Romauld Petit Morgon 'Chateau Gaillard' 2013
One of the famous Cru de Beaujolais, Morgon is anything but the Beaujolais we have been sold for years. The complexity of the granite sub-soil makes a complex wine. Here, in its youth, this Chateau Gaillard is classic deep purple and ruby. This is a racy wine, with fresh red fruit notes giving way to deeper aromas of poached peach and cherry pit. The structure is dominant at this age. And it is not hard to imagine this bottle lasting 10 years easily. Another very classy wine that signals a Beaujolais Renaissance.
After the oenological studies and vineyard experience that took him to several different regions of France, Romuald Petit returned to his roots in 2005 to create a domain with just over 14 acres of vines in Saint-Verand. Even if the domain has grown a bit since those early days, his objectives and ideology remain the same: to produce authentic, high-quality wine using artisanal methods respectful of the environment. He assumes the responsibility of his heritage, which he is trying to preserve and pass on to his children. The domain today is nearly 29 acres, of which 19 are in Saint-Verand, with limestone soils typical of this part of the Maconnais, where 80% of the wine produced is white. The other 10 acres are on the schist and granite of Morgon in the Beaujolais, where Gamay is the grape, and red is the color.
The whites of Saint-Verand are almost exclusively produced from Chardonnay, which is ideally suited for the terroir of the region. Limestone soils are mixed across the region with variants of marne and sedimentary volcanic soils. So each vineyard, each wine, is worked separately, to allow these soil variations to express themselves.
Gamay likewise finds its perfect soil in Morgon. It’s a very poor soil made up of decomposed granite, which allows the grape to express its various fruity characteristics, its finesse and its complexity. This was the heart of the original family domain, so many of the vines here are very old. The youngest are 45 years old; the oldest, more than 100. So naturally, yields are very low and concentration is high.
Overall, the domain is made up of relatively old vines, and is composed of many small parcels. Add to this the very steep nature of the landscape, and you see that most of the vineyard work is by nature manual.
So this is not, and could not be, intensive agriculture. Pruning in winter is manual, ‘guyot’ for the Chardonnay and ‘gobelet’ for the Gamay. Organic material is used, plowed in, and then allowed to develop a temporary grassy cover crop.
Saint Veran ‘Tradition’
Saint Veran ‘Les Champs Rond’
Beaujolais Villages ‘Terre Rouge’
Morgon ‘Château Gaillard’
Burgundy 2013 was yet another small crop. The fourth in as many years. Some of it will be very good, in both red and white. But for some producers it was a disaster. As we always do, let’s start with a run-down of the weather conditions over the growing season (what the locals tellingly call ‘the campaign’).
Winter was wet and hung on stubbornly. March snow gave way to a few spring-like days, and everyone thought the worst was over. But no. April was cold and wet. May was the wettest on record. We posted photos of ducks swimming in the flooded vineyards. And winter gloom and temperatures persisted.
June was better, but just. Flowering started in the early part of the month, but with the cool wet conditions it was erratic and irregular. Lots of coulure and millerandange as a result. These aborted grapes would be one of the reasons for a small 2013 yield, and would come in to play in the final outcome at harvest.
Summer arrived late in the month. But even the warm temperatures and relatively fine weather did little to dispel the feeling of instability. There was nothing consistent to make you feel like you could just settle in to grape growing.
Then in the third week of July, high pressure and high humidity built up to a series of storms, the most violent of which tore out of the Savigny valley on the 23rd. Like a military gunship, the hail storm swept across the Savigny vines, hit Pernand on the west side of the Corton Mountain and headed south across Beaune, Pommard and Volnay. Producers tell us it lasted almost half an hour. It was the second year running that Pommard and Volnay were ravaged.
The humidity continued into August, and producers up and down the Cote nervously watched the sky. The big fear now was that damaged grapes would rot of mildew and odium, so preventive spraying intensified. If there was a bright spot in the growing season, it was the dry spell in mid-August. The damaged grapes shriveled and dropped off the vine, making the inevitable sorting at harvest more manageable.
Yields were tiny, even in the areas not ripped by hail. But the quality of the fruit was good going into September in the Cotes de Nuits and the white wine production south of Beaune, as well as in the Chalonnaise, Maconnais and Chablis.
Most of the harvest came in in the first weeks of October, the latest Burgundy vintages since 1991 and 1978. Maturity arrived at the end. Slowly at first, just like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like it to be. But that slow maturity turned into a gallop, especially for the whites. From Macon to Chablis, the quality of 2013 whites comes down to crucial decisions about when to pick in the final few days.
Two months prior to harvest, the mood was gloomy. And granted, those poor producers who got slammed in July will suffer for years. (Some say that another small crop in 2014 could force some out of business.) But there is quality in many cellars. The reds will be highly variable, but the best wines (from domains that sorted the harvest carefully as it came to the cuverie) are fresh, deeply colored and beautifully ripe, with balance that seems apt for long aging. As always, you have to know who made the wine. There is more consistent quality in the whites across the board. Some say an excellent exciting year.
CRU DE BEAUJOLAIS
We have always thought of Beaujolais as part of Burgundy, and would never hesitate to include it in our Elden Selections as Burgundy. But many do not.
From an administrative viewpoint, Burgundy is made up of the four departments of the Côte d’Or, the Saône et Loire, the Yonne and the Nievre. And Beaujolais is on the outside, in the department of the Rhone.
