One hundred and eighty years ago, Jean Etienne
Gonnet, never imagined that his humble farm
would become a family legacy and the headquarters
of a thriving winery Domaine Font de Michelle in the
southeast of the Châteauneuf du Pape AOC. After recently expanding their land holdings to include additional « lieu dit » , the Gonnet family decided to rebrand their Domaine Font de Michellle, Chateauneuf du Pape wines under their family brand Font du Vent.
In 1950, Jean’s son, Etienne Gonnet, created Font de Michelle with vines planted across 30 hectares of adjoining land. Etienne sold his wine to negociants, but hoped to bottle his own wine some day. Tragically, Etienne would never live to see his dream become a reality.
In 1975, following Etienne’s untimely death, his sons, Jean and Michel took control of the estate with a bold vision for their wine. They wanted to create full-bodied wines, under their own la- bel, that were concentrated, refined and showcased the qualities of the terroir.
Throughout the next 30 years, Jean and Michel achieved their goal and also received many accolades and medals for their wines.
In 2006, it was time to pass the family’s estate and traditions on to their own sons, Bertrand and Guillaume, who also shared their family’s passion for winemaking. They had both completed studies in oenology, and further expanded upon their technical knowledge with time working and living in Bordeaux, Burgundy, New Zealand, Australia and the USA.
RECORDS SHOW THAT THE GONNET FAMILY SETTLED IN BÉDARRIDES SINCE 1600.
Today, Bertrand and Guillaume proudly continue their fathers’ legacy by producing wine in their style, but are also making their own mark. Their commitment to understanding the terroir in terms of how it affects the ripening process, and introducing improvements to the production process have both enhanced the elegance and style of the wine.
We are really lucky to produce wines in the same
style as our fathers. We really want to stay within
the traditional Famille Gonnet style: not
extracting too much, or adding too much wood.
Our aim is to create wines that are both drinkable and that cellar well. We want to improve our style, but certainly not change it, regardless of current fashion. I want to be able to enjoy the wine I make today with my son and daughter in 20 years time, like I do with my father today. We really value our fathers’ 40 years of collective knowledge and experience. They know each plot of land; they understand the weather - it’s like having two living encyclopedias on hand.
We always take our fathers’ advice on board and appreciate their guidance, especially when making important decisions in the vineyard. When facing a challenge during a harvest, nothing could be more valuable than my dad saying he’s seen something similar during a previous vintage.
THE VINES AT OUR FAMILY DOMAIN ARE EXPOSED TO AN AVERAGE 1000HOURS OF SUNSHINE IN SUMMER, 7 HOURS AT 25°C.
In 2006, we started to separate the plots during the vinification process in order to observe the
differences in how the wines age, as well as identify
strengths and weaknesses.
This process enabled us to become more precise
in the way we make our wine.
We also made some changes in the winery by adding more stainless steel tanks, and demi muids (600L barrels) to age the Grenache. In the past four years, we have also replaced the foudre to work with truncated wooden and concrete vats, both of which impart a lot of elegance.
I believe that the term “terroir” refers to all of the elements effecting
the growth of vines and their grapes; soil composition and water retention,
climate, in our case particularly sun exposure and wind, and
the age of the vineyard. 90% of winemaking occurs in the vineyards,
so for us, these factors are the most important influences on the style
of our wine.
An important initiative for us was the natural shift
to organic agriculture. The domaines Châteauneuf du Pape had been operating organically
for years, so it was obvious that we needed to apply
for organic certification.
Our fathers have been producing wine with an organic philosophy for over 25 years, but certification means our labels will clearly communicate this philosophy to our customers.
Having said that, organic certification is more than a label – for us it’s the only logical way to work. It’s a commitment to treat our vines in the most natural way possible, and in turn, respect the environment and our consumer.
Our vines have been in our family for over four generations, organic farming means we will pass on healthy vineyards to our children.
This is particularly true of our vines planted in La Crau, which are on average more than 100 years old. They are stronger and as a result less prone to diseases. There really is nothing better than drinking a wine with minimal sulfate, and without herbicides or pesticides.
It is a natural expression of the terroir. We are not trying to make
another Châteauneuf du Pape here; we want to make Domaine Font
When the grapes arrive in the winery, our job is to respect what our vineyards have given us. Guillaume and I believe the best way to do that is to gently extract the fruit, we never extract aggressively. We sort the fruit by hand in vineyard and when it arrives at the domaine, on sorting tables; so we are confident that only the best of the best fruit finishes in the tanks. Our grape reception operates entirely by gravity. We work the wine gently during the vinification, which occurs either in temperature controlled stainless steel, concrete or wooden tanks. We pump over by hand, only once a day, always keeping the fruit and complexity in mind. We age the wines in concrete tanks, which keep the fruit and freshness, large wooden vats, which are excellent for the elegance of the wine and large, 600L wooden barrels to add structure and complexity to the Syrah and Mouvédre
Font de Michelle wines are complex and rich because of our very old vines, between 50 and 110 years old. Our vineyard plots are often 75% very old Grenache with a field blend of Counoise, Terret noir, Cinsault, Mouvèdre, Syrah, and even white wine grapes that were co-planted all those years ago. We are often told that our wines have a certain cleanness or purity about them, and I believe this is because of our organic farming and production methods.
FONT DE MICHELLE WINES ARE COMPLEX AND RICH BECAUSE OF OUR VERY OLDVINES, BETWEEN 50 AND 110 YEARS OLD
would say that passion is essential in winemaking and
I am very proud to say both Bertrand and Guillaume
are very passionate about wine. I believe that if you
don’t feel passionate about the wine you make, you will
never make great wine.
When our father passed away, my brother and I took over the business at a young age - I was 24 and Jean was 26 years old. It was hard and we made a lot of mistakes that we laugh about now. Our father had the vines when he died, but he sold the wine to negociants. It was Jean and I who created the first bottle of Domaine Font de Michelle in 1975, and we were sorry that he never had the opportunity to see the first bottle we produced. One of the best memories for me was in the third year when we won the first prize at St Marc, Châteauneuf du Pape for our white and the Gold Medal at the Concours Géneral Agricole in Paris for our red in 1978. Those two awards helped us significantly, not only for us to become known, but it gave us confidence in what we were doing.
We hope to instill the value of passion and respect
for the terroir in our sons. We vignerons
have a wonderful career in the vines and in the
winery, but it can be very hard at times and very physical.
Both Micky [Michel] and I allowed our sons to decide for themselves as to whether they wanted to enter the family business. There was no obligation for them to join us, however, we are very pleased they did. We hope they both enjoy working with Micky and me. We certainly could have benefited from our own father being with us, as we made a lot of silly mistakes being young and enthusiastic, without someone experienced to guide us.
But we have always had a very good idea of the wine we wanted to make and we are really pleased our sons continue to work towards the same goal. It’s exciting to see how they develop their working methods and embrace technology, at the same time as using the savoir faire (knowledge and know how) that Michel and I can pass on.