As I receive news about harvest commencing back home at Narrow Gate, here in Beaujolais, we are anxiously awaiting the start of the ’15 vintage. Each day, we see more and more truck loads of grapes zigzagging through the narrow roads of the village, in route to its destination. We can feel that harvest is close.
On Monday morning, we began to prepare the crush pad at the winery. The winery building is located on the Estate, just behind the Chateau. The building is… beautiful. Much of the original stone and wooden beams are intact but there has been some restoration for functionality. As the winemaker, Lauren is a firm believer in the golden rule – you can only make good wine from good grapes. She prefers to use sorting tables – their function – to distinguish between the different sizes of berries through vibration, separating the raisins and damaged fruit from the whole healthy berries. She also believes in order to preserve the quality of the fruit, the berries must be handled with care. From the sorting table, to the destemmer, to tank – the whole berries go through a series of conveyer belts to go up and over gently into each tank. Lauren jokes that clearly this operation was designed by a women, and I have to agree, it makes a lot of sense.
I was curious – what is it like being a successful female winemaker in a not only traditionally but historically male dominate industry – Lauren says that just like in California, there are more and more female winemakers entering the industry and making great wines. As for me, it’s the inspiring part of working at Briante, learning and assisting a female winemaker, who is paving the way for other young aspiring female winemakers, like me.
On Tuesday of Week 2, it was hard not to feel the overwhelming sense of girl power once again as Lauren and I met up with a female Enologist from Beaune. Our mission: to scout out and take samples of the three vineyard locations within the three different Crus – Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly and Moulin A Vent – to determine when we will harvest.
We took to the closest Cru first, Brouilly, which is at the Estate. We weaved through the low head-trained vines, tasting grapes, examining the seed texture and color. Moving to another block, we continued down the rows of now trellised vineyards. Briante has been slowly trellising the 40 year old vines within the vineyards to make them accessible by tractor, also utilizing the infrastructure to lift the vines off the ground to provide better airflow and sunlight. We moved on to the second Cru, the south base of the mountain of Cote de Brouilly. It is incredible to see the soil change as we move within the region. Large blue granite stones and quartz rock littered the vineyard at the base of the mountain. Typically a cooler site, the Cote de Brouilly fruit has a bit more complexity, with thicker skins. Lauren says she likes to use it for a bit of whole cluster fermentation. We walked, tasted, and collected our sample. Lastly, we moved to the third site, Moulin-A-Vent, a 15 minute drive north of Brouilly, just below Macon. Once finished, Lauren and I headed back to the Estate for a quick lunch of carpaccio and fresh bread.
Later that afternoon, Roman and I headed north again, to the Saone River in Macon. Roman’s good friend owns a boat shop on the river, it was time to water ski. We took his friend-filled boat out and anchored in the middle of the river, between two bridges. We opened a beautiful Alsatian Muscat and a Macon Chardonnay, popping the corks just as the ski boat pulled up to us. We changed into short sleeve wetsuits and hopped onto the smaller boat. We took off on the speed boat, to the top of the river. Jumping into the water, it was shockingly warm, not like the refreshing waters of Lake Tahoe I have become very used to in the summertime. The sun was setting, it was golden hour. We water skied until the wind became chilly and the shadows grew darker over the water. We dried off, broke bread, carved some cheese and cruised up the river farther, circling around the island until the sun sank and the moon rose. It was another beautiful day in France.
I wanted to touch on a recent article I found concerning the Beaujolais region breaking out of its shell and its old stereotypes. The article, “Beyond Carbonic: A New Era for Beaujolais” by Jordan Mackay, talks about this new wave unconventional style that is booming within the region, with the Crus at the epicenter. He says that between 1960 to 1984, Beaujolais Nouveau style wines rose from 5% to 52% in sales, rebranding itself as a cheap, fruit bomb that was easier to drink than water. During this time, the Beaujolais Nouveau areas cast their shadow onto the Crus, who do not produce this style and are the notably top wine producing zones within the region.
To rewind just a little as a reminder, Beaujolais produces purely Gamay. Gamay is known as the larger thin-skinned version of Pinot Noir. Jordan continues to describe traditional Gamay as an “intoxicating mist of strawberries, raspberries, and cherries”. These candy fruit flavors are contributed to the type of fermentation that takes place – carbonic maceration. Now, these aren’t scary words – carbonic maceration is simply an intracellular fermentation that takes place within the grapes themselves, by leaving the grapes on the stems (whole clusters) and letting them sit in an anaerobic environment (without oxygen). Instead of producing one huge fermentation, there are little individual fermentations taking place inside each berry, or at least thats how I see it. By doing so, you decrease the juice exposure to the skins because the juice is trapped within the berries still. Within the skins is the tannin. If you decrease the time the juice is exposed to the skins, you decrease tannin, therefor produce a less tannic style of wine that directly preserves the fruitiness. And then, Voila… you have Beaujolais Nouveau. You with me?
Carbonic maceration has been the two words to describe Beaujolais for over the past 4 decades, also coined to describe the infamous Beaujolais Nouveau style. As we fall into a new era with new technology, we are able to reflect and shift to create a new era of winemaking. In this new era, the Crus are looking to regain their “seriousness” says Jordan, and that is exactly what I am experiencing here in the middle of where three Beaujolais Crus meet. It is the beginning of an era where winemakers, such as Lauren, are not using carbonic maceration, but are simply combining whole cluster grapes with de-stemmed grapes to co-ferment together. They are using simple technology such as cold soaking before fermentations to control the temperature to concentrate flavors and soak in the terroir. The Crus are looking to produce wines that have deeper complexity, tannin structure with fruit, that gives it an ageability, which is the complete opposite of the Nouveau style. When I talk to Lauren about her wines, that is the exact thing she says she wants for her wines, and that is what she is doing, reinventing the Beaujolais way, working to redefine the Crus once again. If you are interested, here’s the link to the whole article. http://punchdrink.com/articles/beyond-carbonic-maceration-cru-beaujolais-jean-paul-brun/
Till next time,