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In Praise of Gamay - An Excerpt from The Atlas of Taste

Below are excerpts from Raj Parr & Jordan Mackay's forthcoming book, The Atlas of Taste
Evening Land list members can pre-order signed, first editions by clicking below.

'One of the most beautiful wines of the world, Beaujolais couldn’t catch a break. From the humiliation it must have suffered in 1395 when its grape, Gamay, got unceremoniously booted from Burgundy by Philip the Bold, to the summers of 2016 and 2017, when brutal hailstorms destroyed the crop in many of its best vineyards, the hits have kept coming. Add in the fact that its one claim to fame, Beaujolais Nouveau, which brought international fame and tons of cash, was based on an iffy wine that would obscure the existence of the good Beaujolais and ultimately contribute to an economic tailspin lasting decades, and you’ve got a major crash on your hands. Even the heavily hyped vintages of late—2009, 2010, and 2015—all of which prompted forecasts of a “Beaujolais turnaround,” were not magic bullets.

Quick fixes, however, were never what Beaujolais needed. The region’s people and its wines have always been regarded in France as sort of charming, convivial country bumpkins, providing simple bucolic pleasure if never profundity. And while there is a jovial, outgoing spirit here, Beaujolais is also home to many extremely talented, driven vignerons. And it’s in these men and women that lies the region’s reclamation, which is being powered by quality, site-driven wines, not magic bullets or marketing gimmicks.

In the early 1980s a small group of young producers in Morgon, dubbed by importer Kermit Lynch the Gang of Four (Jean-Paul Thévenet, Guy Breton, Jean Foillard, and Marcel Lapierre), fell under the influence of an elderly, brilliant sage named Jules Chauvet. Chauvet and his assistant Jacques Néauport preached traditional winemaking—use old vines in vineyards farmed without chemicals, harvest fully ripe grapes, ferment with natural yeasts, age the wines in barrel, and bottle without fining or filtration. Chauvet also proved that this could be done without adding sulfur dioxide, wine’s universal protector. The Gang of Four adopted these methods and essentially gave birth to the natural wine movement, countering the rise of industrial winemaking and preserving Beaujolais’s soul.

Today, Beaujolais is well on its way out of the pit into which Nouveau cast it. Just as the attention of modern young wine drinkers is finding the previously obscure wines of the Loire and the Jura, Beaujolais too has been recognized for the complex and thought-provoking, yet utterly delightful, wines it can make. In a beneficial feedback loop, the opportunity Beaujolais currently presents—cheap land, high-quality and historical terroirs, newfound cachet—is attracting both young, aspiring vintners and even some famous names from Burgundy (Lafarge and Thibault Liger-Belair, to name a couple) who help raise the profile even higher.'

Jul 12, 2018 at 6:34 AM
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