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Changing of the guard at Clos de Tart

Corney & Barrow marked the end of Sylvain Pitiot’s tenure as winemaker of the Burgundian monopole with a vertical of 16 of his vintages.

Held at the fine wine merchant’s London offices (it is also Clos de Tart’s agent in the UK), the tasting spanned the 1996 to 2013 vintages (bar the 1998), which represent the greater part of Pitiot’s 20 years at the estate.

Pitiot is handing over the reins at Clos de Tart to former Domaine l’Arlot winemaker, Jacques Devauges, next year with the pair having worked together on the 2015 vintage – although Pitiot told the drinks business he had been more of an “observer” this time around.

Speaking to the drinks business about his time at Clos de Tart, Pitiot said: “I’ve had 20 marvellous years. I saw the reawakening of the estate and it’s been extraordinary. With a small vineyard and small production you have the chance to make top wine, but you have to be rigorous [in one’s selection].”

Reflecting on the array of vintages at the tasting, Pitiot added he had no favourites but offered, tactfully, “some are better surprises than others for sure, and some excite me more as the years go by.”

Both his successor and Corney & Barrow’s fine wine director, Will Hargrove, paid tribute to Pitiot’s undoubted legacy of turning around the Morey-St-Denis property, which was one of Burgundy’s most notorious under-achievers prior to his arrival. “He’s too modest to say how much he has done,” noted Devauges while Pitiot was briefly out of earshot and Hargrove said it was the “perfect chance” to do a retrospective and Corney & Barrow’s clients were well aware how much the estate has “come up since 1996 when Sylvain came on board.”

In this respect too Clos de Tart is not usually mentioned in the same breath as the region’s other big names: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Armand Rousseau, Domaine Leroy etc but Hargrove suggested this could be changing.

“[Its] History is being made, it’s not been made,” he said. “A monopole can be harder to promote because there are fewer wines to choose from (Clos de Tart does make a second wine occasionally). But we have seen, in the last three to five years, people trying to pick up the ’01, ’02 and ’05 and so on. One case of the ’05 came on the broking list recently and we could’ve sold it 30 times over.”

Devauges is equally conscious he has big shoes to fill and “lots to learn” but also that, “the domaine is still progressing” and while this means picking up at the high standard Pitiot has set for him, he has room to place his own stamp on the clos as well. “The quest for perfection continues,” he said,

He will no doubt be helped along by the recent 2015 vintage which he acknowledges as “all the elements” required for greatness – although he stopped short of declaring it was exactly that for now.

A little hydric stress because of the warm weather has led to very small, concentrated berries and, as a result, an estimated 25% drop in volume compared to 2014.

Pitiot said he would continue to “accompany” Devauges for a little longer as an occasional advisor but said he was not going to sink into a quiet retirement, rather a “calmer” but still active one.

He was very clear he was not finished with wines just yet, “and I still have my cartography”.

For a full interview with Pitiot and an overview of his time at Clos de Tart see the recent article in the drinks business here.

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