Our next stop was Beaujolais, which continues to be one of the most exciting regions in France for new producers - particularly further south, where vineyards are more available and affordable. We now work with a total of 5 producers in this region, all out of the appellation, (as Nicolas Pavie said to us, classification is a cheat, you can do good wine wherever you are.)
Our first visit was to see Nicolas himself. We started working with him earlier this year after a tip off from Raphaël Beysang.
He is based just ten minutes down the road from their place in Saint-Romain-de-Popey. After tasting through a mixed case he put together for me before Christmas last year, I quickly ordered as many of his wines as I could get. I found them incredibly intriguing; elegant, soft wines with intensity, power and beautiful balance. The wines were often better after a few hours open, or even the next day, something that is still rare with wines made without any additions, fining or filtering.
Speaking to Nicolas via email, it was clear that he was a deep thinker who continued to analyse every little part of his process, from his farming to the cellar, and our meeting in person emphasised this further.
Nicolas has four plots now, two nearer his house in Saint-Romain-de-Popey and two in Theize around 20 minutes drive away. The vineyard above sits right in front of the rented house where he and his wife live, just ten minutes down the road from Raphaël and Emélié. A plot of gamay planted in the 1950's in goblet on soils rich in granite and sand. From our current available wines you can taste this in the wines Enjoy The Silence & Ballade En Grelinette.
The vineyards were as beautiful as I'd expected from the pictures Nicolas had sent. Almost wild in appearance, with flowers everywhere and a lot of grass. He uses only a broadfork (the grelinette) in the vineyard to turn the soil and does this only a few times a year. The soil is incredibly bouncy and soft underfoot, spongey, like a cake and full of life..
Yields are low (average of 15hl/ha,) because of this attitude to farming, but the competition in the vineyard and health in the soil seems to bring an incredibly intensity to his juice. 2021 was tough as we know, but he has more fruit than a lot of growers we visited and as a number of winemakers mentioned, this year often the chemical vineyards are losing more fruit than people working in organics.
He will harvest toward the end of September, he looks for phenolic maturity in his wines to have in his words 'forces' in the wines. He then tends towards longer ageing to bring roundness and elegance to the wines. This year the phenolic ripeness could come before the sugars have matured which may present problems, he is still deciding exactly when to pick - It's clear this weighs on him as he speaks about this.
We visited Theize - where he has two parcels again mostly planted in the 50's, here the soils are richer in limestone, clay and the golden stones of the Pierres Dorées. Again the vineyards look almost wild, the soil bouncy underfoot and teeming with life. Above you can see Nicolas vineyard and below you can see a vineyard which is clearly using a heavy amount of pesticides - a stark difference the soil was dense and hard underfoot.
He has taken on one more parcel this year, which he is converting in the same way (it already looks a lot healthier than the chemical parcel above!) it is back near Popey, if he hadn't taken it on the vines were likely to be pulled up, so he felt like he must even though it will mean more back breaking work (indeed the soil is too hard at the moment to use his trusty broadfork and he may need to ask Raphaël to help with his horse).
In the cellar we tasted through the 2020 wines, most still in barrel, Nicolas favours old barrels for the elevage, experimenting with a few different types, some lent from friends; below is one I last saw in Raphaël and Emélié’s cellar, when it was storing the juice that became the magnum only bottling Noah.
They lent it to Nicolas after bottling that wine, keeping the barrels full of wine means they don't need to use any chemicals to clean them. Other barrels in a similar fashion came from friends in the Jura - Kenjiro Kagami and Nicolas Jacob.
First we tasted a new wine, made from was a millefeuille of the Popey & Theize parcels, whole bunches from each plot added in layers to the tank behind until full, sealed until the juice releases and left to macerate for around three weeks. When pressing, in an antique basket press he goes slowly - he has to get up two or three times in the night to achieve this. The process is the same for all the wines, but most are single parcel bottling.
