ARTICLE ROBERT PANZER
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Stunning Beauty Hidden in Plain View : Jean-Pierre Guyon of Vosne Romanée
Bonjour d’une étoile bizarrement inconnue d’une beauté à crever, It is curious how things unfold sometimes; if you keep your eyes and ears open, some very good unexpected things seem to come along…During my eleventh annual two week Burgundian tasting trip last month, I kept hearing good things about this producer in Vosne Romanée that I curiously had never tasted nor heard mentioned before. When visiting with spirited Michel Mallard of Ladoix, I was startled when he told me that for the entire 2016 vintage, he chose to vinify everything that he made without any sufur and with large amounts of whole cluster both at his home estate and at the Ch Latour owned Domaine d’Eugenie in Vosne Romanée where he is the régisseur (hired estate/winemaking manager). The results were simply knee-bucklingly beautiful, with an éclat de fruit (explosiveness of fruit), sumptuousness of texture, and clear-as-a-bell terroir personality that plain blew my mind. When I inquired as to his inspiration to do so, Michel mentioned that he is in a tasting group with a handful of like minded progressive vignerons that includes Pascal Mugneret of Gérard Mugneret of Vosne and a fellow named Jean-Pierre Guyon also of Vosne. Michel said that he had tasted Jean-Pierre’s wines over the last several years, and had become increasingly curious turned convinced that this vinification style had innumerable merits, whose results in the 2016 tank samples that we tasted were impossible to deny. Michel had trodden gently, first with a few small trial cuvées without sulfur at each estate, then finally taking the whole hog plunge in 2016 as he had grown assured of the virtues of such a strong and risky stylistic shift. Fast forward a few days, and I found myself in Pascal Mugneret’s cellar tasting his 2016s, where he too chose to vinify several cuvées entirely without sulfur, citing his exposure to Jean-Pierre’s wines as well as an inspiration that continued to prove its merits. Pascal started by slowly dipping his toes with a small cuvée or two the year prior, and then ramping up such practices in 2016 and 2017. The same sense of stunning fruit purity, suavity of texture, and clear as a bell terroir imprint were arrestingly beautiful… You could color me curious and then some.
Now, when I do my Oct/Nov visits, the schedule is packed to the gills, five or six appointments per day for two solid weeks, weekends included. It is rare that I add a visit on the fly, as last minute appointments just don’t jive with such a schedule. However, when boogieing up the route nationale through Vosne, finally taking specific notice as I passed the large billboard that reads Domanie Guyon as I had thoughtlessly done hundreds of times before, an inspired impulse caught a hold of me, and I made a U-turn to stop in to introduce myself. As I poked around a house on the side of the road where the billboard stood, there didn’t seem to be anybody home. As I made my way back towards the car, figuring that it was not to be and it was time to shove on, a fellow across the street eyed me, and I shouted a hello his way. He trotted across the street, and I asked him if he knew where I could find someone from the Guyon estate. In a laid back, non-plussed manner he smiled and said, “C’est moi”. It was Jean-Pierre himself. I hurriedly introduced myself, citing the inspired good things that I had experienced with Mallard and Mugneret accompanied by their respect for his work, asking if he had any US representation, as well as if there was some way that we could squeeze in a tasting despite my crammed schedule. He replied that not since 2001 when his relationship with Eric Solomon of European Selections ended had he enjoyed any US presence; in many ways, that was an entirely different chapter in his family estate’s history. I took out my schedule and we penciled in a 7pm appointment the following Monday, making the most of the opportunity by burning what little wick remained at both ends…
