One of my favorite wine writers, John Bonné, just penned an excellent piece for Punchdrink.com arguing that the time for Crus Beaujolais has finally arrived. It’s about time!
Wine lovers started paying attention to Crus Beaujolais in the eighties when wine importer Kermit Lynch brought stateside the wines of the “Gang of Four”, namely Lapierre, Thevenet, Brun and Foillard. All of them were students of Jules Chauvet, a fervent biodynamist and the spiritual father of “natural wines”.
For a long time they were the only game in town as many of the old time farmers still preferred to sell their grapes to large negoce Houses. This changed in the past twenty years or so as the negoce could not absorb such large quantities of grape because of the decline in popularity of Beaujolais Nouveau.
Today a new generation of Crus Beaujolais producers is emerging, either taking over their parents vineyards or acquiring top vineyards that had been left fallow for years. This new crop of vignerons is often passionate, dedicated to organic or biodynamic farming and lowering yields.
Names like Julien Sunier, Yann Bertrand and Remi Dufaitre are now joining the elite ranks of Beaujolais and are not to be missed. These are serious wines made in the best vineyards of Morgon, Fleurie, Moulin a Vent and others.
The series of wines we are proposing today can be drunk young but I urge you to cellar a few bottles. Great Cru Beaujolais can age just as well as fine Burgundy or Bordeaux. I once enjoyed a bottle of 1937 Moulin a Vent “La Roche” that could have passed for a 1er Cru Cote de Nuits. I’m not recommending to wait that long, but a good bottle from a reliable producer will reach its zenith after about 7-8 years. Almost everything below represents our entire allocation. Truly, these are some of the best producers in France and as the shadow of Beaujolais Nouveau continues to fade, these producers, young and old, are redefining the region.
“One of the most exciting new producers in Beaujolais, this is Serious stuff. A prime potential for ageing, don’t be surprised if you mistake some of Bertrand’s Cru for Cote d’Or.” Jean-Luc
Last year we introduced you to Yann Bertrand, a talented young winemaker from Beaujolais with vineyards in both Fleurie and Morgon. Yann never set out to become a winemaker, but when he finally embraced his destiny and settled down at the family farm to learn the craft, he couldn’t have hoped for better teachers; he counts Yvon Metras and Jean Foillard as his mentors (if you’re not familiar with the region’s history, let’s just say these guys really, really know what they’re doing). All the vines are at least 30 years old (some much, much older) and planted in the pink granitic sand typical of the area.
This year gets a little tougher as the proverbial cat is now out of the bag and many Beaujolais aficionados now place Yann’s “Cuvee du Chaos” at the top of the quality scale. Fortunately we are now offering other vineyards from his winery, including the excellent Morgon “Bio-Dynamite” and the Fleurie “Vieilles Vignes”.
Fleurie “Vieilles Vignes” 2014 28.99 17 Bottles
100% Gamay from 60+ year old vines grown on granitic sand. Organic farming. Carbonic maceration with native yeast and without SO2 for 17-20 days. 7-9 month aging 225-liter used barrels.
Fleurie “Cuvee du Chaos” 2014-EXTREMELY LIMITED 37.99 31 Bottles
100% Gamay from 80-110 year old vines grown on granitic sand. Organic farming. Carbonic maceration a froid with native yeast and without SO2 for 17-20 days. 7-9 month aging 225-liter in used barrels (minimum 10 years old)
Morgon “Vieilles Vignes” 2014-LIMITED 31.99 13 Bottles
100% Gamay from 60+ year old vines on granitic shale. Organic farming. Carbonic maceration with native yeast and without SO2 for 17-20 days. 7-9 month aging 225-liter used barrels.
Morgon “Cuvee Bio-Dynamite” 2014-EXTREMELY LIMITED 37.99 21 Bottles
100% Gamay from 80-100 year old vines. Organic farming. Carbonic maceration a froid with native yeast and without SO2 for 17-20 days. 7-9 month aging 225-liter in used barrels (minimum 10 years old)
“An all-time favorite, Roilette is as pure an expression of great Beaujolais as you’re likely to find.” Jean-Luc
The original owners of this estate labeled and marketed their wine as Moulin-a-Vent. But when the boundaries of the crus were formally delineated in the 1930s, they ended up on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. Thumbing their nose at the bureaucrats, they abandoned the usual Burgundian labeling practice of putting the appellation in the largest text, and instead dubbed their estate Clos de la Roilette and featured a picture of the owner’s horse, Roilette. The Coudert family purchased this estate, then in a state of abject disrepair, in 1967. Though obliged to replant the bulk of the vineyards, they were able to preserve two plots of original vines, which, now over eighty years old, serve as the source for their Cuveé Tardive and Griffe du Marquis bottlings. Vinification is traditional, the wines undergoing semi-carbonic maceration under a submerged cap, thereby gaining ample heft and structure while preserving their elegance and finesse. The wines are aged in giant oak foudres (except for the Griffe du Marquis, which spends 18 months in used 228-liter Burgundy barrels), allowing them to breathe and develop secondary characteristics without marking them with oak. This very special estate offers wines year in and year out that marry the signature dark-floral aromatics of Fleurie with the gentle muscularity of Moulin-a-Vent (and the aging potential that comes with it).
