Heart & Soul: The Wines of Henri & Philippe Jouan

Heart & Soul: The Wines of Henri & Philippe Jouan

Heart & Soul: The Wines of Henri & Philippe Jouan
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More than any of the indisputably great villages that make up Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, Morey-St.-Denis seems a place between places.  Gevrey is less than two miles north and Chambolle, Morey’s southern neighbor, even closer.  And yet these latter villages boast vinous reputations far greater than their sandwiched neighbor.  More importantly, Gevrey and Chambolle benefit from a clearer universal perception of village-specific typicity; ‘meaty, rich’ Gevrey and ‘ultra-pure, refined’ Chambolle are universally-recognized archetypes.  And Morey? 

Most memorably beautiful things sustain our fascination not by asserting a dominant or obvious feature by rather through a compelling assimilation of diverse, even seemingly disparate, attributes.  I prefer to think of Morey as a great vinous aggregator; its wines seem to borrow in due measure the solidity and generosity of Southern Gevrey along with that essential fragrant purity epitomized in Chambolle.  And yet Morey is more than a mere reconfiguration of borrowed attributes.  A mature Clos de la Roche or Clos St. Denis can be among the most ravishingly complete of all Burgundies, wines replete with soft generous fruit yet also possessed of real structure, grip, and breed.  And despite Morey’s ability to boast more internationally famous domaines, it’s deepest essence is perhaps today most lyrically rendered at Domaine Henri & Philippe Jouan.

The domaine dates to 1962 with Henri Jouan, father of current winemaker Philippe.  For years Henri sold fruit to Drouhin (some still is), though domaine-bottling has increasingly become the norm.  But still, the domaine is tiny.  3 hectares, that’s it. 

Henri was a lifelong friend of the legendary Jacky Truchot, though Jouan’s wines have not (yet!) enjoyed the same frenzied demand Jacky’s wines have earned.  Jacky’s wines were often ethereal, sometimes just frankly light, and at times as beautiful as Burgundy can be.  And yet despite also making very pure wine, Jouan’s are not ‘elegant’ in the way Jacky’s wines are.  Yes, the fruit is often red-spectrumed and the wines lifted, but these are wines above all marked by old-vine sap, dense structures, and deep, penetrating flavors.  Truchot and Jouan share the iconic Morey premier cru Clos Sorbé, and a side-by-side clearly illuminates these stylistic differences, as if the same light were refracted through two prisms.  Both are, or at least can be, sublime. 

Peter Weygandt imported Truchot’s wines for many years until his last vintage in 2005, and since 2010 has also been Jouan’s exclusive US importer.   With respect to stylistic (dis)similarities, Peter shares the view that the Jouan wines are obviously denser and more deliberately crafted for long aging.  He thought-provokingly suggests Roumier and Charles Rousseau-era wines as stylistic correllaries.  He adds, and I wholeheartedly agree, that Philippe is improving every year.

While these are wines with expressive and sophisticated fruit they present more as wines ‘of the earth.’  They have a humble, grounded feeling to them; they are not ‘perfect,’ nor are they rendered with that goal in mind (more about which below).  And they handsomely repay cellaring, an especially attractive reality given the relatively modest cost of admission here. 

The wines are, and have always been, fully destemmed before a manual basket pressing.  Until recently, bottling was done barrel-by-barrel.   Often the wines display a bit of volatility, something Allen Meadows refers to as ‘fractional volatility.’  This quality nearly always presents as a deftly applied seasoning but it is there and I think it’s important to share it.  Peter shared that this aromatic quality is more noticeable out of barrel than bottle, and added that recorded VA levels, presented regularly at the domaine,  are within the normal range of good Burgundy.  More than a distraction, this extra aromatic dimension presents as an attractive marker of individuation, a desirable rather than distracting feature of the wines.   

A bit more about this ‘fractional volatility.’  Certain idiosyncratic aspects of a wine often reflexively register to us as demerits or at least imperfections.  I nominate that in many cases the ephemeral nuances on the periphery of a wine are instead an invitation to appreciate Burgundy in a wider and more complete way.  Aspects of a wine’s personality that strike us as earthy, rustic, rough-textured, irregular, or unpretentious can be comfortingly beautiful; can we reimagine our wine vocabulary in a way that lends positive connotations to such descriptors?  Wines that evoke an authentic, humble beauty can ground us in a way that more ‘exalted’ or ‘otherworldly’ wines cannot.  The unprepossessing beauty of a lovingly made Mâcon-Villages or Chorey can be deeply moving, though we are required to bring to them an appreciation for an earthy and unassertive beauty. 

