In the Presence of Greatness, Jean-Michel Gaunoux
Mid-summer, I had the great fortune to visit with Jean-Michel Gaunoux during our trip to Burgundy, and cannot express enough, what a honor it is to be able to offer these wines to you. -Karen Ulrich
Small with yields and production, but grand in generosity and grace, Jean-Michel Gaunoux has always favored freshness and acidity over any influence of oak. In Meursault, he harvests early, never employs more than 20% new oak, racks after one year at most, and blends and ages in stainless steel to maintain minerality and citrus notes. Gaunoux also halted all battonage in 2004, and since then has added only minimal amounts of sulfur to his bottled wines. As the raciest of Gaunoux’s wines, the Meursault “Les Perrieres” always exhibits great precision and tension, regardless of the vintage.
In Meursault, 2016 was a problematic year with mold and mildew, so the scorching mid-summer heat we experienced offered a much-needed reprieve for the vines. And though it’s been a great year for his 1er Cru “Les Perrieres”, it’s been a challenging year for his Meursault Village and Grand Cru, as Gaunoux had already lost most of his crop to frost. In fact, Gaunoux told us that he hasn’t experienced a full harvest in Volnay or Meursault since 2009.
Thankfully though, Jean-Michel holds onto his vintages. Not just for his own personal pleasure, and for poor harvests, but also to supply us (and you) with a peek into what time in the bottle can do. Currently, our offerings contain bottlings from 1999, 2004, 2008, 2009, as well as 2012 and 2013.
In the tasting room, we tasted through a few barrel samples in the bottle with Jean-Michel and his son Henri –Les Perrieres 2014, 2011 and 2008 (fresh and savory with flavors of lemon curd, creamy mushroom and sage!); Goutte d’Or 2011; Les Folatieres 1er Cru 2011. Then they led us down the narrow spiral staircase, past the stained glass window and into his cellar. We passed a cave with dusty gates under lock and key, housing most likely, his grandmother’s treasures. In 1990, when Jean-Michel began working the 6.5ha that came from his mother’s side of the family, he also inherited his grandmother’s cellar, with vintages that date back to the 1940’s.
Here, beneath vaulted stone ceilings and walls of bottles under cobwebs and mold, we gathered around a downturned barrel, and tasted through his reds. As Jean-Michel whispered to his son, who is positioned to take over the estate when he father eventually retires, Henri disappeared to different parts of the cellar to retrieve the bottles that his father requested: Pommard Perrieres Village 2012, 2010, 1998 and 1979. With notes of forest floor, mushrooms, dark wet undergrowth, pine forest and wet leaves, the 1979 Pommard Perrieres also offered aromas of white blossoms, oyster shell minerality, cherry fruit and purple violets. Absolutely stunning. And with that we drove to the vineyards.
From the stony limestone soils of “Les Perrieres” in Meursault, Gaunoux’s 35-year-old gnarly vines rose up the gentle slope. I paused and reflected on the healthy green vines, farmed lutte raisonée, that nearly matched Jean-Michel in height, then stooped to run my fingers through the dry, loose soil, touched to be in the presence of greatness.