10 November 2016

beaujolais harvests 2016

Max Breton's team at the end of day in his old vines at Saint Joseph in Morgon.

Anything I post on the blog right now will rightfully be drowned out by the post-election din, i.e. the anguished, horrified screams of anyone with even a passing, sentimental attachment to democracy in America.

But with the third week of November approaching fast, I thought I'd dash out some notes on another pressing issue, the year's Beaujolais vintage.

Inès Métras plating some saucisson au gène.

"Ah, you're still here?" was the most common reaction among Beaujolais vigneron friends when I volunteered to harvest again. I took it be an encouraging indication that no other Anglophone wine journalist has ever spent as long as I have doing (rather literal) field research in the Beaujolais.

I did a few warm-up days harvesting with the Dutraive family in Fleurie, a extremely enjoyable experience rendered bittersweet only by the fact that hail had wiped out most of their harvest. We picked what few grapes were left as a small team, bringing in about a bucket's worth every four rows. Then I harvested with Villié-Morgon's Max Breton for the entirety of his campaign, and later squeezed in one morning harvesting with Jules Métras, at the latter's new parcel of Chiroubles, which, practically alone amid that cru, was spared the year's hail. Later I followed the process of pressing and vinification with Max Breton, and checked in on various other winemakers

The lean 2016 harvest team chez Jean-Louis Dutraive.

Besides essentially wiping out the harvest in Chiroubles, climats Champagne and Grand Pré in Fleurie, and much of the Douby climat in Morgon, hail also hit sections of Moulin-à-Vent and Lancié in 2016. Many of the winemakers affected acquired négoçiant licenses and purchased grapes in order to produce wine this year.

Fleurie's Jean-Louis Dutraive, from what little fruit he has left this year, will make one cuvée of domaine Fleurie.

Justin Dutraive loading grapes into the cold chamber.

Dutraive is also producing a Chénas from purchased fruit, along with some more Fleurie, and, most unusually, a cinsault from the Languedoc and a carignan from Ardèche. (If I remember correctly.)

Jean-Louis Dutraive's dog Whisky, who has the troublesome habit of sniffing out the biggest, most pristine bunches, and eating them. 

Meanwhile  his neighbor and fellow hail victim Yann Bertrand purchased some Juliènas, as well as Fleurie and Beaujolais-Villages; he's also made his first primeur this year, from purchased fruit. His cousin Romain Zordan at Grand Pré was similarly affected, but he too was able to make purchases of Fleurie and Morgon this year.

Paul-Henri Thillardon checkin in on Jean-Louis Dutraive's purchased fruit Chénas tank. 

Max Breton, too, lost 30-40% of his Morgon to hail this year, and is unsure whether he'll produce a cuvée "Ptit Max" in 2016. His range will however be supplemented with a new cuvée of négoçiant Côte de Brouilly this year.

It wasn't all hail and heartache in 2016. There was also quite a bit of rot, with a lot of sorting in the vines with Max Breton. (Hence slower progress during harvest than in 2015, when the grapes' unusually thick skins practically obviated sorting.)

Sorting before lunchbreak atop a parcel of Max Breton's Régnié near Saint Joseph.

On a sunnier note, everyone I spoke to in Brouilly was knocking on wood and thanking their lucky stars for a pretty much hail-free vintage with good yields and no undue troubles with rot. (Jean-Claude Lapalu and Rémi Dufaitre both seem in splendid spirits these days.)

Breton's 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau was still tasting bright and full of energy, at 9am in the vines. 

Max Breton abandoned use of bennes this year in favor of wide, low cases. He reported no issues of undue grape piling and no more juice than usual in his tanks, and seemed quite happy with the result. 

Tucking into a few back vintages at apéro hour.

Max Breton kept referring to this parcel of old-vine Régnié as "Siberia," on account of how cold it was at the top in the mornings. 

Devatting the year's last tank of Morgon chez Max Breton. 

The end-of-harvest lunch chez Max Breton - made especially memorable by a magnum of a Chiroubles he made as a one-off cuvée in 2009.  
Jules Métras' steep, high patch of Chiroubles. 
Sorting Chiroubles with Jules Métras.
Back at the Métras cuvage, a splash of white wine before lunch with drummer Philippe Moulinot, who owns the plot of Chiroubles Jules Métras works. 
Setting up the press chez Julie Balagny.
Julie Balagny and her cellarhands working the manual press.
La revole with Julie Balagny and her hilariously large harvest team.
It's hard to reach anything more than general conclusions about the character of the vintage at this stage. It was a late vintage, yet grapes weren't lacking in alcohol. (Some winemakers I spoke to had gone so far as to purchase sugar for chapitalisation, but later decided against using it.) Yields, for those who didn't suffer major hail misfortune, were correct. Alcohol levels are on the lower-side, which is refreshing after the bruisers of 2015. Almost everyone agrees it will be a very Beaujolaise vintage - supple, light, easy-going. Many of the primeurs I've tasted so far share a fleeting, translucent quality to their raspberry-red fruit; they shimmer like holograms, detailed yet weightless.

Pressing chez Jérome Balmet. Contrary to what I reported before, he vinified at his dad's cellar this year, due to poor yields in his new parcels in Saint-Etienne-des-Oullières. Here his friend and fellow vigneron Raphael Champier lends a hand to the manual press. 

It is already a relief to discover something new in these wines. When the physical motions of harvest work are essentially the same, parcel after parcel, year after year, one welcomes the reassurance that the wines of a new vintage will be, in some subtle way, like nothing one has tasted before.

View from inside the vat, chez Max Breton.

Related Links:

Beaujolais, Winter - Spring 2016:

Christophe Pacalet, Cercié
Sylvère Trichard & Elodie Bouvard (Séléné), Blacé
Jérome Balmet, Vaux-en-Beaujolais
L'Auberge du Moulin, Saint-Didier-sur-Chalaronne
Jean-François Promonet, Leynes
Hervé Ravera, Marchampt
Justin Dutraive, Fleurie
Julien Merle & Nathalie Banes, Legny
La Fête des Conscrits, Villié-Morgon
Domaine Leonis (Raphael Champier & Christelle Lucca), Villié-Morgon

Beaujolais, Autumn 2015:

Xavier Benier, Saint-Julien
Jean-Gilles Chasselay, Châtillon d'Azergues
Marcel Joubert, Quincié
Nicolas Chemarin, Marchampt
Anthony Thévenet, Villié-Morgon
Romain Zordan, Fleurie
Yann Bertrand, Fleurie
Domaine Thillardon, Chénas
Sylvain Chanudet, Fleurie
Patrick "Jo" Cotton, Saint-Lager
Pierre Cotton, Odenas
L'Auberge du Col du Truges, Le Truges
Julie Balagny, Moulin-à-Vent
La Cuvée des Copines 2015
Beaujolais Harvests 2015

Beaujolais Bike Trip, Summer 2015:

Georges Descombes, Vermont
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, Summer 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 comment:

  1. The Whisky caption was a nice smirk in an otherwise bleak report.