An Understated Man Making Beautiful Wine: Michel Gahier

7/08/11 -

(Michel Gahier in his tasting room)

A few kilometers from the relative metropolis of Arbois lies Montigny-les-Arsures, one of the 13 communes that make up the Arbois appellation. Less well-known than Pupillin, Montigny is the home of Jacques Puffeney, “Pope” of the Jura, as well as the darker-fruited and more Pinot-like Trousseau variety. For some, Puffeney’s Trousseau from the “Berangeres” vineyard is the apotheosis of this variety. Needless to say there was much rejoicing a few years ago when it was rumored that Neal Rosenthal, Puffeney’s importer, would begin working with a young protégé of Puffeney’s: Michel Gahier. At first it seemed that Gahier’s wines were much like Puffeney’s: the reds marked by a firm spine of tannin and mineral, the whites oxidative to varying degrees, perhaps indicating more of a penchant for topping up on the winemaker’s part, as is the current trend in the Jura. It took visiting Gahier to discover how truly singular his wines are.

Gahier inherited his family’s vines and has been making his own wine since the ‘80s; in ’90 he began to bottle under his own name. He farms about six hectares and states that this is as much as he can manage by himself without the assistance of chemicals. Amongst Gahier’s holdings is an excellent parcel of 80-year-old Trousseau vines called “Les Grands Vergers;” it lies next to Puffeney’s “Berangeres” and is a superior site for Trousseau. Gahier, also, has vines on “Berangeres,” but he will not put the vineyard name on these bottles out of respect for Puffeney. In the cellar, the wines undergo classical fermentation and aging: a minimum of ten months in barrel and some time in bottle before release. His sulfur regime is reasonable: 15-30 grams depending on the wine. Gahier always relies on naturally occurring flor (the yeast that forms a veil on top of the wine during its maturation, allowing a slow transference between air and wine) for his sous-voile wines. (There are many in the region who provoke flor development with an added yeast.) His Savagnin is an aborted Jaune that didn’t develop enough flor to survive the six year aging process. Gahier is understated, even shy, both knowledgeable and humble, a sense of humor lurking below the surface. The wines are a mirror of the man: subtly expressive, quiet, and ever so slightly more generous than his mentor’s wines. Verticals revealed that the wines age well; 2000 “Grand Vergers” had begun to reveal a deep, underlying, iron-y minerality and 1990 Chardonnay “Fauquette” had acquired the savory umami and almost bouillon-like quality of older sous-voile wine. This man is an excellent vigneron in his own right; his wines are well worth adding to your cellar. -msb

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