Jean Foillard is, without a doubt, among the most talented vignerons in the Beaujolais. Since we began importing his wines in the early 1990s, Jean has toiled away in his two core crus, Morgon and Fleurie, perfecting the marriage of natural viticulture and winemaking to the region’s noblest terroirs. This combination yields wines that reach, year in and year out, the pinnacle of hedonistic, intoxicating, and soulful Beaujolais. Jean has recently added another sublime expression of Gamay to his lineup—a Beaujolais-Villages. It’s a blend of carefully selected and organically farmed parcels from across the region that delivers the ultimate introduction to the area’s reds through Foillard’s quintessential house style. He takes the gorgeous hue, heady perfume, and silky texture of his structured Morgons and Fleuries and channels them through a lighter, more ethereal frame. Boasting bright and fresh flavors of black cherries, brambly fruit, and spice, this Beaujolais-Villages is astonishingly versatile, as dreamy alongside the French classics as it is with weeknight burritos or the spicy jambalaya I paired it with earlier this month.
Jean and Agnès Foillard took over his father’s domaine in 1980, and soon thereafter began to make Kermit Lynch customers very happy. Most of their vineyards are planted on the Côte du Py, the famed slope outside the town of Villié-Morgon and the pride of Morgon. Following the example of traditionalist Jules Chauvet, Jean and three other local vignerons Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton, soon hoisted the flag of Chauvet’s back-to-nature movement. Kermit dubbed this clan the Gang of Four, and the name has stuck ever since. The Gang called for a return to the old practices of viticulture and vinification. The end result is a rustic structure, spicy notes, and mineral-laden backbone.
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.
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