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“A touchstone wine for the region.”Josh Raynolds on Les Oliviers
“A rich jewel of a wine.”John Livingstone-Learmonth on Les Oliviers
“One of the greatest estates of the northern Rhône today.”John Gilman on Gonon
If you follow the Northern Rhône market at all closely, you know that Gonon has become one of its greatest icons. Its superstar status represents, in Josh Raynolds’ words, “a paradigm shift for its appellation,” with skyrocketing prices doing little to slow down the disappearance of the domaine’s wines upon release.
The situation is particularly acute for the very rare white Saint-Joseph Les Oliviers. Les Oliviers not only rivals the flagship red’s depth and complexity; it has the longevity to match, as we learned tasting a breathtaking bottle of 1990 Les Oliviers in Gonon’s cellar a few years ago.
And so, with no more than 660 cases made, Les Oliviers has become nearly as collectible as the iconic red. It quickly doubles in price on release. And, with its remarkable aging ability, older vintages become much more expensive, assuming you can find them.
Over the past decade, we have built up an enviable Gonon library. And so we can uniquely offer not only recent Les Oliviers releases—which you can find with some effort—but also older vintages that you cannot.
In the late 20th century, Côte Rôtie, Cornas and St. Joseph each had its traditional icon: Marius Gentaz, Noël Verset, and Raymond Trollat, respectively.
Fortunately, each of these men had at least one natural heir: a younger grower who has preserved their classic ideas, producing wine of comparable expression and purity. Raymond Trollat’s heirs, as Trollat told us himself six years ago, are Pierre and Jean Gonon.
What Trollat knew was that the Gonon brothers’ thoroughly traditional approach, and the resulting classic purity of their wines, made them the ideal Saint-Joseph growers to carry on as the appellation’s standard bearer.
It doesn’t hurt that the domaine’s holdings are all in Saint-Joseph’s heart—a seam of granite that was once connected to Hermitage itself, before the Rhône River changed its course tens of thousands of years ago—home to the appellation’s greatest terroirs.
A Great Terroir
While the soils are similar, Saint-Joseph’s exposures are different, resulting in more perfumed and vibrant expressions than those on the other side of the Rhône. And arguably the greatest Saint-Joseph white wine terroir of all is Les Oliviers, so renowned locally that its wine was identified as Vin des Oliviers before the appellation’s creation in 1956.
Les Olivier’s 200-meter elevation, south-facing amphitheater of clay and alluvial pebbles over granite bedrock produces wines that are a spherical balance of honeyed orchard fruit opulence and lifted, mineral and citrus-driven acidity. Pierre Gonon, Sr., was well aware of Les Oliviers’ unique gifts, and he planted a special selection of Hermitage Marsanne—Roussette de l’Hermitage—taken from massale cuttings, there in the 1950s.
He augmented these with a small parcel of Roussanne in 1974 and continued to quietly make one of the great northern Rhône whites before turning the estate over to his sons in 1989. Since then, the Gonon brothers have brought Les Oliviers to even greater heights.
Pierre and Jean farm their low-yielding old Marsanne and Roussanne vines organically and gently press their fruit in whole clusters, followed by settling and fermentation with the native yeasts in open oak vats. Aging is in neutral pièces and demi-muids for one year, with regular stirring of the fine lees for expressiveness and complexity.
The result is a wine of fantastic depth of character and nuance, capable of developing for decades. As Josh Raynolds reported on tasting the “shockingly fresh” 1996 Les Oliviers at 18 years of age, “it's aging at a snail's pace, much like a topnotch white Hermitage, and while it's delicious now it should continue to cruise along for years to come.”
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