The Beaujolais area is an area in the east of France, south of the Mâconnais area. It is considered part of Burgundy. It has a length of 55km from north (the granite-based hills of the Mâcon) to south (the more flatter land near Lyon) and 25 km from east to west. It is split in Haut Beaujolais (north and granite based soil) and Bas Beaujolais (south and clay and limestone based soil). The river Saône runs through the area. In the west there is mountain Central Massif and in the east are the Alps. It has 20.000 ha of vineyards and produces 93-110million bottles a year. It consists of 12 appellations (10 cru and Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages). Total of 96 villages and almost 3000 estates. About 40% of the production is for export. Production is about 825.000 hl (133 million bottles)
Beaujolais area always has been an area of things happening. The name was given in the 13th century by Beaujeu. During the Black plague at the end of the 14thcentury, much of Burgundy was replanted with Gamay. This, because it is a more hearty and productive vine compared to pinot noir. Many people died and the Gamay grape made life a bit easier. In 1395 the use of the Gamay grape was forbidden in the north of Burgundy by Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy. Pinot noir had to be the Côte d’Or grape. So, Gamay was banished to the south. In 1620 people from Mâconnais accused their neighbours grape of causing illness. Gamay was not very popular in that time. There was not much winemaking until the 17th century. It started to become more popular in the 18thand 19thcentury. Maybe not for the right reasons. With its 15% alcohol it was very good in pleasing the industrial workers from Lyon. In 1927 the first cooperative cellar started: Cellar of producers of grand vins de Fleurie. Slowly the area began to develop. In 1936 The AOC chiroubles, Fleurie, Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent was raised. And in September 1937 the AOC Beaujolais was accredited. In 1951 the idea of the Beaujolais Nouveau was born. But only till 1985 it was decided that the third Thursday of November would be the first selling day of Beaujolais nouveau. Regnie AOC is the latest AOC, raised in 1988. In the 80s George Duboeuf put the Beaujolais on the world map. The Nouveau parties ere celebrated worldwide. Bad side was that the market was floaded with cheap, low quality Beaujolais. So much crap was produced that the French governnement in 2001 ordered producers to dump over a million cases. After this some scandals arised for instance with illegal chapitalization and blending with crus with inferior wines. This was not helping the Beaujolais image. The Duke Philip
Gamay Noir (98%): it is an early budding red grape, susceptible to spring frost. It is also vulnerable to millerandage in cold, damp and windy conditions. It has a thin, delicate skin. Vulnerable to rot and wind. It is early ripening and can be picked before autumn rains falls. Gamay is mostly planted in Beaujolais. It is a flexible grape. Does not give a lot of tannin and does not like too much of new oak. On sandy soil it is easy, fruity. On clay or limestone it has more structure. Gamay on granite is the best. It gives high yields and is not as difficult as Pinot Noir. Gamay is a cross from Pinot Noir (Black grape) and Gouias (white grape). Before Phyloxera it was grown in the whole of France (160.000 ha). Now only 30.000 ha of which 50% is in the Beaujolais area. Gamay is also found in the Upper Loire area. In Côte Roannaise, Côtes du Forez and Côtes d’Auvergne.
Aroma: pomegranate, blackberry bramble, violet, potting soil and banana. Low in alcohol, body, tannin. Medium high in acidity
Some Chardonnay is found in the north of Beaujolais, bordering Mâcon. It does best on cooler marl and limestone soil.
Continental climate: slightly warmer than the rest of Burgundy. Climate has oceanic influences: wet spring good for water reserve. Continental influences gives cold winters. Mediterranean wind warm, dry summers and Indian autumm. Extreme variation between winter and summer. Rain 740mm a year. Mountains protect mainly Haut-Beaujolais. River Saone regulates temp differences. There is a cold Mistral wind, that can affect flowering in spring, damp spring weather. It can also damage leaves and grapes towards end op ripening period when gamay skin gets thin and vulnerable.
Viniculture and Viticulture
It produces a large quantity of wine, similar in volume to the rest of Burgundy. Gamay is a high yield vine, so yields need to be controlled. Short pruning helps. Originally Goblet pruned (bush trained) is used.This to protect the vines from the wind and this is still the case on steeper hills. But now also vines are trained on trellises to aid mechanization. Especially for inexpensive wine making.