This gentle work is reflected in the wine, impossibly elegant, smooth tannins, soft fruit, exceptional length and balance. Tasting through all of 2020, it looks to be an exceptional vintage, lush very detailed wines with very pure fruit and incredible balance in the wines with the alcohol a little lower than ‘18 and ‘19. He has bottled just one wine from the vintage, but we won’t see that until next year. Bottling is done by hand.
When we tasted with Nicolas, he wouldn’t let the wine thief he used to take wine from the barrels leave the cellar and washed the thief between every barrel. This fastidiousness, attention to detail from the vineyard to the cellar perhaps reflects on why the wines are just so together and stable. There is no doubt he is a perfectionist and though to us the wines were tasting fantastic, he never seemed quite happy with what he had achieved (though I did notice a subtle satisfaction when tasting some of the 2020's..)
We then tasted some bottled wines - Grande Illusion 2019 from the Theize parcel, which had a longer ageing in barrel, and two wines vinified only in tank in 2020 from Theize and Popey respectively. These had only been in bottle for a couple of months, so we likely won't see them until next year, Nicolas prefers at least 6 months time in bottle before release and ideally a year.
It was a wonderful visit to a very exciting winemaker - if you haven't tried them you can find Nicolas' wines on our website here
Our next stop was to stay with Raphaël and Emélié, whose cellar is just ten minutes down the road in Saint-Germain Nuelles. They had already started harvesting and had their harvest set up on point, with a keg of local organic beer ready to go at all times. Their team seemed very well looked after,
In the vineyards, which are really showing the work put in over the last few years, they are now ploughing with their own horse. We didn't meet the horse this time, but we did meet the plough!
When we arrived they were waiting to press some baskets of Gamaret - a hybrid variety grown by their friend Benjamin Ivernay, who makes excellent wines nearby. This was waiting to be pressed direct and put into a tank already full of Gamay & a little Pinot Noir, in what will likely end up being a Pet Nat.
They had already picked the fruit from their vineyard in Theize, which is close to Nicolas and shares a similar terroir. Below you can see the inside of the tank above where fermentation has started and will continue for a couple of weeks before pressing. They seemed be having a reasonable harvest compared to many we had seen in France, a surprise to them after a very tough year with mildew. The juice from these grapes was tasting great with notably fresh acidity, it should be a vintage of lighter fresher wines.
Soon enough Raphaël had brought some wine - J’aime JM 2020 which they gave a longer elevage than previous years and have bottled only in traditional Alsation magnums, which are very tall and incredibly celebratory! This is a blend of their Gamay with a lot of Alsation varietals, delicious and we should see the wine in the UK this November.
We went to see the Paltieres parcel, five minutes up the road - to be picked that Friday, here is Raphaël pulling up a wild carrot growing in the vineyard.
Then to a plot where they will plant some of the Alsation varietals of Raphaël's heritage, . Riesling, Sylvaner, Auxerrois, Pinot Noir… Probably to be bottled as a field blend but time will tell. Back in their house we had a delicious dinner and were privileged to taste Emelie's new wine from the Sarcey parcel (on granite) to be bottled the next day, it looked very fine.
The next day Nouveau Litre was harvested - the team were making quick work of this parcel, just 5 minutes down the road from the cellar, next to an old people’s home. Raphaël again seemed surprised by the amount of grapes after this troublesome year. The fruit was picked in small baskets and taken in convoy back to the winery where it was passed through these handy windows straight into the tank below. All being well we will see this wine in time for Beaujolais Nouveau 2021!
On this visit we also met Maude Boucan Rochette, also from Quebec, who has taken on some vines in the area and is making wine in the cellar of Emelie and Raphaël, while helping them with their work. We should see a little of her wine in the UK later this year - a primeur and a piquette both in litre bottles.
Our next post continues in the Beaujolais region with three more producer visits!
In the meantime here are a few more pictures of harvest. You can find a few bottles left of Raph and Em's wines here.