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Pierre and Jean Gonon

Pierre Gonon

VigneronJean and Pierre Gonon
LocationMauves (Ardèche)
Size of Domaine10 ha
TerroirContinental climate, Mistral (northern wind) influence. Decomposed granite, gneiss, calcareous limestone, ancient Rhône alluvium and loess on granite bedrock. Steep terraced slopes overlooking the Rhône, 180-280m altitude.
ViticultureCertified organic (Ecocert)
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Pierre Gonon was a mainstay at Mauves for many years, making quietly understated wines. He was joined by his two sons Jean in 1986 and Pierre in 1988, with the brothers sharing most tasks. Their father had to retire early due to ill health in 1989, and since then the brothers have worked with a passion to raise this domaine to the point where it is now generally considered as the leading domaine in Saint-Joseph.

The brothers initially made wines from two cramped cellars, but in 2002 they finished construction of a new winemaking cave, still linked to one of the two ancient, atmospheric cellars. The domaine's vines are planted in the original heart of the Saint-Joseph appellation, the granitic terraced hillsides of Mauves and Tournon (a good number of the vines in Mauves were planted by German prisoners of war during the second world war), and their wines came from these two sources until they started renting 1.5ha of old vines in St Jean de Muzols (which represents 20% of their main red cuvée) from the legendary Raymond Trollat in 2004, which in more recent years they have now purchased.

All the vines that go to make the red St Joseph are from sélection massale, no clones are used whatsoever. They plough by horse wherever they can – a Jura Comtois breed called Samson took the strain when Cath spent a week working in the vines in June 2012. They do so in around 50% of the vineyard, and when it is too hot or steep for a horse the brothers use a trident plough attached to a cable and winch, plus a small caterpillar tractor.

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The old atmospheric cellar
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Yields are in the low 30hh on average, and after picking the grapes are destalked on average 85%, transferred by conveyor belt directly into ancient wooden vats, punched down by foot by Jean and Pierre twice a day during a two/three weeks fermentation, with one remontage a day during the cuvaison. They are then aged for 12 months minimum in new to 15yo 600ltr demi-muids, assembled in cuve for 5 months before bottling unfined and unfiltered at the end of February with a low total sulphur level of around 40mg/l.

As well as the main cuvée of red, they produce an excellent white St Joseph from marsanne and roussanne planted on the lower slopes of Mauves in the Les Oliviers vineyard, in soils of ancient Rhône alluvium and some loess on a granitic bedrock. They occasionally bottle off one demi-muid from the old Raymond Trollat vines in St Jean de Muzols, but this cuvée is quite anecdotal - an allocation of 12 bottles per importer when the brothers choose to release the wine doesn't go far! They also make a syrah cuvée called Les Iles Feray that comes from parcels of vines less than 10yo, and a little chasselas from the Trollat vineyards too.

We met Jean and Pierre in 1992, just three years after Vine Trail was born in 1989, the same year the brothers took over from their father. Watching them grow and develop to become one of the Northern Rhône's leading domaines and the reference point in St-Joseph has been an immense joy.

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Vine are cross-weaved in summer and left this way till winter pruning
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Pierre Gonon Wines

Pierre Gonon

ST-JOSEPH 2019
Les Oliviers
80% Marsanne, 20% Roussanne (14% alc.)

Les Oliviers, just to the north of Mauves, has a soil of ancient Rhône alluvium and some loess on a granitic bedrock. Harvested on Sep 12th, it was aged for a year in 228ltr barrels and then assembled in a stainless steel vat for a further three months before bottling in December. There’s a fine balance in 2019 with 14.4% alc countered by a pH of 3.65. As Jean Gonon noted, "It was a very hot during the harvest, we picked in the morning, and it has come through as quite a fresh wine; the east part of Les Oliviers gives freshness from soil and exposure. As the wine was richer and more structured than 2018, we carried out less bâtonnage, finishing one month earlier than usual at the end of November." Textured, complex peach and apricot fruits, with a noble bitterness, anis, salinity and ginger on the finish. As JLL attests, "This is going to be a winner, a properly structured white St Jo, right up there, one for drinking at 10+ years with plenty of complexity." Total sulphur 60mg/l.

Pierre Gonon

ST-JOSEPH 2019
100% Syrah (14% alc.)

This bottling incorporates 3ha of 80yo vines purchased from the legendary Raymond Trollat in St Jean de Muzols (representing one third of the wine). Jean notes that no clones are used at all now for this wine, just massal selections. Made from 90% whole bunches in 2019, harvested between September 16-25th. A dark, black cherry colour, this is a dense, structured, savoury wine with typical stamp of blackberry fruit and notable tapenade and liquorice, 14.2% alcohol, an irony grip on the finish with the palate staining quality typical of fruit from St Jean de Muzols. The dry extract and mineral print from this vineyard are such that they almost suck all the saliva out of your mouth when young and provide a perfect backbone to help the wine age very well – as a guide Jean Gonon recommends six years. It is certainly much more structured and concentrated than either 2017 or 2018, but the tannins are ripe and fine, not at all dry as they were in a super-hot year like 2003. For drinking from 2022 to 2030.

Pierre Gonon

ST-JOSEPH 2015
Vieilles Vignes
100% Syrah (13.5% alc.)

The Gonon brothers made this wine from vines purchased from Raymond Trollat that were planted in 1910 and the 1920s on the steep hillsides of Saint-Jean-de-Muzols (where the soil is a crumbly granite). It’s a confidential cuvée made from time to time (the last vintage before this was 2010), to evidence what their work on the exceptional terroir of St Jean de Muzols can produce in the best vintages. They produced just one demi-muid of this dark, inky purple coloured wine. It has a brooding nose with ripe black raspberry, cassis and violets as well as vibrant notes of white pepper, allspice and smoky minerals, all part of an astonishingly complex bouquet. The palate presents stylish fruit, effortless 'gras', richness, with snug tannins that fit like a glove. The juice is elegant, the tannins are excellent, with a finish that is like essence of crumbled stone with an irony core, that sucks the saliva out of the mouth. This is complete, total, long-lived wine. Jean told us that he had no idea when this remarkable but extremely small-production wine would be released (and importers will be lucky to be offered even one case) but he did say that he didn't expect that he and his brother Pierre would be in any rush to do so. For drinking to 2040.

Pierre Gonon

PAYS DE L’ARDÈCHE IGP 2019
Les Iles Feray
100% Syrah (13% alc.)

The Gonon brothers use juice from their youngest vines in St Jo for this really good IGP, giving it less full bunch maceration (50% in 2019, 10% less than 2018). The nose shows mulberries and raspberries, with some bacon fat, and the palate bears a concentrated heart after a bright attack, there’s evident sun in this with mineral notes and iron, and finely grained, nicely integrated tannins. It has character, more forward and 'pointu' than the St Jo, like a ripe Crozes from Gervans, in the northern granitic sector of that appellation.