Henri Jayer

Purist Burgundy winemaker


Henri Jayer, winemaker: born Vosne-Romanée, France 1922; married 1942 Marcelle Rouget (two daughters); died Dijon, France 20 September 2006.

Compared with the grandeur of Bordeaux châteaux and their proprietors, the wine of Burgundy seems the creation of inspired artisans and peasants - none of them more revered than Henri Jayer.

Although his personal holdings were hardly more than 12 acres, Jayer became the most renowned Burgundy maker of his generation, with his early bottles of Echézeaux now selling for more than £3,000 a bottle and the fabled Richebourg 1959 for £10,000. This meant that his wines were even more expensive - and rare - than the fabled Burgundy of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Many other small Burgundy growers followed the same principles as he did, none more than Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, but Jayer encapsulated the notion of the principled purist who sought to create the finest wine with the least human interference. Because of his intimacy with the soil of his vineyards, he was said to create his wines on the vine rather than in the cellar.

As if to enhance his reputation as a simple farmer, the third most influential parcel of his wines, Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux, was originally a small plot of scrubland that was used to grow Jerusalem artichokes. After purchasing it in the early Fifties, Jayer removed the larger rocks with his wheelbarrow and then eventually purchased two other tiny portions before he eventually bottled it as a separate vineyard in 1978. He never produced more than 300 cases annually of this particular wine but it established his reputation as the greatest vigneron of his generation. When the co-owner of Domaine Romanée-Conti tasted the 1978 vintage, she declared that this was the quality of wine that they aspired to make.

Jayer's rise also coincided with a backlash against the notion of producing clean, filtered wines at the expense of authentic, earthy wines that threw natural sediment in the bottle. He was also fortunate to find a strong champion in the US wine guru Robert Parker, who extolled the virtues of his wine in his influential Wine Advocate newsletter.

Henri Jayer was born in Vosne- Romanée in 1922, the third son of the owner of three small parcels of land purchased in the wake of the disastrous phylloxera epidemic, which destroyed French vineyards in the late nineteenth century. He left school at 16 and, when his elder brothers joined the French army, he took control of the vineyards, taking weekly lessons in viticulture from a local Burgundy winemaker.

Unlike Bordeaux, where vineyards can be 50 acres or more, Burgundy comprises scores of small parcels or strips of land which can be as little as a fraction of an acre, all mixed together within specific appellations. While tending his own vines, using sélection massale (a system of only using the best vines to graft on to existing root stocks rather than importing new vines), he also leased other smallholdings and was granted the right to produce 50 per cent of these crops under his own name. However, even when ownership of these leaseholds passed to someone else in 1959, he continued to be the winemaker of the remaining 50 per cent, even though it was bottled under an entirely different name.

His two daughters did not wish to continue his business so, when he contemplated retirement in 1987, he passed control of his own vineyards to his nephew Emmanuel Rouget, although again he continued in an advisory role right up until 2002.

To add to the complications, his two brothers also owned plots of land that he tended on their behalf so that, although it was bottled under their names, it was again solely produced by him. Even after he retired, he continued to produce a hundred or so cases of wines from his vineyards for personal use and for friends, but such is his reputation that this has also appeared on the world market at phenomenal prices.

Jayer's impact on younger Burgundian wine makers was immense, although his practices were hardly revolutionary, being intended to maintain the purity of his wine. For instance, he preferred dramatically to prune back his grapes in the spring rather than in the summer, and believed in picking at the very last minute in order to optimise the ripeness of the grapes. He was also a great believer in understanding the subsoil of his vineyards, which he believed the other vignerons often overlooked.

He rarely travelled far from his modest modern villa in Burgundy, although he did occasionally attend special events in his honour. He only made one visit to the United Kingdom in 1997, when a dinner to celebrate his 75th birthday was given for him at Le Gavroche in London.

In appearance he looked like a modest farmer, though people who knew him such as the wine writer Jancis Robinson remarked on the brightness of his eyes and his natural intelligence: "He may have driven a tractor in the daytime but in the evening he was just as happy to drive his Mercedes to a grand local restaurant."

His wines were to be found in virtually every three-star restaurant in France, though never in great amounts. His greatest pride was his Cros Parantoux, which could often outshine the grander wines of neighbouring Richebourg.

Roy Richards, his UK importer for more than 35 years, said that Jayer, through sheer intelligence, made wines that were dramatically sensual: "He believed wines were made to be drunk, so the more hedonistic they were, they happier he was."

Bruce Palling

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day supply

£110 - £130 per day + Competitve rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Yea...

Year 4 Teachers needed for day to day supply across the region

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Nursery Teachers needed for supply roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Nu...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits