Legendary old-timer Raymond Trollat would sometimes off-handedly remark that one vintage or another was ‘a wine for a wedding’, something gulpable, yet 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, let’s be honest, 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, to people who presumably have either never tried them, or are buying them for their symbolic value. It is hard to imagine anyone with experience with these wines at 20 years old would pay £500 a bottle for them. You wonder what he makes of it. You might hope he has a sense of humour.
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. 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 (Scavenger) 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.