Some of you may have heard of Beaujolais, France, while others of you may not. For those who haven’t, Beaujolais is a wine growing region in eastern France. This photo was taken at La Madone Chapel in Fleurie, looking down on the Fleurie commune.
The only red grape grown in Beaujolais is the Gamay variety, which delivers a full range of this red wine’s styles, primarily based on which Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC); which means, where it’s grown.
- Wines that are delicate come from the following locations, and are released in March:
- In the tender wine regions (referred to as a region that makes the most delicate wines), such Saint-Etienne, Durette, Saint-Lager, and Fleurie, these wines are very bright and tasty.
- [Fresh and vibrant, with lemon, strawberry flavors, along with being delicately floral – description added by Jo Diaz.]
- Beaujolais that are medium bodied, are released from March to July, from the Crus, and are firmer wines:
- A bit richer, coming from regions with a little more intensity: Odenas, Romaneche-Thorins, Chiroubles, Chénas, and Brouilly.
- [A bit more rustic and spice, with more violet and cherry flavors – description added by Jo Diaz.]
- Lastly, after the summer, are the heavier bodied wines, and are released from higher elevation vineyards:
- Beaujeu, Quincié, Lantigne, Jullie, Juliénas, and Morgon.
- [The most flavorful, tannic (which means longer aging potential). Since higher elevation wines don’t have as much ground water available that the lower lying vineyards do, the flavors are more concentrated ~ think Maine blueberries, and rich plums – description added by Jo Diaz.]
[PURCHASED PHOTO: pinkish wine: olegdudko]
Some call it a pinkish-red wine; and most people who taste it, just call it entirely delicious. There are also very old vines in Beaujolais, like this one in the picture below. They grow very close to the ground (these clusters might be only 12 inches from the ground), and clusters are kept to a bare minimum, creating intensity of flavor. The most healthy clusters are kept and allowed to enjoy the most sun of the season, as the chosen few.
[Full disclosure, I was a guest of Georges Duboeuf and his family; and, given access to each of the following vignerons, to learn their stories and taste their wines, in the hope that I would find a story worth writing. For this story, these are just snippets. I’m also going to be writing a feature for each brand, with a lot more images.]
[And, since verasion hadn’t yet begun in mid August, the Gamay vine, also a purchased photo from fontaineg1234.]
First: Beaujolais Nouveau
For lovers of this delicate red wine, we wait in great anticipation for their annual Beaujolais Nouveau release. Nouveau is actually bottled at least two weeks ahead of its release date, which will annually be on the third Thursday in November. This seems like a time that’s too soon; however, this releasing of Gamay so quickly is perhaps not soon enough, for those of us who love and wait in anxious anticipation.
For a point of reference, for other grape varieties to be released, usually white wines have about a six to 12 month wait period, and red wines have from one to three years to wait, before being released.
So it would appear that this is an early release; but, that’s by design, not by mistake. When the French do the early release of this Beaujolais, it’s to celebrate their new vintage, because it’s just ready to celebrate it and Gamay is fresh enough to deliver. Beaujolais captures the true essence of its light, strawberry flavor body. It also holds the secrets of how the wine is going to taste and age over time.
In Beaujolais, the stars of making the wines are collectively a humble group. They don’t aspire to stardom’s lights and glitter; they make their wines the stars. Most of them have quiet credentials; they simply focus on their viticulture, wines, and their local reputations. These wine brands also have long standing relationships and the complete endorsement of the Duboeuf family. Les Vins Georges Duboeuf works in tandem, to guarantee a consistent, identifiable Beaujolais profile.
These winemakers all deliver Beaujolais’s Gamay wines to the Georges Duboeuf winery, before going anywhere else. Each has a characteristic region (see above), with its own terroir, and offers a range from delicate to medium, and a fuller bodied essence of Gamay.
MÂCON ~ Meet Gilles Corsin. (Second from the left.) The group that I was with was going to have a walking tour, to the top of the Rock of Solutré (to get an elevated view of terroir – image below), but the weather was really too hot. Instead, our day was rearranged and Gilles Corsin met us at the foot of the hill, overlooking the sprawling appellation.