Such wines lay their own claim to an undiminished ‘purity’ via a direct evocation of a an almost primordial, soulful beauty.  Reserving ‘purity’ for lifted, red-fruited wines is boring.  We know Burgundy resists universals: any rigid criteria we use to evaluate its wines dupes us, causing our callously passing over of scores of lovely and distinctive wines as we struggle to locate the ‘purity’ and ‘perfection’ we have chosen to prioritize.  Jouan’s wines are deftly made and complete wines, but they are not exquisite.  Their sense-world is more relateable, more human.  They are wines with heart and soul.

I nominate not the premier cru Clos Sorbé but rather the brilliant trio of villages wines as flag bearers of the domaine.  The Morey is a blend of three lieux-dits: Crais Gillon and Cognées below the premiers crus and Le Village just above premiers crus Clos Baulet and La Riotte.  The Gevrey comes from 80 year old vines in Aux Echézeaux, a villages vineyard bordered on two sides by grands crus.  It is my partner Daniel’s favorite wine in the cellar.  Almost overloaded with earthy, rich old-vine fruit, it is an absolutely irresistible hedonistic delight.  The Chambolle unites lieux-dits Chardannes and Herbues on the Morey side with a small plot of Derriere la Four further upslope, not far from premier cru Les Feusselottes.  Taken together, these villages wines constitute a veritable master class in villages-specific typicity, and all three age impressively.

There is one premier cru and it is splendid.  As was the case at Truchot, the Clos Sorbé is the domaine’s most recognized and collected wine.  Jouan’s vines here are again 80 years old.  There is a touch of Morey wildness in the wine, along with perhaps a hint of pepper, lending the wine real dimension. Though there is enough vigor and fruit to drink well young, this is in many vintages the most age-worthy wine of the bunch.  A fiercely individual creature, and a worthy entrant to any serious cellar.

The single grand cru comes from the historic Clos St. Denis, specifically two miniscule holdings both sited in the Maison Brûlée section of the vineyard.  The vines are 100 years old, with absurdly low yields and predictably miserly production.  We are lucky to have some to sell you, and even luckier to have the privilege to offer bottles at a fraction of the price of similarly pedigreed wines.  It is a true tête de cuvée and the older examples we’ve been lucky enough to taste have been sensational.  10-15 years is usually enough.

Much is made of the sweeping changes happening in Burgundy as a younger generation of winemakers brings to the region a more worldly perspective and new winemaking techniques.  And yet for me, the divergence between this new generation of winemakers and their predecessors results not from discrete intentional actions but rather radically distinct patterns of thinking.  Though the grey area between the poles is vast, the ‘new’ and ‘old’ guards (and their wines) seem to diverge to the extent that they are the culmination of different attitudes about nature, humankind’s relationship to the natural world, as well as fundamentally different priorities and goals.  If any individual wine is the summed interface of a place and a person or group of persons, then worldview and intentionality matter in ways that are urgently important, and certainly require greater sensitivity than most wine writing acknowledges.

Philippe Jouan is old school.  He represents, to my mind, this older way of thinking.  Freddy Mugnier is another.  At Mugnier’s domaine this past January, Daniel asked if there was interest in acquiring further land in Musigny or Amoureuses.  ‘Nothing we buy will ever be enough,’ was the answer, a sentiment which has played on a loop in my mind since.  One can always look more carefully at what one has, seek to more deeply understand its most essential features, and find more meaningful ways to express this through the medium of wine.  But, again, this intimacy is particular to a worldview rather than reducible to a distinct set of viticultural practices or winemaking choices.  Anyone who has spoken to them knows that old-school vignerons almost instinctively deflect questions about winemaking. Their demesne is an intuitive, experiential one reliant upon deeply ingrained regional insights and hundreds of spontaneous personal decisions.  Philippe Jouan’s wines ooze this personal, intuitive approach; one cannot find techniques behind these wines, nor do the wines become more scrutable through tech-sheet memorization.  They are wines to lean into and get lost in.  They are experiences.

Quantities are relatively low, but please let us know what you’d like us to set aside for you and we will do our best.  Mixed cases are encouraged and orders inclusive of recent vintages will be prioritized. 

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