I will always beat the drum for Lapierre's Morgon, but when the non-sulfured cuvée is available in California, I'm on cloud nine. No producer in Beaujolais surpasses this Gamay's bright strawberry fruit and granitic mineral core without any restraints.
In some years, the fruit is deemed ideal to exclude sulfur additions during each phase from harvest through fermentation, aging, and bottling—such wines are marked with an "N" meaning they are non-sulfured. Proposing no sulfur is risky for others, but Lapierre has mastered it over the years. This estate's Morgon is the model of soundness with an ultra-delicate framework.
After taking over the family domaine in 1973, Marcel's encounter with Jules Chauvet in 1981 launched the shift toward natural viticulture and winemaking in Beaujolais. Along with Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, and Jean-Paul Thévenet, the Gang of Four's practices spread quickly and made clear that the natural route yielded wines of authenticity and joie de vivre (joy of life). Since 2010, Marcel's children, Matthieu and Camille, have carried on the same natural approach that placed their father in the hearts of winemakers and enthusiasts across the globe.
2009's hot growing season brought a bold, ripe personality to Beaujolais that year, and the style pulled in many new Bojo drinkers, myself included. If 2009 was the watershed moment for Cru Beaujolais, 2019 is a fitting vintage for comparison ten years later.
These days, though, Cru Bojo fans are crossing their fingers in hopes of a relatively cool growing season that'll result in wild herbs, snappy, tart red fruit, and a pronounced mineral spine. Moving forward, 2019 is as good as it gets! It was again a hot growing season, but vignerons are much more suited to managing threats from drought and burn. And compared to recent vintages, 2019 has an underlying tension and crisper form.
If I had to pick one producer who nailed this vintage's cooler-side-of-the-pillow, it'd have to be Guy Breton, as he's always one to pick on the earlier side and limit extraction, ensuring levity and freshness are the key markers. While some still love the bursting Beaujolais style, the producers listed below are my favorites in 2019. I dug deep to find the most classic examples of the vintage!
Jean-Claude Lapalu's 100% Gamay wines stand out from the usual suspects' style largely because of his early influences. Although he idolized Jules Chauvet like all natural-minded Beaujolais producers, the wines that initially pulled him in were those such as Domaine Gramenon in Southern France.
In many ways, the domaine's positioning at the southern "Gateway to the Crus" harnesses the warmth and spirit endowed from the Rhone and Provence. Lapalu's entire range highlights those tell-tale Southern Cru Beaujolais lavender accents along with ripe cherry, plum, and an iron-inflected mineral finish.
Extraction through carbonic and semi-carbonic fermentation is kept modest. Aging vessels here range from glass-lined tanks to concrete, used barrique, and tonneaux. And sulfur is used very sparingly, often only in small amounts at bottling. These ultra-limited production cuvées may be difficult to source, but the pricing delivers a welcomed relief given their stellar quality!
From release through decades in bottle, no Cru Beaujolais producer consistently thrills like Jean Foillard. Young producers, like Yann Bertrand, call him a mentor, and other contemporaries call him the Morgon Master. Regardless of where your preferences lie within the unparalleled values found in Cru Beaujolais, Foillard is the benchmark.
Yes, Foillard's wines are breathtaking after decades in bottle, but the true gift of Cru Beaujolais is its unrivaled approachability upon release. These top cuvées will improve and transform with time, but for those who don't care to wait so long, the silky, harmonious, and pure-fruited elements and perfect focus from day one are how Foillard earned his fame. He offers the best of both worlds!
In July 2012, a friend and I experienced our first Bastille Day celebration in epic fashion at Marcel Lapierre's annual feast in Villié-Morgon. A few days later, it seemed fitting to meet with Jean-Michel Stephan atop the steep terraces of Côte Rôtie, who notes Lapierre as his greatest inspiration.
Stephan takes an approach to vinification that differs drastically from his neighbors in Côte Rôtie. From his time in Villié-Morgon, Stephan's philosophy employs full carbonic fermentation, a process customarily reserved for Gamay in Beaujolais. Still, the most profound bottles hit the same mark as great traditionalists like Jamet, Benetière, and Levet.
As Stephan explained to us, the whole clusters go into fermentation tanks free of sulfur additions. He pumps in some CO2, closes the hatch, and walks away. When he returns, the intracellular or carbonic fermentation is complete. This method gives a fruitier note to Syrah, but the use of whole clusters counters that with spice, tannin, and freshness.
At first glance, Stephan's wines may come across as Côte Rôtie through a Beaujolais prism, but for me, they offer a mineral streak and wildly aromatic range that is so unique. The dark and brambly fruit is unadulterated through the complete absence of sulfur additions. With decanting, these young wines open up to reveal a side of Côte Rôtie that makes it feel like it's your first time drinking Syrah.