It’s hard to believe ten years have gone by since I first met Charly Thévenet. It was January 2008, in Marcel Lapierre’s harvest room, where Marcel would provide food and drink for his workers in season. That day, instead of harvest hands, the room was full of twenty or so distributor clients of ours we were taking around France to taste new releases from our producers. Per our routine, Marcel would invite Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, and Jean-Paul Thévenet over, too, and all would arrive with arms full of Morgon, and we would work our way through the wines (if you can call it work). This time, Jean-Paul came by with not only wine but also his young son, Charly, who had just returned from internships in Italy and the Loire Valley. We tasted through the great Morgons of the entire gang, and as usual we were awed that these guys could make Beaujolais so damn good, and of course we sold every last bottle they could offer us.
As we were getting ready to leave, I could see Jean-Paul pushing his son toward the group, bottle in hand, as Charly seemed to sheepishly look for an escape. It must have been intimidating to face a group of twenty serious clients who had just finished tasting some of the best wines the planet has to offer, but once he reached the front and held up an unlabeled bottle of wine, there was no turning back. He nervously told us that a few months prior he had purchased some very old vines in neighboring Régnié and had just produced his first wine. He had pulled a sample, if anyone wished to taste. Within seconds, all empty glasses were raised, and he worked his way around the room pouring. The wine was only four months old, an unfinished sample from a concrete tank with no name and no label, but none of that mattered. It was deep, it was ferrous, it was red licorice, it was bright, and it was beautiful. As he poured the wine and clients took a sniff, orders were quickly called out and cases reserved, since there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of it to go around. By the time Charly was pouring the last glass, his entire vintage was sold out (and it has pretty much remained that way ever since). It was a truly remarkable way to welcome the next generation. Charly showed us that he “got it,” understanding what we look for in great Beaujolais. Now, ten years later, he’s still getting it—not fixing anything that isn’t broken, keeping it simple, making one wine each year, making it great, and watching it sell out before starting anew.
Growing up the son of famous “Gang of Four” Morgon producer Jean-Paul Thévenet, Charly Thévenet was exposed quite early on to traditional, more natural viticulture—a philosophy that his father and friends helped to resurrect in Beaujolais in the early eighties. A few years ago, he purchased a parcel of eighty-year-old vines in Régnié, west-southwest of his hometown of Villié-Morgon.
He uses biodynamic farming techniques in the vineyard, harvests late, with an aggressive sorting of the grapes, adds minimal doses of sulfur dioxide, ages the wine in four-year-old Burgundian barriques, and bottles his wines unfiltered. Add a dose of that Thévenet talent, and you have a recipe for excellent wine!
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.
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