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If I had a vineyard...

Until last week I’d never seriously wanted a vineyard of my own, but I came back from a trip and found myself frenetically googling vineyards for sale in…  


Who knows whether it will lead to anything, but at least I know now where I’d like to have a vineyard. With its hilly terrain, old vines, low yields, single grape variety and omnipresent threat of hail, it’s not the easiest place to be a vigneron (I’ve just identified the country for you), and I’d always said the reason I had no desire for a vineyard was that it was too much like hard work and/or that I wouldn’t be able to afford somewhere with the quality potential I would want. It’s not that I had set the bar in the stratosphere. I insist on being able to afford to drink the wine I produce, but I’m not interested in making an everyday potboiler that I would be tired of drinking after a few months. I’m happy drinking everyday potboilers as long as I can change them regularly. 


The region I’ve settled on, for the time being metaphorically, is northern Beaujolais, the area, fringed by Beaujolais-Villages, that takes in all 10 Crus, from Juliénas to Saint-Amour in the north down through the likes of Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent to the southernmost Cru of Brouilly that more or less encloses the smaller Cru of Côte de Brouilly. I’ve pinpointed a particular area, but I’m not going to be more precise. I don’t want you all to start googling. 


What I will tell you is why I’ve chosen northern Beaujolais. It happens to be one of the prettiest wine regions and the people are very warm and friendly, but those aren’t the reasons. Quite simply, it’s a region that’s doing everything right and is beginning to get the recognition and following it deserves. For years, Beaujolais as a whole was in the doldrums: prices were low, quality was unreliable, sometimes downright poor, there were a couple of headline-hitting fraud cases and, not least, the overarching global taste was for big, oaky, alcoholic, super-fruity wines. Lighter, low-tannin reds were as fashionable as knitted swimwear. 


How things change. More or less since 2000, a quality philosophy has prevailed with, among other things, yields kept well below official limits, detailed soil analyses and mapping of the whole area (more comprehensive than any other wine region), growing numbers of lieu-dit and single-vineyard wines and increasing sustainable and organic growing. But it’s only in the last few years that the outside world has really begun to notice and that it has begun to translate into sales. 


Beaujolais’ time has come. Tastes have moved to fresher, more elegant reds that are more versatile with food and the Gamay grape, the only one allowed in red Beaujolais, is ideally placed to take advantage (white Beaujolais, about three percent of production, is made from Chardonnay). 


Gamay’s strength is that it’s a grape that produces red wines to be drunk young. The strength of Beaujolais’ 10 Crus is that the best wines can also be aged – and not just those from Moulin-à-Vent. Among the gems I drank last week were a 1989 from Guy Breton, a 1991 Morgon from Dominique Piron (Domaine de la Chanaise), a 2003 and a 2009 Côte de Brouilly from Nicole Chanrion (Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes) and a 2009 Regnié from Charly Thévenet, son of Jean-Paul Thévenet, one of Beaujolais’ influential ‘Gang of Four’, including Guy Breton, who set off on a quality-oriented, more natural winemaking path at the end of the 1980s.  Below are a few more growers whose wines I recommend after visiting them or tasting their wines last week. You won’t find the exceptional wines of Fabien Duperray of Jules Desjourneys in the UK, but look out for them in the US, Asia and elsewhere. I’ll be doing a separate blog on them either here or on my own website. 


I’m always saying that if I knew what the next big thing in wine was going to be I wouldn’t be sitting around waiting for the question, I’d be out there making sure I was part of the action. You never know, perhaps my time has come too (but don’t hold your breath).

Other recommended producers: 
Jean-Paul Thévenet  
Clos de la Roilette 
Domaine des Chers 
Jules Desjourneys   
Pascal Aufranc 
Château du Moulin-à-Vent
Domaine Mee Godard