Burgundy has changed quite radically since I began my quest for great Pinot and Chardonnay in the early 1990s
Back then producers had at least some older vintages to sell, and the media coverage was less focused on the new and latest vintage, as were the focus of the consumers as they were able to get older vintages in restaurants and even from importers.
Today all is focused on the latest vintage even before its on the market – the restaurants have only the latest vintages on the list – and the consequence has been that most Burgundies are now consumed way too young during the first years after the release … and this tendency seem to be stronger and stronger.
Domaine Michel Gaunoux is very different – traditional and old school in the best possible way, creating Burgundies of a very high quality even by current standards – wines of beauty – and somehow beyond the new conventions of modern day Burgundian wines.
Alexandre Gaunoux upholding the traditions
Domaine Michel Gaunoux – back to the future
To be honest I had never tasted the wines of Domaine Michel Gaunoux before I entered the very old estate buildings in the very center of Pommard.
We were greeted by the Gaunoux family; Mme Gaunoux and her two children – Anne and Alexandre Gaunoux who are running the estate these days.
Anne Gaunoux – Administration and sales
As a travelling wine writer I see a lot of estates but somehow this felt different – an estate that is packed with traditions and a very serious attention to detail. A very special place and a family with a lot of pride and respect for tradition … But would the wines stand the test of time and development? … and would they match my palate? – or be big and rustic old school Pommards? … the questions in my head were many!
Old School vs modern wine making
The term old school is often used about some slightly rustic Burgundy wines made in rather traditional way with long maceration and a pretty hefty extraction hence wines that require a lot of time to unfold.
This is not in itself a bad thing, but often these wines do not offer the purity and detail of a modern Burgundy and the tannins often have a rather rustic and even rough character.
A lot has improved in the viticulture and winemaking over the last 20 years or so, and many of the old styled Burgundies do not offer the same delicacy and refinement as the wines made according to more modern standards and techniques.
So following the traditions strictly can lead to a relative deterioration of quality over time – and with powerful terroirs like Pommard and Corton – the risk is that with global warming these wines become both rustic, big and even rugged … lacking the freshness and balance that I search for in Burgundy.
I was therefore utterly delighted when I tasted the first sip of the wines at Domaine Michel Gaunoux – entering a new Burgundian dimension of timelessness and effortlessness … a different style of wines than I have experienced before – the beginning of a truly memorable visit and tasting.
A bit about Domaine Michel Gaunoux
Domaine Michel Gaunoux was founded by Alexandre Gaunoux in 1875 and is today owned and managed by the family. After Alexandre his son Henri took over until his son Michel, the father Anne and Alexandre, took over in the 1950s. The name of the estate is a tribute to Michel Gaunoux who passed away untimely back in 1984. His wife took over back then, and has now handed the estate over to her children, while still involved in a supporting role maintaining traditions and the family spirit.
The estate has vineyards in three appellations – Corton; 0.63 ha in Corton Renardes, 0.69 ha in Pommard Rugiens-Bas, and 1.75 ha in Pommard Grands Epenots. In Pommard they also own 0.75 ha in the vineyards Pommard Les Arvelets, Combes and Charmots – these are blended into the Pommard 1er cru cuvée.
In Beaune they own plots in Les Boucherottes and Les Epenotes in the southern part of the Beaune appellation close to Pommard and then some village terroirs Les Prevolles and Beaux Fougets also in the Pommard end of Beaune – the total area here is 2.04 ha. All the grapes from the Beaune vineyards are used to make a Beaune village, hence quite some declassified fruit in this wine.
Lastly Domaine Michel Gaunoux makes an excellent Bourgogne Rouge from a 1 ha holding in a vineyard called Les Sorbins – situated in front of the village of Pommard, below the village terroir Rue au Port and RN974.
Winemaker Alexandre Gaunoux
The vinification is traditional as he wines are made from destemmed grapes in large wooden tanks (40 – 50hl) and after the alcoholic fermentation the wine is transferred to the cellar below where it’s aged in oak barrels (only 15 – 20% new) for 12 – 14 month before bottling. The same attention to detail and the same vinification principles are used for all the wines – from the Bourgogne Rouges to the Corton Renardes.
Domaine Michel Gaunoux keep the wines in the cellar and release them three years after the harvest – the current release is 2014 – i.e. same procedure as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Furthermore the estate keep a large reserve for maturing the wines at the domaine, thus being able to release older vintages to the clients on a regular basis.
This is one of the only estates in Burgundy that offer a wider selection of older vintages and perhaps the only one to be able to offer larger quantities of matured wines to the market.
A very different and more classic take on running a Bourgundian wine estate – and judged from the wines tasted – a model with some impressive hedonistic advantages.
We tasted a lineup of vintages from the Bourgogne 2014 to the Pommard Grands Epenots 1997 – to illustrate the estate traditions and modus operandi – and this really showed the strength of this way of thinking – even lesser years really shine when they mature, and the wines served all offered a nuanced and clear picture of both terroir and vintage.
