The Nervous Crackle Of Life: Michel Gahier's Jura Wines

The Nervous Crackle Of Life: Michel Gahier's Jura Wines

There is a rumor that Michel Gahier is such an unassuming, shy man that his legendary neighbor Jacques Puffeney was willing to give him much of his estate upon retirement -- had his friend Michel simply asked. Instead, Puffeney sold it all to the Marquis d'Angerville, of Burgundian fame. It's hard to imagine passing up such a lucrative opportunity, but fame and reverence must not be Gahier's goal. Instead, we get an isolated figure in the region making a style of wine that largely exists because it was developed in relative isolation from the rest of France. Not to belabor the isolation thing, but it makes for some pretty compelling drinking. He farms organically and uses minimal sulfur (maybe not enough for some) but it allows the wine to show off a crackling, wild energy that is in contrast to Gahier's more staid persona.

In addition to making exciting wines, Michel Gahier is one of the few Jura producers that allows us to dig deep into the Jura's quirks without going broke. Don't sleep on these if you are a fan of Gahier, the Jura, or even vaguely curious about the region as the prices mean these will go fast.

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The Jura, owing to the aforementioned isolation from the rest of France, not near the main highways or transportation arteries, has become one of the most fascinating regions to study because of the unique traditions that took hold. However, many of these processes require time and delayed return on investment that many younger winemakers in the region can't afford. So there's a bit of a divide between the younger generation, many of whom are fully entrenched in natural winemaking, and the old guard, who have the stability and finances to work in the anachronistic, wonderfully distinct traditions that define the Jura. 


The most notable is a technique called 'sous-voile' or "under the veil' that allows for a layer of yeast to form on the surface of the wine in barrel. In more typical practice, winemakers try to prevent surface yeast from forming by topping up the barrels as the wine evaporates, so that there's less room for oxygen and microbes. In the Jura, they allow a thick layer of yeast to form, creating a very different style of wine, not unlike in sherry, which employs a similar process. Though the yeast minimizes oxidation it imparts a strong flavors to the wine: cream cheese, raw dough, and hazelnut.

The prices of the wines made with extended aging are high given not only the production costs but the small quantity produced. The longer the aging, the more evaporation occurs -- meaning less wine to be bottled. It's no wonder that wines from the aforementioned Jacques Puffeney garner so much attention and demand, since the scarcity and uniqueness of his offerings are genuine. These costs, in addition to scarce and high land prices, are a big obstacle for younger winemakers. Even the wines made ouillé (topped-up barrels, not sous-voile) from young vignerons still finding their way can be disappointing given the necessarily high prices they must charge.

Michel Gahier, however, falls into neither category. Gahier's prices are mercifully reasonable, even though he employs longer time in barrel and sous-voile aging. We're always thrilled when they arrive at our doorstep because they're such a rare mix of pleasure, unpredictability, complexity, and affordability.

Now is as good a time as ever to drink something with flavors and sensations that will transport you somewhere new and different. And hopefully as we all crack open these bottles together in isolation, we can then share our experiences drinking these wild, singular wines.

Cheers!
Jonathan Kemp
jonathan@vanderbilt.wine

Michel Gahier "Les Follasses" Chardonnay Arbois Blanc 2018

This Chardonnay from a single plot in Montigny is topped-up, or ouillé, with no sulfur added. It gets you right into the mix of wild complexity that is so thrilling about Gahier's wines. Marzipan, brie, and pungent floral aromas mix with zappy acids, peach nectar, and matzo ball. There's a little volatile acidity and mealy apple notes, but they don't take away from the bigger picture, that of an uncompromising, earnest expression that is a blast to drink. Pair it with roast chicken and root vegetables.

 

Michel Gahier "Les Crets" Chardonnay Arbois Blanc 2016

This is from the crest of the hill (les crets) of a vineyard marked by the region's typical clay/limestone mix. The mineral, chalky quality comes through here, with a little more cut and structure than the Follasses. Also topped-up, it's done in bigger foudre before being racked into smaller barrels. It still has enough nutty, oxidative notes that it's unmistakably from the Jura, but it's got Gahier's trademark spice and crunch. A savory complexity emerges after the wine is open. This is a good one to drink over a day or two.    

Michel Gahier "La Fauquette" Melon Arbois Blanc 2015

This is not Melon de Bourgogne, but Melon à Queue Rouge, yet another Jura peculiarity. Officially treated like a local variant of Chardonnay, it may be a separate variety. This one gets the full sous-voile treatment under a veil of thick yeast. The wine is nervy and almost wild, with a lot of tension between the crunchy, bright acids and the creamy Comte notes. There is a similar battle between the velvety mouthfeel and the spicy finish. Notes of egg nog, nutmeg, and umami are right there next to intense lemon and orange cleaning solution. Yet it works somehow, creating dimension, intrigue, and pure pleasure, as well as endless conversation as the wine evolves in the glass.

Michel Gahier "La Vigne de Fort" Cotes du Jura Rouge 2018

A single vineyard that has a bit of Pinot Noir planted in with the Trousseau, it is as satisfying as some Jura reds at nearly twice the price. There's some reductive funk at first that dissipates, then some crayon wax and freshly-mulched flower bed -- the result of a little Brettanomyces. The palate is alive with sour cherry and cranberry crunch underpinned with graphite and umami. It stays light enough that you can chill it down to create something as cleansing and refreshing as it is deep and mysterious. Easily one of our favorite funky reds under $30.

Michel Gahier "Le Clousot" Trousseau Arbois Rouge 2018

Gahier's village of Montigny is hailed as one of the finest terroirs for the Trousseau grape, and this is only one several single-parcel Trousseau the Gahier makes. Like the Vigne de Fort, it's a little stinky at first, but this soon goes away. It's the less-funky of the two reds here. As it smooths out, cocoa and savory notes come out, but there is enough sizzle and bright, brambly raspberry to keep it energetic. It's dark and complex, but never becomes too rich or self-important. Instead it just quietly unfolds layers of umami, chocolate and dusty texture while staying unassuming and delicious. 


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