Just south of Odenas, atop a panoramic vista, lies a hectare of Chardonnay vines with wildflowers growing between the rows and Ouessant sheep grazing to keep the weeds at bay. These trademark emblems of Geoffray family viticulture give the parcel away as belonging not to the Château de Rochebonne as the name of the clos—and its location—would imply, but to Château Thivin. A stunning setting is the appropriate birthplace for a wine with an unexpectedly aromatic bouquet and bright, zippy palate—a testament to the natural elegance that embodies all of Château Thivin’s wines.
It is no surprise that Château Thivin is the benchmark domaine of the Côte de Brouilly; everything about it is exceptional. Built in the fifteenth century on an ancient volcano which juts out steeply into the valley below, Thivin is the oldest estate on Mont Brouilly, In 1976, Richard Olney took Kermit to visit on their first wine trip together. It was Olney’s top recommendation in the whole of the Beaujolais region. The current generation of the Geoffray family continues their tradition. Today their grandnephew Claude, his wife Evelyne, and their son Claude-Edouard continue the tradition as staunch and proud defenders of the terroir of the Côte de Brouilly.
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.
For the wines that I buy I insist that the winemaker leave them whole, intact. I go into the cellars now and select specific barrels or cuvées, and I request that they be bottled without stripping them with filters or other devices. This means that many of our wines will arrive with a smudge of sediment and will throw a more important deposit as time goes by, It also means the wine will taste better.
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