The name “Domaine Newman” is rather dissonant. Why does a French estate boast such a decidedly American name? Is the owner a Seinfeld fan, or is it perhaps pronounced “neu – mahn” with a nasal emphasis on the last syllable?
Neither, as it turns out.
Domaine Newman is a rarity: an American-owned Burgundy estate. After years of selling their wine in Europe and New Orleans (more on that later), Domaine Newman wines are making their mark in the US.
Tasting through their line was an absolute pleasure and I wanted to drink know more.
Thankfully, Chris Newman, the owner and son of the founder, graciously agreed to answer my questions via email.
FWC: Your father purchased plots in three grand cru parcels [Latriciere-Chambertin, Mazis-Chambertin and Bonnes-Mares] over 30 years ago. What was the impetus behind that purchase?
CN: My father [Robert Newman] was born in 1904 in New Orleans [and] he traveled a lot in Europe with his family when young. He retired quite early and lived most of the time in Europe. He had a keen interest in wine and fo od, which was rare at that time, even for New Orleans.
After W.W. II he wanted to rebuild his wine cellar. His friend, Alexis Lichine, confirmed that there were no wines available in France but that there were vineyards for sale and if he and some of his friends bought a vineyard, Lichine would manage it and sell the wine for them and they could have their shares paid in wine. They purchased Chateau Lascombes, a second growth in Margaux, [selling it] almost 30 years later.
My father always liked wines from Burgundy. So after years of searching, he purchased the Mazy and Latricieres-Chambertin and the Bonnes-Mares [parcels] at auction in 1952. He offered Lichine a percentage to manage and sell the wines left after my father took what he wanted.
FWC: Was it odd at the time to be an American buying vines and making wine in Burgundy?
CN: Yes, my father was certainly the first American owner in the Cote d’Or (maybe even first foreigner) and yes, I imagine it was odd but my father was very proud of it.
FWC: When you took over the estate, what was your background in wine?
CN: I was graduating from school in Switzerland at the same time as my father and his friends were selling Lascombes. By 1974 there was a glut of wines in the world…the market was very depressed and most of the group wanted out.
In Burgundy, the vineyards needed replanting, my father was over 70 and wasn’t sure he wanted to wait the 15+ years required for vines to really give good quality so he was even thinking of selling his Burgundy vineyards.
I had developed a strong interest in wine and had spent 2 summers working in Bordeaux and Burgundy. So I purchased Lichine’s share and took over the management and I convinced my father to sell me his share of the vineyards in Burgundy (over time fortunately).
Per your question, I never studied wine making, however I did take a year off from college in 1977 and worked for almost a year at the Domaine Marquis d’Angerville in Volnay. So I am pretty much self-taught.
Unfortunately in wine making you only get one shot each year and Pinot Noir is known to be the most demanding grape to truly master. I wish the curve had been steeper but I have been at it for a long time now.
FWC: When you began making wine, what changes did you implement in the vineyards or at the winery? What were your goals?
CW: What changes were made in the vineyard/winery? That’s a hard one. The main thing is, it is a constant evolution. The biggest single change was, at first I had other people handle the agricultural side. [But for] seven years now I have been organic/biodynamic with my own team and equipment. Also I have improved the winemaking equipment over time.
My goal has always been to make great Pinot Noirs. I really like wines that are balanced, fruity and have smooth tannins.
FWC: Your wines are [relatively new to] to the New York market. Were your sales limited to Europe ? What made you decide to reach out to American wine drinkers?
CN: I sell most of my wines in Europe because I didn’t want people to buy my wines in the USA just because I was American. Also a long time ago Burgundy wasn’t that well known in the States and was hard to sell and I am not a great salesman. I didn’t go in for reviews and tried to keep as low a profile as possible. I always sold wine into New Orleans because I’m from there, but otherwise sales into the US were very spotty.
For decades now the English language press is by far the most important and the USA is the most knowledgeable market. So, having some more wine available for sale, resulting from purchasing more vineyards, I hoped that I might find a quality importer and distributor in what I consider the most important market in the USA, New York. So I am pretty happy about how things worked out.
FWC: New York is a tough market to crack – what makes your wines stand out?
CN: I don’t know, as the wines are not made to win tastings, With no food and scores of big, powerful and extracted wines, it is hard for wines made to show off the finesse and elegance that I feel is the greatness of Cote d’Or Pinots to stand out.
THE DOMAINE’S WINES
From their entry-level Cote de Beaune Rouge to their highest-level creations, each offers the finesse and elegance Chris Newman describes. Seriously, each one was gorgeous, and if you love Pinot, seek some out.
Here are my notes on each, along with come comments from Chris. Prices are estimated retail.
Cote de Beaune Rouge, $35
FWC: Yummy! Savory with red fruit flavor. An acidic backbone, but soft and easy.
CN: From a single vineyard called La Grand Chatelaine. It is in Beaune and is held to the same standards as Beaune.
Beaune Rouge, $39
FWC: Earther, with notes of rare beef carpaccio, pepper and sharp Parmesean cheese.
CN: This is from two vineyards, one up towards the top of the Mont Baptault called Lulunne and the other parcel Les Beau Fougets is towards Pommard on the flatter land.
Monthelie Rouge, $39
FWC: Earthy with notes of savory tea and slightly overripe berries.
CN: From two vineyards acquired in 2008. Vines are about 50 years old in Les Riveaux and about 15 years younger in Les Fourneaux.
Pommard Vieilles Vignes, $58
FWC: Textbook plus in terms of flavors – very smooth, juicy and lip-smacking.
CN: From two parcels – one in Levrieres planted in 1921. The other, smaller, parcel, planted in the 50s, is in Vaumurien.
Beaune Rouge 1er Cru Clos des Avaux, $58
FWC: Initally closed on the nose, but soon opens to barnyard-y aromas. Also shows savory notes of earth, forest floor and mushrooms. Mmmmmmmmmm. (Yes, that is a technical term.)
CN: [This vineyard is] closest to the Domaine. [It] gives silky feminine wines [and was] planted in 64.
Beaune Rouge 1er Cru Greves, $73
FWC: Lighter and brighter than the Clos des Avaux (these vines are in gravelly soil, while the Avaux vineyard is more clay), it has more berry, cherry and dark pepper flavors, with less earthiness.
CN: [The vineyard is] very steep, on top of the Mont Batois. [It] makes big wines with a cherry aroma and good length.
FWC: Chocolate covered cherries! Also notes of cola, fruit, earth and tea.
CN: [The vineyard is] adjacent to Chambertin [and] Clos de Beze, which is just to the South. Wines are often elegant and long.
Bonnes Mares, $225
FWC: Savory but restrained. Very elegant.
CN: [Crafted from] two parcels in Chambolle. Big wines, very fruity.