What’s in a name? Ask the AF Gros estate…

If you think that Pinot Noir is a complex red wine and that mastering the AOC (controlled appellation) classification is yet another step in coming to terms with Burgundy wine, then understanding the intricacies of famous Burgundy estates could definitely lead you to ordering a made-to-measure straight jacket – or another bottle!

The history behind the AF Gros estate is no exception. It has the perfect ingredients for a passionate Burgundian period drama. Let me attempt to explain the more recent family history, before going back a couple of centuries.

Both the Parent and the Gros family are long-established, traditional wine families. Joannès Parent (François’ great-grandfather) first established the Parent name as a forward-thinking winery, but it was François’ father, Jacques who decided to bottle and sell at the estate and the first bottles were sold in 1955. The current son & daughter (Mathias & Caroline) are the 13th generation and their illustrious ancestor, Etienne Parent (8th generation) had a close relationship with the US Ambassador, later President, Thomas Jefferson.

On the Gros side, the family’s wine heritage goes back to 1831 with the creation of the Domaine Gros Guenard estate by Louis Gros, followed in 1862 by the changing of the estate’s name to Gros Renaudot by his son, Jules Gros. When his son Louis retired, the estate was shared by his four children: François who created the François Gros estate, Jean, who created the Jean Gros estate and Gustave & Colette who created the Gros Frère et Soeur (brother & sister) estate – all based in Vosne Romanée…and all very successful.

Need a refill????

Ok, so when Jean Gros retired, he shared his estate amongst his three children: Michel (Michel Gros estate), Bernard (who is running Gros Frère & Soeur estate), and Anne-Françoise (A-F Gros estate). There is also the cousin, Anne Gros, who has a famous estate in Vosne…so four more Gros contenders.

When Anne-Françoise married François Parent,  they decided to combine their estates (or at least the name), for family and legal reasons…which is quite understandable and smart too, considering that it boosted there estate to a huge (?)…10 hectares…or 25 acres!

So who is to be blamed for provoking this tortuous family tree, giving way to small estates and multiple versions of the same family?….yes it was no other than THE… Napoleon 1st.

In his Civil Code Act of 1804, he decreed that land/estates etc. must be divided in equal share and handed down to their children. This is fine in theory, but in practice, after two or three generations, things start getting complicated, division and then sub-division!! What may have started out as a 40 hectare estate, can become a 10 hectare estate after two generations, two children and 4 grandchildren. Will the children work together for the well-being and the unity of the family estate? Or will they go their separate ways, or even worse, sell their share to the highest bidder and make a fast buck?

Now for some interesting historical facts. Let’s go back a couple of centuries. Thomas Jefferson was well known for being a lover and collector of fine wines. Back in the 1780’s when Jefferson was Minister to France (1784 – 1789), he made the most of his assignment and sampled many wines from different regions. He had a love for Bordeaux reds, but also for Burgundy whites (and certain reds). In particular, he loved Meursault and Pommard’s Clos de la Commaraine. He found Burgundy wine difficult to understand (!) and so he asked Etienne Parent, a well-known cooper, to act as a “négociant” for him, choosing and ordering the wines even when Jefferson was President of the United States. Etienne Parent knew Jefferson’s tastes and always managed to find THE perfect Burgundy for his illustrious client. In a letter addressed to Etienne on January 22nd 1789, Jefferson is quoted as saying “I always trust you for quality, and let the price be whatever it should be, while still considering quality rather than price”.

Etienne became a trusted friend of the 3rd American President which lasted through to Jefferson’s retirement.

So after an important history lesson, let’s concentrate on the AF Gros branch of the family. Mathias, who is 23 is currently helping his father, François, to make the wine, whilst Caroline – who I had the great pleasure of meeting recently – looks after the sales & marketing of both estates (and also others, through her agency). They have another daughter Rosalie, who has decided to work outside of the wine business.

Caroline is a very dynamic, charming and intelligent business woman who made the brave decision to take charge of all the sales and marketing aspects of the two (or should I say one) estates (aka AF Gros), of which each has its own history and identity. She has both the qualities of her mother and father, which (in diplomatic terms) can be translated as having the perfect credentials for representing such an illustrious estate.

The estate, boasts 10 hectares of prime Burgundy vineyards, including such iconic villages as Beaune, Pommard, Corton, Vougeot, Chambolle Musigny and Vosne Romanée.

The A-F Gros side produces some very fine Vosne Romanée from plots (vineyards) such as “Aux Reas”, “Mazières” and “Clos de la Fontaine” a monopoly, as well as a very classy Pommard 1er Cru les Pezerolles.  They also produce some fabulous Echézeaux and Richebourg Grand Crus.

The François Parent side of the estate produces a very seductive Volnay “Frémiets”, some classic Pommard: “Les Arvelets” and “Les Epenots”. The Grand Crus include a very impressive Clos de Vougeot and (only one barrel of) an exceptional Corton Blanc.

As for the vintages, François Parent believes 2009 to be “an excellent vintage but not a great one. Maybe lacking in a little acidity. 2010 had a difficult start and an excellent finish. We lost many vines due to frost and yields were down by 40%. The 2010 is what I would call a “fine” vintage, almost a mixture between 2007 and 2008. The 2011 vintage is one that produced classic wines of fruit and pleasure. Highly aromatic, in particular on the fruit, which will make them easier to drink than 2010 – earlier but with a potential to keep too.  ”

The 2012 vintage was summarized by Caroline Parent. “It was a classic start to spring, with a good amount of grapes. May & June was rainy which led to a late flowering. All was ok until hail on the 23 July impacted our vineyards in Pommard, Beaune and Savigny les Beaune, which lead to us losing 80% of our harvest. The Côtes de Nuits vineyards were relatively unscathed, cool temperature meaning no botrytis. Apart from the hail, a vintage of  excellent quality.”

Caroline Parent Domaine AF Gros

Caroline Parent Domaine AF Gros

With Mathias showing signs of following his father François, as a talented winemaker, and the highly professional Caroline representing the commercial interests of the estate in France and overseas, the family has many more years of success to come.

So, if you think that the Dallas dynasty was complicated, try Burgundy!!!

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