It isn’t every day that one can team up with the talented Jean Foillard and create a new wine. I think the last straw was when one of our clients shipped their Nouveau, the one Jean had rushed through vinification, late. “Why not let me take my time with the vinification and label it as Beaujolais rather than Nouveau if it doesn’t have to be to the USA by the third Thursday in November?” Recognizing the good sense in that was pretty easy. As the idea took form, Jean went looking for other sources of fruit to complement his personal holdings. Naturally, his first and last stops were in the steep, granite hillsides of Beaujolais-Villages, skirting the crus. His inspiration also led him to ink long-term deals with the landholders so that he could work the land himself and manage everything A–Z, eventually owning it all. Now you can own this inaugural bottle! I don’t expect you will be able to keep your hands off of it for long, though. The wine is, of course, classic Foillard: smooth and seductive, with rose petals, red cherry, and a granite crunch to remind you of the noblesse of these slopes. Featuring vines from the communes of Lancié, Saint-Amour, Saint-Jean-d’Ardières, Perréon, and Régnié-Durette, this is the real Beaujolais-Villages, further set apart from simpler Beaujolais by the touch of a master vigneron.
Jean and Agnès Foillard took over his father’s domaine in 1980, and soon thereafter began to make Kermit Lynch customers very happy. Most of their vineyards are planted on the Côte du Py, the famed slope outside the town of Villié-Morgon and the pride of Morgon. Following the example of traditionalist Jules Chauvet, Jean and three other local vignerons Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton, soon hoisted the flag of Chauvet’s back-to-nature movement. Kermit dubbed this clan the Gang of Four, and the name has stuck ever since. The Gang called for a return to the old practices of viticulture and vinification. The end result is a rustic structure, spicy notes, and mineral-laden backbone.
After years of the region’s reputation being co-opted by mass-produced Beaujolais Nouveau and the prevalence of industrial farming, the fortunes of vignerons from the Beaujolais have been on the rise in the past couple of decades. Much of this change is due to Jules Chauvet, a prominent Beaujolais producer who Kermit worked with in the 1980s and arguably the father of the natural wine movement, who advocated not using herbicides or pesticides in vineyards, not chaptalizing, fermenting with ambient yeasts, and vinifying without SO2. Chief among Chauvet’s followers was Marcel Lapierre and his three friends, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, and Jean-Paul Thévenet—a group of Morgon producers who Kermit dubbed “the Gang of Four.” The espousal of Chauvet’s methods led to a dramatic change in quality of wines from Beaujolais and with that an increased interest and appreciation for the AOC crus, Villages, and regular Beaujolais bottlings.
The crus of Beaujolais are interpreted through the Gamay grape and each illuminate the variety of great terroirs available in the region. Distinguishing itself from the clay and limestone of Burgundy, Beaujolais soils are predominantly decomposed granite, with pockets of blue volcanic rock. The primary vinification method is carbonic maceration, where grapes are not crushed, but instead whole clusters are placed in a tank, thus allowing fermentation to take place inside each grape berry.
Much like the easy-going and friendly nature of many Beaujolais vignerons, the wines too have a lively and easy-drinking spirit. They are versatile at table but make particularly good matches with the local pork sausages and charcuterie. Though often considered a wine that must be drunk young, many of the top crus offer great aging potential.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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