We’ve spilled a lot of electronic ink and killed plenty of digital trees telling you about Jean-Michel Guillon over the years. By this point, most of you know that this is one of the hardest working, most talented, and least compromising winegrowers in all of Burgundy. He and his son Alexis work the vineyards themselves (especially in August, when other winemakers take vacation just as the vines reach their most critical stage).
Want to see what that work looks like? Take a look at this video on the recently updated Guillon website for a drone’s eye view of the vineyards and vintage 2016 harvest!
They demand nothing less that perfectly ripe fruit, which allows them to make long, slow, intense fermentations running three to five weeks – extracting tons of flavor and only the most suave, ripe tannins.
Then they age their wines in the finest French oak money can buy. After Domaine Romanee-Conti and the Hospices de Beaune, Jean-Michel and Alexis are the single biggest buyers of new French oak in Burgundy ever year. Where growers who pick less ripe fruit and extract less during fermentation can find new oak overwhelm their wines, Guillon’s juice is so intense and deep that it needs the softening only new oak can give and absorbs the woody flavors with ease.
A Frigid Tragedy
The extra time and effort Jean-Michel and Alexis put in tending their vines pays off every year, but never more than in 2016. Hours and hours working their vineyards allowed them to counter the intense mildew pressure running through the season, leave their grapes out on the vine until fully ripe, and then bring in a crop of impeccable cleanliness and purity.
But, no amount of farming work could counter the tragedy of April 26-27. The sun set on the 26h on what had been a pretty, if humid, day. Then a front moved through, temperatures plummeted, and cold air poured down valleys and combes and enveloped the vines. By dawn a thick frost lay on the vines across Burgundy. As the sun came up and clouds cleared, bright sunlight refracted through the ice, burning the partially frozen grapes. And even where the berries survived, leaves crumpled and ultimately dropped to the ground, depriving vines of the engine needed to ripen their fruit.
By the end of the day on April 27, Jean-Michel and Alexis had lost about half of their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir crop for the vintage. Despite constant attention to the vines, still more of the crop was lost to mildew during the humid days of May and June. But fine weather returned from July through harvest in September, meaning that the small crop of grapes that had survived the spring ripened to wonderful perfection. As you’ll see for yourself when you taste these two wines, the first 2016s from Domaine Guillon we’ll present this year.