The Future of Beaujolais Wine
No wine region is more exciting right now than Beaujolais.
The Revolution unleashed by Jules Chauvet and his acolytes has spread far and wide. But no region has produced a more dynamic crop of young natural producers than Beaujolais. That said, Beaujolais’ thrills don’t end with natural wine. The region is on the forefront of many of the most exciting trends in wine.
Why has Beaujoais become such fertile ground for fascinating producers and delicious wines?
Partly, because Lapierre and the gang provided a model of successful experimentation: they pushed back on the received wisdom, took risks, and made amazing wines that found a worldwide audience. It helps to have good role models.
Partly, it’s the diversity of terroir, which doesn’t just permit different expressions of Gamay (and Chardonnay!), but also requires different methods and approaches across the region. How could farming techniques that work 500 meters above sea level on crumbling, stony soils work just as well on rich, flat soils? They don’t. The only way to be sure you’re making the best wine on each site is to keep fine tuning, experimenting. And this diversity is something we will see more and more not just in the red wines, but in the whites and rosés too.
One factor that can’t be overlooked is real estate. Just like you aren’t going to find a lot of experimental artists in Soho anymore, where housing and studio space are absurdly expensive, so too it’s hard to expect to find a ton of experimentation in the world’s most expensive wine regions. But Beaujolais has been sort of like Williamsburg in the ‘90s: while only billionaires and insurance companies can afford to buy top terroir in Burgundy, many mere mortals have been able to find a foothold among Beaujolais’ vines over the last decades.
And the world of wine is richer for it.
Trend #1: Outsiders, insiders and the explosion of conscientious experimentation
Some of Beaujolais’ up-and-coming stars already have established names: Lapierre, Foillard, etc. Indeed, all four of Morgon’s famous “gang” now have kids in the game. Siblings, Mathieu and Camille Lapierre, have taken over at Marcel’s domaine. They are a good example of how the next generation is building on what their parents built.
Mathieu and Camille have continued down the natural trail their father blazed. The wines are as pure as ever. But they have also made their own mark. With the 2013 vintage, they introduced the Cuvee Camille, a single vineyard wine from the Cote du Py. It’s a rare and gorgeous bottle, and one that represents one of the most interesting trends in Beaujolais: the explosion of terroir-focussed, single-vineyard wines. And since then they’ve also branched out into Julienas, making a delicious example of the Cru that was immediately at least as sought after as the Morgon.
Likewise, Jean Foillard’s son, Alex, makes three (very limited) single vineyard wines. They clearly take after Jean’s wines in their complexity, their silky texture, and even their interest in site-specific expression -- but they’re also a highly personal extension of his father’s philosophy.
Beaujolais’ relative affordability has also enticed newcomers. Some from as near as Burgundy up the road. But others from farther afield. Much of France’s most famous vineyard land has exploded in price, as mega-rich buyers from France, America, Russia and the Far East have competed for control of top names. Beaujolais land prices have, if anything, moved in the opposite direction.
Some of the newcomers are already well known. Lafarge, the legendary family from Volnay, is probably the most famous name to make this journey. The Frederic and Chantal wanted a new project and, well, land in Volnay wasn’t so available. But with a ton of experience making absurdly delicious Gamay (the Lafarge passe-tout-grains is one of Burgundy’s greatest values), Beaujolais beckoned.
They have brought their own Burgundian traditions and know-how with them and, not surprisingly, they’re making amazing wines in their own ways: organic farming, Burgundian fermentations and, of course, single-vineyard bottlings. They are not wines to guzzle like Nouveau at a party; they are sophisticated expressions, deep and built to last.
It isn’t just big names who have set up shop in the Beaujolais. Anne Sophie Dubois was not exactly bien connue, when she arrived in Beaujolais from Champagne. But today her wines, which are generally made in the Burgundian fashion but offering quintessentially Beajo joy and purity, have made her one of the region’s brightest rising stars.
Trend #2: Beaujolais Keeps Leading: Natural Wine, No Longer Niche
In part 3 of this series, we looked at how Jules Chauvet’s philosophy and science laid the foundation for the natural wine movement when a small group of ambitious growers, led by Marcel Lapierre, found that the approach was the perfect way to make wines that reflected their terroir.
Since then the movement has spread throughout the world. But right in its home land of Beaujolais, the movement has inspired a whole host of new expressions.
(Photo courtesy of Grand Cru Selections)
These new growers build on what came before without being beholden to it. They are not dogmatically attached to any pre- or proscriptions. But they do have the same spirit as the earlier generation and follow the same path that lay at the movement's roots: the attention to detail in the vines and winery, the privileging of terroir, the attempt to rely as much as possible on healthy fruit and as little as possible on industrial techniques that make for fine -- but homogenous -- wine. They push and experiment and take risks, all with the aim of making great wines that reflect their little piece of earth.
Anne Sophie Dubois is, again, a great example. She follows many of Chauvet’s principles -- but not all of them and not all the time. She’s found herself some old vines, which she farms organically. She harvests ripe, healthy fruit and ferments it without manipulations following it meticulously (using the microscopic analysis Chauvet invented -- you can see photos on her website). But she trained in Burgundy and her most famous cuvees are completely destemmed -- ignoring Chauvet’s fondness for carbonic maceration.
