istory, Nuits-Saint-Georges and attention to detail - three things that sum up Domaine Gouges. Four generations down the line this Nuits-Saint-Georges producer has made surprisingly few changes since the creation of the domaine in the 1920's.
– You can't live in the past, says Grégory Gouges. But you can learn from history, especially if it is a history that have worked well. For us it is very important to stay on this road. It's a road of quality wines, terroir wines, respect for nature and respect for the customer. It is something very honest, and we will continue like this.
Domaine Gouges is only about Nuits-Saint-Georges. All vines – 15 hectares in total – are located within the borders of Nuits-Saint-Georges. When Grégory Gouges' great-grandfather, Henri Gouges, founded the domaine it was a necessity. Going to the vineyards by foot or by horse was time-consuming, so the vines had to be as close to home as possible.
– Henri Gouges started out buying small parcels of vines, explains Grégory. He then ran the domaine during several decades. He worked here until the late 1960's. Even when his children took on the domaine he was here overseeing the work. The domaine has grown a bit in recent years, but Henri put together a domaine that covered twelve hectares.
His family had some vines, but mainly for their own consumption. His father worked for the railway, but Henri Gouges dedicated himself to winemaking full time.
– I don't know the reason why he wanted to do it, says Grégory Gouges. But he sure did have the intention creating his own domaine. He bought this building, the old police station. He lived here with his wife and children. He built the cellar, the winery and the stable for the horses,
– The majority of the vines bought by Henri Gouges are on the south side of Nuits-Saint-Georges. The vines in Les Chaignots were an inheritance in the 1970's from a cousin of Henri's. He focused on the southern part of the appellation, which he considered as the "real" Nuits-Saint-Georges with wines of substance and power.
The spirit of Henri Gouges lives on at Domaine Gouges. Over the years there have been few changes. Henri Gouges created a solid foundation. He created the image of the domaine.
– We have tried to keep this image. There has been some evolution, but without becoming victims of fashion, says Grégory Gouges. Just a slow evolution without losing the identity of the domaine.
From the very beginning Henri Gouges made sure to put aside a number of bottles from each vintage for the domaine's "library". Still today there are bottles left from almost every vintage, making it a great tool for understanding the winemaking at the domaine. Together with Henri Gouges' notes on the vinfication today's generations at the domaine – Grégory Gouges and his uncle Christian Gouges – can learn from the past.
– The only thing we have tried is to change the style of the wine slightly, away from a style which had very strong tannins and that maybe had a touch of austerity. Very tough wines that would be magnificent after 15-20 years, but that would be very difficult to approach the first years. This we have tried to change a little bit.
Later on, when tasting the 2009 Nuits-Saint-Georges premier cru Les Saint-Georges, it becomes apparent that the changes made are small. It is obvious that the wine will need many years to come around.
– Yes, but I'm afraid to say it, because it will scare people, smiles Grégory Gouges. But ideally one would keep this wine for 15 to 20 years. With vintages like 2005 and 2009 you really have to be patient.
In order to achieve high quality Grégory Gouges points at two things – low yields and very careful work at the sorting table. In 2008 between 30 and 35 per cent of the harvest was removed at Domaine Gouges' sorting table because of rot and not mature enough grapes.
– In 2008 yields were as low as 18 hl/ha in certain parcels. Then in 2009 it was as high as 40 hl/ha in some village appellation parcels.
In 2007 a new cuverie was built. Thanks to this no pumps are required for the wine. But this is not really a change.
– When Henri Gouges began his career no pumps were used, simply because there weren't any pumps in the cuveries at that time, says Grégory Gouges. Then in the 1960's and 1970's everybody bought a lot of equipment to make work easier. But as I see it, with pumps you get this "mechanic" taste – tannins that are too dry and hard. So we moved back to the time before pumps, before electricity. So you really can't say it's a new thing.
About ten years ago Grégory Gouges' father, Pierre Gouges, started the move towards organic wine-growing. In 2008 the whole domaine had been converted.
– But we have not been certified, because we want to be organic in our way. We want to be in command. We don't want anybody else to monitor and control us. And since we are not doing it for publicity we don't put it on the labels of our bottles.
Grégory Gouges arrived at the domaine in 2003. Thanks to this he and his father could take on the extra workload that comes with converting a domaine into organic growing.
– A lot more work and monitoring is required, says Grégory Gouges. The treatments require twice as much time. Ploughing with the tractor requires four times as much time.
In general quality have improved a lot in Burgundy in recent years. Grégory Gouges talks about 2008 as a difficult vintage, then stops himself and put things into perspective.
– I say difficult vintage, but I haven't experienced the 1975, 1985 and 1986 vintages, he smiles. Those were bad vintages. Very, very difficult and there was less technology to help at the time. The first vintage I worked with at a domaine was 1999. And from 1999 up until now there hasn't been a really bad vintage. More or less difficult, yes. But not bad.
© 2011 Ola Bergman