Gilles Corsin and Jean-Jacques Corsin (brothers) are the fifth generation of the Corsin family to manage this 33 acre vineyard. He’s been buying from this vineyard since 1992 and has tasted amazing wines as far back as 1990. Jean-Jacques runs the vineyards, while Gilles runs the winery. Gilles is known to have the finest palate in the Mâcon.
He explained the minerality of their rocky terroir and their winemaking practices, along with his relationship to Les Vins Georges Duboeuf.
Sharing this Pouilly-Fuissé Georges Duboeuf 2017, it was a perfectly refreshing way to end our tour with him.
OINGT ~ Vignerons des Pierres Dorées ~ Sylvan Flache is the managing winemaker at this wine co-operative, in Oingt, Rhones-Alpes, France.
If you’ve heard about the negotiate company called Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, it might seem to be a really large producer of wine, where wine isn’t defined and perhaps even a commodity. Quite the opposite is true, however.
With approximately 400 grower partners, who contribute to each vintage, this just became a much more understandable figure, when we know that each partner is allowed to be its own brand, only managed for quality control by Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. This co-op is comprised of 180 growers, which range in size from only 1.2 acres to 50 acres. The total number of acres is 1,236.
Sylvan is in constant contact with the Georges Duboeuf winemaking team of Emeric Gaucher and Denis Lapaler. Together, they monitor quality growing and producing.
Jean-Benoit and Tiphaine de Chabannes
BROUILLY ~ Our visit to Château de Nervers, in Brouilly, with owners Jean-Benoit and Tiphaine de Chabannes, was much more fun than anyone should be allowed to have, as all of my colleagues were all quick to agree. After touring the castle’s grounds, we had dinner outside just before dusk, which ended with a spectacular sunset. Wines enjoyed at our winemaker dinner: Brouilly Château de Nervers 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.
Their story is remarkable… How one is born into a Château… Their Château was originally a hunting lodge. Château de Nervers has been in their family for almost 200 years. Six generations have succeeded each other, until Jean-Benoît and Tiphaine, current managers. “We combine tradition and modernity by valuing what makes up our history and inventing what will be our future. For the first time in its history, the Domaine is run by a couple who take care of their vines from planting to consumption!”
Jean-Benoit’s passion is winemaking. On the tour we saw, once-again, the concrete vats, built into the winery and their history. While seeming novel in the US, we still have so much catching up to do, in the world’s wine history. And, this is part of their this style in wine vessels… Concrete tanks.
MORGON ~ We visited Morgon’s Jean-Ernest Descombes Winery, with owner Nicole Descombes. In 1993, Nicole Descombes’ parents passed, just three months apart from each other. Before her father passed away, in October 1993, Jean-Ernest asked Nicole to keep the winery and tasting room as he was leaving them to her. It’s safe to say that it’s quite retro, and as charming as Nicole. Known as “the Queen of Beaujolais,” she’s also incredibly talented and kind. A more welcoming visit would be very hard to find.
Awaiting our arrival, Nicole is just opening her door to us. Besides wine, what was inside, we wondered?
An outstanding winegrower, Jean Ernest Descombes was considered a very gifted winemaker. Three fourths of his vines were over 50 years old, and were planted in the best terroirs. When he passed in 1993, his daughter Nicole decided to carry on his traditions. According to Georges Duboeuf, “She always says that wine always resembles the person who made it; she says the same about her father’s Morgon.” And, it’s safe to say that her wines are also in keeping with her father’s style.
This winery partnership has a lot of history with Georges Duboeuf. In 1968, when Georges Duboeuf began Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, Jean-Ernest Descombes was the first grower partner for Georges Duboeuf’s company. When her father and mother passed away, Georges Duboeuf stood by her side… to this very day.
Loïc Marion and Cyril Copéret
FLEURIE ~ In the center is vintner Patrick Darroze, and his two winemakers Cyril Copéret (left) and Loïc Marion (right), of Domaine des Quatre Vents (translates as Field of Four Winds), in Fleurie.
