-‏‏‎Gouye, Trollat and the Madness of Crowds

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

­Legendary old-timer Raymond Trollat would sometimes off-handedly remark that one vintage or another was ‘a wine for a wedding’, something gulpable, always elegant, his wines for many embody the platonic ideal of St-Joseph.

In truth, the style was not enormously structured or massively ageworthy even in great vintages, compared to say a typical Hermitage or Cote-Rotie. Indeed, the Gonon’s, who inherited many of his old vines, make more structured, and really, I think, better wines than he ever made. But, better is to miss the point, they were what they were. Honest reflections, without artifice, of the St-Joseph terroir where worked he his vines. Whilst he never sold a bottle for more then 15 Euros in his life, and he remains humbly compensated for his work, his wines can sell for quite stupefying amounts of money. You wonder what he makes of it. You might hope he has a sense of humour. As much as I appreciate and are willing to pay for the work of the older generation of Rhone vignoble, maybe we are starting to lose a bit of perspective here.

Let’s not fetishize a vignerons work after they retire, let’s celebrate their work while they’re still around. Let’s support vignerons doing great work, instead of mindlessly buying the same celebrated names. So, what should we buy then? Answer, this! Even as a disciple of the Northern Rhone, this was a relatively new name for me until a caviste in Lyon insisted I try it in a flurry of enthusiasm and comparisons to the great old, long departed names of the Rhone valley.

If you look up from Trollat’s house, you can see the vines and small farmyard of the Desbos family up the valley. If you look even closer, you can see the chickens, goats and perhaps Rameses, Philippe’s horse. The work they do there is I think every bit as worthy as that of Monsieur Trollat, and their wines are what they are, authentic expressions of St-Joseph made in small quantities, in the most traditional of styles. No more, no less.

Phillipe Desbos of Domaine de Gouye is part of the ‘confidential wine culture’ as John Livingstone-Learmonth puts it, and although he spent some timing working with Jean-Luc Colombo, their outlooks couldn’t really be much different. Ambling in bare feet amongst the chickens, he is grounded in a stable outlook and philosophical pragmatism about the process of winemaking and business in general. One of the advantages of running a domaine of his size is there is never pressure to sell wine. There is always more demand than supply.

The domaine gets its name from the lieux-dit it sits in above St-Jean de Muzols. Gouye is seperated by a small ravine from the Pichonnier and Aubert plots that Trollat used to farm. Philippe has 3 hectares here planted between 1955 and 1975. Due to its height, the grapes can maintain freshness even in hot years like 2003. Whole bunches are utilised, and the vinification is done in a mix of concrete and wood. Pressing is completed in an old 1868 press and the wine is aged in foudre for between 9 and 24 months. About 7,000 bottles are produced, a majority of which is St-Joseph rouge but there is a little VDP Gabouilon from a small syrah plot on the plateau. There are three versions of St Joseph, a vielles vignes rouge, a 24 mois cuvee, which is aged for a longer time in foudre, and a rare white wine. The family farm manually and use almost no herbicides as they plow by horse, a gentler practice that is also still very efficient for these hill-side vines.

A quite wonderful clip from TF1 showing man and beast in action.

Joe Gilmour-‏‏‎Gouye, Trollat and the Madness of Crowds

-Carrying on Regardless – Lyon

Joe Gilmour Evenings Out, Thoughts

“The Lyonnais: they like their food, they eat it, they talk about it all day long. They don’t care what you think about it. They don’t care if you like it, if you eat it, if you never even try it. They don’t care about you at all.” Bill Buford

The 2019 Michelin guide was published this week and for the city of Lyon, it was nothing to celebrate. A single new star for La Sommeliere, and two restaurants, Guy Lassaussarie and Pierre Orsi downgraded. Bummer. What to do? – Guy confessed his confusion and promised to redouble his efforts after quizzing the inspectors for their reasons. That should be a fun chat. Pierre was more sanguine, he would carry on regardless.

I’ve not eaten at either restaurant, or Paul Bocuse for that matter, but I think it does point to a sort of identity crises in a city that puts gastronomy front and centre of its self-image. We know the history, but where is Lyonnaise cuisine actually going?

London and New York it is not. As they go merrily and expensively picking their way through global influences, hauling in shipments of artisan produce wherever they can find them, draining France of its natural wines and adapting their menus to encompass the two trends in dining that seem to me to be the most striking, lighter options and vegetarian food, so the Lyonnaise mostly plough on with their quenelles de brochet, andouillette and so forth, sitting in cream, or my personal antifavourite, foam, with a galic shrug towards the new.

As for wine, well, in many places, the towering influences of Georges Duboef and Maison Guigal hold sway. There are honourable exceptions for sure, but not that many. Yet maybe the Lyonnaise like it this way. History runs deep here. After all, the heartland of France, a country that has gifted the world with a treasure chest like no other of wine and food, are perhaps operating on a level of gastronomic appreciation that I just cannot wrap my small brain around. It’s not just possible, its likely. Maybe the secret to life actually is cheap Cote de Rhone and tripe?

