Paul-Po” Thévenet came to master his craft in the 1980s under the mentorship of a certain Marcel Lapierre, a childhood friend who convinced him of the merits of organic farming and low-intervention winemaking. Thévenet uses these methods to create wines of purity and finesse with a distinct stamp from their terroir on the sandy lower-lying slopes of the Morgon appellation. His is a Morgon of great breadth, filling the mouth with weightlessness and ending on a trademark note of velvety tannins enveloped by ripe fruit. With age, it tends toward notes of faded rose petals and earth, not unlike a fine Barolo.
Jean-Paul Thévenet is the third generation to produce wine at his family estate in Morgon, but as a young man he took the domaine in an unexpected direction. In the early 1980s Beaujolais was flooded with commercialized wine, pushing winemaker and viticultural prophet Jules Chauvet to invoke a return to more traditional practices. Jean-Paul and three other local vignerons, Marcel Lapierre, Guy Breton, and Jean Foillard, soon took up the torch of this “natural wine” movement.
Known as “Paul-Po” among friends, Jean-Paul is reserved yet fun-loving. He farms his small five-hectare domaine with his son, Charly, and since 2008 the two have taken the domaine to the next level by adopting organic and biodynamic viticultural practices.
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.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
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