Denis Durantou

by Charles Lea

I am still reeling from the news of the death last week of Denis Durantou, owner and winemaker of Chateau l’Église Clinet, La Petite Église (its second wine) Cruzelles, Montlandrie, La Chenade and Saintayme. He was only 62. I’ve been so disengaged (delegation) from the last two Bordeaux primeur campaigns, that I didn’t even know he was ill.

As Neal Martin puts it in his comprehensive obituary on vinous.com, Denis was

“a true vigneron without all the gloss and sheen that often accompanies Bordeaux winemakers in their tailored suits and ties”.

Going to l’Église Clinet every year for the annual en primeur tasting was always a treat, and one we looked forward to. It is hard to believe that we have missed this year, and that next year there will be no Denis smiling his greeting, or standing in front of one of the pollarded trees on the edge of the vineyard, ready to reel off his ‘haiku of the vintage’.

It was the wines, of course, even more than the haikus, which were the point. But it was also the humour and humanity of the man who crafted them, and there were many memorable moments, not least when he grabbed our négociant friend Renaud to give an impromptu lesson on how the pricing of a Bordeaux vintage is like a dance between the owners and the merchants, or when we actually managed to catch one of his vintage summaries on video.

The point to which Denis featured ‘large’ in all recent Bordeaux trips is easy to see from a quick look through the archive. I will miss him more than is reasonable, partly for all of his humanity which made a visit to l’Église Clinet so much more like visiting growers with small vineyards in other regions all over the world.

No doubt I partly also mourn the loss of another stone in the wall that stood before the new tide that is now so powerful in Bordeaux, that likes a display of corporate wealth and power rather than the humility before nature which is the reality of the life of a vigneron.

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