This is the sort of article I hate writing. It seems quite wrong to me that a woman as strong and influential as Anne-Claude Leflaive should be felled in her fifties. But yesterday morning her family, including her husband Christian and her daughters Marine, Charlotte, and Claire bid her farewell round her hospital bed.
Anne-Claude ran the world-famous Domaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet's landmark wine producer, since 1990, for the first few years in tandem with her cousin Olivier Leflaive and as sole manager after the death of her father Vincent in 1993.
She needed not just wine-production skills but human skills, too, since so many family members have a stake in the domaine. The list of those on the management board alone, cited on the domaine's website, gives some flavour of this: 'Maria Cruz de Suremain (niece of Anne Leflaive), Marilys de La Morandière (daughter of Jo Leflaive), and Bernard de Noüe (son of Jeanne de Noüe, sister of Joseph Régis Leflaive and Vincent Leflaive)'. I would often see her in Puligny in the company of various family members, none of whom looked as though they got their hands dirty as often as Anne-Claude, who was a great and practical innovator.
Along with Burgundy's other strong woman, Lalou Bize-Leroy (who is celebrating her sixtieth vintage this weekend), Anne-Claude Leflaive led the way to the now-widespread adoption of biodynamic viticulture in Burgundy. But unlike Lalou, she always believed in co-operation and enthusiastic communication with others. Bit by bit she converted Domaine Leflaive and, most conspicuously, introduced horses to her well-tended vineyards above the village.
A fervent believer in ecology and sustainability, she lived in a specially designed low-input house designed by her architect daughter. She also set up a wine school in the village to educate others about what she believed in. It has, incidentally, taken me hours to write this because I am resisting its message.
I have known her as a brave, bold, free spirit for decades, from even before her visit to Gleneagles for one of the wine weekends I hosted there in the 1980s when other visitors included Jean-Michel Cazes, Robert Drouhin, Angelo Gaja, Gérard Jaboulet, Henri Krug, Dominique Lafon. Alexandre de Lur-Saluces, Bruno Prats, a young Paul Pontallier and a mature Amyas Symington.
Anne-Claude had been unwell for some time and I'm sure that the domaine is in excellent hands, not least in those of maître-de-chai Éric Remy, who took over from Pierre Morey in 2008. But Domaine Leflaive, and the whole of Burgundy, will not be the same without her.
See also this detailed appreciation by Mike Laing of Armit Wines.