Clones and Suitcases: Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley

Pinot clonesToday’s offer on rare “Heritage Pinots” from Patricia Green Cellars includes two made from Pinot Noir’s Wadensvil and Coury Clones, clones that arrived early in the Willamette Valley’s history. So, you might ask, what’s all the fuss about Pinot Noir “clones”? So glad you asked!

A Primer on Grape Vine Propagation
Grape vines intentionally produce seeds that are genetically different from their parent plant. It’s a defense mechanism – when a bird or bear eats a grape, wanders around, and then “deposits” the undigested seed with plenty of fertilizer so it can start a new plant, the new plant will have different characteristics than its parent. Which means it can thrive in different soils and climates and not be susceptible to the same diseases.

But it also means the grapes taste different and make different wine. So, for centuries, grape growers have planted new vineyards not by seed, but instead by taking cuttings from vines and vineyards that already produce good wine. Over the centuries, some “flavors” of each varietal – e.g. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. – were identified as being especially good for wine growing. So those flavors of vine – or “clones” – were preferred for taking cuttings and planting new vineyards.

Whether it’s because Pinot Noir is more susceptible to genetic mutation than other grape varietals or because it’s older than almost grape varietals, there are more identified clones of Pinot Noir in production around the world than almost any other grape. And, since the 1960s, these clones have been identified, given numbers and names, and offered for sale by nurseries to folks who want to plant a vineyard.

However, a vine from a “good” clone is not necessarily a great scion from which to plant a vineyard. Individual grape vines can catch viruses that impact vigor, yield, and ripening. If you use a virused grape vine as the source of your cuttings for planting your vineyard, then you’re going to have virus in all the vines.

David-Lett-with-cuttings-from-UC-Davis-2x

David Lett

From Burgundy to Willamette
When David Lett decided to plant the first modern Pinot Noir vineyard in the Willamette Valley back in 1965, he turned to the nursery at California’s UC Davis. At the time, Davis had the one and only stock of non-virused Pinot Noir available for propagation in the entire USA. It was a Burgundian Pinot Noir clone that had been isolated and cleared of virus at nursery in Wädenswil, Switzerland. They called it UCD 1A, but it soon became commonly known as the Wadensvil clone.

Lett loaded up his car with Wadensvil, drove south, and planted what would become Eyrie Vineyards. A few years later, Dick Erath and Charles Coury acquired the newly de-virused UCD 4 clone at Davis, a selection of Pinot Noir that originated in Burgundy’s Pommard vineyards. Erath, Lett, and others soon found that Wadensvil and Pommard were highly complementary, with Wadensvil giving floral aromatics and bright red fruit to match Pommard’s dark, earthy, character and higher levels of tannins.

So, through the 1980s, the vast majority of new Willamette Valley vineyards were planted to mixtures of Wadensvil and Pommard.

Charles Coury

Charles Coury

Coury Clone: A “Suitcase Selection?”
At the same time, growers were also planting what came to be known as “Coury Clone.” Charles Coury liked to claim that planting Pinot in the Willamette Valley was his idea. It wasn’t, but he did come to the Valley with Dick Erath in the late 1960s after completing his Masters at UC Davis and spending a year at the Colmar Research Station in Alsace, France.

First with Erath and then on his own, he ran a nursery that sold vines to many early Oregon grape farmers. One batch of vines he sold produced uncommonly dark, powerful Pinot Noir. Coury refused to say where he’d gotten the clone, and over the years, growers began to refer to it as Coury Clone.

For years, the assumption was the Coury Clone was a so-called “suitcase selection” that Coury had carried back from Alsace. As the only non-virused Pinot Noir clone in Colmar at the time was Clone 538, most assumed that it was the real Coury Clone. But Coury was a terrible record-keeper, and he frequently sold growers a wild mix of vines including various Pommard clones, Wadensvil, and more. So some plantings of “Coury Clone” in the early days were really mixes.