So, whilst I started writing this heading towards making some dining recommendations, I suddenly felt like I was drawn into a black hole of uncertainty. Feeling totally inadequate to the task of evaluating classic Lyonnaise cuisine versus International or French modernity, my small brain just  exploded with the enormity of the subject. Therefore, I thought I would pivot, and merely describe briefly some of the greatest wine lists in Lyon, after all, with a glass of Rayas in hand, well, you should be game for anything.

Café Terroirs 

One of my favourite spots, and as close to a local restaurant as my partner and I have at the moment. The wine list is a great blend of natural and classic stuff. They get good allocations from Dutraive, Labet, Bernard Moreau, DRC and plenty more. Cracking prices, a 2014 Grand Echezeaux from ‘The Domaine’ was a tad under 500 Euro, CF £1,500 or so in the UK. Pretty remorselessly young though if you’re tempted.

L’Ame de Soeur

Name after the Ogier Cote-Rotie cuvee – this fine restaurant has superb stocks of Ramonet at great prices and some rare Rhone from Allemand and others.

O Vin D’Anges 

The very serious, but utterly devoted Sebastien is a questor and always has a good eye around the next corner and the next domaine. As well as good stocks of wines like Dard and Ribo that he sources direct, he has great recommendations. Why not try something new? Forget about Instagram for a second – you’ll get something really good. Also, super simple, but incredibly good food.

MurAAto

After loading up at Cafe Terroirs, cross the Place des Jacobins towards MurAAto. Cutting edge wines in this newish wine shop / bar, including a bottle of Gentaz I’ve got my eye on in the bar. No word yet as to if AA stands for Alcoholics Anonymous – which now I think about it, would be quite a good name for a wine bar..

L’Ivresse

If you can survive standing up in Antic Wine, the omnipresent Lyonnaise institution of a shop whilst George barks various orders at you as you struggle to input various invoices and purchases orders into the single laptop in store, then you can graduate with hard-earned knowledge of Georges’ extensive contacts and incredible wine expertise. This is what Sylvie has managed and used that experience to help open L’Ivresse, a wine bar on Rue General Plessier. Excellent wine selection of over 500 listings, and basic, well-done food. Strong on the Loire with names like Sylvain Dittiere and Richard Leroy will represented.

En mets fais ce qu’il te plaît

Somewhat idiosyncratic place in the 7th but has a great, very natural list. Katsume Ischida worked with Robuchon, Chapel and Ducasse and he turns out some great French food. Lots of Pacalet, Selosse and naturally-aspired juice.

Burgundy Lounge

If you’re looking to drop some serious coin on Grand Cru Burgundy, enjoy a nice view over the Saone and dig a fine-dining vibe, this may be your place. Casual it is not, but perhaps worth ironing a shirt, if you know someone who wants to crack open some Coche-Dury. Give me a shout if you need someone to drink it with a late notice – I’m just around the corner.

Cafe Sillon

Would have made it and perhaps was the best restaurant in Lyon but now closed. RIP and hope to see you again although I think one of the owners has moved back to the Auvergne. Cheque please!

Joe Gilmour-Carrying on Regardless – Lyon

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Joe Gilmour

-Domaine des Miroirs

Joe Gilmour Evenings Out, Producers

Most people are profoundly agnostic about the wines of Kenjiro Kagami. They have never heard of him. Of those who have, there is a small, but well publicised group of true believers.

Members of the church of Kenjiro drink everything they can find, upon which they make an offering to the gods of social media. Whether the wines really are the holy-grail of Jura, seems beside the point. If a Miroirs wine is felled and no-one can see the empty bottle, was it really drunk?

Is that too cynical though? Maybe just everyone loves the wines and wants to express it on social media. I’m not convinced. The smell of groupthink is too strong. It reminds me of queues outside Supreme. How do we really separate what we like, from what everyone else likes?

To add to the appeal or not of the hunt, depending on your preference, is the lack of a traditional supply / demand dynamic to accompany the market. Like Overnoy, it’s not that prices go up to settle the demand, rather that bottles are rationed by the gatekeepers who get tiny allocations. A typical scene might be that you see it on the list in a restaurant in France, and the owner will size you up before telling you that he won’t sell it to you. Awkward. Is it more exclusionary than not being able to drink a wine because you can’t afford it?

Anyway, because of the above, I hadn’t really formed to much of a strong opinion of the wines, save a couple of encounters in bars over the years. Fuck it, I thought, there are enough exciting young vignerons in Jura who I’d be happy to drink.

A few days ago, I walked up to La Croix Russe for a very small dinner with Kenjiro Kagami and Bruno Schueller, whom he worked for for many years to challenge my assumptions and try and overcome my anti social-media prejudices.

The Domaine started in 2011, before which Kenjiro had worked spells with Thierry Allemand and Bruno, both in their way pathfinders for avant-garde natural wines. They work on 3 hectares of vines in Grusse, about 10,000 bottles a year. The name ‘Miroirs’ itself is both a play on his name in Japanese and he believes an expression of the “Mirror” between himself, the wines and the terroir. It’s a fine concept.

