We initially met Michel Gahier ten years ago through his neighbor Jacques Puffeney (a man who truly needs no introduction), just as wider awareness in the region was beginning to crest. Gahier’s complex, soulful wines experienced immediate success, and enthusiasm has grown to the point where every bottle is sold before it even reaches our shores. Despite Puffeney’s retirement and the oft-discussed takeover of his vineyards by the Marquis d’Angerville in Volnay, Michel has since acquired a dozen or so of the century-old vin jaune barrels that used to belong to Jacques. These casks, of course, are never sterilized, and the same yeast mother which nourished so many vintages’ worth of monumental wines in Puffeney’s cellar now nourishes wines in Gahier’s. In a very real sense, then, Puffeney’s legacy lives on through Michel—a fitting and touching development in a region upon whose door the modern world seems to knock a little bit louder each year.
Michel lives right off the main square of Montigny-lès-Arsures, known charmingly as “The Capital of Trousseau,” and indeed he may well produce the most thrilling, layered, and dynamic renderings of the grape variety in the entire Arbois appellation. His white wines are equally impressive; whether topped-up or aged sous-voile, they express their soils of origin with remarkable clarity and offer exceptionally vivid textural nuance. Low-key, warm, and remarkably down-to-earth, Gahier works his six and a half hectares completely organically, and he vinifies, ages, and bottles his wines without any additions whatsoever—no yeasts, no sulfur, no nothing. While his wines can be somewhat ornery soon after bottling (their wild spirits lashing out at their new 750-milliliter glass prison), they transform within a few months into some of the purest, most electrifying expressions of Jurassien soils as can be found.
In mid-February, we will receive our annual shipment from Gahier, comprising the full range of 2018 red wines, the usual trio of Chardonnay, and a splash of his remarkable Crémant du Jura. Michel called 2018 “a once in a lifetime vintage” for its combination of high quality and generous quantities—a godsend after his 70% loss in 2017 due to frost and black rot. He began harvesting on September 8th after waiting for a brief period of gentle rain—Michel remarked that grapes harvested under conditions of hydric stress don’t ferment well—and his yields of 55 hectoliters per hectare were over 50% higher than a typical vintage. His 2018s are ripe but fine, offering a vividness of texture that speaks to the wines’ lack of additives as well as Michel’s impeccable farming. Like all vintages of his Trousseau, they should age slowly and beautifully, gaining astonishing aromatic complexity over time.
2017 Crémant du Jura
Michel produces small quantities of a delicious and expressive Crémant du Jura, made entirely from Chardonnay and given no dosage. The exuberant 2017 displays almond cream, brassy limestone twang, and salty citrus, offering a breadth of texture reined in by firm acidity. It hails from a 1.2-hectare plot of gravel and limestone soil in the village of Cramans, eight kilometers from Michel’s home in Montigny-lés-Arsures.
2018 Côtes du Jura Rouge “La Vigne de Fort”
Gahier’s “La Vigne de Fort” comes from a minuscule 0.2-hectare parcel of 40-year-old vines in the same vineyard in Cramans as the Crémant du Jura above. A blend of 80% Trousseau and 20% Pinot Noir aged in a single 16-hectoliter foudre, the 2018 is exuberant and juicy—a bit more fruit-forward than the markedly stony Trousseau he produces from Montigny-lès-Arsures, but still with a core of snappy minerality.
2018 Arbois Rouge Trousseau “Le Clousot”
“Le Clousot” encompasses Michel’s youngest Trousseau vines (30 years old), and as such it offers perhaps the least concentration but the most lift of his three pure-Trousseau bottlings. The 2018 offers more weight than the past few vintages, with high-toned cherry fruit wed to a palate of gentle tannins and zesty energy. A hint of reduction and a trace of trapped carbon dioxide speak to the no-sulfur methodology in play here, and—as with all of Michel’s red wines—aerating before serving will bring everything into focus.
2018 Arbois Rouge Trousseau “La Vigne du Louis”
From 45-year-old vines with a warmer exposition than “Le Clousot” above, “La Vigne du Louis” offers greater fruit density and more notable tannins, revealing a substantial layer of savory funk beneath its core of mentholated cherries and white pepper. The 2018 is striking in its purity, simultaneously richer and silkier than the “Le Clousot,” and with a clean, driving finish and a marked retro-nasal impression.
2018 Arbois Rouge Trousseau “Les Grands Vergers”
“Les Grands Vergers” represents Gahier’s oldest Trousseau: 80-year-old vines in a south-facing parcel contiguous with Puffeney’s legendary “Les Berangères” vineyard. Each vintage, it is the clear star among Michel’s reds, and this 2018 is no exception. With remarkable concentration, profound minerality, and a tight-grained, slightly savory palate, this promises a very long period of positive evolution. Gahier has opened many older bottles of this cuvée with us over the years, proving definitively that wines made without added sulfur can age effortlessly if they’re produced and stored responsibly.
2018 Arbois Blanc Chardonnay “Les Follasses”
From 45-year-old Chardonnay planted in marne blanche (white marl), “Les Follasses” is topped up in cask, but nonetheless delivers an unhinged expression of saline minerality. The marl here—a layer of decomposed limestone mixed with clay—pre-dates the limestone that dominates Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, and it is this marl (in varying iterations of color and mineral composition) that dominates the terroir of the Jura. The ample 2018 offers yellow fruits, intense minerality, and exceptional density.
2016 Arbois Blanc Chardonnay “Les Crêts”
From Chardonnay planted in soils of marne rouge (which contain more iron than marne blanche), “Les Crêts” possesses a deeper and more saline personality than “Les Follasses” above. Though it is also topped up during its two-year passage in 400-liter barrels, “Les Crêts” displays the layered character and the endlessly ringing finish more commonly associated with wines aged under veil. The 2016 is both concentrated and precise, with a subtle and appealing edge of volatility lifting up its mineral-inflected flavors of apples and quince.
2015 Arbois Blanc Melon “La Fauquette”
Always the greatest of Michel’s white wines, “La Fauquette” (from soils of marne bleu) spends four years in 400-liter barrels without being topped up. Despite the marked influence of the voile, however, it is the most elegant of Gahier’s whites: viscerally salty and rich, but with the finesse of great Corton-Charlemagne. It is truly amazing that Michel can express such purity and laser-focus in a wine of such wildness, and the well-aged examples of “La Fauquette” he has poured us over the years have been outrageous. Michel remarks that he seeks a veil signature that is more spice-driven than overtly nutty, adding that the blatant, terroir-dwarfing nuttiness found in some of the region’s sous-voile wines is often an indication of yeast inoculation. The power of the 2015 vintage does nothing to mask this wine’s overriding sense of harmony and complexity, and this should cellar beautifully. [Note: Since the 2014 vintage, he has labeled this wine as “Melon”—a nod to the fact that his vines here are actually the local Jura mutation of Chardonnay known as “Melon à Queue Rouge.”]