Dijon … and a Wadensvil Renaissance
When a new assortment of virus-free Pinot Noir clones arrived in Oregon from Burgundy’s Dijon Research Station in the mid-1980s, growers rushed to use them to add variety and character to their vines. And, while Pommard remained popular, the new Dijon Clones began crowding out Wadensvil Clone in vineyards both new and old.

Today, more and more growers have returned to appreciating Wadensvil’s perfume and elegance, especially when it’s grown on marine sedimentary soils as are found in Ribbon Ridge (where Patricia Green Wine Cellars’ estate vineyard sits). And now Coury clone is seeing a slight renaissance as well. The two most important plantings of Coury Clone are at Hyland Vineyard – where the current own-rooted vines were planted in 1989 – and at Freedom Hill – which used cuttings from Hyland to start its own Coury plot.

For the most part, Willamette Valley winegrowers continue to make their best wines from a mixture of clones – Pommard, Wadensvil, the Dijon clones, etc. – but occasionally a single-clonal plot is so interesting and compelling that it’s worth bottling on its own. Which is what we think you’ll find in these wines here.

An American in Burgundy

An American in Burgundy

Mark O'Connell Clos de la Chapelle

Kansas native Mark O’Connell

If you haven’t heard of Burgundy’s Domaine Clos de la Chapelle before, it’s because:  a) it’s a new name for a very old estate; and b) there’s very little wine! But it’s a name you should get to know and come to rely on for top-notch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at decidedly affordable prices.

Kansas native Mark O’Connell fell in love with Burgundy years ago and, in 2005, purchased a barrel of wine at the famed Hospices de Beaune auction. As part of the deal, Mark came to Burgundy to work harvest – something he continued doing through 2010.

From Working Harvest to Owning Vineyards
Then, as the 2010 harvest wrapped up, Pierre Meurgey, then president of Beaune négociant Champy, asked Mark if he’d be interested in helping Champy purchase some new vineyards. Working with lawyer Philippe Remoissenet, they bought the historic Louis Boillot estate and its 3.1 acres of vines in Volnay and Pommard. They renamed the domaine for its most famous vineyard, the Volnay monopole of Clos de la Chapelle, and made their first vintage from vine to bottle in 2011.

Mark is now the managing partner and, from vintage 2017, the winemaker as well. He’s added to the Domaine’s vineyards, growing to a total of 10 acres of vines in Pommard, Volnay, Beaune and on the Grand Cru hill of Corton. All of the holdings are 1er or Grand Cru designated, and Mark farms them all like Grand Crus, pruning tightly to limit yields, working organically (certified), and transitioning to biodynamics.

Organic, Biodynamic, Meticulous.
And the farming and winemaking are meticulous. All of his vineyards are organic and biodynamic, with three annual plowings replacing herbicides and simple applications of copper, sulfur, and biodynamic homeopathic sprays replacing all other chemicals. The vines are pruned to only four shoots to limit yields and the fruit is handpicked and carefully sorted before fermentation with native yeasts. The reds see a little whole cluster for added spice and structure, and all the wines age in 20-35% new French oak to round off and gain more depth.

Brand New Winery, Old-Fashioned Work
Clos de la ChapelleFor vintage 2017, Mark moved the Domaine into a brand new, squeaky-clean winery but continued working in his restrained, oldfashioned way. While many of Mark’s vineyards naturally give fairly ripe, rich wines, the estate’s goal is to “obtain the purest wines possible.” The grapes are all picked and sorted by hand to ensure only prime, perfect, fruit goes into fermenters. The reds see 10-20% whole clusters depending on the vintage, and both reds and whites ferment with native yeasts and age in a modest 10-25% new oak (a touch higher in 2017 due to the need to purchase new barrels for the inaugural vintage of the new winery).

Three Clos de la Chapelle BurgudiesSmall Quantities, Restrained Pricing.
While Mark certainly doesn’t want to lose money – something that’s been hard to avoid in recent short-crop vintages! – he’s certainly been much more restrained on pricing than most of his neighbors. And that’s especially impressive given the tiny production levels here – only 1,500 cases total and down to as little as 75-375 cases each of the wines we’re featuring.