Arriving back to Vosne under nightfall after three days in the Northern Rhone, I descended to the impressive new-ish cellar, attempting to juggle drama back at the warehouse in Delaware of an unexpected truck delivery on my smart phone, exhausted and stressed. Doing my best to keep focus and to be fully present, I had no expectations whatsoever, other than the good things said by two tremendous vignerons for whom I have great respect. Jean-Pierre, ever laid back and patient, gave me a bit of context for the current state of the domaine’s affairs. In 1991, Jean-Pierre took over from his father, with his brother Michel joining him shortly thereafter. In 2010, major shifts took place, Jean-Pierre moving forward with his desire to both farm fully organically, as well as vinifying all red wines with 100% whole cluster, and zero sulfur until just prior to bottling. In 2012, Michel departed, bought out by Jean-Pierre and his wife Isabelle, pictured above. And so we began to taste… From the very first whiff of the “lowly” Bourgogne rouge, my stress was immediately assuaged by an intensity and purity of Vosne Romanée violet florals and spices that had me sighing and cooing in awe. In the mouth, there was an absolutely stunning sense of blue fruited purity and brightness delivered on a palate of velour, finishing remarkably long… The first bits of my first tasting note were : “Holy shit!”; I knew then that I was in for a special ride of personal discovery… As we progressed through the 2016 lineup, this same thread continued, of a mind-blowing sense of crystalline fruit purity, with succulence and self-evident, finesse filled class that was beyond anything my wildest expectations could have conjured. The wines of Cecile Tremblay came to mind, but in an even more finessed, less extracted style that reveals even more of their terroir signature. I asked Jean-Pierre and Isabelle, completely incredulous : “How is it possible that you haven’t had a single US importer approach you, nor a single “major” US critic?” Jean Pierre, in his non-chalant and laid back manner, just smiled and said that he had no idea. He is doing his work as he sees fit, and doesn’t worry about the rest beyond his control. The French critics have regularly lauded his work, with Michel Bettane classifying the estate as “four stars”, his designation for very high quality from those estates who represent, “the glory of French viticulture”. He also regularly receives coup de coeur (literally “heart attack”) prizes from the Guide Hachette guide. Factoring in the fairly small production levels for this nine hectare estate, morcellated over a particularly fascinating range of not-often-seen singular and interesting sites of mostly 50+ year old vines, they enjoy a sell out level of demand domestically due to which the export market has only waned in importance for the Guyons. Nonetheless, it is both validating and important for growers to be recognized and known in America. It truly is mind-blowing that even burg geek insiders aren’t talking about his wines… How is this possible ??
And so, simple as that, I have made one of the most qualitatively profound discoveries of my Burgundy career (alongside Maxime Cheurlin and his Georges Noellat wines), resting all the while hidden in plain view… I will posit the few following points to consider :
– To the chase, because I don’t have time for all of the nuanced details as why what how: 2016 is an absolutely stunning vintage of grand harmony, of crystal clean, fully phenolically ripe fruit that is downright classical in its sense of terroir typicity and its favoring of finesse over raw power vis à vis the more solar 2015s, with a level of charm and poise that is, to my palate, exactly the kind of idyllic Burgundy dragon that I am chasing……Along with 2010, it may be my single favorite young red Burgundy vintage that I have yet known. You will hear about it both from many growers themselves as well as the critic of your choice later, but trust me….you want 2016 red Burgundies, you just don’t know it yet……Due to the bizarro pattern of early season frost, many villages suffered minimal to variable to catastrophic levels of damage. That means that in many cases, 2016 wines will be in very short supply, with ever upwards pricing pressure. These Guyon ’16s have risen some 25% higher in cost than the 2014s, 12% relative to the 2015s, for example.
– The movement towards ever greater whole cluster use and particularly the increasing practice of sulfurless vinifications represents at the same time the cutting edge avant-garde in Burgundy, as well as a return to the ancient. Just a few generations ago, all Burgundy wine was organic (as chemicals didn’t exist), whole cluster (mechanized destemmers didn’t exist), with no sulfur added (synthesized sulfur didn’t exist). Mark my words, you will only continue to see this sulfurless vinification increase steadily throughout Burgundy, with Jean-Pierre clearly one of the pioneers for this movement. Isabelle and JP said that they have followed the evolution of the wines they’ve made since 2010, and that, somewhat remarkably, open bottles keep for roughly three weeks before turning, seemingly even more impervious to oxidation than their sulfured counterparts from their earlier “traditional/common” house practices. Now, with just three grams of sulfur at bottling, the wines are both incredibly vibrant and decidedly stable. Purity is as purity does, it seems….
