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One of the highlights of the year is our winter visit with Jean and Pierre Gonon at their beautiful new cellars in Mauves, where the welcoming attitude, good humor and deep intelligence of the two brothers is reflected in their elegant, perfectly balanced wines. Having bounced perilously through their parcels over the years, we can attest to the great vineyard work - by hand, horse and small tractor and to the health of the vines and the living soils. Harvesting is extemely meticulous, by hand in succesive passes. Grapes for the Saint-Joseph are 20% to 50% destemmed from younger vines, and generally not destemmed from the older parcels depending on the vintage. Fermentations are with only wild yeasts and aging is in two to ten year-old 600 liter barrels.
As in most regions of France, the 2011 vintage in Saint-Joseph was complicated and a bit difficult for the growers. Very warm weather early was followed by a cool mid-summer, then intense heat in late August was followed by rain in early September. Good weather as September went on permitted the grapes to rebalance, giving better yields than in 2010, and the Gonon's harvest brought in ripe fruit in good condition. Last winter's barrel tastings were excellent, with good structure and lush, pretty fruit, although lacking the wonderful combination of acidity and concentration achieved in the previous year. Younger vines in Tournon showed beautifully, especially from the higher parcel, which showed terrific structure and mineral character. From old vines in St. Jean de Muzols, the juice had very deep black fruit aromas with floral red and black fruit on the palate - not fat but really lovely. From the 90 year-old vines of Trollat (the only parcel not partially de-stemmed in 2011) the wine was very dark, dense and long. The bottled wine is quite lovely, with pure, complex fruit, with floral and mineral hints and a less "animal" character than some vintages. The palate is round and very pretty, with great balance and freshness, with good length. The bottling has tightened it a bit, but by the Spring it should be showing the more exuberant fruit tasted from barrel. "As the more concentrated vintages close quickly" says Jean, "one should drink the 2011, served a bit cool, while waiting for the 2010." Yes, it's lovely now but peak drinking perhaps in five to twelve years. (Arrives late April, with a small additional shipment in the Fall)
Other vintages tasted: 1997; Not a great vintage, but drinking beautifully now - with a bit of air, showing lovely red fruits, brown spice and musk. The palate is soft and pretty with wet earth, citrusy red fruits, mushroom and violets...delicious! 2009: Aromatically closed but surpisingly full and open on the palate with beautiful black plum and cherry fruit. Terrific length, although less structure than 2010. "Our vines weren't stressed in 2009, so there's less fat than in some others." 2010; Perfumed red and black fruit liqueur, deep and tight palate, perfect balance, great length. Peak drinking 2020 to 2030.
Perhaps the most enjoyable wine I've tatsted in the Gonon's cellar was the 1991 Blanc Les Oliviers. Jean compares the terroir in this parcel to Les Roucoules in Hermitage. Always ripe and rich, (usually about 14% alc) in vintages with good stucture like 1991 and 2010, it ages beautifully for 20 years and more. The 2011 is a beautiful wine in a softer style that will give great enjoyment over the next 10 years at least. The last of our inventory is in stock now. Also available is a little of the Gonon's second white made from 80 year-old Chasselas vines, with some Marsanne, from the Raymond Trollat parcel. This is a delightful, full-bodied, aromatic and delicious wine for current drinking. And for those who simply must have it, we're including a portion of the incoming Vin de Pays Les Iles Feray, arriving in April with the Saint-Joseph rouge. Normal case discounts apply.
Rather than compare the Gonon's wines to other great and expensive wines of the Northern Rhône, we might compare their work to some of our other friends such as Marc Ollivier, Bernard and Matthieu Baudry, Christian Ducroux, Eric Texier, Catherine Roussel, Didier Barouillet and many more, whose vineyard work is superb and who strive to express their terroirs in the most direct and natural way. This cannot be expressed in points or in dollars, and we are fortunate to enjoy the delicious fruits of their labor and committment. (Photo: Old vines of Trollat)