Cru Beaujolais: Focus on Julienas

Cru Beaujolais: Focus on Julienas

This is Part 5 in a series on the Crus of Beaujolais.  

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 Now we tackle Julienas.

If Julienas sounds a bit like Julius Caesar, it’s because they were actually making wine here 2000 years ago and Julius did in fact give the AOC its name (as well the name of its principal village, also Julienas, and another village in the AOC, Jullie).  When I learn stuff like that it gives me great hope that quality wine production will continue in the great vineyards of France despite climate change.  After all, the climate has varied wildly in the last two thousand years (it was far warmer in the Middle Ages than it is now, for example), and yet they have stuck with it all this time… though I haven’t seen any tasting notes from 13th century Cru Beaujolais.

The reputation of Julienas here in the U.S. is certainly behind that of the other AOCs I have already covered.  They make a lot of wine – maybe 4 million bottles per year – but so much of it industrially made plonk that ends up in French gas stations and mega grocery stores.  Of course, that is true almost everywhere in France, and one of our jobs as fine wine merchants is to find the tiny pearls in the heaps of broken shells.  And Julienas just doesn’t seem to have as many pearls as, say, Fleurie.

But there is a very fine exception that is fairly well known here in New York, thanks to the promotion of Joe Dressner, whose company continues to import the wines.  That is the Domaine du Clos du Fief, more commonly known by the name of its current proprietor, Michel Tete, whose father started the family habit of making and bottling his own wine rather than selling it to those large producers of Gas Station Wine.

Tete a Tete.

Tete I would put into the pre-Chauvet style of Beaujolais: semi-carbonic, quite Burgundian.  It’s a style that really is quite traditional in Beaujolais.  Like some of the other producers we follow, he produces an easier, drink-now version of his wine, just called “Julienas,” and a “Cuvee Prestige,” that you’re supposed to put away in your cellar for a few years.  It was actually a 10-year-old version of the Cuvee Prestige that first woke me up to the potential of ageing of Cru Beaujolais, and ever since I’ve put away a little each year.  Tete helps it along by cellaring the wine for a year or so before releasing the wine, so the current release is the 2010 – a great, great vintage of the wine.

The secret to Tete’s success is, as usual, terroir.  Julienas has a terroir quite a bit more varied than the other Crus’.  There is granite, yes, but in only part of the AOC.  Another area features mostly sandy soils and in another it’s all alluvial soils.  There are also a number of slopes in Julienas with varied orientations.  Tete, in fact, takes advantage of this latter characteristic with a clos that has slopes forming a basin that traps the heat.

The varied terroirs ensure that there is no specific Julienas “flavor,” although some people identify strawberry and spice.  For me, the Tete wines – pretty much the only Julienas I currently drink – veer towards cherry.  They are certainly sturdy wines, with more structure than, say, Chiroubles or Brouilly.

I say “currently” because one of my favorite domaines in Beaujolais, the great Fleurie producer Chignard, has recently acquired what is considered one of the finest parcels in Julienas: Beauvarnay, where the soils are 100% granite and the vines are 60 years old!  The first release will be the 2012…and it will definitely find a home in my cellar next to Tete’s Cuvee Prestige!

Shop Julienas in NYC. 

Shop Julienas in SF. 

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