In vintage 2017 – a year that gave vivid, pure whites and wide-open and easy to love reds – Mark’s approach delivered a captivating set of white and red Burgundies you are sure to love.

At our special sale, six-bottle, and mix/match case pricing, all of these Dom Clos de la Chapelle wines represent outstanding value. And while all will develop nicely in cellar, each wine is a delight to taste and drink today. As you’ll see when you come by to try them this Friday (3-7pm) and Saturday (noon-4pm)!

Climb the Hill for Delicious Burgundy Values

Really good, stylish, delicious red and white Burgundy values are still out there – but you have to be willing to explore a bit to find them. So drive the road from Chassagne-Montrachet past St Aubin and climb the hill to the Haute-Cotes village of La Rochepot. That’s where you’ll find Jerome and Elisabeth Billard, sometimes their son Louis, and some of the most compelling white and red Burgundy values we’ve tasted in years!

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On our visit in March, Doug got to meet Jerome and Elisabeth … and Rafael the horse, an important part of Dom Billard’s vineyard care!

Jerome took over the family estate 20 years ago, in 1999, and promptly stopped selling to the local co-op and began bottling wine himself. He quickly converted his vineyards to organic farming and, while raising three children, gradually acquired small vineyard plots in select sites across the Cotes de Beaune.

Today his children are mostly grown and one son, Louis, is a budding winegrower working in the cellars at Domaine Romanee-Conti (on his days off, he helps Jerome work the family’s vineyards and is learning how to use Rafael the horse to reduce the use of tractors within the vines).

Dom Billard signElisabeth and Jerome of BillardBut the winegrowing philosophy has remained constant.

Low-Impact, Meticulous Farming: All of Billard’s vineyards are farmed organically with no chemical insecticides, fertilizers or herbicides. In four vineyards, plowing and mowing are done by horse, rather than tractor, to limit soil compactions. The vines are tightly pruned to limit fruit set and bunches are dropped while green to keep yields low.

Focus on Freshness: Jerome loves ripe fruit – but not over-ripe fruit. He picks each site to achieve fine balance of fruit flavors and acidity and then full destems and sorts grape by grape to ensure that only perfect berries make it into the wine.

Gently, Gently: Chardonnay is pressed slow and gently to extract pure juice with no bitterness from the skins or seeds. Pinot Noir goes into the fermenters as whole berries, and then are trod by foot to release the juice and extract color and structure with soft, supple, tannins. As much as possible, the young wine moves through the winery via gravity or air pressure to minimize harsh pumping.

Judicious Oak: Great Burgundy needs time in barrel and the finest, most concentrated, wines need at least a little new oak to achieve balance, finesse and complexity. But Jerome knows that too much wood flavor means that the unique signature of site and vintage can easily be overwhelmed. The whites all ferment and age in barrel, while the reds all see barrel for aging. But the quality of barrel is very high, the toast levels low, and the percentage of new oak kept down so each wine’s character and fruit can shine through.

Generosity, Drinkability, and Unmistakably Burgundy
In the open, attractive, delicious vintage 2017, this gave Billard a set of wines that have a lovely sense of generosity and drinkability but that remain unmistakably “Burgundy.” And in 2018, when ripeness levels are higher, his restraint produced cuvees of outstanding depth with no loss of finesse and freshness.

Folks, these are seriously good Burgundies that you don’t have to be “serious” to enjoy. Highly recommended. Get ’em.

The 2016 Guillon Burgudies: Intense Wines from Intense Men

Jean Michel and Alexis GuillonBy this point, most of you know that Jean-Michel Guillon and his son, Alexis, are the hardest working, most talented, and least compromising winegrowers in all of Burgundy.

Now more than 30 years since he stepped off a train in Burgundy with no vines and no winemaking experience, Jean-Michel 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). They demand nothing less that perfectly ripe fruit, which allows them to make long, slow, intense fermentations running 3-5 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.

