Requiem ; Henri-Frederic Roch [1962-2018] The 17th century priest of Burgundy.
On the eve of the 158th Hospices auction, Henri-Frederic Roch passed away.
And with him passes a great philosophical treatise of Burgundy.
I knew him, briefly, as I imported the wines of Prieure-Roch, his personal winery, during the 1995 – 1998 harvests, and followed his progress through many more vintages. These wines, I believe, have offered a unique window to wine. To understand them you must put aside much of the rules of engagement, current Burgundian style, and open your mind to a different music.
Eulogies will cite many achievements, co-regisseur of the iconic Domaine Romanee-Conti, son of Pauline Roch, a Leroy heir and nephew of ‘Lalou’, dame of the house of Leroy. While true, his less famous role in founding Prieure Roch should be paramount in his legacy.
It was not, as some mistakenly proved, a backdoor entry to the wines of Domaine Romanee-Conti. I never discussed any aspect of DRC marketing with him, only some talk of vintages like 1991 in St. Vivant. While I am certain he was intimately involved with his position there, my time was much more productively spent exploring the nature of his children, the wines of Prieure-Roch. a tale of intrigue, a modern resurrection of 17th century wines. It was at once avant-garde and retro, unencumbered by modern marketing considerations. Henri made wine with his heart in the church of the 17th century, on the turf of Nuits St. Georges, to a gregorian chant with ’60’s rock rhymes.
I imported the wine when no press was available, no ’92’ point ratings. How could there have been? The constructs of the 100 point system collapse when attempting to accommodate philosophical differences. Take Bouquet; so you measure quality on fruit? On wood? The 17th century nose has little resemblance to the 21st. So which is better? Are the both high or one high,one low, or? Is Voltaire better than Camus? It is irrelevant when you open your eyes to it. Back in the 1970s I first saw this phenomenon with the wines of the collection du Dr Barolet. Yes, here is the technical reasons for the style, but the Conductor directs and it defies comparison. So, it is what it is. Let the poetry commence.
Two of my favorites are Vosnes; Clos Goillotte and Les Clous. Both cousins of the old Romanees, The former a piece of Conti history, the first vineyard planted, the latter the first name of the ancient Vosne vineyard. Goillottes a baroque styled Marquises, Clous a rustic Baron. Henri is inseparability linked to the commune.
There are wines more notorious, the Clos Beze and Clos Vougeot, but I think of them as part of the same family, not superior or inferior. The Beze is from the old Dr. Marion portion, and the Vougeot from the solid northern wall, but the statements are unique.
Mr. Roch had an eye for the famous, perhaps culminating in the super Nuits, the monopole Clos des Corvees. Famous for a thousand years, This signature Clos to some is the most desirable Nuits st. Georges of all. A complete victory of the commune, dimensionally dramatic. A masterful move brought the Corvees into the fold with a purchase from an heir of General Gouachon in 1994.
I think this might have been his favorite of the cellar. By chance I obtained some bottles of the 1961 produced by Gouachon, labelled with the tastevinage approval. I had thought of bringing a bottle back to the source, but although I was at the bar Bistroch this same hospices weekend, it was not to be. I shall open it with friends with a Roch bottle to salute the passing of the age. May it be long remembered.
Cornelius Robert Collins