The persistent risk of frost, hail, disease, or an unforeseen combination thereof over the last few years has forced many French winemakers to get creative, and Valentin Montanet is just the kind of scrappy vigneron who thrives under pressure. A case of nasty frost in Vézelay? You’d sooner find Valentin in a refrigerated truck headed south to buy grapes than mourning the diminished harvests in his own vineyards. “Since I’m a Burgundian making Beaujolais now, I had to find a place of my own,” he says, explaining his choice of the rarest cru in Beaujolais, Chénas. The vines are such antiques, even the grower can’t remember when they were planted. (“As long as I’ve owned them, they’ve been old,” he told Valentin.) Vinified whole-cluster and bottled unfiltered, this solid cuvée packs a powerful, structured punch balanced by ripe black fruit and approachable tannins. Watch out, Gang of Four, the Burgundian is in town!
When Jean and Catherine Montanet planted their first vineyards in 1987, the fruit was destined for vinification in their very own cave coopérative, which saw its first vintage bottled in 1990. As general manager of the business, Jean quickly found his feet as a capable vigneron.
Unable to fully express themselves as vignerons at the coop and determined to continue working organically, the Montanets finally split off and founded their own label, Domaine de la Cadette, taking their vineyards with them. Their son Valentin joined them in 2010 and now manages the domaine, espousing his parents' philosophy of organic farming and natural vinification to craft refreshing, mineral-driven whites and reds.
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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