It seems to me that sometime around vintage 2011 or 2012, Jean-Michel and Alexis found the perfect match of forest, cooper, and toast level for each vineyard and cuvee they make. And vintage 2016 shows them at the height of their powers. I’ve already showed a few of the 2016s to colleagues in the wine trade. Their most common remark after tasting? “Wait, what? 100% new oak? No way!”

What Are The Wines Like?
guillon bottlesJean-Michel and Alexis have decided to no longer present their wines to critic Alan Meadows (“Burghound”), but his comments on the 2016 vintage overall are spot on for these wines. He writes:

“So, as with every vintage, the two questions for you as consumers that take precedence over everything else always are: should I buy the wines and if so, how much of them? The best wines are wonderfully refreshing, transparent and graceful with moderately firm tannic spines where the all-important element of balance is supplemented by good but not high acidities. They are balanced wines built for medium to sometimes longer-term aging yet they should also be reasonably approachable young if youthful fruit is your preference. Before I offer more detail, the short answer is yes on both accounts that the 2016s deserve a place in your cellars and there is no reason not to go heavy – I for one will be buying all that I can afford and find.”

Vintage comparisons are always imprecise and, possibly, especially unhelpful in framing the 2016s from Guillon. Speaking of the vintage overall, some have suggested they are like the 2008s, but with more ripeness. Others speak of 2012, but with better purity or 2014 with more density and grip. Meadows went with, “a combination of the transparency and vibrancy of 2010 with the suppleness and roundness of 2009 in a proportion of two-thirds of the former with one-third of the latter.”

Ripe, Deep … and Silky
For me, though, the word that keeps coming up in my notes is “silky.” While there’s plenty of ripeness and – especially in the 1er and Grand Cru wines – powerful grip, even the most dark and brooding of the 2016 Guillon cuvees feel and smell cool and fresh. And as they flow across your palate, show their fine tannins, and linger on and on and on, the best way to describe how they feel is “silk.”

Please don’t think notes like cool, elegant, pure and silky mean that these wines are light. Jean-Michel and Alexis do not work hundreds of hours in their vineyards to achieve optimal ripeness and then day upon day in the cellar to make “light” wines. All are deep, show excellent density, fine concentration and – where the site has it to offer – real power.

But, at the end of the day, these are the most beautiful wines I’ve ever tasted here. Don’t miss them.

A Word on Drinking the 2016s Now
Come to the store Saturday from noon-4pm and we’ll prove something conclusively: the 2016 Guillon wines are easy to taste and are already wonderfully expressive. But here’s how I’d approach actually drinking them at home.

If you want to taste any of the wines – or drink the Fixin or Cote de Nuits, both of which will give loads of pleasure tonight – then decant them for two full hours. The lovely puppy fat of fruit that you’ll experience when you first open the 2016s fades in about 30 minutes, and for the next hour and a half oak, earth, and angular feeling tannins can dominate. Just wait, though. Within two hours, the oak recedes and the fruit reemerges to create lovely balance and deliciousness.

You’ll see all the wines listed here with descriptions and pricing. Mix/match among these bottling for best six- and twelve-bottle savings.

Get to Know Walter Scott Willamette Pinot

walter-scott-ken-and-erica.pngA good friend and customer introduced us to Walter Scott wines last year, long before they became available on the East Coast. She proclaimed them her very favorite wines in the Willamette Valley – high praise from a discerning taster. That led us to see what others were saying.

Here’s what Wine Advocate said after tasting Walter Scott’s 2012 releases:

“When I am asked if there were any “great discoveries” in Oregon, I would mention “Walter Scott Wines” without hesitation. This is a small bijou operation run by Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon and their story is one of essentially risking everything to pursue their dream. If their wines are of this quality, then their sacrifices have been worthwhile.” Neal Martin, Wine Advocate, March 2015

Two years later, after visiting with Ken and Erica again and trying their 2014s, Martin was even more impressed:

“And bloody good they are as well. I just like how Ken and Erica roll – nothing fancy, no blockbuster or pretentiousness – just killer Pinot Noir with purity, intensity and personality…That leaves me to say if you have not tried these wines yet, do yourself a favor.” Neal Martin, Wine Advocate, June 2016

A Labor of Love
Walter Scott is a labor of love from the husband/wife team of Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon. Ken caught the Oregon wine bug in the early 1990s and soon began just showing up at Mark Vlossak’s St Innocent winery in the Eola Hills offering to do anything that needed doing. Eventually, in 1995, he wore Mark down and started helping out at harvest and in the winery on a regular basis, ultimately taking on sales responsibilities there too.

