Thursday, August 16, 2012

a Master-level lecture on Burgundy by Pierre-Henry Gagey of Maison Louis Jadot

Faithful readers will remember that I was recently honored by being invited to  guest sommelier at the Post Hotel ( ) for their annual Wine Summit ( )

Pierre-Henry Gagey (thanks to
   I could go into detail again and again about the majesty of the setting; the backdrop of rugged Rocky Mountains still capped in snow at the end of May (it snowed twice during the 3 days I was there). I could recant tales of sitting indolently in the smoking lounge; enjoying a brilliantly well-kept Cohiba and sipping aged Gran Marnier whilst reading a new novel. I could even wax poetic about the brilliantly executed service in every department of that luxurious, yet truly comfortable, hotel.

   I could, but we'ld be here all day and I wouldn't get to talk about meeting Pierre-Henry Gagey, President of Maison Louis Jadot ( ).

   So the tiniest bit of back-story just for context; Maison Louis Jadot was a family owned and run winery from the mid 1800's until 1985. At that time the matriarch of the family decided to sell interest in the company to 3 major shareholders as she had no heir. These were the three daughters of the Kopf family, who had been instrumental in the continued development of Louis Jadot as a brand, especially in America. At this point Pierre's father was the incumbent Director of the winery and had a more then able assistant winemaker, and Pierre had just come on-board the year previous. Pierre had made his way in the world in a completely different industry before starting to follow in his father's footsteps but, in his own words, "it has brought me a perspective on the world of wine that I would not have had otherwise".

   Having had more then one career before turning to wine and wine-journalism, I can understand that on a profound level. I found I understood a lot more about Pierre and his thoughts on wine then I expected going into the lecture... I'm not sure what it was I had expected, but I'm certain I wasn't the only one surprised to genuinely like him so much!

   It was easy to like Pierre; quick-to-smile and rarely a negative word crossing his lips, his eyes full of mischief as he talks about tramping through the vineyards... the following is a recounting of that, as co-host Anthony Gismondi ( ) called it, "Master-class on Burgundy and Burgundian Wines".

  Mr Gismondi (Tony as he likes to be called) started by recanting a tale of his first visit to Maison Louis Jadot and what was supposed to be a modest sampling of vintages before the evening meal... the tasting started at about 7 pm with 30 white wines from different vineyard sites. Just when Tony thought that they were nearing the end and could move on to dinner (about 9 pm now) out comes Pierre with 30 different reds! Needless to say, dinner was a glimmer on the horizon not realized until very late in the evening.

   Pierre-Henry will tell you with genuine enthusiasm about his work; he is a Burgundian making wine in Burgundy. What's noteworthy about that you ask? Well, truth be told, flying winemakers are everywhere these days and Burgundy is not without it's fair share... Italians, Germans, Australians, Americans, people from across the globe have re-discovered their love for these wines and are coming to try their hand at crafting Burgundian elegance. But Pierre was born here, and loves to find ways to let this land tell it's own story.

   In his words "My family has been in Burgundy for many generations and this is what we have been doing. So making Burgundian wine is in our blood... I try not to think too much about it. I respect the grape and try to give to the people who drink our wine some of the landscape."

  Pierre then launched into a brief history of the region; speaking of the legacy of winemaking in Burgundy that stretches back over 2000 years. "Of course," he says, "back then we didn't know how to make wine! But we learned. We learned from our cousins in Italy who settled here. And we started with Pinot Noir, which is everything. Pinot Noir was one of the first grapes, and it is the base of everything."

   He then cautioned about the necessity in Burgundy to keep the varietal as pure as possible, and not get overzealous with mutations. Clones are a necessity, of course, when considering planting a Burgundian vine in another land. But in Burgundy, the vines have naturally selected themselves into something beautiful and respect must be given to that.

2009 Domaine J.A. Ferret, "Les Clos", Tet de Cru, Pouilly-Fuisse
$30 USD
this is from a 1 HA site; single vineyard

Pierre starts by praising the 2009 vintage as not only being a great vintage for Burgundy, but indeed for most of Europe. "You would have to be an idiot, not to make a great wine this year". But for Burgundy what makes a great vintage is (to Pierre) a great month of September. "You don't want to have too much sunshine because the Pinot Noir is a fragile creature and when it gets too much sunlight the sugars start to rise. The best is good sunlight, light breezes and low moisture: it allows the grape to maintain it's acidity while still developing flavors."
  • this was the first Domaine in the area to start bottling their own wines over 100 years ago. The estate has been owned and managed solely by women ever since and Pierre has been trying to purchase land in this area for over 20 years... he was unsuccessful until 2005 and is very excited to have this 13 HA addition to his portfolio. Maison Jadot has continued the traditions practiced here, and has hired a young 29-year old female vineyard manager to oversee production.
  • "this is very different from the Cote de Beaune" he continues, "this is very friendly, very inviting. Of course there is minerality; there is tension, precision, purity."
Mr Gismondi then posed the question to Pierre "How do you approach winemaking when you have, let's say, 5 sites all within a few kilometres of each other?"
Pierre's response: "The idea of Burgundy (as concerns wine) is that the  winemaker should always be in the background, never in front. And really, this is the concept of terroir. It is a combination of elements that are crafted by the winemaker... in Burgundy, yes, we could blend our wines (from different sites) together and we know that we would make great wine. We know this! But would lose our identity, we would lose why Burgundy is so unique."

