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mid-October 2011

Pierre Gonon of the Domaine Gonon, father of Jean and Pierre, died in early October, 2011. He was 78 years` old. He retired as a vigneron in 1989 due to ill health, but gamely kept going with his abundant vegetable patch, jardin, or potager, next to the cellars. His specialities were all local - "he was not the sort of person to go seeking outside varieties" - according to Jean. His potatoes were always a triumph - every family visitor had to try them, as well as his haricots verts (green beans), his tomatoes and his Oignons de Tournon.

He was also a representative of that generation, peopled locally by the late Gustave Coursodon and the late Maurice Courbis, also Auguste Clape, who worked tirelessly with absolutely no eye for publicity or marketing. This was the generation that formed the basis for the rise of the Rhône in the 1970s. Quality was a natural aim, with no short-cuts to achieve that. It is little surprise that his two sons set about hand grafting their Syrah cuttings and working with no use of artificial or chemical fertilizers, long before anyone saw that as a PR stunt, which is it has become in cases today.

Domaine Gonon is today the reference domaine at Saint-Joseph, from its base at Mauves, the village of the Chaves of Hermitage, the Gripa family at Saint-Joseph and Saint-Péray, the Marsanne family and the Coursodons. Their high quality and tremendous reputation can be traced back to father Pierre. My condolences have been given to the family.

Around 90 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Papes have been tasted, after bottling, and their notes entered. The most noticeable development for the vintage is the loss of what I term their "puppy fat". The demands of the dry ripening season and high late August heat have come through in the shape of firming tannins, and rather dry finishes. The wines have become more brooding, less innocent. The best retain a pleasing serenity of fruit, ripe tannins and calm balance. 2007 is a superior vintage, while the 2006s present free and pretty easy drinking in many cases now.