16 Oct Beaujolais and It’s Rightful Place
Bordering on the Mâconnais in southern Burgundy, and extending into the Rhône département that surrounds the city of Lyon, the Beaujolais hills are home to the second important red grape variety of Burgundy, the Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc. Gamay was banished from the Côte d’Or by Philip the Bold in 1395 because the wines it yielded there were simple and rustic compared to the wines made from Pinot Noir. But in the granite soil vineyards of the Beaujolais hills, Gamay can provide some of the juiciest and most versatile red wines grown anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, Beaujolais is also the home of the greediest producers in France, and the region is now beginning to suffer the consequences of decades of mismanagement of its undeniably important heritage. Routine, excessive chaptalization (addition of sugar to the fermenting juice in order to raise the alcoholic content of the wine) and gross overproduction (using less than ripe Gamay) have thoroughly debased Beaujolais’ image. And if the export market pays any attention to the wines at all, it’s mostly an annual affair—concerning the November release of Beaujolais Nouveau, a product which shouldn’t be confused with fine wine.
Fortunately, there are still family farms in Beaujolais, some with three generations living in the same house, attached to a parcel of earth, where courageous, devoted stewards of Beaujolais’ genuine heritage make outstanding wine.
One is Patrick Brunet, who farms the Domaine de Robert in Fleurie, one of the important “cru” of Beaujolais. The original estate consisted of two hectares of weathered schist in “Javernières” on the Côte du Py in Morgon, an undisputed Grand Cru (if the vineyards of Beaujolais had ever been classified). In 1970, Patrick’s father, Robert Brunet, purchased four more hectares of sandy granite, in a climat appropriately named “Champagne,” located in the heart of Fleurie. “Champagne” had been planted in 1930, and along with the tiny parcel of “Javernières” made Robert Brunet the proprietor of two of the finest vineyards in all of Beaujolais.
Tragically, Robert Brunet died suddenly when Patrick was only eighteen, so the choice Patrick faced was stark: let his mother rent out the vineyards so he could stay in school, or take over the estate at the age of eighteen. Naturally, he chose the latter; renamed the estate in honor of his father; and has never looked back.
Even wine bearing the humblest regional appellation: Beaujolais can be unexpectedly brilliant. A perfect example is the Cuvée Des Varennes Domaine des Cretes from Jean-François and Sylvain Brondel, representing the third and fourth generations of their family to produce fine Beaujolais. There are ten hectares of Gamay Noir, grown on a mix of yellow limestone and weathered blue granite, and one hectare of Chardonnay for the Beaujolais Blanc and Crémant de Bourgogne. The “Cuvée des Varennes,” which is always one of the top wines of the Beaujolais appellation, comes from a parcel of eighty-year-old, organically farmed vines. In 1998, Domaine des Crêtes was a founding member of “Terra Vitis,” now an association of growers throughout France who practice strictly organic viticulture.
It was a fine crafted, genuine artisan, slow yield, special place expression of a culture.
– Greg Moore, in the telling of the Beaujolais Nouveau story