It’s not easy to raise the bar when your father revolutionized winemaking in a given region, but that is precisely what Charly Thévenet has accomplished with this 2019 Morgon. Building upon the creed of sustainable farming and natural winemaking that brought the “Gang of Four” to the limelight, Charly has brought his own touch, resulting in cru Beaujolais that presents hedonistic pleasure and serious pedigree: chilling the grapes down before fermentation preserves vibrant fruit and freshness, while his decision to forgo punch-downs and pump-overs yields a silky-fine grain without sacrificing underlying structure. Dip your nose into this Morgon for a kaleidoscope of sublime aromas—the spice box perfume could well come from Vosne-Romanée, but no, this is pure Gamay grown in granite, as swallowable as we could ever dream of.
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.
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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