Last September, I visited Domaine Pierre Gonon as part of a trip through the Rhone Valley. The Gonon brothers are not flashy or hubristic, despite their acclaim. Throughout the visit, Jean made clear that their aim is to make honest, traditional wine. In fact, the first few steps into the winery, your eyes are drawn to the 100-plus year old open-topped wooden fermentation tanks that line either side of the wineries walls. When I arrived, Pierre was on top of the massive oak vats wearing rubber waders, examining the progress of the just-picked 2018 Syrah grapes.
The 9 or so hectares of vineyard holdings for the domaine are farmed by hand, using organic practices. The plots are located in the prime granite soils of the St. Joseph AOC, and the Gonon brothers are using massal selection when planting new vines. The grapes are fermented whole cluster for whites and partially whole cluster for reds, only indigenous yeasts are used, all of this in keeping with traditional practices. Another notable example of the homage to tradition is the continued production of their few remaining Chasselas vines. These were acquired from the great Raymond Trollat. Jean explained that some years these vines produce just one barrel worth of fruit, and other years they will be lucky enough to fill three barrels. The vines are over 100 years old, and inevitably they may not continue to produce fruit in the near future.
When I visited in 2018, I was able to taste the domaine’s 2017s from barrel and tank. Despite the hot summer in ’17, the wines appeared to be promising and pleasantly approachable at that very premature stage. I was struck by the enjoyment I found on the nose and palate of the 2017 St. Joseph Rouge that I tasted, just a few days after it had been blended (using stainless steel tanks). Another notable tasting of 2017 wines at the domaine was the Chasselas. Tasted from barrel, this was the first time I had tasted this wine. It was weighty, had great depth, but also a lovely acidity and floral bouquet that leaned toward mint and eucalyptus tones on the nose. This white had a long finish already from barrel.
The Cellar at Domaine Pierre Gonon
Recently, I had the opportunity to revisit the 2017s from Domaine Pierre Gonon at a vintage release tasting in New York City.
2017 Chasselas The Chasselas is aged in a mixture of barrique and demi-muid for about 11 months, with regular stirring of fine lees (battonage). When tasted from bottle, I found notes of mineral and citrus fruits on the nose. However, this was missing a bit of the floral aromatics that were so beautifully apparent from barrel. The palate followed the nose and showed lovely acid again, as I had found from the initial tasting. Recommend as this wine and these grapes will not be around much longer and the site will likely be planted to Syrah when that time comes.
2017 St. Joseph Blanc Les Oliviers A completely different experience from the Chasselas, this is a blend of 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne. The Les Oliviers parcel is the most prized location in the St. Joseph appellation for producing white wine. Like the Chasselas, these grapes are aged in barrique and demi-muid for 11 months, with regular battonage of fine lees. The nose of the Les Oliviers was filled with tropical fruits and stone fruit. On the palate, I found melon and lemon, with wonderful acidity and length. Recommend
2017 Vin de Pays de l’Ardeche Les Iles Ferays This was the first red in the lineup. These Syrah grapes are from younger vines and are partially destemmed. The Syrah ages for 10 months in old demi-muid. The nose of this was what I look for in Syrah – olive tapenade and black fruit. The palate was wonderfully saline-driven, with good acid presence. This was not overly tannic and made for early approachability. Recommend
2017 St. Joseph Rouge These Syrah grapes are vinified in the old oak vats for about 2-3 weeks with a combination of pumping over and punching down twice daily. The Syrah is then aged between 13 and 16 months in used demi-muid. Admittedly, I had high expectations for this wine, given how immediately complex this was for me when tasted at the domaine. The finished product delivered. The nose was filled with minerality and saline, most notably my favorite characteristic in Syrah was at the forefront, olive. I also found blue fruits, some smokiness and black pepper, as well as forest floor and smoked meat notes. The palate was filled with peppery spice, with firm tannic structure. The finish was long, with a clear chalky presence that lingered. Highly Recommend/Collectible though admittedly this has become difficult (if not almost impossible) to acquire on release and at its actual price – it actually retails around $50, but is gobbled up and resold on the secondary market for 2 or 3 times that price. It is worth the effort to find this on release at retail, but disappointing that the wine has become a commodity ,as I can say with certainty that is not what the Gonon brothers are about.