2016 Beaujolais: Unflappable Joy
Constitution (noun): the physical makeup of an individual, especially with respect to one's attributes
They aren’t a physically imposing people, but when it comes to capacity for consumption, the constitution of the Beaujolaise is ungodly. 5 minutes in a room and you question how any of them will live to be 50. And yet Jean-Louis Dutraive left that decade behind a while ago, and his father – at the tender age of 92 – ain’t exactly making New Year’s resolutions.
There are no holidays here. It’s just one nonstop party. What we would call bachelor-in-Vegas intensity, Jean-Louis would call "un jour normal" (a routine day). And when disaster strikes, the record skips only for a moment, before quickly finding the melody again…
The devastation of hail at Chez Dutraive
MAY 2016: D-DAY 1
Per usual, there were about 10 of us partying at Dutraive’s house around midnight. Lots of laughter, lots of French… I was cooking sausage in the kitchen when a sound hit the roof: TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT…
It lasted for less than 15 minutes and was gone. The whole house got quiet. When I poked my head into the living room Jean Foillard and all the winemakers had gone.
It was bad. Golf-ball sized hail had ripped through Morgon and Fleurie. Young vigneron Yann Bertrand lost everything and what little was left for Dutraive was all but decimated in a second hailstorm that would hit a month later.
Foillard returned an hour later and the drinking would ensue into the wee hours of the morning. He and Jean-Louis shared stories of hailstorms past - 1992, 1966, and beyond...
A short conversation in the vineyards...
AUGUST 2017: POST D-DAY III
By the time I came back to Beaujolais a few weeks ago, disaster had struck a third time. A tornado-like hailstorm in June caused more widespread devastation than any of the storms in ’16. Of the 10 cru villages of Beaujolais, again, Fleurie was hit the worst. This time Jean Louis would lose 95% of his estate fruit.
Each morning I would wake up at his house and run through the village to the sight of vineyards in ruin. Touring Jean Louis' parcels left little to discuss. I asked him how he was dealing with everything. He just shrugged and kept walking. No time to dwell...
Concrete fermenters and the grapes that love them...
Don’t go to France in August. Stores are closed. Nearly all the great restaurants are on vacation. It’s usually a terrible time to taste because everyone is prepping for harvest. With Gamay's short life in barrel, wine from the previous vintage is already bottled and on the water, while the current vintage has yet to be harvested. Cellars look like ghost towns, made even more depressing by Beaujolais' fruitless vines.
As equipment awaiting a purpose was piled up on itself, junkyard-style, we would take advantage of the industrial chic décor and rage as only Beaujolais can. There is no judgment here. No fahion faux pas…no social miscues. And besides a full glass, very few rules. We're in the country, amongst real people.
And while I question the life choices that would certainly lead me to an early grave, disrupting all semblance of a work/life balance, I am convinced that for the townfolk of Fleurie, their world is in perfect harmony. They were built for this. It’s hard not be seduced by such a warm, inclusive community. To see their joy in the face of economic ruin, rising up in song. What they lacked in pitch, they made up for in fervor. You can’t help but be won over.
The party rolls on as the Legends of Fleurie (Dutraive and Metras) discuss life...
A LAPIN OUT OF A CHAPEAU
So, if Dutraive lost practically everything in 2016, how are we doing an offer? It’s good to know people. Jean-Louis is a networking machine, which for a small town like Fleurie, means he has just about every square inch on lock. Up in the hills there are several east-facing sites at elevation that were spared from the hail.
The farmers are friends of his, who I imagine were elated to part with some fruit for the likes of Jean-Louis. When Michael Jordan asks if he can rent out your basketball court, you say ‘yes’. And so – thanks to importer Ted Vance of The Source - we have a special cuvée of contract Gamay, exclusively for Viticole.
How is it you ask? Dope. Really dope.
As for 2017, Dutraive will pull a good majority of fruit from the town of Saint Amour, where one of three organic estates in the region is churning out very high-level Gamay…
Meet the young and talented Victor Chardigny
THE NEXT GENERATION
Enter the young blood. The Chardigny brothers make a dynamic duo with Victor helming production and Pierre-Maxime driving the business forward. Saint Amour is the most northernly commune in Beaujolais and the last stop before the soils turn from granite to the clay and limestone that favors Chardonnay and Pinot.
