When Pierre Gonon handed the estate over to his sons Pierre and Jean, he left it in good, reassuringly hard-worn hands.
Like many of their generation, Pierre and Jean are more outward looking, open to new ideas and dedicated to better quality. But, unlike some of their peers, this is never at the expense of making traditional, classic and age-worthy wine. These are proper wines with a real backbone, worthy heirs to the Trollat vines that form part of their current holdings.
Although typically one of the most expensive wines of the appellation, I’d argue this is one of the best value Northern Rhone Syrah around at the moment. The quality is simply outrageous for the price. Given how little is ever on the market, it seems many would agree. There seems to be a perception around that St-Joseph is a lowly appellation that holds prices at a reasonable level.
The modern age of Gonon can be identified as the point in the early 1990s when Pierre passed on the estate to his sons. The two brothers new direction was augmented by the purchase of 1.2 hectares of vines from Raymond Trollat on the Aubert hill.
That their wines are now priced above most Cote-Rotie’s is a shame, but probably warranted by what’s in the bottle, and a natural result of the tiny quantities they work with.
We met the delightful and very urbane Jean outside the winery on a marvelously sunny day. The vineyards of Mauves rise up behind the small modern building, with workers dotted about the terraces, pruning hard at ten in the morning.
Beneath the modern winery is a wonderfully old-school barrel room, akin to those in Burgundy, which is something of a surprise, after walking through the modern ground floor. There are four wines made here. Tiny quantities of a Chasselas (0.1 hectares) and Vin de Pays. Then, 8 hectares of Syrah making about 8,000 bottles of red St-Joseph and 2 hectares of white making a much smaller amount.
The 2015 Chasselas was a little reduced when we tried it but was very complex and expressive. Very nicely done indeed but I think only one barrel to go around.
We tried a various barrels of red and whites from the 2015 which looked like it was shaping up very nicely. There was one barrel of 90 year old vines that came from the old Raymond Trollat holdings that was simply magnificent and a big contrast to some of the younger vine plots.
Unusually for a St-Joseph domaine, the Gonons have vines in all three of the main communes, which gives a very complete assemblage of the styles.
Then Jean showed us some 2014 St-Joseph Rouge and Vin de Pays. The St-Joseph seemed great but was really a bit awkward and clearly needed quite a bit of time, I think it was quite recently bottled. The St-Joseph was very good and cherry fruited. Obviously much more expansive and fruit driven at this stage.
The 2013 reds had superb freshness and a sense of cool fruit to them. I liked them very much. Jean didn’t want to be drawn to much into relative discussions of vintage quality as he feels, quite rightly, they all show different aspects of the terroir and to say one is better then another can be quite misleading.
Jean pulled out a couple of mystery bottles, a 2005 St-Joseph Rouge that was utterly complete and incredibly drinking now. Also a bottling of 2006 VV St-Joseph whose power was rather eclipsed by the elegance of the 2005 I felt.
A further surprise, we had an older bottle of white. I guessed early 1990s, a companion guessed 1990. It was 1991. Very nice with mellow acidity and soft fruit. Personally I think I would have preferred it a bit younger. Jean said when asked on the whites, generally you should think about either drinking soon after release or after 5 years or so. The whites are made from 80% Marsanne (mostly from 1958) and this tends to close down after a year or so in bottle.
As Jean Livingstone-Learmonth observes when describing the Gonons ‘simple is best’. Not only is this true here, here it seems ‘simplicity actually is the ultimate sophistication’.