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La Grande Dame -- In Memory Of Anne-Claude Leflaive

Once in a rare while, one meets someone whose energy is sparkling, whose intensity is palpable and whose passion is contagious. Such people are unforgettable. Anne-Claude Leflaive was part of that exclusive club.

Domaine Leflaive is one of Burgundy's iconic white white estates. Over the past 20 years, since Anne Claude became the winery's director in 1994, Leflaive produced some of the most exhilarating white Burgundies.

Anne-Claude was an ardent advocate of biodynamic farming. From the very beginning of her taking the helm at Domaine Leflaive, she began to fervently lobby the family that they needed to convert to biodynamism. While they were slow in coming around to her point of view, they finally did. In 1990, they stopped using chemicals and their 58 acres were organically farmed. And by 1998, the vineyards were biodynamically cultivated.

I first met Anne-Claude quite by accident. Several years ago prior to a trip to Burgundy, I made a list of vineyards I wanted to visit and Leflaive was one of them, their Puligny Montrachet being one of my all-time favorite wines. I called, made an appointment and arrived on the given day at the appointed time. As I tasted, swirling the golden nectar of a Meursault, delighting in the velvety texture, I saw a handsome woman walking around. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that she was sizing up all of us who were in the tasting. I had no idea who she was except that she had an air of authority about her and her completely white hair was cut short and chic.

As she approached me, walking slowly and purposefully, her hands behind her back, I set my glass down and began rummaging around my bag for a notebook and pen. She never said a word, but her eyes forced the question, "Well? What do you think?" I thought she was asking me. I began to mumble something about how clean it was when she crossed her arms across her chest and listened to me as I spouted what I thought were the right adjectives. Finally, after several moments of silence, "Did you enjoy it?" "But of course," I spluttered. "Was it memorable?" she added. I nodded dumbly. "Then we did our jobs well," she said and broke into a wide smile.

I cannot tell you how much it meant to me as a wine aficionado to have spent a little time with her, nor will I ever forget the taste of the 1995 Chevalier Montrachet she offered me, winking as she did. To say that it was outstanding would be a wild euphemism. I had no words, but Anne Claude saw my reaction in my eyes. She smiled and nodded and walked away. It was with great sadness and a very heavy heart that I received the news about her passing this last Monday the 6th of April. She was only 59. Burgundy has lost one of its greats.