The time, 4am, had come for me to go on my first wine trip. Feeling very lucky, I headed to HQ and hoped that my excitement about what Beaujolais had to offer was masking the obvious tiredness in my eyes and limbs!
Meeting up with my colleagues, we headed off to the airport to get all the boring, generic travel bits done and were greeted, upon arrival to France, by glorious sunshine as we collected our, unfortunately not gamay red, hire car. Setting off, we were soon surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards as far as the eye could see – the region is a classic portrait of southern France. As we settled at our accommodation for the trip, the old and classical Chateau Bellevue, I knew that I’d soon to be enjoying fantastic wine and food with the added bonus of two days off work!
After taking in the beautiful surroundings it was time for lunch (it’s a tough life). We were very privileged to be hosted by Xavier, current MD of Loron et Fils, who you could quite easily rename as Mr Gamay! As we chatted over lunch (whitebait freshly caught from the river next to our table) with Xavier under clear blue skies about Beaujolais, his knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for the region was infectious – I was desperate to learn and explore more.
Our first stop after lunch was Loron’s HQ. Xavier, who is the 8th generation of the family to run the business, showed us around and explained to us the extra care that they take with the wines – from vineyard to bottle. It was a remarkable place but I had my eyes firmly fixed upon the upcoming end of tour tasting!
The first wine was entirely new to me – a white Beaujolais. Made from Chardonnay, it had stone fruit on the nose with some lovely balanced acidity and a slightly honeyed finish. We then tasted some other whites from Burgundy that were all excellent but I was here for the full Gamay experience! Nine wines late, things started getting serious…Enter Chateau de Fleurie la Madone 2015. On the nose it was bright with fresh red fruit backed up by the smell of stewed back cherry and a touch of oak. On the palate the nose carried through but the fruit became much crunchier.
After this cracker, we tried a further six excellent wines but for me the Fleurie stood out – it was a great example of how Beaujolais wines are great, not only for Summer, but also for the colder months thanks to their complexity. After being bowled over by the quality of the wines it was time to escape to the Chateau to eat dinner and reflect on a great first day in southern France
Wednesday greeted us with a classic French breakfast and, almost more importantly, the promise of more great wine! We headed off to the Beaujolais Cru village of Régnié to explore. Pulling over in the car, I was amazed at the way the soil changed – the top of the vineyard was almost like sand but as we walked down the vineyard, the erosion was so obvious, you could see the increased amount of granite in the soil. As we marvelled in our surroundings Oliver, our Beaujolais friend from Loron, had a surprise for us. Due to poor yields and a general lack of demand for Beaujolais wines, they believe that in as little as 15 years, Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages wine with be virtually non-existent. These vineyards will be replanted with the much more commercially viable Chardonnay and if you want to drink Beaujolais you’ll have to go for something from a Cru area. It’s a shame really because, as I was discovering, there is so much variety across the region that there is something for everyone here!
We then ventured to Brouilly and even got to visit the famous Cote du Brouilly and Mont Brouilly. Atop this extinct volcano, we were greeted by Beaujolais’ answer to Stone Henge! The incredibly passionate locals have constructed a ring of all seven soil types found within the region – they absolutely love their soil here and have carried out more research in recent years than almost any other wine region on the planet to show how unique and variable it is. Feeling a bit ‘soil-overloaded’ we visited two more of the Crus – St Amour and Julienas – each massively distinctive and different. There are 10 Crus in the region so I’m delighted to not have visited them all as it means I can return again one day!
As we drove back to the airport I realised that you should never judge a wine region before exploring all it has to offer and that it’s no reflection on quality if a region isn’t as well known or ‘in-demand’ as others. Most importantly though, Beaujolais isn’t something you just drink on the third Thursday of November, in fact, it has something to offer all year round.