declassified all her upper level wines to villages level as she found that the 2004 vintage lacked the level of quality and vibrancy that her wines represent. She declassified her wines into five – so the Vosne Romanee includes Grand Cru (Richebourg, RSV), 1er cru (Brulees, Beaux Monts) and Villages (Genaivrières). Bourgogne includes Clos Vougeot and all the Leroy holdings in Cote de Beaune, from Grand Cru to Villages, etc.


There are many theories from critics as to why she did what she did; but little did people know that 2004 was also a depressing year for her as her husband, Marcel Bize passed away. She did explain that she became seriously depressed and found it difficult to take her normal interest in her wines despite her capable team. Some say it was more to the story…lady bugs, hail, etc. But interestingly enough, while Leroy declassified all her reds (both at Leroy and Auvenay), she bottled as normal all of her whites. So whatever conclusion resulted in the view that the reds wouldn’t be up to par was not applicable to the whites. So have prices reflected this phenomenon of declassification? Not necessarily. Some say this vintage did not deserve to be declassified, and is the bargain of the century. But some insist that the 2004 vintage clearly differs in character and grace versus her other products. But nonetheless, drinkers were eager to give this vintage a try given the story behind it.


We might never find out what really happened, but the 2004 vintage will always carry the unknown factor and challenge the drinker to ponder upon the nuances of this interesting yet controversial vintage.