Then geologically, Burgundy is limestone and clay while the cru of Beaujolais are grown on granite. And most damningly, Philippe le Hardi, one of the Dukes of Burgundy, declared in 1395 that only pinot noir could be used in red wines produced north of Macon. And that the ‘base and unfaithful gamay’ should be kept in the south.
Not to be confused with Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages, the 10 Cru de Beaujolais are the prime production zones in the heart of the region, similar to the climats in Burgundy proper.
Produced predominantly with the gamay grape, but 15% of other grapes (chardonnay, melon and aligote) are permitted. These wines are deeply colored and range from ruby to purple depending on the cru and the vintage. Notes of red fruit and flowers, with good acidity and low-tannin finesse, a distinctive granite minerality and ample body and density mark the best of these wines.
Gamay is not a very vigorous grape, often weakened in the periods of fertile growth. So it needs careful tending to prevent it from fading over the course of the season. As opposed to pinot noir, gamay likes granite-based, acid soils. It buds early, so Spring frosts are a concern, as is millerandage (the abortion of flowers that produces grape bunches of irregularly shaped grapes).
The Cru de Beaujolais
The most expansive of the Beaujolais cru, Brouilly covers 3200 acres, or about 20% of the Beaujolais region. It is situated at the base of Mont Brouilly to the west of Belleville and to the south of Morgon. Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly are two distinctive cru de Beaujolais, with Brouilly at the base of the hill and Cote de Brouilly higher up. And each produces a distinctive style of Beaujolais. Brouilly is fruit driven and perfumed, and a wine for early drinking.
The rarest of the Beaujolais cru because it is the smallest production, the appellation covers the communes of Chenas and La Chapelle de Guinchay at the northernmost part of the wine region.The wine smells distinctly of roses and has a voluptuous aspect and a power that many attribute to a streak of limestone in the soil. It’s a complex wine which has, like its cousins in Moulin-a-Vent and Morgon great aging potential.
Situated between Fleurie and Morgon is the commune of Chiroubles. These are the highest vineyards in the Beaujolais cru. Producing wines that are fine and fruity, many think this is the defining style of cru Beaujolais. Bright red and intensely floral, typically of violets and lily of the valley, Chiroubles is generally a wine for early drinking.
Côte de Brouilly
These are the vines on the upper slopes of Mont Brouilly, and they distinguish themselves from ‘normal’ Brouilly in that excellent exposition and a complex subsoil produce wines that are less earthy, and generally more deeply colored than those found down below. Côte de Brouilly is one of the tightest and most full-bodied of the Beaujolais cru. We look for Burgundian red fruit and black currant notes. The soils are granite and hard schist, and famous for their blue stone, reputed to give the wine its aging power.
No appellation is more aptly named than Fleurie. The un-politically-correct French describe Fleurie as feminine, and apparently what they mean is that it is soft and subtle. And as the name implies, floral. Because it is easy to pronounce, Fleurie has long been in demand on the export market, making it the most recognizable of the Beaujolais cru. It also means it can be among the most expensive. Add to this that it is one of the largest production zones in the Beaujolais cru, and it’s only natural that Fleurie is the star of the region.
Julienas has character. It is perhaps the least typical of the Beaujolais cru, deep , intense and exotic. Beyond floral, here we have cherry and strawberry, as with pinot noir, and then cinnamon and fleshy peach, all well-structured both with tannin and acidity. This is probably due to the rich diversity of the soils in Julienas, which run with veins of limestone in the eastern part of the zone, and the relatively high altitude of the plantation.
Along with Moulin-a-Vent, Morgon is the Beaujolais cru the most apt for aging. And like Moulin-a-Vent, as it ages it can easily be confused with a fine Burgundy. Deeply colored and rich, Morgon takes on a silky density with age, and opens onto spices, pinot-like red fruits and the Beaujolais peach and apricot fleshy fruit. The Cote de Py in the center of the production zone produces particularly powerful wines.
Moulin-a-Vent deserves to be considered among the great wines of Burgundy. It is Beaujolias cru at its most subtle, with rose petal and spice and ripe fruit; and it is Burgundy in its finesse and depth as it ages. Manganese in the soil naturally limits yields, so there is an intensity in Moulin-a-Vent that is only matched perhaps in neighboring Chénas.
Until 1988, Régnié was considered a Beaujolais-Village. The promotion to Beaujolais cru is very much a response to the quality of winemaking there in recent years. Régnié is very Beaujolais in style with a brilliant ruby robe, delicate fruit and flowers and the edge of granite minerality. But more, there are the tell-tale signs of a bigger wine, marked here in this region by Burgundian red fruits and black currant and the pulpiness of ripe peaches. Tannins are discreet in Beaujolais, but here they are present and soft, another sign of quality winemaking. Régnié is fleshy yet elegant, and appreciated in its youth.
Like Fleurie before it, Saint-Amour is naturally popular due to its name, a big hit on Valentine’s Day and a steady seller on the export market. But the wine is much more interesting than that. Saint-Amour is the natural bridge between the very distinctive limestone of Pouilly-Fuisse just to the north and the predominant granite of the Beaujolais. It’s a natural addition to the cru of Beaujolais in zones where granite subsoil gives it the structure and body necessary for aging. These wines show a potential for greatness. But beware, because some of what is bottled as Saint-Amour is more apt to be produced in the modern style of Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages.