26 October 2015
Living in Beaujolais for the past few months has revealed myriad semi-unknown regional charms. What it has not revealed are many good restaurants. The winemakers I know are kind of sho-ga-nai about the situation, aware that they themselves rarely patronise their rather dire local restaurants.
Most villages have a bar and a restaurant, or one establishment serving as both, pitched at the lowest price range possible for the business to remain viable. (In Beaujolais this is, strangely, still not that cheap. I often dine for the same prices in Paris' better-value restaurants.) In some villages, there persist Michelin-style establishments, but they are perpetually empty-ish, seemingly dependent on the birthdays and anniversaries of the elderly, and on what trickle of Belgian and Dutch tourism still remains. Tourism overall has been in decline since the 1990's, and the corresponding stagnation in the average Beaujolais citizen's income, coupled with the eminent availability of large kitchens in private homes and the laudable persistence of culinary know-how among families, means that the natives simply don't dine out much.
Atop the Col de Truges, however, on the border between high Morgon and Chiroubles, there sits a dowdy auberge whose unadorned Beaujolaise cuisine has remained constant, and consistently excellent, throughout the region's changing fortunes.
15 October 2015
Before I met Julie Balagny in early August, I had presumed she was the reclusive type. I don't know where I got this idea.
It may have been her former association with Fleurie vigneron Yvon Métras, a genuine reclusive type. Or because her stand at the Bien Boire en Beaujolais tasting this past April went mostly unmanned, from what I could tell. It may have been that I unconsciously projected onto Balagny herself the rarity and relative costliness of her daringly pure, soulful Fleurie wines, which in Paris can only be found at Les Caves du Panthéon, La Cave des Papilles, and occasionally Le Verre Volé.
In any event, I couldn't have been more wrong. Balagny has proved to be among the most enthusiastic and welcoming figures I've met during my time in Beaujolais. To a large degree I owe to her the fact I'm even here, for she very kindly put in touch with my present landlady in Lancié. In a heavily factionalized region where many great winemakers are press-averse to the point of paranoia, Balagny is an exceptional case. A Parisian who made wine in the Southwest and Provence before moving to Beaujolais in February 2009, she can sympathise with the difficulties of a newcomer, because she herself went through them.
08 October 2015
Most wine regions have a colourful word for the traditional end-of-harvest party. In Burgundy it's la paulée. In the Aube it's le chien. In Beaujolais it's called la revole. Chez Yvon Métras la revole this year resembled an unending apéro, punctuated by bouts of pétanque and attended by a wide cast of friends and neighbors. Having harvested sixteen days straight with a string of different domaines, I was in less than sterling form for la revole. At one point I just conked out and scootered home to take a nap, only to return and continue drinking two hours later.
I must have felt particularly well-rested, because upon return I found myself cheerfully agreeing to harvest yet again the following day. Laure Foillard and her friends - many of them, like her, winemakers' daughters - invited me to help harvest ten bennes or so of what would become "La Cuvée des Copines."
Laure explained that it was a project they'd begun the previous year, when they harvested an untended parcel of vines and vinified it with help from their families. The results were bottled and divided up for personal consumption among the numerous participating copines - Poline, Ophélie, Camille, Alexia, Inès, Elisa, etc. This year the copines had their sights on a steep, neglected parcel of Chiroubles belonging to Elisa's family. Sounds like fun, I said. But if I harvest with the copines, do I have to dress up like a woman?