We first stopped above the winery at La Madone Chapel, and then came down to meet with Patrick and his two winemakers. From the back of Patrick’s winery, one can look up to the tiny chapel on top of the hill. It’s such a lovely view and very recognizable landmark. Once you’ve seen it in person, you’ll always recognize it.
Loïc and Cyril care for the 29.7 acres. Most of the vineyards surround the house, and are more than 50 years old. Like most vines in Beaujolais, the vines are low to the ground and are head pruned. In French, this is called the traditional Gobelet style. They’re planted mostly in pink granite soil, which is the hallmark of the Fleurie Cru. Their average harvest is 425 barrels, which equals about 10,000 cases (24 cases to a 60-gallon barrel). Harvest is done manually, in whole bunches.
Semi-carbonic maceration fermentation makes this a very fresh and fruity wine. With this kind of fermenting, yeast is not used, because the whole clusters are very capable of fermenting on their own.
From Vine Pair: “by placing whole bunches of grapes in a sealed vat filled with carbon dioxide, the oxygen-starved fruit will release naturally present enzymes. These enzymes perform a similar function to yeast, breaking sugars down into alcohol. Essentially, during carbonic maceration, alcoholic fermentation begins inside the grape itself.”
Both semi-carbonic maceration and malolactic fermentation take place in their temperature-controlled, stainless steel vats.
SAINT AMOUR ~ We visited Château de Saint-Amour (in Saint-Amour), with owners Monsieur Pierre and Madame Yvonne Sidaurin, and their winemaker André Berrod. We also tasted the Château de Saint Amour 2016, 2017, and 2018 vintages, during a lovely garden party.
This was our first introduction in France to concrete (or cement) tanks. Not mine, however, since I worked well over a decade with the Foppiano family. They’re going under renovations to their vats, as I write this. An old Italian family, they just knew what to do.
Meanwhile, André Berrod briefly explained the benefits of the concrete tanks:
- Like stainless steel fermenting tanks, most winemakers use them for fermentation, but others also use concrete vats for aging wine.
- They’re a neutral container, which means that favors attributed to oak barrels, will no be impacting the delicate flavors of a Beaujolais wine.
- Their designs are very customized in shape and sizes. On this trip, I saw as many vats as I saw wineries. Not two were identical. Seems like they were quite the fashion, centuries ago to present.
- They’re also quite affordable, versus the cost of barrels.
ROMANÈCHE-THORINS ~ We begin at the Georges Duboeuf Winery. Met by winemaker Denis Lapaler, we toured and overlooked the Beaujolais regions, the production winery, tasted wines from the aging barrels.
Denis is one of two head winemakers on the Georges Duboeuf team; the other being Emeric Gaucher. His job is overseeing all quality control, as well as making wine for Georges Duboeuf from over 200 local producers. The Deboeuf family has three winemaking arrangements, since they make their own wines and are also Négociants.
What Denis and Emeric Gaucher are in charge of at the Georges Duboeuf family, besides its own estate wines, as négociant merchants from Beaujolais: They’ve assembled the highest quality of committed, small family growers and winemakers, and have added them to their portfolio, each with specific designations.
Their umbrella company includes Cru Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, plus Beaujolais, and Beaujolais Nouveau. Some members on their team just grow grapes, while some grow and make the wine to be delivered, and still more have chateau designated wines. Every configuration has it’s own procedure with rules and regulations. And, a lot of really great wine is made, following their guidelines. For a consumer, this makes for some very tasty and consistently delightful and distinctive wines.
I dedicate this story to the Georges Duboeuf family for having me as their guest, and arranging for me to have met so many wonderful people. I now understand my grandparents Abbie and Peter Bernier, much better. I wish they had continued to talk French to me. I would be better for it.
And Quintessential Wines, for being my guide throughout this 10 day adventure.
Finally, I owe a debt of gratitude to my loving husband Jose Diaz, who so selflessly encourages my international travels, allowing me to expand and enrich my life experiences, which I share with him. Our lives are much richer, as a result.