Most Gamay is handpicked, because the whole bunches are used for carbonic maceration. Chaptalisation is allowed, especially used in the cooler years. Majority of Beaujolais is made by semi-carbonic maceration. The aim is to enhance fruitiness of the wine and depth of colour. Total maceration time on the skin for Beaujolais and Beaujolais villages is 4-5 days. Press wine is blended with free-run wine. The wines are aged briefly in stainless steel and release early for sale. Very good Beaujolais villages wines may macerate for 6-9 days. Cru Beaujolais wines may extend maceration for 10-20 days. Or grapes are destemmed and crushed, followed by maceration and fermentation on the skin like almost all red wines. These wines may be aged in barrels with a large percentage of new oak.
There are three appellations: AOC Beaujolais rouge, AOC rosé and AOC blanc.
Beaujolais Nouveau: Beaujolais Nouveau AOC and Beaujollais Villages Nouveau AOC. Semi-carbonic maceration 3-5 days. Sometimes malolactic conversion (malic acid (apples) is converted to lactic acid (milk). Fining and filtration is common, because SO2 is used in high dosage and to prevent MLF in the bottle
Beaujolais AOC: most of these vineyards are in the south. It is 5000 ha (south and east) 40 million bottles
- 250000hl (33M bottles)
- Mergel (marl, loam), kalksteen (limestone), klei, leisteen (slate, schist), graniet
- 72 villages. 50% sold as Beaujolais nouveau and young release in November
Beaujolais Villages AOC:better quality wines, due to higher ripeness achieved in Northern half of Beaujolais. Wines are purple in colour, medium intensity of fresh red cherry, red plum and kirsch and banana aromas of semi carbonic maceration. Only a few individual growers tend to use the name of the villages. Merchants still dominate production and are more likely to blend of different villages to simply name the wine Beaujolais village. Overall they produce wines with medium-high acidity. Light-medium body and medium alcohol and light-medium tannins. Good to very good quality.
Beaujolais Villages AOC 4000ha (mid and west) 30 million bottles
- 185000 hl (25M)
- 39 villages
- Soil: Graniet, zand, vulkanische rotsen
- Expressive wines, intense fruity. Potential for ageing
- Often sold as Beaujolais nouveau but ften aged for 6 months so released in march
Beaujolais Crus:there are ten individuals crus with their own AOC in the northern part. Brouilly and Morgon are the largest. The crus have their own typical style. They have the right to put the name of the village on the label.
10 CRUS 6000ha (North) 40 million bottles. Vineyards areas are on the label
- 260000hl (35M)
- Divers soil, but high granite proportion
- All are in the north. Only red wines. 100% gamay
Brouilly AOC: most southern and marginally warmer area, wines in lighter and more perfumed style (The Young) . Annual production is 66.000hl (9 million bottles) and about 1300 hectares with 530 producers. This is the largest Beaujolais cru. It covers about 20% of the total area of the Beaujolais crus. Wines can be very different. It most drunk young, but some, especially the ones from the volcanic slopes of mount Brouilly and the ones from Côtes de Brouilly have potential for ageing.
Côtes de Brouilly AOC(The Elegant) 15000hl 320 ha with 50 producers. Very steep hills. So constant battle against soil erosion and mechanical work is difficult.
Chiroubles AOC: Mid west of the Beaujolais. The cru of the highest altitude (240-450 above sea level), that produces lighter and fragrant wines with marked acidity. (The Real) It has light, sandy soil. It is the highest cru, therefore cooler temperature. Annual Production 18000hl, 350 ha amongs 60 growers. Cru is named after the village Chiroubles. Problem in this area is soil eosion, due to steep hills. Wines are 5-10 days behind everywhere else. So harvest starts oevral 1 week later.
Fleurie AOC:Lies in the middle of the Beaujolais area. The southern part of this cru has sandy soil, producing lighter and more fragrant wines. Towards the north soil becomes more clay and wines become heavier, with lower acidity and more full bodied. (The Queen). It is 857 hectares big and there are 180 growers. The annual production is 33.200 hl. The name has nothing to do with flowers but us named after a Roman Legionnaire. Unique is the pink granite soil in this area. Fleurie has 13 climates (named vineyards) and all produce their own typical wine.
Moulin-à-Vent AOC:produces the most powerful and long-lived wines closer in style to Côte d’Or red wines. (The Great) 25700 hl, 630 ha. Produces also wines with potential for ageing. Is named after a 15thcentury windmill. Dark, ruby red wines with aroma of flowers, spices. Is a bit comparable with a pinot noir and a good quality burgundy wine.