– As another wrinkle of house idiosyncrasy, Jean-Pierre has fast fast malolactic fermentations, which is a practice that I simply don’t see in Burgundy. On paper, this would leave me quite skeptical, moreso from lack of direct experience than anything, but also that the low-and-slow cooking school of cold, long, reductive, protracted malo also yields tremendous results in depth and complexity. I don’t know what to say other than that the proof is in the pudding, and with the highlights of this range, of which there are many, there is simply zero denying how absolutely profound and sensual these wines are. Another challenge here is the cost, particularly for the very best, as the estate has zero US perception whatsoever to validate top shelf pricepoints. All that I can say is TRUST ME: I know my shit, I work with some of the best addresses on the Côte, and these wines deserve their place alongside the very best of the best. The proof is in the pudding…….and so……
BLANCS : The three white wines offered here are from three very distinct and interesting parcels, two of which are fascinatingly singular upper slope delights that defy the perception that there are no interesting Côte de Nuits white wines. JP vinifies his whites with a good bit of cold macerated whole cluster to give the wines additional pep from the stem potassium, seeking the yummy, chalky, mineral reductiveness that I so very much prize in white Burgundy.
Savigny les Beaune villages blanc Les Planchots – From the parcel that runs adjacent to the Rhoin river, with good SE exposure, the yields were abysmal in 2016 due to early season frost, upwards of 80% losses in Savigny….however, what did make it into the winery has lots to love in natural low yields driven concentration, of ripe citrus, a generous sense of body with a soft sense of attack, good salty mineral undertones, and very good purity. It aromatically has that ripe citrus and chalky minerality to come sensibility that is very yummy. This is pretty nice stuff….
Morey Saint Denis villages blanc la Bidaude – This is a particularly fascinating upper slope delight, from 20ish year old Morey vines that sit high on the hill above the Clos de Tart. This has an even airier/chalkier aromatic profile, that leads to a moderately rich body of very good purity, and an even stronger sense of mineral driven tension and grip. This is a great discovery of a wine for me! Only 1.5 barrels or 40 cases made in ’16….
Nuits Saint Georges villages blanc Pinot Blanc – Another unique house specialty, Jean-Pierre planted the infamous Gouges Pinot blanc clone, a wild white mutation of Pinot Noir, some 18 years ago in the cool, sloped lieu dit les Argillats that sits directly in the Combe de Nuits valley. Unless i’ve misunderstood, he and Gouges are the only two who bottle this unique genetic patrimony. The combination of its SE exposure, cool wind from the Combe, and the high amount of active limestone in the soil here makes for a wowie zowie good bottle of singular white Burgundy, as Pinot Blanc’s richness and broad aromatic range proves to be dazzling here, with both limestone intimations aromatically and in the mouth to render it even more complete and dynamic. This is a crowd pleaser and then some, for both geeks and good ol’ fashioned drinkers….
ROUGES : With the red wines, we have what I consider to be one of the, if not THE, single greatest discoveries of my Burgundy career. I must posit the caveat that the very best of their production is an easy sell for them, even with such high prices, and that I will need to balance my request with the Guyons to include more than just the cherries. Likewise, that follows for you as well. Hopefully, together we can help all boats float……For what it is worth, in my experience and familiarity with their palates and style, I would imagine the Vosne/Grand cru best featured here to score 92-96 from Meadows/Tanzer, hands down….
Bourgogne – This was the first wine served to me, and it was a succulent mind blower. From three Vosne based Bourgogne level parcels les Combes, les Croix Blanches, and les Pâquiers, this is an outrageously good wine whose sense of violet florals, spice, moderate density of blue fruits, and pure finesse punch waaaaaay above their station. This is a value hound, get-all-that-you-can kind of wine, the virtues of Vosne Romanée allied to the house style favoring swooningly beautiful fruit and purity, all in truly remarkable fashion. Only 200 cases were made in ’16, so I am likely to not be given a whole lot……but I will try! A little * awarded here.
Chorey les Beaune villages Les Bons Ores – The same sense of soaring and gorgeous fruit, albeit in a different slightly blacker fruit tone, is once again self evident here, with the lightly tannic grip of the clay dominant soils of Chorey giving some chewy savory presence. Again, the sense of purity and class here is striking, with a solid sense of depth (50+ year old vines). A great little villages wine that is very representative of Chorey les Beaune’s sturdy, savory virtues with even more charm than one often encounters.
