It is not often you get to meet a vigneron early on in his/her career nor one openminded enough to be interviewed on how he/she is transitioning to his/her role as regisseur of a domaine. Yet Thibaud Clerget was clearly up to it when I approached him during his visit to Hong Kong last month.
He is latest amongst a long line of Clergets dating back to 1268 to make wines in Burgundy at the family estate of Domaine Y. Clerget. After his father Yvon (the Y in Y. Clerget) retired in 2009, the grapes from the family domaine were sold to négociants until Thibaud stepped in officially in 2015. Before he took over he had learned winemaking from Lycée Viticole in Beaune, Hudelot Noellat, Domaine Drouhin in Oregon and Giesen Wines in New Zealand before returning to Pommard, where he is now based. The domaines holdings include: Volnay, Volnay 1er Cru Carelle Sous La Chappelle, Volnay 1er Cru Santenots and monopole Volnay 1er Cru Clos de Versuil (just north of one of my favourite, Volnay 1er cru Taille Pieds).
You are a very young winemaker but have you always been interested in winemaking? What were you first career goals? Did you struggle to make a choice or was it an obvious and easy one?
Yes, of course, when you are born in a winemaking family and wine producing region, it’s inevitable and I have always liked wine. When I was young I wanted to attend a golf school to become a professional player but in the end I preferred taking over the family business. But my father let me choose my career and I took my own decisions.
How come there was no smooth handover from your father’s last vintage (2009) to your first vintage (2015)?
My father was here to support me and he was always here to answer my questions but he trusted me and let me work the way I wanted and respected my decisions and choices.
You have studied at Beaune Wine University, shadowed Hudelot Noellat, and went to work in Giesen Winery in New Zealand and Domaine Drouhin in Oregon. What was your biggest learning experience and how does that inform your winemaking now?
The Beaune Wine university was a great place to gather theoretical knowledge and my working experience with Hudelot Noellat was very enriching as it taught me lot about the wines I wanted to make. The last working experience at Drouhin was an amazing experience from a human point of view and their winemaking techniques were very interesting.
2016 was an exceptionally difficult vintage, even for the most experienced winemakers. What was your biggest challenge in 2016 and what did you to do manage it?
2016 was indeed difficult because of the frost. During this difficult period, my father was here and other wine producers were close and supportive of one another. It was really hard not to have a lot of grapes in the vineyards but I eventually manage to go through.
Domaines that have as much history as yours have a hard time balancing their legacy and yet continue to modernize. Do you face such challenges? What is your vision for the family domaine? What kind of wines do you want to make?
Yes, we have a family heritage and the domaine is evolving with the years, it’s not an issue for us to maintain our heritage and modernise our business. I do respect what I was given and I’m liable to my family heritage. I want to make wines that respect the pinot noir, elegant, subtle and fine wines in accordance with each vintage and appellation.
Do you still work closely with your father Yvon Clerget? What kind of advice did he give you and that you continue to use for winemaking today?
My father has an eye on the family domaine because it’s part of his life but he trust me regarding the business and enjoys being retired.
His first vintage of 2015 garnered praise from Steen Ohman to Allen Meadows. His 2016s from what I tasted were fresh, vibrant and easily approachable. He used little to no new oak as he wanted the wines to be more approachable young, which I noticed is an increasing trend across Burgundy it seems these days.
Domaine Y. Clerget is promising and it shows that though Thibaud is young, there is a whole village in supporting him and his growth as a winemaker. Yvon, though comfortably retired, remains a guiding force for his son. I see some parallels between him and Benjamin Leroux, another young winemaker that started in Pommard with Domaine du Comte Armand. Benjamin was ambitious and within a decade, he is now making beautiful wines now across multiple appellations. Thibaud has the benefit of already having a family domaine to work with so we shouldn't have to wait very long to see whether he will be making the best wines in his appellation if not the greater Côte at large. He is not however the only young ambitious vigneron, particularly with competition the likes of Maxime Cheurlin of Domaine George Noellat and Charles Lachaux of Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux but for us consumers, competition makes for better wines all around in and out of the Côte.