Henri Jayer, an untrained French vineyard worker who rose to become one of the most important winemakers in Burgundy in the 1970’s and 1980’s, died Wednesday in Dijon, France. He was 84.
The cause was cancer, according to Martine Saunier, his representative in the United States. He had been ill for several years and was hospitalized five weeks ago, Ms. Saunier said.
At the height of Mr. Jayer’s fame in the late 1980’s, not even the wines of the legendary Domaine de la Romanée Conti were as prized as the frustratingly small quantities of wines he produced. To own even two or three of his Échézeaux or Richebourg, or his Vosne-Romanée Clos Parentoux, was to possess a vinous treasure. Owning a full case of 12 bottles could provoke the wrath of threestar restaurateurs all over France whose cellars were filled with fine Burgundy but who had no Jayer.
Henri Jayer was born in — and rarely left — the famous wine village of Vosne-Romanée, about halfway between the city of Dijon and Beaune, the historic capital of the Burgundy wine district. A modest, unassuming and eminently approachable man, he was the quintessential Burgundian vigneron, or winemaker. What he knew he learned from observation and experimentation, among his vines and in the wine cellar.
In 1945, Mr. Jayer entered into a 10-year contract with the Noirot-Camuzet family, which owned parts of several famous vineyards in Vosne-Romanée. He tended their vines and made the wines in exchange for 50 percent of the grapes. His half was bottled under his name. The contract was extended until 1987, when a younger member of the Camuzet family took over.
Over the years, Mr. Jayer had been buying small portions of the Clos Parentoux vineyard in Vosne-Romanée from the Camuzet family and other owners. He blended Clos Parentoux wine with wines from other Vosne-Romanée vineyards until 1978. That year, for the first time, he bottled a wine entirely from Clos Parentoux; it was the wine that made his reputation, although he rarely made more than some 3,500 bottles — just under 300 cases.
Although “retired” from his contract with the Camuzets, he continued to make Clos Parentoux until 1995, when he turned the business over to a nephew by marriage, Emmanuel Rouget.
Mr. Jayer’s father, Eugène, moved to Vosne-Romanée before World War I and pieced together a small domain of about seven acres. In later years Henri and his brothers, Lucien and Georges, added small parcels to the family land and leased others. There are many Jayers in their section of Burgundy, known as the Côte de Nuits, and most of them are involved in making wine. Some have their own labels, some work for others and some, like Mr. Jayer, do both.
Mr. Jayer is survived by his wife, Marcelle Rouget Jayer, and two daughters.
Emmanuel Rouget now tends Lucien and Georges’s vineyards as well as Henri’s. A former auto mechanic, he was brought into wine growing and trained by his uncle. Some years ago, an interviewer asked Mr. Rouget if he had changed anything he had learned from Henri. “We bring in the grapes in plastic containers now, instead of wooden baskets,” he said.
By FRANK J. PRIAL Published: September 22, 2006