Domaine Michel Gaunoux – timeless and effortless
The wines that I experienced at Domaine Michel Gaunoux are different from other wines I have tasted in Burgundy over the last 25 years.
They do have a classic style with some special qualities – firstly very finely grained tannins that gives the wines structure and intensity without being intrusive in appreciating the character of terroir and the vintage. Secondly a fine and fresh acidity that adds to the impression of transparency and refinement.
They may be traditional and intense wines – coming from some of the more powerful terroirs – Pommard and Corton – yet somehow they seem to offer a special, effortless and refined pinot experience.
One could call them big wines – but to be honest the thought never crossed my notes as I tasted the wines – I was more focused on the timeless and airy style – the purity and the intensity with the finely grained and almost silky tannins. The tannins are very discrete but present – and this makes the wines seem more acidity driven than they actually are … and this adds to the airy and refined feel.
Summing up .. these wines offer some special qualities combining intensity, airiness in a refined and classic style – presenting the best sides of both the Pommard and Corton appellations.
To the tasting notes …
Tasting notes – Domaine Michel Gaunoux in Pommard
At Domaine Michel Gaunoux there is no tasting from cask and the tasting included vintages from 2014 (latest release) back to 1997 … a treat I must say.
First wine the Bourgogne Rouge 2014 … a very serious wine for this level, an introduction to the house style – the Bourgogne Rouges is each year vinified exactly in the same way as the other cuvees. It’s a largely framed wine for a Bourgogne Rouge with a deep bouquet offering red and dark berry fruit and a nice mineral impression with reference to the Pommard appellation. On the palate fine intense fruit for a generic Bourgogne – very well structured – offering the charming 2014 personality – a classic styled wine. An introduction to the style – although I think this wine also deserves some years in the cellar to unfold. Very Good (87 – 88p)
The Pommard Les Grands Epenots 2011 is a magnificent effort for he vintage. The nose is showing a bit of maturity – deep red and dark fruit – discrete hint of sous-bois is complementing the rather intense minerality of the fine Epenots terroir. It’s long, intense and balanced, offering a depth found in very few 2011s. Very Fine (93 – 94p)
The Pommard Rugiens-Bas 2009 is a further step up in intensity both vintage and terroir wise. The nose offer deep ripe fruit – intense dark berries, notes of cherries, boysenberries with hints of plum and liquorice – all brought forward by the powerful minerality of the mighty Rugiens terroir. On the palate quite powerful – buffered by rich and ripe mid-palate fruit offering a very fine transparency and hedonistic potential. Very elegant and refined for the vintage – Outstanding (94 – 95p). Need at least 10 years to unfold fully – and will keep for 20+ years.
Next up a truly delightful Pommard Grands Epenots 2008. This is a truly magnificent effort for the vintage – combining the best sides of the vintage with the intensity of the Gounaux style. The bouquet offer more red fruit – cherries, raspberries, pomegranate and red currant – backed by a fine expression of minerality. On the palate airy and open fruit – balanced more towards the red fruit – all structured by the finely grained tannins and the vibrant acidity of the 2008 vintage. It’s intense but still airy and lightfooted – drinking so well offering such balance. Will keep but is showing very well – Very Fine+ (93 – 95p). Tremendous effort for the vintage .. chapeau!
The Corton Renades 2006 is another success in a complex and somewhat difficult vintage. It offers a transparent and purely focused fruit – a rare thing in his vintage. The bouquet gives a focused and pure fruit – a delightful collection of red and dark berries – starting to show a bit of age with some delicate sous-bois notes and some hints of truffle and mushrooms. It’s intense, very balanced and refined – offering a very focused view of this slightly hot fruity year. It’s refined, airy and focused .. a delightful Corton. This will develop well over the next 10 years or more – adding even more complexity – Very Fine++ (94 – 95p).
Lastly we had the Pommard Grands Epenots 1997 a more matured wine, although the development in the glass showed that it still has potential. The nose offer red and dark cherries, boysenberries and complex notes of sous-bois and earthy minerality. On the palate rather ripe fruit – medium depth – primarily red fruit after some time in the glass adding some orange notes in a mature finish. A impressive 1997 – a lesser but charming vintage – holding up beautifully and offering a lovely mature Burgundy experience at this stage. Fine++ (92 – 93p) but lacking a bit of depth and mid-palate stuffing compared to the previous wines.
Summing up ..
The visit at Domaine Michel Gaunoux was truly memorable – a glimpse into a world of tradition and a world that I thought was long forgotten – a world where Burgundies should be enjoyed after maturing in the cellar – a world where the focus on the latest vintage is toned down to let the classical virtues of Burgundy unfold.
The viticulture and vinification seem to work well even in lesser years and a tremendous consistency style and quality wise has been achieved .. without diminishing the expression of the individual vintage and terroir.
This is not a place of compromise … in years like 2004 and 2000 Domaine Michel Gaunoux did not produce wines, as the quality did not live up to the standards of the estate …
These wines are special, and a tremendous treat, as they offer a combination of modern purity and a traditional style … try them …