Exciting things are happening in the Beaujolais: following the outbreak of terroir-driven natural winemaking inspired by Jules Chauvet and spearheaded by the likes of Marcel Lapierre and Jean Foillard in the 1980s, a new generation is now following in the footsteps of these early pioneers to make the region one of France’s most dynamic. Quentin Harel perfectly epitomizes this explosion of young talent, having recently taken over the family domaine in the town of Saint-Étienne-des-Oullières, just south of the Côte de Brouilly. Quentin’s parents began farming organically long before the revival of sustainable viticulture that is sweeping through the Beaujolais today. Their Beaujolais-Villages vineyards have been certified organic since 1990, a time when neighbors looked down on the Harels as radical outliers to the standard of conventional farming. In the cellar, Quentin exercises a light hand with low intervention: vinification is traditional, via whole-cluster fermentation using indigenous yeasts before élevage in tank. He bottles unfined and unfiltered with very low sulfur additions, giving quintessential Beaujolais quaffers full of early-drinking charm. With low alcohol, delicious high-toned Gamay fruit, and lovely floral aromatics, Quentin’s Beaujolais-Villages is a winner. One of the region’s rising stars, he has already proven himself in his short career, and we are thrilled to offer his just-arrived 2016 vintage.
Raised in a vigneron household, Quentin Harel sought further experience away from home early on, taking jobs with growers elsewhere in the Beaujolais as well as in Burgundy. He received the bulk of his formative training in the Diois in addition to studying soil microbiology. The 2012 harvest marked his first solo vinification at the helm of Domaine de Buis-Rond, an estate owned by Quentin’s family since 1768.
The majority of Quentin’s holdings lie around Buis-Rond, and are classified as Beaujolais AOC. Eager for a new challenge, Quentin purchased one hectare of Morgon in 2011. This parcel of 80 year-old vines lies in the lieu-dit Charmes, a higher-altitude site prone to giving lively, elegant, and mineral wines.
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.
For the wines that I buy I insist that the winemaker leave them whole, intact. I go into the cellars now and select specific barrels or cuvées, and I request that they be bottled without stripping them with filters or other devices. This means that many of our wines will arrive with a smudge of sediment and will throw a more important deposit as time goes by, It also means the wine will taste better.
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