2009 Mersault (blanc)
$55+ USD
  •  total production 6000 cases
  • produced from multiple growers and multiple sites (some quite famous)
  • Pierre reluctantly acknowledges that "this wine is as good, if not better, then anything that Maison Jadot is making from it's own vineyards..."
  • 10% new oak, fermentation in barrel. Different use of oak for 1er Cru (30%) and Grand Cru (up to 50%)
  •  malo-lactic fermentation (degradation in Pierre's words) is avoided, or slowed, by storing the wine in as cool of a cellar as possible. Pierre is staunchly against acidification of his wines
2009 Domaine Gagey, "Le Clos Blanc", 1er Cru, "Greves", Beaune
$60+ USD  
  • this planting was started by Pierre's grandfather with vine-cuttings from Montrachet
  • "we think that the pleasure in this wine is in it's subtlety, that it is discreet. But - precise!"
  • he continues by explaining why he thinks Burgundy can make such stunning examples of place: "we are lucky in Burgundy, because we have been studying our vineyards for 500 years... many places cannot say that but we can. it makes all the difference to know our soil like this"
2009 Domaine Duc de Magenta, 1er Cru, "Clos de la Garenne", Puligny-Montrachet
$70+ USD
  •  the family that produces this wine for Maison Jadot has a long relationship with the company and produces (2) wines for them, the other being Chassagne-Montrachet
  • 2 HA; single vineyard
  • Pierre was asked how much control Maison Jadot has over the producers: when they pick, at what ripeness, how careful is the sorting, etc. Pierre's response: "very little actually. It is a relationship of trust; some of these growers we have been working with for 30, 40 years. They understand our needs, our level of quality, and respect the trust we put in them."
2009 Domaine de Heritiers Louis Jadot, Grand Cru, "Corton-Charlemagne"
$90++ USD 
  • the largest of the 6 Grand Cru of Beaune at approximately 50 HA
  • this is from a 2.5 HA plot (southern exposure) that Maison Jadot bought almost 100 years ago
  • when asked as to what kind of "style" Maison Jadot is trying to create, Pierre responds: "when I'm asked about style I think of my friend who makes Champagne... we are not interested in style, we are looking for character which is more accurate for us.  The lees for example are very important; the lees feed the wine. So we keep some lees."
  • Pierre continues to speak of this particular wine "You can feel that this is different in the mouth; a little fuller, a different vibration. We don't have the words for this but we know that it is different and is on a different level."
    2009 Chateau des Jacques, "Clos du Grand Carquelin", Moulin-a-Vent
    $35++ USD
    • this was a great experience for me; to see a Bourgogne winemaker putting Beaujolais in the same portfolio tasting as Premier Cru Beaune and Grand Cru Chambertin. Loyal readers know of my personal love and professional respect for the great winemakers of Northern Beaujolais. I think they often get lumped-in with winemakers of another level of quality who produce "Beaujolais Nouveau"... which is not to say that all Beaujolais Nouveau is poor quality, but the great Nouveaus are rare. Whereas great quality Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin-a-Vent  abound!
    • Pierre is very excited about northern Beaujolais as well, in large part because "the Beaujolais area is having a very tough time. They are having a tough time because the quality has been mediocre over the past 30, 40 years. Which is a pity because the Gamay grape, grown on the granitic soil (which is very different from Burgundy clay and marl soil) can produce very good wine."
    • Pierre and his father came to this property in 1986 and recognized it's potential for greatness immediately. In Pierre's words "sometimes you just stand in a place and you know it has the potential to produce greatness"
    • Under previous ownership there had been two labels; the upper-echelon named "vielles vignes" or "old-vines". Pierre isn't interested in labels such as this (nor Reserve, Special Reserve, etc) even though the vine-age is now between 30 and 50 years old, and so with his father broke the vineyard down to 5 specific sites, each with their own characteristics including this site with a particularly high proportion of Manganese
    • at this point Pierre even invited the audience to "play a trick" on their friends: "take a bottle of 2009 Beaujolais and put it in your cellar for 5 years, easily, because 2009 was a great year for the Beaujolais area. 2011 is also a great vintage... then serve it blind for your friends and you will be surprised! Because what happens then to great Beaujolais is really spectacular; the Gamay disappears, leaving only great wine. The Gamay isn't important, it is Moulin-a-Vent that is important, it is Clos de Carquelin that we taste in this wine!"

