2019 is a very important vintage chez Gouges, marking the 100th anniversary of Henri’s first release, 1919. In fact, to honour his memory, the domaine has released a special one-off cuvée this year, made from a selection of some of the best bunches from their various 1er Cru vineyards. Henri’s two great grandsons, Gregory and Antoine, who run the domaine, were inspired to create this hommage to their great grandfather to reflect not just his importance to the domaine, nor indeed to Nuits-St-Georges, but to Burgundy as a whole. Back in the day, Henri was hugely influential and led the ratification of the classification system that redefined the whole of the region we know so well today.
Greg and Antoine are the third ‘double act’ to run the show, following in the footsteps of Henri’s two sons, Marcel and Michel, who in turn handed things on to two of their children, Christian and Pierre. Much has changed in Burgundy since those post-WW1 days, both in terms of the stature and importance of the region and also the approach towards viticulture and vinification, both of which have had to be adapted in recent years to reflect the very real change in climate. For many years, it was always a challenge to get levels of maturity that would not require significant chaptalisation. It was not uncommon for harvests to bring in fruit in mid to late October, struggling to nudge degrees into double figures. How different things are today!
The importance of the vineyards and the resulting raw materials that they produce has always been paramount at Gouges, and the philosophy to remain hands-off in the cellar was one that endured for many decades. Traditionally, all the wines were destemmed, new oak was kept to a minimum (around 10%) and the various cuvees were always given time to come to themselves, both in the cellar and the bottle.
The most important changes that Greg and Antoine have introduced, though perhaps evolutionary development would be more accurate, would be the move to organic farming, though not certified, and the construction of an imposing new cuverie, back in 2007, completed just in time for that year’s harvest. The former, helped bring more mature fruit into the cuverie, the latter helped create more finesse from said fruit, with berries staying whole for much longer and only the finer tannins being extracted. Of course, over the past decade we have seen warmer summers and earlier harvests, with fruit coming in at ripeness levels Henri could only have dreamed about. This has allowed Greg and Antoine to experiment with stems on some of their cuvées and to create wines that are arguably more about infusion than extraction, resulting in greater finesse and purity, two vital elements when working with a potentially hard-nosed appellation like Nuits-St-Georges. As for Pommard, so far climate change has only been a positive experience for Nuits-St-Georges, and under the control of two young, ambitious vignerons, like Greg and Antoine, this domaine has been producing its finest wines ever, which is some statement given its reputation under previous Gouges.
It is fitting in the anniversary vintage, that 2019 is a big success for the domaine. Burgundy critic Steen Öhman, aka The Wine Hog, believes the domaine ‘has made the best wines I have ever tasted from this fine estate’. That’s a bold claim as there have been a string of great vintages to emerge from the domaine over the previous ten years, but the precision of the wines, a tell-tale trait of many of the best 2019s, is beautifully evident, yet supported by intense, powerful fruit character that reflects the differing terroirs of the many crus within the range. The wines will age very well indeed; they always do chez Gouges, but this year with a special textural finesse, which will ensure great pleasure will be had along the way.