Morgon AOC:this includes wines from fruit grown on the south-facing Côte de Py vineyard. Intens black cherry fruit, alongside red fruit, and sufficient tannins to age for decades on the bottle. (The Powerful). Morgon 49500 hl 1100 ha The Côte du Py in Morgon is an area on the slopes of an old volcano. It is almost the most southern of the ten crus. The wines are firm and tannic. Potential for ageing. It is the second largest cru. Wines are strong, warm and spicy. Specials soil: Volcanic soil, granite, but also limestone and clay. Mont de Py is dominant here. Good potential for ageing.
Saint Amour AOC(The Romantic) Annual production is about 12000 hl and 300 ha is split beweteen 115 growers. This is the most Northern crus. It has besides granite also some limestone soil, because it is closest to burgundy. Therefore two types of wine can be found here. Light fruity wines and more coplex wines that need 4-5 years of ageinf. Its best wines combine minerality with fruit that is almost as seductive as its name. Lively wine with aroma of kirsh, peony (pioenroos) and spices.
Juliénas AOC(The Earthy) Juliénas Annual production is 14000 hl. 560 ha with 120 producers. This cru is named after Julius Caesar and has a wine history of more than 2000 years. It produces usually fuller bodied and can be more rustic. Can be drubk young and old. Is just below Juliénas in the north. Lue volcanic granite soil and some clay.
Régnié AOC(The Creative). The holey wines. About 15500 hl annual production. 400 ha with 80 producers. . It is the latest established cru (1988). Easy and fruity wines. It s the most western cru. West from Morgon. It is rather than Brouilly a superior beaijulias village. Typical pink granite soil.
Chénas AOC(The Full Bodied) 7600 hl 240 ha 3th cru from the north and lives in the shadow of Moulin-a-vent. Both need time to blossom. One of the more rare crus in the Beaujolais. Complex aromas floral and wood. It was the favorite wine of Louis XIII.
Beaujolais nouveau AOC can be sold on the 15th of December. The nouveau styled wines can be sold on the third Thursday in November . Max yield in Beaujolais AOC is 55hL/ha. Wines can be sold in mid-January year after harvest in Beaujolais AOC. Max yield in Beaujolais Villages AOC is 50hL/Ha. Wine is usually labelled as Beaujolais villages, but it is allowed to put the name of the village on the label. Max yield in Beaujolais cru is 48hl/ha. Min alcohol level is 9.5% , for a superior is this 10%
Wine houses and winemakers to know
Jean-Paul Thévenet,Lapierre, Dutraive, Jules Desjourneys (makes aged Beaujolais on oak. Beaujollais villages AOC, but with outstanding quality). George Duboeuf and Louis Jadot
Land in Beaujolais is much cheaper than in Burgundy and especially south Beaujolais were granite is making place for limestone, burgundys are buying land to plant pinot noir and Chardonnay which they can sell as burgundy wine. Beaujolais is well known for its red wines but also rosé wines and white wines are produced. Only the crus make only red wine. About 11500 hl white wine is made in Beaujolais and 3800 hl in Beaujolais villages. About 13500 hl rose is made in Beaujolais and 4000 hl in Beaujolais villages. 2016 and 2017 were good years for the Baujolais. 2015 was hot, low quantities and full lots of tannin. 2014 there was lost up to 50% due to hail.
Beaujolais Nouveau day: the third Thursday of November starts at 12:01 am local time. At this moment it is allowed to release the young, just bottles wine. It is all about 65 million bottles of just two months old red wine drunk around the whole world at the same time. In the old day this young, cheap wine was something to celebrate the end of the harvest season with. But in the 50s distributors started to compete each other over who would be the first to get his wine into Paris. In the 70s George Duboeuf, who was a major producer of Beaujolais Nouveau, started marketing and made a huge festival / celebration out of the Beaujolais Nouveau. The day is on Thursday, the day many people already start their weekend and is just before Thanksgiving in the US. It happens to go very wel with Turkey. Japan is the worlds largest importer of Beaujolais Nouveau, with Germany second.
sources: WSET D3 Reading: Wines of the world, The Oxford Companion to wine, the World Atlas of Wine by Johnson and Robinson, Wine Folly and the internet