Beginning to make wine in Beaujolais must seem like being the youngest sibling with five older brothers and sisters who are all class presidents and captains of their sports teams. Can you thrive and carve out your own path of success? Absolutely! On one hand, your talented predecessors—Lapierre, Foillard, Breton, Thévenet, etc.—have made it easier by paving the way for producing outstanding wine in the region, and they have built a reputation among wine lovers worldwide for Beaujolais excellence. On the other, they have also made it more challenging to stand out because, even at your best, you are joining the all-star team (not creating it), and the bar for making the team is higher now than it has ever been. The tremendously skilled Quentin Harel is already making a strong case for his spot on the roster by crafting well-priced reds that are the complete package: fresh, charming, and complex at the same time. His entry-level Beaujolais Charron is floral, but whole-cluster fermentation has also given it irresistibly juicy notes of cherries, rhubarb, and pomegranate. Ripe without being rich, it has great structure—just the right amount of tannin—while being inviting now. Best of all, it doesn’t mimic other producers’ wines we import from this region; it’s entirely distinct. Harel’s Charron, made from fifty-year-old, organically farmed vines, is certainly food-friendly, and it’s begging you to light up the grill.
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.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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