We tried four wines, three before dinner. They had a bit more volume with the 2018 vintage, which I think they were pleased about after some recent short harvests. I asked Kenjiro who his main markets were, he told me he sends 30% to Japan, 30% stays in France, and the remaining 30% is split between all his other export markets.

2016 Domaine des Mirroirs Poulsard

This was beautifully light, very pure, very clean. A wine of elegance and a certain power without weight. Sometimes Poulsard can be more on the earthy, spicy side, like Puffenay, but this was much more on the Chambolle-style bright, cherry fruits.

2016 Domaine des Miroirs Les Saugettes Chardonnay

This was an oxidative style, aged in large foudre and concrete, I think. For me it wasn’t quite so enjoyable, the pure style of the domaine I think works better without the notes that come in with oxidation, as they somewhat drown out the delicacy of the style.

2017 Domaine des Miroirs Savignan

A very nice wine, and lovely Savignan, did it knock me sideways? No, although I’m all too aware of my coarseness. I suppose it depends what you evaluate it against.  With dinner, Kenjiro brought with him a Magnum of his first ever vintage, the 2011. a very rare chance to try and older vintage. #unicorn I guess.

2011 Domaine de Miroirs Les Saugettes Chardonnay

They were so keen to get funds into the estate, they actually made two releases of this cuvee. A first, bottled only in 75cls, then this – a very limited release, only bottled in magnums, that had an extra year of elevage. A really great wine, still showing abundant youth. I suspect that all of the wines from the estate will end up getting drunk way before they hit their peak of maturity if this bottle was anything to go by.

Just to make a few remarks following these wines. Kenjiro was incredibly warm and welcoming, his shyness and humility makes one appreciate the wines even more I think. It is tempting to personify the wines to the man, and the unique sensibility of the Japanese artisan, cf the film, “Jiro dreams of Sushi” that seems to be almost mystic in its appreciation of the finer sensory aspects. Whether this contributes to the aura of the wines is debatable, but certainly tasting with a Japanese vigneron can be a unique experience. Sometimes even verging on the religious.

He is doing terrific work, please forgive my cynicism, and deserves the acclaim of being one of the best producers in Jura. The market for his wines is just a bit bonkers, but there we are.

Joe Gilmour-Domaine des Miroirs

View from La Madone, Fleurie

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

To the right of the town are the slopes where Dutraive’s Cuvee Champagne comes from, in the distance, you can see the town of Morgon to the right of Fleurie, and the hills of the Cotes de Py (although you’ll need the eyes of a hawk)

Joe GilmourView from La Madone, Fleurie

Gaga

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

There we were. Standing in front of a lovingly hand-made photo board of Lady Gaga.

“But how can I get my wine to her?” he mused. I confessed I did not know. Send her a bottle? Perhaps she is drowning in samples from of idiosyncratic Rhone blends. She always seemed to me more of a Rose / Champagne gal.

It was two o clock in the afternoon, the bleached white glare of Santa-Maria had been dimmed by the rolled-down security grill outside the winery entrance. Like many small wineries in California, it was a glorified concrete lock-up, situated next to an assortment of car repair companies and here-today, gone-tomorrow businesses. Barrels were stacked towards the back and towards the front, a mattress lay on the floor next to a pile of clothes.

He offered me a glass of Jamesons. It was only two in the afternoon. I felt sick. I was glad there was a foot of sunlight coming from the bottom of the security gates, I wondered about the feasibility of rolling through it. I’d driven 4 hours down from LAX to see this producer whose wines we’d imported, kind of on a whim, after reading some reviews praising his “individual, non-interventionalist, weird, natural” style.

Weird and natural it sure was. When it was good it was excellent. Unfortunately, about half of the bottles had started refermenting in bottle and I was seeking some sort of refund.

So there we were. He showed me some of the wines. They were shocking. There was one wine that he proudly announced had been opened for 7 days and was delicious. How could anyone trust the judgement of a winemaker who showed a wine like this with pride. It was terrible. It was totally oxidised. He could make great wine, I’d tried it in the past. But this was not right.

As if things couldn’t get any weirder, he then proceeded to tell me about his past life.

“Don’t worry. I’ve done the research.” Research that proved that in a past life, he had been the winemaker at Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in the 1860s. That of course, explained why his email account was something like Romanneconti1856@yahoo.com. Of course.

This was a guy in some sort of crisis. He’d broken up with his wife and kids and was sleeping in the winery. Although he was so off the wall with left-field energy, this was not the way he wanted things to pan out, that was for sure. But yet in classic American spirit, he soldiered on, dug in, and I felt terrible at being another weight dragging him down to earth.

To his immense credit, he refunded us in full for the wine. I’m not sure I thanked him enough for that. It was a mark of real decency that we like to imagine is part of the membrane of the wine business.

I don’t know what he’s doing now, I idly looked him up a year or so after the visit and found out he’d lost his license to buy grapes.

Like his wine, he was weird and leftfield, probably not the winemaker at Romanee-Conti in the late 19th century but a good guy, and whatever he’s doing now, I hope he’s happy. His wine was too good for Lady Gaga anyway.

Joe GilmourGaga