Wines of Burgundy's Beaujolais Wine Region: Terroir & Producers

In Part I of this series, Wines of Burgundy's Beaujolais Wine Region: Quality You Might Not Expect, I discussed the history of Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau wines.  In Part II, I will continue that discussion, but more importantly, review the individual terroir and the producers of some very fine age worthy wines.

Almost all wine made in Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape.   This grape gets its name from the name of a hamlet in Burgundy near Puligny-Montrachet.  It is a very old cross strain of Pinot Noir and Gouais, a white variety long ago grown in central Europe.  Although other wine regions of the world grow the Gamay grape, perhaps nowhere does it do as well as the granite soils of Beaujolais.

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The Beaujolais region is unique in many ways.  It has some the highest density plantings of grapes anywhere with 3,500 to 5,500 vines per acre.  Many of the vines are trained in a traditional style called the goblet begun during Roman times.  The Goblet method trains the branches of the vines upward into a circle.  Whole clusters are picked by those wineries that use the traditional carbonic maceration fermentation.  They can do this because most of Beaujolais is still harvested by hand and not machine.  Machines would break the grapes.  Harvest usually occurs in September.

As in Burgundy, there is a hierarchy to the wines of Beaujolais.  At the basic end are the wines labeled as Beaujolais.  About one half of all Beaujolais is sold under this AOC.  These wines include the Nouveau wines.  They are generally simple wines and are meant to be drunk within the first year of the vintage.  More often they come from the southern part of the region where the soil is clay and limestone and not granite.  By AOC laws these wines must have at least 9% alcohol.  If the grapes can achieve a 10% or higher level of alcohol (either naturally or thru the addition of sugar at the winery, a process called chaptalization) they may also be labeled as Beaujolais Superiore.

The next step up in quality are the Beaujolais Villages wines.  These must be made near one of 39 listed villages in the region.  Villages wines can be very good wines and the best can improve in a cellar for a few years.  If the grapes come from a single village, the name of that village may appear on the label, but it is not required.

The real stars and main reason for writing this article, are the Cru Beaujolais.  This is the highest category of Beaujolais wines and indicates the wines come from one of ten designated areas.  The word Cru refers to the entire sub-region and not a particular vineyard.  More often than not, these wines will not even list Beaujolais on the label instead relying on the consumer to recognize the name of the Cru.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.