Behold the new generation of Beaujolais vignerons: brought up on the teachings of local legends like Lapierre and Foillard, these dynamic young guns picked up where their forerunners left off and continue to push the envelope. Charly Thévenet got an early start, learning the region’s traditional farming methods and principles of natural vinification from his father, Morgon producer Jean-Paul Thévenet. Charly launched his solo venture in his twenties, beginning with a parcel of eighty year-old vines in the cru of Régnié. The vineyard’s altitude and shallow, rocky soils allow for a bright, pure, mineral-driven expression of grand cru Gamay, with the wine’s supple fruit grounded by suggestions of spice and granite. This new-wave Beaujolais delivers everything you’d expect from a combination of old vines, esteemed terroir, and young talent.
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.
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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