Savigny les Beaune villages les Planchots – With this Savigny Planchots parcel also of 50+ year old vines, we take another subtle step up in depth, both aromatically and in the mouth. Again, the fruit purity is shake your head pretty….as with the Savigny 1er Peuillets to follow, the very low yields have given a wine of exceptional concentration, without excesses or deficiencies, just more power of presence. This is a very solid value, that will age quite well on its solid substance and sturdy structure.
Savigny les Beaune 1er cru les Peuillets – Hey now…..hierarchy well respected, the 1er cru Peuillets on the nicely sloped southern side of the village, facing E/NE, is yet another step up in head turning intensity of dry extract/matière/savory substance (also from 50+ year old vines). It is slightly deeper in color, into the black fruited end of the spectrum, with a sense of concentration and palate impact that is starting to really ring Holy Moly bells. From meager 25 hl/ha yields, this undoubtedly contributes to the amped up sense of power-meets-sturdy-finesse found here. Along with the JM Pavelot Peuillets at its best, this is reference point good stuff……a little * awarded here.
Nuits Saint Georges villages les Herbues – A single parcel Nuits Saint Georges villages from the Vosne/NSG borderline, from 60+ year old vines, a value hound’s source and then some. This joins the Bas de Combe single parcel villages that I prize so much from the Mugneret-Gibourg sisters/Georges Noellat/Hudelot Noellat as an overachieving crossover face of Vosne meets NSG, with the finesse and spice of things Vosne, with a kiss of savory/slightly chewy tannic structure à la NSG. This is very good.
Gevrey Chambertin villages – A blend of three lieux dits in Gevrey (la Platière, Roncevie, le Forneau), this presents an even fuller and more powerful sense of Gevrey typical density and subtle savory/meatiness, with a fine sense of light minerality on the back end. Again, the fruit purity is remarkable and utterly charming. This is pretty darn good Gevrey villages.
Vosne Romanée villages – With the “regular” Vosne villages, we find the quintessential Vosne violet florals and spice in full effect, albeit without as much singularity of flavor authority/complexity as found in the other two villages level wines (NSG/Gevrey). I have a hard time imagining someone kicking this out of bed for eating crackers, though. This is a nice Vosne wine.
Vosne Romanée villages les Charmes de Maizières – With this bottling, we enter the “holy shitballs” realm once again, as this is simply rock-star knockout good. Jean-Pierre has another idiosyncratic practice here that I have not seen/heard of before: he goes around and marks the oldest vines, roughly 70 years+, in their Vosne villages parcels with an X, harvesting those individual plants separately from the other vines in said parcels (the non-X selected fruit goes into the corresponding “regular” Vosne villages). The result is night and day different in the intensity, complexity, and depth, as this is 1er cru quality and then some. Only four barrels made in ’16, or 100 cases. This is for all intents and purposes a stunning 1er cru in all but name, as its price reflects as well…..a little * awarded here. Indeed, the aptlly named Charmes of Vosne, in full effect….
Vosne Romanée 1er cru les Brulées – There are but a scant three barrels of each of his stunning stunning Vosne Romanée 1er crus in 2016, 75 cases. They are each undoubtedly of reference point quality, as good as it gets…..from the first whiff of darker red fruits, intense purple florals, spice, and struck match stick smoky mineral reduction so very typical of les Brulées (the upper slope delight that it is), this screams class and classic. It has knee buckling gorgeous dark red fruit purity, precision, tension, and elegance of its components, with the subtly smoky mineral intensity on the ever rising finish leaving me in fits of painful beauty. I could wax further, but trust me when I say that this is quite simply as good as it gets. From 60+ year old vines. A little * awarded here.
Vosne Romanée 1er cru En Orveaux – From the very special cross roads where le Musigny, the Clos de Vougeot, and Echezeaux all interersect, the majority of En Orveaux lies in the Echezeaux Grand cru. There is a small amount of Vosne Romanée 1er cru En Orveaux that sits at the westernmost (uphill) limit of the 1er crus, adjacent to the Chambolle Musigny 1er cru Combe d’Orveau (of Bruno Clavelier fame), in full influence from the cool air currents of la Combe itself. Very few producers make an Vosne 1er Orveaux, a total of four including Cathiard. This cooler, finessed filled character is wildly self evident, as this presents itself as a baby Echezeaux in its painfully pretty sappy red fruits, intense florals, with a fine mineral core at its center, driving this luxury liner of pleasure toute en finesse et d’une classe tremende (all on finesse and of tremendous class). This is, once again, simply as good as it gets, of indubitable reference point quality. From 50+ year old vines. A little * awarded here.