During his 14 years working at St. Innocent, Ken took a second job handling sales for a leading Oregon-based importer. In 2002, he first met Sommelier Erica Landon. Erica had started in the wine business in Portland and at a Mount Hood resort before becoming the sommelier and GM for the Ponzi family’s Dundee Bistro (that’s where Ken first met her in 2002). She went on to earn a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence at Ten 01 back in Portland (while beginning to date Ken in 2007) before becoming Wine Director for a Portland restaurant group and becoming a wine instructor for the trade.

Ken and Erica married and decided to give winemaking a try, emptying their retirement accounts to make 165 cases of wine in the great 2008 harvest. In 2009, Ken traded labor for enough space at Patricia Green Cellars to make 650 cases. In 2010, Ken took a new job heading up sales at Evening Land Vineyards in the Eola Hills that allowed him to make his next two vintages there.

Evening Land was a great place for Ken and Erica to take the next step. The Evening Land story is complex, but the key points are that an investor group acquired one of Oregon’s greatest vineyards, Seven Springs, in 2007 and brought in Burgundy’s Dominique Lafon to consult. Ken was able to soak up Lafon’s expertise and also get to know current owner/managers Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman.

A Converted Cider House
In 2012, Ken and Erica signed up long-time fans Andy and Sue Steinman as partners and, with their help, leased and converted a cider house on the edge of Justice Vineyard in the Eola Hills. Then, in 2014, the biggest step yet – they welcomed a new partner (daughter Lucy) to the venture and left their day jobs to focus on Walter Scott full time.

As Neal Martin reported in The Wine Advocate, “their story is one of essentially risking everything to pursue their dream. If their wines are of this quality, then their sacrifices have been worthwhile.” With influences ranging from Mark Vlossak, Dominique Lafon, the Ponzi family, Sashi Moorman and more, it’s hardly surprising that their Walter Scott wines are good. It’s the way they’re good that’s so delightful.

First, there’s a strong focus on great vineyards here, mainly in the southerly Willamette Valley appellation of the Eola Amity Hills and including one of America’s greatest Pinot Noir sites, Seven Springs. Their vineyards are all dry-farmed and feature predominantly marine sedimentary soils. This kind of dirt brings out the minerality and elegance of Pinot Noir paired with ripe cherry/raspberry/strawberry fruit – what I’d argue is the essence of great Oregon Pinot Noir.

Ken and Erica work with their farming partners to ensure that yields are appropriate to the vintage – lower in cool harvests like 2010 and 2011, higher as needed in warmer years like 2014 and 2015 – and that the fruit is allowed to ripen slowly, without excess sugar and with vibrant acids.

A Great 2016
And in a more “classic” and balanced year like 2016? Once again, Ken and Erica’s wines are fully ripe and bursting with fresh (not cooked or dried) fruit flavors, deliver vibrant acids, and went into bottle at remarkably moderate alcohols ranging from 12.5 to 13.9% (vs 14% and higher at many fine estates).

If minerality, freshness and precision are themes that cut across all of the Walter Scott wines, those attributes are always presented in terms of each vineyard’s unique character. Freedom Hill is dark, smoky and powerful. And Seven Springs is at once velvety and weightless, generous and full of tension.

