When we hunker down with Michel Gahier in his modest cellar just off the main square of Montigny-les-Arsures (known locally as the “Capital of Trousseau”), we never quite know what he’ll unearth from his library. During our last visit, he blind-tasted us on an enchanting 1990 Chardonnay “La Fauquette”—made with no added sulfur, and as fresh as the day it was born. Michel is 53 years old, but he looks quite a bit younger, and it was incredible to realize through our ensuing chat that this 1990 was made by a 25-year-old who already had nine vintages under his belt. But that is how utterly steeped in the culture of the Jura Gahier is.
In fact, we initially met Michel eight years ago through his neighbor and mentor Jacques Puffeney (a man who truly needs no introduction), just as wider awareness in the region was beginning to crest. Gahier’s wines experienced immediate success, and enthusiasm has grown to the point where every bottle is sold before it even reaches our shores. And, 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 of the 100-year-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.
Gahier works his six and a half hectares in his own low-key, non-self-important way; i.e., 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 the artificial prison of 750 milliliters, perhaps), they transform within a few months into some of the purest, most electrifying expressions of Jurassien soils as can be found.
In mid-January, we will receive our annual shipment from Gahier: the full range of 2017 red wines alongside a trio of varyingly aged Chardonnay, plus a splash of 2016 Cremant du Jura and a pittance of 2010 Vin Jaune. A vicious attack of black frost in late April 2017 wreaked havoc in the Jura’s vineyards, and Michel experienced a 70% reduction in yields compared with a normal season. However, the quality of the wines did not suffer at all, and these 2017 reds show beautiful equilibrium, ripe and vivid fruit, and appealing structure that bodes well for their potential in the cellar.
2016 Cremant du Jura
Michel produces small quantities of a delicious and expressive Cremant du Jura, made entirely from Chardonnay and given no dosage whatsoever. Not your typical commercial sparkling wine, Gahier’s exuberant Cremant displays almond cream, brassy limestone twang, and salty citrus, offering a breadth of texture that is nonetheless reined in by vigorous 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-les-Arsures.
2017 Cotes du Jura Rouge “Vigne de Fort”
Gahier’s “Vigne de Fort” comes from a minuscule 0.2-hectare parcel of 40-year-old vines in the same vineyard in Cramans as the Cremant du Jura above. A blend of 90% Trousseau and 10% Pinot Noir, the 2017 is exuberant and succulent—and a bit more fruit-forward than the markedly mineral Trousseau he produces from Montigny-les-Arsures. Juicy, tangy cherries dominate the palate, and the finish bristles with energy—a testament to Gahier’s mastery of the “nothing-added-whatsoever” philosophy.
2017 Arbois Trousseau “Le Clousot”
“Clousot” encompasses Michel’s youngest Trousseau vines (28 years old as of the 2017 vintage), and as such it offers perhaps the least concentration but the most lift of his three pure-Trousseau bottlings. This 2017 is markedly stony on the nose, with a beguiling warmly savory element adding complexity to a core of vivid red fruit, and the gentle clamp of tannins on the finish promises plenty of positive development in the cellar.
2017 Arbois Trousseau “Vigne de Louis”
From older vines with a warmer exposition than “Clousot” above, “Vigne de Louis” offers greater fruit density, and reveals a more substantial layer of savory funk beneath its core of mentholated cherries and white pepper. As is the house style, there is still terrific lift here, and the overall impression is one of drive and freshness. 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.
2017 Arbois Trousseau “Les Grands Vergers”
“Grands Vergers” represents Gahier’s oldest Trousseau: 80-year-old vines in a south-facing parcel contiguous with Puffeney’s legendary “Les Berangeres” vineyard. Each vintage, it is the clear star among Michel’s reds, showing incredible depth and length, and this 2017 is no exception. While it displays impressive old-vines concentration and deeply succulent fruit, there is actually more lift on the palate than the previous wines, and it is this hallmark of riveting tension that sets “Grands Vergers” apart. Furthermore, this cuvee puts to rest definitively the notion that sans-soufre wines cannot age; every single bottle of older “Grands Vergers” we have experienced (and there have been many) has been eye-poppingly vibrant.
2016 Arbois Chardonnay “Les Follasses”
From 45-year-old Chardonnay planted in marne blanche (white marl), “Follasses” is topped up in cask, but nonetheless delivers an unhinged expression of saline complexity. The marl here—a layer of decomposed limestone mixed with clay—pre-dates the limestone that dominates Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, and it is this marl (in varying iterations of color and mineral composition) that dominates the terroir of the Jura. In this 2017 “Follasses,” mountain flowers and yellow fruits peer out from beneath the stones, but this taut, nervy wine is built on minerality above all else.
2015 Arbois Chardonnay “Les Crets”
From Chardonnay planted in soils of marne rouge (which contain more iron than marne blanche), “Crets” possesses a deeper and more saline personality than “Follasses” above. Though it is also topped up during its two-year passage in 400-liter barrels, “Crets” displays the layered character and the endlessly ringing finish more commonly associated with wines aged sous-voile. This 2015 encapsulates Gahier’s uncanny ability to harness vinous energy, as it is both irrepressibly vibrant and crystal clear in its articulation of flavors.
2014 Arbois Melon “La Fauquette”
Always the grandest of Michel’s white wines, “Fauquette” (from soils of marne bleu) spends nearly four years in barrel without topping up. Michel calls it “Melon” in honor of the local red-streaked mutation of Chardonnay called Melon Queue Rouge (which in fact comprise all his white-wine holdings). Despite the marked influence of the voile, “Fauquette” 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 this cuvee he has poured us over the years have been outrageous.
2010 Arbois Vin Jaune
Michel’s Vin Jaune is quite distinctive within its category—a maelstrom of wild Indian spices, powerful minerality, a blast of fruits both candied and fresh (preserved lemons, tart cherries, grilled apples), and what feels like a bucketful of Maldon sea salt. The wine takes off like a rocket on the palate, with a lift and energy that only a wine whose creator is unafraid to flirt with subtle volatility can achieve. Gahier Vin Jaune is a rare bird, and those truly interested in the Jura or in natural wine in general owe it to themselves to check this wine out.