Grapes and Wine in Beaujolais
What makes Beaujolais so SPECIAL?
Beaujolais is the most densely planted major wine region in the world with vineyards from 9,000 to 13,000 vines per hectare. Grapes have been grown here since Roman times, before the birth of Christ. Following the Romans, other invaders included Arabs who tended the vines producing wine from a variety of ancient grape vines.The Gamay grape originated in the village of Gamay, near Beaune in Burgundy in the 14th century. While the growing of it was prohibited in Burgundy in 1395, the grape found a home in Beaujolais where it thrived. Most vines are trained in the traditional goblet style where the spurs of the vines are pushed upwards and arranged in a circle.In recent times some vines, especially in the southern part of the region, are trained on wires using the guyot method which involves taking a single or double cane (shoot) and training it out horizontally.
The soils of Beaujolais divide the region into northern and southern halves. The northern half of Beaujolais, where most of the Cru Beaujolais communes are located, includes rolling hills of schist- and granite-based soils with some limestone. On the hillsides, most of the granite and schist is found in the upper slopes, while the lower slopes have more stone and clay. The angle of the hillside vineyards in the north exposes the grapes to more sunshine which leads to harvest at an earlier time than those in the south. The southern half of the region, also known as the Bas Beaujolais, has more flatter terrain with richer, sandstone- and clay-based soils with some limestone patches. The Gamay grape fares differently in the two regions - producing more structured, complex wines in the north and lighter, fruity wines in the south.The climate of Beaujolais is semi-continental with some temperate influences. The proximity of the Mediterranean Sea does impart some Mediterranean influence on the climate. Being further south, the region is, overall, warmer than Burgundy with vintages more consistently ripening the grapes fully. However, a common viticultural hazard is springtime frost.There are twelve main appellations of Beaujolais wines covering the production of more than 96 villages in the Beaujolais region. They were originally established in 1936, with additional crus being promoted in 1938 and 1946, plus Régnié in 1988. About half of all Beaujolais wine is sold under the basic Beaujolais AOC designation.
Principal BEAUJOLAIS Grape Varieties
Gamay grapes tend to produce wines that have a bluish-deep red colour with low acidity, aromas of ripe red berry fruits, moderate tannins and medium body. Selected clones have improved the very desirable characteristics that reflect the terroir.
Chardonnay vines that were planted prior to 2004 are permitted in wine production but the entire grape variety is being phased out of the region by 2024. According to current AOC regulations, up to 15% of white wine grape varieties can be included in Beaujolais red wines.
Pinot noir, which has very small plantings, was also permitted in the past but it was phased out in 2015 as Beaujolais winemakers continued to focus on the Gamay grape.
FACTS ON GRAPE GROWING and WINE-MAKING in BEAUJOLAIS
Name: Appellations - 12 in 3 groupings i.e. Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, Beaujolais Crus (10 appellations)
Location: An area south of the Maconnais, being 55 kms north to south and 25 kms east to west, bounded by the river Saone in the east
Vineyards: 3,600 vineyards with 19 cooperatives, representing 50% of production, and 150 negociants
Places: 147 villages
Size of the vineyards: 22,500 hectares (55,800 acres) averaging 7 hectares
Production volume: 1,350,000 hectolitres producing 190 million bottles(90% red wine)
Soil: From clay and sand with limestone to andesite granite in central hilly areas
Weather: Predominantly sub-continental, with cold winters, wet springs, hot, dry summers and autumns, typically extending to an "Indian summer"
Appellation Beaujolais Controlée - 50% production from 10,000 ha
The appellation stretches over the southern part and up the eastern border
Appellation Beaujolais Villages Controlée - 25% production from 6000 ha
Mainly the north of Beaujolais appellation and surrounding the central area where the crus are found.
Appellation Beaujolais Cru Controlée - 25% production from 6,500 ha
Northern /central areas with 10 separate appellations in the northern half of the region. They are Saint-Amour, Julienas, Chenas, Moulin a Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Cote de Brouilly, Brouilly.
BEAUJOLAIS WINE TYPES - Appellation wines
Beaujolais Nouveau is one of the most famous red wines in the world. A light fruity wine which is drunk as young as possible, when it is at its freshest and fruitiest. About 1/3 of all Beaujolais wine is sold as Beaujolas Nouveau and while it has been produced from the 19th century, the marketing name and success can be largely attributed to Georges Duboeuf. Beaujolais Nouveau is often packaged in colourful bottles that play into the festival marketing of the wine. Any Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages AOC vineyard can produce Beaujolais Nouveau and the release date worldwide is third Thursday of November - "Beaujolais Nouveau Day".
Beaujolais AOC is the largest appellation covering 60 villages, and refers to all basic Beaujolais wines. It implies a minimum alcohol of just 9%; Beaujolais Supérieur implies wine with more than 10% alcohol. A large portion of the wine produced under this appellation is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau. The maximum yield for this AOC is 55 hectolitres per hectare. Annually, this appellation averages around 75 millions bottles a year in production.
The intermediate category in terms of classification, it covers 39 communes/villages in the Haut Beaujolais, the northern part of the region accounting for a quarter of production. Some is sold as Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau, but it is not common. The terrain of this region is hillier with more schist and granite soil composition than is found in the regions of the Beaujolais AOC and the wine has the potential to be of higher quality.
The highest category of classification in Beaujolais, accounts for the production within ten villages/areas in the northern part of the region. In Beaujolais the term "cru" refers to an entire wine-producing area rather than an individual vineyard. Seven of the Crus relate to actual villages while Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly refer to the vineyards areas around Mont Brouilly. The cru villages are not allowed to produce Nouveau. The maximum yields for Cru Beaujolais wine is 48 hectolitres per hectare. Their wines can be more full-bodied, darker in colour, and significantly longer-lived. From north to south the Beaujolais crus are: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.
Beaujolais Blanc (Dry white Beaujolais)
A small amount of white wine (2%) made from Chardonnay or Aligote is grown in the region and used to produce Beaujolais Blanc or Beaujolais-Villages Blanc
Beaujolais Rosé made from Gamay is permitted in the Beaujolais AOC but is rarely produced.
Beaujolais Blanc de Blancs
While only a small part of the Beaujolais production, the sparkling Blanc de Blancs comprises largely chardonnay grapes and is produced by "methode traditionnelle" as in Champagne. Can be found throughout the region and worth seeking out as it makes a delightful aperitif. Sparkling Rose style is also available.