The 2016 Walter Scott releases have yet to be presented to the critics. If big scores matter to you, then buy these now and then brag how you scored some of the top wines of a great vintage while you still could. Because in 2016, I think most critics will echo Neal Martin’s summation of Walter Scott’s 2012s:

“Here were wines with great precision and poise, wines that embraced the opulence of the 2012 vintage but hammered any excesses down with a prudent approach in the winery. The modest acidification ensured that these wines feel natural and refined, the kind of wines that I would take home to drink following a hard day’s tasting. With two partners coming on board, and presumably steadying what can be a financially precarious venture when starting out, things look bright for Walter Scott Wines. Pick up the phone and try them yourself.”

Ribbon Ridge AVA: Old Vines, Old Soils, Great Wine!

Ribbon Ridge AVA.png

Willamette Valley’s Ribbon Ridge AVA

Our Patricia Green offer this week focused us on Willamette Valley’s Ribbon Ridge and why it produces such great wines.

Patricia Green’s 30 acre estate vineyard lies within the heart of the Willamette Valley’s Ribbon Ridge AVA – perhaps the single most exciting slice of this great Pinot Noir region and home to famed estates like Beaux Freres, Brick House, Penner-Ash, and more.

Ribbon Ridge is a spur of uplifted marine sediments off the northwest end of the Chehalem Mountains. The soils here are very fine, almost powder like, and rest on top of a porous sandstone base. With little surface water available along the ridge, dry farming is more or less required. But, the sandy soils drain freely and quickly, forcing vines to drive their roots down 20-30 feet or more in search of water from the deeply buried aquifer below.

Deeply Rooted Plants Offer Up a Special Wine
Old vines with well-developed root systems have a big advantage here, which is one of the reason’s Patty’s Old Vines Estate cuvee always shines. It’s from several blocks of mainly Pommard clone planted from 1984-1990. As Patty’s partner, Jim Anderson, explains, these 25-30 year-old vines deliver a wine that always “shows the red fruit profile, minerality and refined texture that the deeper rooted plants are able to offer up.”

If you enjoy Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, I simply cannot image how you won’t love this. And, if you’re just starting to explore Oregon Pinot, you will not find a better introduction or a stronger argument to get to know these marvelous, food- and sipping-friendly wines.

And, to make stocking up on great Patricia Green wines as easy as possible, you can mix-match the 2015 Estate Old Vine Pinot with the great value 2016 Pinot Noir Reserve and rich and darkly-fruited 2016 Pinot Noir Freedom Hill as well. Enjoy!

(See also our vintage-by-vintage assessment of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.)

2015 Burgundy from Guillon: Intense Wines from Intense Men

Last March, I found myself walking from Domaine Guillon’s chilly cellars to lunch with Alexis Guillon. We’d just finished tasting 2016 from barrel (looking great!) and the 2015s from bottle. “Just how special is vintage 2015?” I asked. Alexis told me he’d been talking to his father-in-law (also a winegrower) and other older growers in the village about the same question. “They told me that once in a lifetime you experience a vintage like this. 1959, 1947, 1929 – 2015 is like that, they told me. Perhaps the greatest vintage I’ll ever see.”

This is the eighth time I’ve written about the new vintage from Jean-Michel Guillon. By this point, most of you know that these are the hardest working, most talented, and least compromising winegrowers in all of Burgundy. Now 30 years since he stepped off a train in Burgundy with no vines and no winemaking experience, Jean-Michel farms

Jean Michelle and AlexisJean-Michel 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). They demand nothing less that perfectly ripe fruit, which allows them to make long, slow, intense fermentations running 3-5 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.

It seems to me that sometime around vintage 2011 or 2012, Jean-Michel and Alexis found the perfect match of forest, cooper, and toast level for each vineyard and cuvee they make. So with the breathtaking fruit of 2015 came into the winery, they were ready to produce the best wines they’ve ever made.

What Are The Wines Like?
Guillon WinesThe easy way to talk about a new vintage is to say, “It’s like xxxx” or, perhaps, “A cross between yyyy and zzzz.” I don’t think that approach really works in understanding the 2015 Guillon reds.

