Beaujolais, French Wine Region, History of the Grape

As Caesar's army crossed the Alps and into Gaul in the 1st century B.C., they built temples, aqueducts, amphitheatres and roads. Along those roads, Rome's army planted the vine. There is still evidence today in Brouilly and Morgon of those Roman vineyards. After Rome left, the area was invaded by the Barbarians and then the Arabs who also tended the vines and enjoyed the fruits thereof. Founded in the 10th century by the powerful nobility that created the principality, the town of Beaujeu in the western hills of Beaujolais, gives the region its name. It was ruled by the Dukes of Beaujeu until it was ceded to the Bourbonnais in 1400.

The region really began to develop an identity distinct from its northern neighbor Burgundy, after Philippe the Bold made his famous decree in July 1395, outlawing the Gamay grape and forbidding its cultivation in the great duchy of Burgundy proper. So Burgundy went with Pinot Noir and Beaujolais went with Gamay. Although the edict was not at all popular with the growers of his day, it proved to be a good thing for each of the two regions. Here in Beaujolais, the Gamay grape is in its element.

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Pronunciation Guide
Beaujolais [BOE-zjoh-lay]
Brouilly [BREW-yee]
Chiroubles [shee-ROOB-luh]
Chénas [shay-NAH]
Côte de Brouilly [coat duh BREW-yee]
Cru or Crus [crew]
Fleurie [FLUR-ee]
Juliénas [ZJOO-lee-ay-nah]
Morgon [more-GOH]
Moulin à Vent [MOO-lan ah vahn]
Négociant [nah-GO-SEE-ahn]
Régnié [reh-N'YAY]
Saint Amour [sant ah-moor]

The Region

Located South of Burgundy proper, between Mâcon and Lyon, Beaujolais is a prosperous region. Cultivating almost 55,000 acres, more than the other three departments of Burgundy combined, it produces an average of 13 million cases annually. Best of all, once a year, when the world falls in love with Beaujolais Nouveau, nearly half of this crop is pressed, fermented, racked, fined, filtered and sold within weeks. The rapid cash flow generated is the envy of winemakers everywhere.

Map of Beaujolais RegionThis 34-mile strip along the Saône River, comprises the 4th department, Rhône, of the Burgundy region. Beaujolais is diverse geographically, but it is unified by the Gamay Noir grape. Ninety-eight percent of the area is planted with it. The other 2% is basically planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

From the 16th century onwards, the grape gradually became the dominant crop of the region. This was aided largely by improvements in transportation. As transportation improved the market expanded. For centuries, Lyon was the region's principle market. A crucial development for the economy was the opening of the Braire Canal to link the Loire and the Seine Rivers. Now Beaujolais was only two or three days journey by wagon to a water route that would take the wine all the way to Paris.


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