Clos de Vougeot Grand cru – From a wonderfully placed morsel in the Dix Jouneaux and Montiottes Basses portions of the Clos, neighboring De Montille and Prieuré Roch and just a stone’s throw from the Mugneret Gibourg sisters, this proves to be the real deal in the implosive/explosive, spherically expansive Grand cru magic of the Clos de Vougeot at its best, with its solid core of minerality driving the dazzling show. This is easily among the top to two Clos de Vougeots that I tasted among my nearly fifty visits this year, clearly surpassing the Mugneret Gibourg and a smidgen better than the knockout good example from Hudelot Noellat. Yes, it is that good. Only three barrels made, 75 cases. A little * awarded here. Yet another holy shitballz moment.
Echezeaux Grand cru – Again, the theme of knee buckling beauty and class continues with this oh-so-deliciously-fascinating contrast with the 1er cru Orveaux. This is from contiguous vines in the Orveaux portion of the Echezeaux Grand cru, and you can sense clear as day the merits of the hierarchy. Even deeper in aromatic and flavor depth, with all things amplified a bit in their intensity, both floral, fruit, and mineral. The crazy low yields of the vintage (Ech/Grands Ech were some of the most frost affected vines in Vosne) have Echezeaux performing at a wowie-zowie level of concentration and intensity (Incidentally, as Marie-Christine of Mugneret-Gibourg and I both recognized, their Echezeaux ’16 is the star of their Grand cru cellar, surpassing the Clos de Vougeot and Ruchottes Chambertin, which is a very uncommon occurrence, indeed). Again, this is reference point good….a little * awarded here. Only 1.5 barrels made, roughly 40 cases, from 55+ year old vines…..
OTHER VINTAGES AVAILABLE: Whilst I wasn’t able to taste these other vintages, based on the consistency of this first impression, I have every confidence when reaching into what small stocks remain of some of what I deem to be major cherries…..in particular: the bracing classicism that defines 2014 white Burgundies applied to these two unique upper slope wines holds particular curiosity/appeal to me…. and, um, instaverticals of 1er En Orveaux and Charmes des Maizières??! Brulées and Ech?!! Um, yes please…..
2014 Morey Saint Denis villages blanc la Bidaude
2014 Nuits Saint Georges villages blanc Pinot Blanc
2015 or 2014 or 2013 or 2012! Vosne Romanée les Charmes de Maizières – Instavertical, anyone? :0
2015 Vosne Romanée 1er cru En Orveaux
2014 or 2013 or 2012 Vosne Romanée 1er cru En Orveau – Again, an instavertical of this baby Ech? Whaaat?
2012 or 2013 Vosne Romanée 1er cru Brulées
2013 or 2014 Echezeaux Grand cru
Yeah, I know. Tough to believe that both 2016 is an insanely beautiful red Burgundy vintage, and that this “unknown” guy in Vosne using 100% whole clusters and zero sulfur until bottling is the real deal? Believe it….! ;0 You will hear all about it later, i’m sure….It is craaaazy that nobody other than other winegrower peers and French critics are talking about (and drinking!) Jean-Pierre’s wines. I couldn’t believe that such a gem could be hidden in plain view….it really is funny sometimes…..In any case, I am thrilled to have been yellow-brick-roaded to our encounter, and to open the door to a long over due US presence. The Guyon fan club starts right now….!!
CHEERS TO JEAN-PIERRE AND ISABELLE, TO THEIR AVANT-GARDE RETURN TO THE ANCIENT, AND THE KNEE BUCKLING BEAUTY OF VOSNE!!
Robert Panzer, Down to earth wines
11 et 16 route nationale 74
21700 Vosne-Romanée - France
Tel : 03 80 61 02 46