For those of you still unacquainted, Quentin Harel is the latest addition to our Beaujolais portfolio. His wines first caught our eyes—or rather, our noses—when I chanced upon a bottle of his Morgon, a perfumed little beauty that stood no chance after being uncorked at the family dinner table one summer evening. Around the same time, my colleague Dixon informed me he had tasted a particularly juicy, downable Beaujolais-Villages from a young grower. Upon comparing notes, we realized Quentin was the man behind both bottles. As it turned out, he had recently taken the reins of the family domaine and begun making Beaujolais just the way we like it: farmed organically, vinified naturally with whole clusters, and bottled with minimal added sulfur. The nose, the palate, and the price encourage unbridled quaffing.
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.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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