    2006 Domaine des Heritiers Louis Jadot, 1er Cru, "Clos des Ursules" Beaune (rouge)
    $50+ USD (not widely available)

    • Pierre chose 2 separate vintages of red Burgundy specifically to showcase terroir and what vintage variation can do with that terroir. In Pierre-Henry's words, 2005 was a great year that often times overshadows 2006 (unfairly as the '06 often tastes better right now) and capable of great aging... drink your '06 now and save the '05!
    • this vineyard (2.5 HA) is the very first piece of property bought by Maison Jadot over 150 years ago. It is a monopole; meaning that there is only one owner (Maison Jadot in this case)
    • total production is about 800 cases/year
    • average vine age is 25 years
    2005 1er Cru, "Clos de la Commaraine" Pommard
    $50+ USD
    • rated 90 points by Allen Meadows (the Burghound)
    • Pierre launched into a dialogue about the "age-ability" of wines in response to a question from Anthony Gismondi about how long Maison Jadot wines could and should age: "any Maison Jadot can age for 10 years for sure, sometimes 15, 20, 30 years... we are drinking wines right now from 1904, 1911. But I get this question a lot; when should I drink this wine? It will not be better in 10 years, it will be different. Don't - forgive me Anthony - but don't listen too much to journalists! Trust your own palate!"
    • we were then educated by Pierre as to why he had chosen the opposing vintages: "clearly you can see why you should not drink the 2005! This is too young, and even though it is a different area... Pommard is always a little tighter, a little more tension. There are 3 great Premier Cru in Pommard. This is not so well known because only one proprietor... we do not own the vineyard, we have a long-term contract with the owner. And so even if this is not so easy to find, it is very good value"
    2007  Domaine Gagey, 1er Cru, "Les Baudes", Chambolle-Musigny (rouge)
    $100+ USD
    • 90 points from Stephan Tanzer, 16.5/20 from Jancis Robinson
    • located immediately below Les Bonnes Mares Grand Cru and considered rich and powerful expressions of the region
    • "when you hear the name Chambolle-Musigny you think elegance, delicacy, beauty! For us Chambolle-Musigny is a dream; the name itself has a certain sensualitie. These wines are sensual."
    • this is a small vineyard that Pierre's father bought in the 1990's and only produces 5 or 6 casks per year
    • this vintage was "a little more difficult"... up to 25% of the crop was lost to the sorting table but, as Tony stated so elegantly, "perhaps you (Pierre) suffer too much from the Maison Jadot condition of seeing your work as good, very good, and "could-be-better". This is such a good wine Pierre, I think you can relax." That was a comment that won resounding applause from the audience.

    2006 Grand Cru, "Griotte-Chambertin"
    • very small vineyard less then 5 HA, only 3 proprietor
    • to Pierre he can taste the impression of the local cherries, and not just the cherries, but the flesh of the cherries "and that is 2006; a great vintage for drinking now, but is also Griotte. I love this place"

    2009 Domaine Louis Jadot, Grand Cru, "Clos Vougeot"
    $150+++ USD
    • average vine age is 30 years
    • "2009 a great vintage; obviously a little young right now. Can be a little tough in the beginning! This young it is very tight. But the vintage is excellent."
    • "this (Clos Vougeot) is so important for Burgundy because so many great winemakers have come here "
    • "and you notice these spices in your mouth? We think these spices are typical of great Burgundy when they are young..."
    • Pierre had evidently finally realized that his 1.5 hour lecture had been running into overtime for quite awhile, and tried a summation: "Obviously now when you have heard us winemakers talk, you have heard our passion. And it is our hope that you will hear this and be filled with a kind of envy and want to come, yes, come to Burgundy. It is good to taste the wine, and good to come to the wine-cellar, but you are young and full of life! Come work in the vineyard for a day! Then you will know the true Burgundy!". Anthony Gismondi responded with the succinct "Just get out of your car."

    Pierre-Henry in Chicago
       Pierre is more then friendly, more then polite and well-spoken in several languages. Pierre is authentically passionate, and it's that passion that resonates though his audience and through his wines. By the end of our 90 minute lecture (which ran over by 30 minutes) I'm pretty sure that most of the room was enthralled. We were held captive by an unabashed love of Burgundy, and for what Burgundian soil can produce in it's wines; cool and steely Chablis,  delicate yet layered Cote de Nuits and the rich-fruit-bombs, full-of-earthy-perfume from Morgon and Moulin-a-Vents. Bourgogne (Burgundy) is as capable of greatness in it's wines as any other region.

      But not every region has champions like Pierre-Henry Gagey.

    As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

     CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

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