Yes, it’s definitely true that 2015 is a great vintage at Domaine Guillon and the quality of the wines certainly should be compared to 2002, 2005, 2009 and 2010 here. Both Wine Advocate and Burghound have this as the finest vintage in Burgundy since 2005. Tanzer says it reminds him of 1990 and that many growers think it’s a better, longer-lived, version of 1985. And, as I mentioned, Jean-Michel and Alexis think 1959 and 1947 are appropriate benchmarks.

At the end of the day, though, Guillon’s 2015s are not exactly like any recent vintage. They are every bit as ripe as in 2005 and 2009, but the fruit flavors are fresher, move vivid and vivacious. They match 2005 and 2010 in sheer quantity of tannins, but the 2015s are so much more silky smooth as they finish. In fact, the most common word I find in my tasting notes is “silk.” In some cases it’s silk flowing over a fine breeze of ripe, juicy, vivacious fruit. And in others it’s a silk glove adding finesse to the iron fist inside. But whatever else you may say about Guillon’s stunning 2015s, you’ll have to agree that they have amazingly silky textures.

They are also more detailed, precise and delineated than any young Guillon wines I recall tasting. Yes the Gevrey 1er Crus are dense, deep, and super-intense and need some time to open up and strut their stuff. But even at the high-end, there’s a fantastic purity and clarity to the flavors that run right on through the long and generous finishes.

Best of all, I think Tanzer’s comments about the early drinkability of 2015 red Burgundy overall applies here as well. Most of these wines are delicious right now (although some need an hour or two of air) and are easy to taste and enjoy at table. And the supple tannins and lovely balance of fruit, earth and spice means you’ll probably be able to check in on their development with pleasure anytime you’d like. Unlike the 2005s (and some 2010s) that have shut-down hard, these 2015s are likely to stay open and delicious across most of their development.

What to Buy?
The easy answer: “Buy all of them and as much as you can!” Unfortunately – and as we warned you last year – the 30% decline in yield in 2015 and disastrously short 2016 harvest coupled with exploding global demand for Jean-Michel’s wines means that these 2015s are more expensive than in the past. All remain substantially under-priced relative to the Guillons’ neighbors and our prices are more than competitive. But, still, we realize choices must be made.

Feel free to call us and we’ll be happy to develop recommendations to fit your personal tastes, cellar preferences, and budget. But if you’re only buying one Guillon 2015, make it:

  • Guillon Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Champonnets VV Cuvee Margaux 2015 – From 90 year-old vines, Jean-Michel only bottles the old vines separately in years so great that the rest of the Champonnets cuvee can stand the loss. Only the fourth time this has ever been made – the others were 2002, 2005 and 2009 – and only 75 cases bottled. Named for Jean-Michel’s mother, it’s dense, powerful, a bit chocolaty and very, very, long. I waited until Jean-Michel had consumed a bit of his own wine at our wine dinner before asking for 10 cases of this. You will not find it elsewhere.

Other wines to pay special attention to:

  • Guillon Fixin Hauts Crais 2015 – Less dark, dense, and structured than the other wines in this offer, the 2015 Fixin is a joy to drink right now and is just going to get better. It’s very vivid and fresh with ripe red berry fruit and a mouthwatering finish. This is fantastic value and there are a few magnums, too.
  • Guillon Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Champeaux 2015 – The other 1er Crus usually capture more attention, but Champeaux is a really, really, beautiful wine in 2015 with fine minerality an excellent length.
  • Guillon Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru La Riotte 2015 – Always one of the more sexy wines of this set, in 2015 it’s a bit more trim and shows the fantastic silky purity of the vintage but still has plenty of generous fruit. Not as firm or earthy as the Gevrey wines, but really fun.
  • Guillon Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Petit Chapelle 2015 – This normally a wine you really have to work at to taste. With Grand Cru-level concentration and structure, it can be hard to penetrate young. In 2015, Burghound says, “while it would be infanticide to open one early, this just makes one feel like drinking it.”

You’ll see all the wines listed on our website with further descriptions and pricing. Mix/match among these bottling for best six- and twelve-bottle savings.