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A good half-century before the now-roaring phenomenon of natural wine took hold, Beaujolais biochemist Jules Chauvet urged local vignerons to “produce wines with low alcohol and a pretty perfume.” If anybody took these words to heart, it is “P’tit Max” Breton, the Morgon-based vigneron who converted to Chauvet’s school of low-intervention winemaking in the late 1980s on the insistence of his childhood friend, the late Marcel Lapierre. Today, Breton crafts some of Beaujolais’ most irresistibly swallowable cuvées—wines that perfectly epitomize Chauvet’s vision through their intoxicating aromatics and light-hearted, light-bodied nature. P’tit Max’s house style is determined as much by his vineyards as by his personal taste. Across multiple appellations, he farms old vines in cool, high-elevation parcels where Gamay ripens late, with modest alcohol levels and perky acidity. Correspondingly, he dislikes tannins, opting for gentle whole-berry vinifications at low temperature to minimize extraction. His foray outside of Morgon to neighboring appellations has provided the opportunity to view some of Beaujolais’ other great terroirs through the hedonistic lens of lithe, high-toned, floral beauties that would make Chauvet proud. Here is your chance to discover the “other” wines in the Breton portfolio—and be sure to keep an eye out for his delicate, finessed Chiroubles, set to arrive in our shop soon.
2018 Beaujolais-Villages “Cuvée Marylou” • $26.00 From the very highest altitude at which vineyards are found in the region (500 meters), Max’s Beaujolais-Villages clocks in at a dangerous 11.8% alcohol. Pure, lively, silky, and remarkably juicy, this is the bottle to chill down and quaff down at any given occasion.
2017 Régnié • $32.00 Grown on very lean, rocky granite soils, and it tastes like it. Bright red fruit, spice, and a crunchy, stony finish are this Régnié’s hallmarks.
2017 Côte de Brouilly • $36.00 As one might expect, this cru delivers more muscle along with denser, darker fruit. What tannins it does have are perfectly balanced by fresh acidity and a texture approaching that of velvet.
Today, Breton crafts some of Beaujolais’ most irresistibly swallowable cuvées—wines that perfectly epitomize Chauvet’s vision through their intoxicating aromatics and light-hearted, light-bodied nature.
Guy Breton is known by his friends as Petit Max – though he is anything but petit, by the way. He took over the family domaine from his grandfather in 1986. Following the example of traditionalist Jules Chauvet, Guy and three other local vignerons Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Jean Foillard, 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 allows Morgon to express itself naturally, without make-up or plastic surgery: rustic, spicy, loaded with schist minerals and at the same time, refreshing and deep-down delicious.
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.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
Inspiring Thirst, page 312
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