PIERRE-HENRY GAGEY arrived at Maison Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s most famous domaines, in 1985. It was a pivotal juncture, for this was the same year the maison was acquired by its current American owners, the Kopf family. Gagey had succeeded his father André, who’d run the firm for Louis Auguste Jadot – himself the last of a wine dynasty founded by Louis Henry Denis Jadot in 1859 – but died not long after the ink had dried.
Carrying the weight of such history might have fazed a lesser mortal, but apparently not the younger Gagey. Now aged 57, he enjoys trekking (in the Alps, the Pyrenees and, more recently, Bhutan), collects antiquarian illustrated books and has “no time to be bored.” Even at his day job as CEO of Maison Louis Jadot, he puts in time as vice-president of Climats du Vignoble de Bourgogne, working with its president Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti on an initiative aimed at securing Unesco World Heritage status for the Burgundy region.
Then, of course, there are the impressive 230 hectares at his helm – 130 of them in the fabled Burgundian realm of Côte d’Or (from which Jadot produces wines from 12 grands crus and 46 premiers crus appellations), as well as 50 hectares of biodynamically farmed land in the Côtes du Rhône and another such 50 hectares in Beaujolais. From the latter, his Château des Jacques wines from Moulin-à-Vent have received rave reviews, while the wines in the main Jadot portfolio continue to rack up accolades. I myself could go on about my own experiences of its grands crus, such as the sublime 1990 Chapelle Chambertin and the trenchant 1992 Batard-Montrachet, though one wine in particular brought me to his table, as I explained when we met during one of his frequent visits to Asia.
My favourite wine of yours is the 1990 Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Saint-Jacques, which I drank with Jancis Robinson during her Winefuture grand tasting in November 2011. It’s a very full-bodied, complex wine, but just has that something else, a certain je ne sais quoi, don’t you think?
Yes. I sent the wine to Jancis for that event. I know what you mean, because Clos Saint-Jacques is a special vineyard. There’s a smoothness and delicacy to the wine, and 1990 is a very, very good vintage. You walk away with that impression, that there’s a texture to the wine that is fabulous, year after year.
I understand you have a personal habit of drinking wine with dinner at home, but only those made by your friends.
That’s true. In my cellar, I have mostly wines made by people I like. I think that wine is full of humanity and the link with the people who make the wine makes the wine better. When I drink wine made by Drouhin, for instance, I’m thinking about the Drouhin family and I enjoy it better. That human link is extremely important. But it can be the Trimbachs in Alsace or Guigal in the Rhône or Gaja in Piedmont – Angelo Gaja is our importer in Italy and a very close friend, so when I drink his wine there’s another dimension. When you know the people, you don’t taste the wine for the wine alone but also for the history and the culture and the people behind it, and you’ll like the wine better.
Your chief winemaker, Jacques Lardière, just retired. How do you hope to maintain the continuity of his work?
Yes, Jacques retired at the end of 2012 and Frédéric Barnier is our new winemaker. With a different winemaker, we’re always aware of how he can give his own expression to the wine, which is normal, but we’re strong believers that in Burgundy the winemaker is always “second”, because the most important thing is the soil, the terroir; the winemaker is there to make it happen. Kind of like a sous-chef in a kitchen, always behind and not in front. Frédéric has worked with Jacques for a few years but Jacques is now 65 years old and he has already spent 42 of those 65 years at Louis Jadot, which itself is an achievement. Of course, we will keep a very strong relationship with him, so we’re confident about maintaining the continuity.
You were quoted in Wine Spectator in 2002, saying about the Japanese: “Ten years ago, they were just like Americans were 30 years ago. They wanted the ‘best’ and price was no object.” I think the Chinese today are like the Japanese back then, don’t you think?
Absolutely true. And they are actually going faster than the Japanese. We are now trying to build a market in China the same way we’ve done in Japan. It’s a lot of work. The Japanese people understand “small” in a way the Chinese have yet to understand. Burgundy is all about small wine producers and the Japanese have a deep understanding of small things – they like sushi and bonsai – so they understand. In China, we have to work harder because they are so strongly attached to brands.
What do you think of the current trend that seems to exist, that more people are buying wine for immediate or near-term drinking rather than for long-term cellaring?
We make wines that we drink on a day-today basis and then we have our premiers and grands crus that can age, and it’s always the decision of the consumer. If you like to drink it young, you can do so or if you want to age it, it’s your decision. However, I think that for a great Burgundy wine, it’s a pity to drink it right away. That would be too soon. The idea of ageing potential is always interesting because you can access another dimension. There is more complexity and instead of focusing on the fruit you can explore a different family of aromas, all the leather and toffee and all those things, which are also wonderful. It’s true that Burgundy gains more complexity by ageing, and that is part of the soul of Burgundy.
Many people consider Burgundy wines too complex to understand. What’s your response?
Burgundy, unfortunately, is complex and often confusing to people. It’s true that to understand Burgundy you need to make a small effort. The organisation of it all is based on logic – grand cru, premier cru, village, all the appellations, each village with the same classifications. In the end it’s not that difficult, but you need the key to open the door. And when you open the door, you’ll enjoy the wines more. We try to do this through letting our wines speak the truth, of the soil and of the vintage, and through producing wines that give emotion. We’re not looking for a standard of quality that people are looking for where the wines are impeccable but they’re all the same. As good as it is, to me it’s boring. We’re interested in wine that has its own originality, different from one vintage to another, different from one place to another. That is Burgundy, and this is what makes us interesting. When you’re drinking Burgundy, you might have some idea of what to expect but you can always discover something new. We like to be surprised. Wine should be an adventure.