When brothers Nico and Antoine Robert learned of a parcel of century-old vines—Gamay with a smattering of Pinot Noir—available for rent in the northern Mâconnais, they could not resist. This ancient parcel had always been farmed organically, a tradition continued under their care for just two years until they gave up the vineyard, deeming it too distant from their cellar in Fuissé. The Roberts employed 100% whole-cluster fermentation for their first ever Mâcon rouge, aging the wine in neutral barrels and bottling it unfiltered with very little sulfur. This rare treat presents bright, juicy red fruit seasoned with just the right amount of earthy funk, resulting in a mouth-watering delight to drink chilled over the next five years with charcuterie, cheeses, and a rowdy group of friends.
Jean-Jacques Robert took over five hectares of his grandfather’s vines in the Mâconnais just outside the village of Fuissé after finishing law school in 1988. Though most of the harvest had always been sold off to the cooperatives, the small parcels that made up the domaine were already understood to enjoy unique microclimates, producing Pouilly-Fuissés of great pedigree. Jean-Jacques soon came under the influence of two ardent defenders of terroir, the great master of Morgon, Marcel Lapierre, and American importer, Kermit Lynch. Little by little, Jean-Jacques has introduced radical changes to the domaine, finally realizing its full potential. He is now joined by his sons, Nicolas and Antoine.
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.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
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