26 September 2015

buckets, bennes, and quenelles: beaujolais harvests 2015

I moved to Beaujolais in mid-August to research a book I hope to write on the region's wines. I bought a 50cc scooter to get around on and I rented an apartment in Lancié, between the cru villages of Villié-Morgon and Fleurie. The uncharacteristically long blog silence this past month was on account of harvest time. 

I had initially planned to harvest with just one domaine, Yvon Métras in Fleurie. Métras harvests quite late, however - we began on Sept. 3rd this year (early by historical standards, but late for 2015 in Beaujolais). By late August I'd realised that since I didn't need lodging, most other winemakers didn't mind if I put in just a day or two of work here and there with their harvest teams before commencing chez Métras. 

This is how I wound up harvesting sixteen days straight with the following winemakers: Gilles Paris (Chiroubles), Jean-Paul Thévenet (Villié-Morgon), Jean-Louis Dutraive (Fleurie), Guy Breton (Villié-Morgon), and finally Yvon and Jules Métras (Fleurie). This isn't counting several subsequent mornings and afternoons spent harvesting various experimental micro-cuvées for these and other winemakers, which stories I'll relegate to future blog posts. What follows for now is sort of a harvest data-dump, a series of images and observations that I hope will transmit some of the flavour of the experience. 

Harvesting some picturesque old vines outside the home of Gilles Paris' ex-mother-in-law. The fruit goes to the cave cooperative.

No seatbelts in Beaujolais. Transport at Gilles Paris.

The "Sauce Françoise," named after its creator, Gilles Paris' sister-in-law, is the greatest quenelle sauce I have ever tasted. One eats quite a few quenelles (not pictured) during harvest in Beaujolais. 

The sky over Chiroubles, as seen from Gilles Paris' driveway. He probably sees this so often it's become routine. Another day, another flaming sky.

The flat vineyard adjacent to his house, from which Jean-Paul Thévenet produces a sparkling gamay for the UK market. 

Lunch chez Polpo. His wife Annick makes a truly resplendent blanquette de veau.

While awaiting lunch chez Dutraive, my friend Valentin helped the ladies shell beans. 

Jean-Louis Dutraive and his Dutch friend, the wine writer Loek Hoogendijk, having a splash of Fine de Beaujolais to shake off the chill of a drizzly morning. 

Jean-Louis Dutraive and his son Justin putting the day's harvest in a refrigerated chamber for cooling.

Max Breton and his apprentice Kevin loading the year's Beaujolais Nouveau into the press. This is the first year Max has rented a modern press; previously everything was done with a small wooden press, which finally conked out last year. 

The clouds arriving thickly over the mountains northwest of this parcel of Regnié, from which Max Breton purchases fruit.

Unloading the day's bennes of grapes with Max Breton.

A parcel of Beaujolais-Villages in La Chapelle de Guinchay that previously belonged to Jules Chauvet. Now it comprises part of Jules Métras' "Cuvée Bijou." In the background a neighbor can be seen rather tragically machine-harvesting an adjacent parcel. 

Italian harvesters chez Métras, stretching after lunch.

The steep slopes of some La Madone vineyards adjacent to those of Métras.

Jules Métras standing in his father's organically-farmed La Madone vineyard to the left. To the right is a neighbor's vineyard, rendered barren by herbicide use.

Bennes of grapes in the fridge chez Métras. Those marked with a leaf are the very, very old vine fruit destined for the cuvée "Ultime."

Yvon Métras loads grapes for the encuvage of his Fleurie.

Lots of friends came round for La Revole, the extended drinking session that marks the end of harvest in Beaujolais.

On a general scale, the peculiarity of the 2015 vintage in Beaujolais probably warrants its own in-depth post. No one I spoke to could remember a year so dry. From the heat-wave in July until early September, there was barely a trickle of rain. Some winemakers cited the closest historical precedent as 1946 or 1904; others told me there simply had never been a year this dry on record in Beaujolais.

The dryness caused grape skins to harden, which most expect to increase tannicity, and reduced overall juice volume while increasing sugar concentration. Overall yields are low, and potential alcohol is quite high. The winemakers I know best all seem to be pressing at slightly higher sugar density than usual, but I don't know how widespread this is. One thing everyone can agree on is that 2015, even more so than usual in this highly vintage-variable region, will possess a character all its own.

Related Links:

Beaujolais Bike Trip 2015:

Jean-Paul Thévenet, Pizay
Jules Métras, Fleurie
Rémi et Laurence Dufaitre, Saint-Etienne-des-Ouillières
Jean-Claude Lapalu, Saint-Etienne-La-Varenne
Benoit Camus, Ville-sur-Jarnioux

Beaujolais Bike Trip 2011:

Karim Vionnet, Villié-Morgon
Café de la Bascule, Fleurie
Isabelle et Bruno Perraud, Vauxrenard
Le Coq à Juliènas, Juliènas
L'Atelier du Cuisiner, Villié-Morgon


  1. This was a fucking great post.

  2. A corker of a post! Very glad to see you back at the computer, Aaron -- I thought you were gone for good. These are some of my favorite wines and producers. Cheers!

  3. By the way, would Francoise and Annick be willing to share their recipes here?