The resulting wines are as full of life and expressive of their terroir as any natural wine. But they have textures and concentration that are very much Anne Sophie’s own invention.
At the other end of the spectrum are young winemakers like Pierre Cotton, who came to the Cotes de Brouilly from the world of motorcycle mechanics. Pierre makes natural wines without adding sulfur and following the Chauvet-approved semi-carbonic maceration.
His labels are wild and fun and so are his wines.
Cotton’s wines are just as alive as Dubois’, but where Anne Sophie’s wines are about textures and depths, Pierre’s start by evoking the fruit and juiciness of Beaujolais and Beaujolais village, before sneaking in terroir-specific mineral and floral notes. Cotton’s wines can make you think of Lapierre with their compulsive and easy-going pleasure; but at the same time they’re very different, almost self-consciously natural, wild.
Then there is a whole universe of producers between those two poles, producers like Louis Claude Desivgnes. Run by Louis Claude’s kids, Claude-Emmanuelle and her brother Louis-Benoît, Desvignes makes wines in the semi-carbonic style and from organically farmed old vines. They minimize sulfur and other interventions and are imported by the legendary natural wine importer, Louis/Dressner.
But are they natural? Maybe not. They don’t use ambient yeasts, for instance. And while the connections to the Chauvet-inspired movement are obvious, the wine itself has a tannic structure that is more pronounced than most of the wines in the movement. The Desvignes want to make a wine that ages and picks up the complexity and elegance that confers. And it doesn’t seem they care whether they fit into anyone’s pigeonhole.
And that’s what makes Beaujolais’ young winemakers so exciting: they’re steeped in the traditions and science and hard work Beaujolais is built on, but they aren’t afraid to keep experimenting, adapting to changing conditions, and pushing new boundaries. This is the spirit that made Beaujolais the gem of a region it is today, and promises to make it even grander tomorrow.
Trend #3: Single-vineyard wines
Single-vineyard wines aren’t exactly new to Beaujolais. Foillard’s Cote du Py is a classic example. And there are plenty of great, under the radar examples. Chignard’s Fleurie, “Les Moriers,” has been available in NY for years, quietly showing us exactly what Fleurie from the Moulin a Vent side of things tastes like.
But the number of producers offering single-vineyard bottlings has gone up, as has the number of single-vineyard wines those growers tend to offer. While it may be a trend Foillard started -- he has, over the years, added four more single cru wines to his list -- it’s something you can see now, far and wide.
Pretty much every producer we’ve looked at so far in this piece offers at least one single-vineyard wine. Desvignes makes a few, including two from Javarnieres, an amazing site just below the Cote du Py. Anne Sophie Dubois has her “Labourons,” from the lieu dit of that name.
The trend has also spread from the more famous Crus, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent and Fleurie, to what used to be the more rarely seen Crus, like Chenas and Regnie. Paul-Henri Thillardon started his eponymous Chenas domaine in 2008 and today makes two rather distinct single-vineyard Chenas. Both wines are charming like Lapierre or Metras, but they have distinct mineral subtexts that can only be the Chenas terroir.
Thillardon is also interesting as a young grower who started out making wines in the Burgundian style but who, after forging a relationship with Fleurie gurus, Jean-Louis Dutraive and Yvon Métras, has moved in a decidedly more carbonic direction. Another example of Beauolais’ dynamism!
Trend #4: Dealing with Global Warming
Anyone who loves wine knows the world is heating up. It’s affecting vineyards everywhere, from South America to the Mosel -- and Beajolais isn’t immune. Fortunately Beaujolais’ innovative, hard-working growers have (so far) been able to find ways not only to survive but even to thrive in the face of the changing climate.
Preserving old vines (as Chauvet taught) helps, since old vines have deep roots that find water even in drought years. And minimizing chemical interventions in the vineyard, part of the sork of preserving healthy, biologically active soils, also helps to preserve moisture and make the vines resilient. Carbonic maceration can help preserve freshness.
But there have also been adaptations. Farming is alway being tweaked. And whereas conscientious Beaujolais growers used to worry about waiting long enough to harvest fully ripe grapes, today harvest dates in the region have crept up nearly two full weeks.
The heat has also meant some sites that used to be more marginal -- cooler, higher altitude sites -- are becoming more highly prized. And some of our favorite up-and-coming producers have taken full advantage.
We don’t know whether Julien Sunier had global warming in mind when he began building his collection of high-altitude vineyards in Morgon, Fleurie, and Regnie -- but it has worked out spectacularly.
He makes pure and unmanipulated wines from his organically farmed plots. His wines are among the first we drink up around the shop every vintage -- the balance of super-seductive fruit and floral notes with the deep terroir character and exceptional length of a more contemplative wine is too much for us to resist! They have the airy quality of mountain fruit, without sacrificing and straight up delectable fruit.