I asked Victor how on earth he and Dutraive crossed paths…
VICTOR: ”I went to a function for organic producers (basically a social mixer). We were passing around bottles of our wine. I tasted his, he tasted mine. And then he asked me about ‘Clos Du Chapitre’. A few weeks later he came to visit."
Without a reference point, most people would be lost at Clos du Chapitre. Thankfully we were standing in it at the time. Clos du Chapitre is a relatively flat site with a judicious amount of granite. It has a savory finish and an unmistakable mineral streak, when compared to its more generous neighbor (and second Chardigny cuvée): ‘A La Folie’.
Your Viticole Wine Club allocation. Meat sold separately...
Defining the term ‘natural wine’ is complicated. There are so many shades of gray and most of the answers assume a bit of production knowledge. For me, however, there are 3 extremely unofficial subsets:
3.) Glamping ('Natty' Light)
DUTRAIVE = SUPERNATURAL
Dutraive is an organic vigneron who’s intervention in the cellar is unquestionably minimal. Yeasts are natural. He does not chaptalize (add sugar). Carbonic maceration is employed - fermentation is 100% whole cluster (stem inclusion). His extraction is light and pressing is gentle. He uses no additions except a very small amount of sulfur, in some cases none, as in the case with this bottling. No fining..
Supernatural wines are are for the purist of purists. Transparency and an unattainable presence of life and energy are at a premium. They are not clinical wines. They are not flawless wines. But rather it is the quality of fruit in combination with the 'right amount' of imperfection that can raise these wines to uncommon heights. The supernatural producer’s biggest challenge is consistency, as many ultra-low sulfur wines are flawed beyond repair. Very few producers can pull off this style from year to year. In fact, some are consistently instable (think bad Kombucha). But to my palate, Dutraive is as good as it gets at walking that line (a subjective line to be sure). In doing so, his greatness for the category is nearly unparalleled.
CHARDIGNY = NATURAL
Organic vigneron number two straddles the traditions of Burgundy and the feral aspects of Beaujolais. They destem a portion of their fruit and protect their wines with more sulfur than Dutraive, still quite less than many. More potentially consistent and age-worthy, the wines will compel from year to year. It will be difficult to find the highest highs of the supernatural producer, but the threat of lows is reduced dramatically.
AS FOR GLAMPING…
When it comes to Viticole, I only really deal with the first two categories of natural wine. Not to denigrate glamping. Glamping is fun. But it’s not really living off the land is it. It's kind of natural light.
So where does glamping end and natural begin? Good question. Organic viticulture is as good a place to start...
The daughters of Beaujolais from Foillard to Dutraive
THE CASE FOR ORGANICS
When we think of the natural wine movement in the world today, the producers of Fleurie and Morgon are at the epicenter of that discussion. And yet according to Jean-Louis' heir apparent, daughter Ophelie (picture far right above), “only 2% of producers in Beaujolais farm organically. This is up from 1% five years ago.”
It amazes me how much of a groundswell there is with natural wine with such a minority of producers taking part. There is fashion in every artform, but to me, natural wine is a timeless trend, as enduring as an ingredient-centric approach to food. Reducing pollution, protecting our environment, and delivering a product that is truly healthy is a premise that becomes more relevant with each tick of the clock. That the wines can be as delicious and exciting as ‘conventional’ wine (if not more) is icing on the cake...
A special thanks to Lauren Hamilton for taking all these lovely photos...
- Brian McClintic
Tasting Notes: Chardigny: dark-fruited and generous on the palate with depth and mineral intensity | Dutraive: alpine Beaujolais, ultra-fresh and vivid, spice-tinged red fruit
Seasonal Pairing: Chardigny: sausage on the grill | Dutraive: lighter fowl or grilled fish
When to Drink: Chardigny: now - 2028+ | Dutraive: now - 2025+
Geeky Things: Dutraive's three high altitude parcels for this cuvée all have different expositions: E, SE, and N.
Vintage Report: 2016, outside of the hail, was very similar weather-wise to 2014. It was a cooler vintage showcasing the transparency and effortless energy that natural wine lovers crave. Drastically reduced yields led to intensely concentrated fruit.
Bigger Than Wine: Customarily, Viticole donates $5 per case on everything sold to a featured monthly charity. In light of recent events, we will donate $10 per case to Direct Relief - an organization who has made over $100 million in medical inventories available to assist Texas and Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. You can check them out online.