Jean-Michel Gaunoux in Meursault
The day we arrived in Burgundy, we met with Jean-Michel Gaunoux. Located in the white wine commune of Meursault, his cellar was constructed by his maternal grandparents, but it wasn’t until 1990, that Jean-Michel halted his work with his father, Francois of Domaine Francois Gaunoux (and the son of the famed Henri Gaunoux), to establish his own Domaine. Upon our arrival, a certain group dynamic was established when we realized our need to rely on Danielle, our most well-spoken French speaker.
A warm and unassuming man, Jean-Michel led us with a soft smile down to the cellar, where we perused the dusty bottles lying in wait. Here, amidst barrels and spectacular patterns of mold on the vaulted brick walls, he holds each vintage until it’s ready to be released, including his 1998 Pommard, which apparently is still too tight for the market. After a brief tour, we ascended the spiral staircase to visit the tasting room, so that we could taste through the bottles.
Danielle, Jenna, Georgia and Laura in the cellar with Jean-Michel
Emphasizing that all Burgundian winemakers employ different techniques in the winery, largely depending upon the location of their vines, Jean-Michel informed us that in 2005, he stopped practicing battonage, to reduce the wines’ exposure to oxygen, opting to make them fresher.
Cultivating 6ha of vines in Meursault, Pommard, Puligny-Montrachet and Volnay, Jean-Michel practices lutte raisonne in the vineyard, or “reactive viticulture”, which allows one to react to problems as they occur in the vineyard, as opposed to spraying out of habit. A fourth generation vintner, whose family has been in the Cote d’Or for centuries, Gaunoux works to preserve the soil, using no pesticides, while employing traditional vinification methods. With two 1er Cru sites in Meursault to his name, including, “Perrieres” and “Les Gouttes d’Or”, Jean-Michel produces ten wines, of which we tasted eight.
We began with Meursault Village 2009. A fairly hot year, said Jean-Michel, 2009 had him careful to not pick the grapes too late, so that he could keep the acidity high and the concentration measured. Quite opulent for an entry level wine, the Meursault Village offers rocks on the nose, followed by an acidity that sings to the tune of lemon fruit , with lemon pith and white pepper on the finish. Gaunoux uses 15-20% new oak for his Village wines, which lends some lovely viscosity.
Next up, we tasted Meursault 1er Cru Gouttes d’Or 2009, from a site where Jean-Michel has 0.3ha on a steep, rocky slope, where vines that were planted in the 1950′s face east in soil that is heavy with clay on a limestone base. Of the 2007 vintage, Jean-Michel said it is fantastic (I tasted this later, and it shows lovely notes of bees wax), but he considers the 2009 is still a bit young. That said, the bouquet here is earthy, and reminiscent of moss on rocks, with notes of dried lemon skin and chalk on the palate, followed by bright acidity and a briny finish.
Gaunoux’s Meursault Les Perrieres-Dessous 2009 comes from the lower portion of Les Perrieres (Dessous) as opposed to the upper (Dessus), and while Dessus is generally considered the better plot, in Meursault Les Perrieres, Dessous is the superior sector. Here, the limestone soil contributes to the wine’s floral notes. Aged in 30% new oak, the viscosity is creamy, with a touch of anise, rocky minerality and ripe lemon on the palate. Les Perrieres, which is often referred to as tête de cuvée, is the wine that Jean-Michel favors most, due to its great minerality.
Meursault Les Genevrieres-Dessus 2009 This plot sits parallel with Les Perrieres-Dessous, and so in Les Genevrieres, Dessus yields the better wines. Here, Jean-Michel sources grapes from Latour, from the same parcel every year. In the 2009, the minerality is smokey, and the lemon is Meyer. Creamy and lush with a spicy mid-palate, the 2009 is an elegant wine.
Moving onto Pugliny-Montrachet, we tasted the 1er Cru Les Folatieres 2009. Coined by Clive Cotes, MW as “the greatest white wine commune on earth”, Pugliny-Montrachet is home to five grand crus and 26 premier crus. The largest 1er Cru in Pugliny-Montrachet, Les Folatieres is a steep climat that often suffers erosion, while sitting on a SE facing slope. Earthy, with aromas of a meaty, dried chili pepper, and buxom viscosity, the 2009 shows exotic fruits, like jackfruit and young pineapple, accompanied by a nutty essence (blanched/green almonds) that cut into the acidity on the finish.
Jean-Michel in the tasting room
As a total treat, Jean-Michel uncorked a bottle of Meursault Les Perrieres-Dessous 2004, which drank perfectly in the moment, but will continue to develop with years. Super creamy, like lemon curd, and slightly nutty, the 2004 gifted us notes of caramel and dried citrus, with a stoniness that peaks mid-palate like the pole of a circus tent. Under tarp, the acidy sings a high note, straight through to the final act.
Our final note rested with Meursault Rouge “Les Criots” 2009. While Meursault used to be dominated by pinot noir, red wines now account for 5% of the commune’s production. With bright cherry/raspberry fruit hanging on a vine of stone, “Les Criots” is fresh and balanced with a light pepper finish.
In the vineyard–Meursault AC
With Jean-Michel in the vineyard–Meursault AC–just down the road from his winery