Domaine de la Grosse Pierre is another more recent find in this vein. Grosse Pierre specializes in high-altitude sites in Chiroubles, with four different single-vineyard examples -- as well as a Morgone and a Fleurie. The Grosse Pierre wines, like Sunier, mix a can’t-stop-sipping seductiveness with a sophisticated, layered expression of minerality and umami. It’s wine you love to drink on its own, but that surprises you with hidden depths when you pair it with something to eat.
Grosse Pierre is also emblematic of another trend we love in Beaujolais: the rise of women winemakers. Wine is, of course, an industry traditionally dominated by men, from the vineyards to the restaurants and wine stores. But in Beaujolais there is a whole generation of women making some of the greatest, most sought-after wines in the region. In our next installment we’ll take a look at some of our favorites, and how they got to where they are.
Trend #5: More -- And More Diverse -- White and Rosé Beaujolais
Beaujolais is and always has been mostly a red wine region. But as we noted in our intro post, it also has amazing terroir for both white and pink wines. So, not surprisingly, it is home to some gorgeous examples. And people are taking notice: rosé sales alone are up 35% in the last four years.
Beaujolais’ diversity of terroir is key to its white and pink prospect, just as it is to its reds. The same variations in soil that make distinct red wines can make for distinct pink wines. There isn’t a longstanding tradition of rosé winemaking in Beaujolais and the earliest examples mostly came from silica-rich clay soils that tend to make for light and fruity wines (like Chermette). Which makes sense: the same soils that make for red wines that are fun and festive can make pitch-perfect poolside rosés.
But ask a winemaker ‘what’s next’ and you're more likely to hear about their “upmarket” terroirs. Pink granite, blue stones, old volcanic soils: these offer the opportunity for experimentation and discovery, and we expect to see pink wines that will compete with the best that Provence and the more famous rosé regions have to offer.
White wine, too. Beaujolais Blanc is virtually all made from Chardonnay, so it’s no surprise there’s some killer white wine being made in a region marked with pockets of different kinds of limestone. The Domaine des Terres Dorrees (featured more in this blog), located in Beaujolais’ south, is named for its “golden soils” -- soils that are lightened with limestone. And the Terres Dorres white wine is one of the world’s greatest Chardonnay values.
But there is also great potential in the north, where Beaujolais bleeds into Burgundy’s white wine powerhouse, the Maconnais. Not surprisingly, soils up there are often perfect for Chardonnay. And the variety of expositions (and resulting sun and ripeness levels) gives growers the chance to make very different wines: some light and fruit, with citrus and apple notes; some richer and sunnier; others tense and mineral.
As always in Beaujolais, the vignerons are trying to find their own voices, to discover the true expression of their terroir. Many growers use very limited oak to keep the wines as direct as possible. But others, sensing more power in their terroir, are experimenting with longer oak aging. Already there are great examples of Beaujolais Blanc that do best with a few years of age.
There are limits to how much Chardonnay growers may plant in a Beaujolais vineyard. That obviously puts a ceiling on the volume of Beaujolais Blanc that can be made. But we expect to drink many more amazing white Beaujolais in the years ahead as the growers continue to hit their stride.
Beaujolais has been one of our favorites since we opened Flatiron. There’s probably no region that we, the Flatiron staff, drink more regularly.
It’s a great value!
What is the difference between Beaujolais, Beaujolais Village, and the Beaujolais Crus?
The wines of Beaujolais are divided into three in three Classifications: Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, and Beaujolais Crus. Here, we delve into all the differences (and similarities!) that make these wines as lovely as they are diverse!
In spite of this growing interest, we noticed that there isn’t much information out there for consumers about the 10 Crus Beaujolais – there’s certainly no obvious book to read – so we thought we’d post a series of articles to help you out. This is your one stop guide to the 10 Crus of Beaujolais.
The wines of Beaujolais are divided into three in three Classifications: Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, and Beaujolais Crus. We cover all you need to know about the differences and similarities of these incredible wines.
20 years ago, “natural wine” was the freaky stuff drunk after-hours in Williamsburg and the East Village. Today, collectors around the world chase bottles of natural wine as passionately as DRC – and pay top dollar for some of them.
Where did natural wine come from, and how did it spread so far and so fast?
In a word: Beaujolais!
This blog was produced thanks to the kind support of
Allen Meadows, more familiarly known as Burghound, was once asked what wines he likes to drink most from outside of Burgundy. His answer was Cote Rotie. I've heard this kind of answer again and again from wine drinkers who love Burgundy.
We set out to write this Flatiron Guide to German Wines to explain not just why the wine geeks go so nutty for all things Deutsch, and not just why German wines are among the best wines for the super-casual wine drinker. And not even why we are so deeply in love with them, ourselves.
No, we set out to explain why a German wine is the bottle you should take home tonight. You. Yes, you.
Austria is a beautiful country, ancient, yet modern and accessible with wines to match. The people are welcoming and generous, jovial, and wine is an integral part of their lives. The key to Austrian wine is quality and consistency, rather than quantity. No other country can boast such high standards across the price spectrum and throughout all of their regions.