Clos de La Roilette Cuveé Tardive 2014 – $29.99 (750mL) / $67.00 (1.5L) 22 Bottles/11 Magnums
From two parcels of 80 year old vines (one of which is located directly behind Alain Coudert’s home), the Cuvee Tardive is quickly gaining “cult wine” status amongst Beaujolais aficionados. With a total bottle production ranging in the low thousands, the Cuvee Tardive is a concentrated, deep, weighty, and complex expression of Beaujolais, though it would be closer stylistically to Moulin-A-Vent then it would to Fleurie. Made for ageing, the Cuvee Tardive also drinks well in its youth, offering flavors and structure more akin to its Cote D’Or cousins in the north then what is considered typically Beaujolais. Cellar this beauty or use it to change minds about the potential of Beaujolais.
Clos de la Roilette Fleurie 2014 – $24.99 (750mL) 32 Bottles
From 25-30 year old vines from Roilette’s 9 hectare estate, the inter-mingling of Fleurie and Moulin-A-Vent style is perhaps most in evidence in their entry level release. With all the bright, red fruit, and silken ease of Fleurie but with the addition of the sappiness and tightly wound weight of Moulin-A-Vent, the Fleurie AOC is that rarest of things, a quaffing wine with depth.
“Another young gun, Sunier’s wines are sumptuous, silky, and absolutely delicious.” Jean-Luc
Julien Sunier came to wine in the most unlikely fashion. The son of a Dijon hairdresser, he met Christophe Roumier, one of his Mom’s clients and a legendary winemaker who took him under his wing as an intern at his Chambolle-Musigny estate. He then travelled the Western Hemisphere, working harvests in New Zealand and California and upon his return worked alongside winemaker Nicolas Potel and Jean-Claude Rateau where he solidified his passion for biodynamic farming. With land in Burgundy out of his reach financially, Julien set his sights on neighboring Beaujolais, first working for a negociant for 5 years. There, he gained an invaluable understanding of the different terroirs this great wine region offers.
In 2008 he finally realized his dream of buying 8 acres of densely planted hilltop old-vines vineyards in the villages of Morgon, Fleurie and Regnié. He has slowly been converting them to biodynamic farming. Harvesting is entirely by hand, Julien uses whole cluster during maceration and starts fermentation in concrete vats with natural yeasts. The wines are then aged for 11 months in 3 to 5 year old barrels he buys from Domaine Roumier. The resulting wines are pure, elegant with bright red fruit notes and a nice floral element. They are wines that one can drink out of the gate, but have the depth and structure to reward medium-term cellaring.
Julien Sunier Morgon 2014 – $31.99 24 Bottles
Two parcels; one on the sloped lieu-dit of Corcelette and the other at the edge of the Morgon/Régnié border in a vineyard named En Oeillat. Both parcels were planted in the 1960s. Both are densely planted. Aged for up to 11 months in 3 – 9 year old Burgundy barrels so the charming fruit and granitic soil flavors aren’t lost.
“Almost without peer, Marcel Lapierre defines Morgon, and his Cuvee Marcel Lapierre is one of the most cellar-worthy wines in all of Beaujolais. This is heady stuff.” Jean-Luc
Of course, lastly we present the big daddy of them all. Winemakers of Marcel Lapierre’s generation took conventional farming, with its machines and pesticides as settled law, which, of course is at the root of present-day funk the region finds itself in. Marcel assumed control of his family’s winery in 1973 and soon became one of small group of growers influenced by Beaujolais negociant Jules Chauvet, the pioneer of what became the natural wine movement. Far from the laissez-faire image of natural winemaking, Chauvet was a trained chemist who made numerous contributions to winemaking science and stressed scrupulous cellar hygiene and a rigorous understanding of the microbiology of fermentation. In a region that by the late 1970s was essentially known for Beaujolais Nouveau, a simple wine made from grapes rushed through the vinification process to yield a beverage that is ready to consume in the year of harvest, Chauvet’s teachings marked out a path toward quality, authenticity, and eventually a reputation as one of France’s most exciting wine estates. Since the late 1970s, the wines have been fermented on indigenous yeasts, and aged for nine months in used burgundy barrels. The Morgon is made from 60+ year old vines, and in exceptional years, a parcel of 100+ year old vines is set aside for the “Cuvee Marcel Lapierre”, distinguished by a label featuring the vintage year in Roman numerals. Both wines are bottled with minimal sulfur but will remain fresh for many years if properly stored. Marcel himself unfortunately left us in 2010, but his son Matthieu has followed admirably in his footsteps.
Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2014 – $33.99 (750ml)/$72.99 (1.5) 19 Bottles/6 Magnums
Marcel Lapierre “Cuvee Marcel Lapierre” 2014 -$54.99 12 Bottles