Monday, 13 June 2011

The Beaujolais Boys

Last week I spent three glorious days in Beaujolais travelling around both the north and south, taking in a number of the Cru villages, where I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of dynamic young winemakers reshaping the region with their experimental, open-minded approach to winemaking. Seven out of the ten winemakers I visited were under 35, with the youngest two just 25 and at the helm of their respective wineries.

Not only are they pretty poster boys for the region, they're an exciting sign of things to come. With their enthusiasm and lack of fear in taking risks, the boys are re-energising the Beaujolais region and injecting it with a much-needed dose of cool. Desperate to shake off the negative connotations of bananas and bubblegum brought about by Beaujolais Nouveau, this new wave of winemakers look set to send Beaujolais in a very exciting direction. Move over The Douro Boys, The Beaujolais Boys have arrived!

Colin Farrell lookalike Julien Merle makes old vine natural wine from 8 hectares of vines on schist and limestone soils in Légny in the south of the region. The charismatic 30-year-old is passionate about promoting the quality of the wines coming out of southern Beaujolais. "There's a lot of snobbery towards the south in the north. They think we're not up to scratch," he admits.

27-year-old Fabien Chasselay is something of an alchemist, experimenting with a variety of styles, from nutty white Beaujolais to a sparkling Gamay and an 100% Pinot Noir. Having worked a stint in Rutherglen, Australia, his latest trick is a pair of sweet wines made from Cognac and partially fermented grape must. "I like to keep challenging myself," he says.

Angelic-looking Cyril Picard manages his family estate, Château de Cercy, in Denicé. The 35-year-old's philosophy is focused around making gutsy, structured, full-bodied, old vine reds as a way of proving you can make serious wine from Gamay. He also makes two delicious 100% Chardonnays. The big, bold and ballsy top-tier Cuvée Marly La Reserve is turbo-charged Beaujolais produced in miniscule amounts.

With his piercing blue eyes and bulging biceps, Charly Thévenet would look more at home on a catwalk than in a vineyard. The 28-year-old keeps things simple, producing just one 100% Gamay from his 3 hectares in Régnié. The resulting Grain & Granit has already caught the eye of American wine author and importer Kermit Lynch, who has snapped it up for the US market.

At just 25, tall, dark and handsome Mathieu Mélinand is chief winemaker at his family's 20-hectare pink granate and sand property Domaine des Marrans in Fleurie, which boasts vines up to 120-years old. Mélinand is a purist, vinifying each parcel separately for maximum expression. He also macerates the wines for up to three weeks for higher concentration.

Baby-faced Paul Henry Thillardon makes wines in the Burgundian style from 6 ha. in Chénas. The enterprising 25-year-old negotiated a deal to rent both the vines and the corresponding winery from a local doctor, who he pays in part in wine. Thillardon is passionate about making wines with character, and is experimenting with soil types. He plans to hold a rock concert at the winery next month.

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