Day one in Beaujolais began at Château de la Chaize in Brouilly, the largest and most diverse of the crus. It’s a proper Château, too. Grand and ornate with beautiful gardens, and a separate, exceptionally long winery. This has to be one of the longest wineries I have ever seen, and I have seen a few in my time. We were shown around by Caroline de Roussy de Sales. In the 18th century one of her ancestors, who was a passionate botanist, decided to build this enormously long winery building, which is fully 100 metres long and consists of an upper winery storey and a below ground cellar. The range is quite simple: there’s the regular Brouilly, made in a taut, aromatic, slightly reductive style (and which is very good), and then two reserve wines made from older vines. The Cuvée Vieilles Vignes is matured in older Burgundy barrels and has a lovely purity and elegance, and there’s the slight aberration: a new oak-aged Réserve de la Marquisse, which wasn’t my style. Production here is around 300 000 bottles annually.
Then it was off to see one of the legends of modern Beaujolais. Lapierre. Camille Lapierre (above) hosted us, showed us the vineyards, and then gave us an extensive tasting. Camillie explained how they had trialled biodynamics for several years and given up because they didn’t see much of a difference. She thinks this is because they had never messed up their soils. Marcel, her father, had met Jules Chauvet just in time, during the 1970s, at a time when everyone was moving towards herbicides as a more efficient way of controlling weeds. Chauvet warned Lapierre off the new chemical solutions, as well as encouraging him to vinify without the use of sulphur dioxide.
The 2015 at Lapierre are still in barrel. It was such a big year that the fermentations have been slow, and the wines aren’t yet blended. We tried a few barrel samples and they are looking very impressive indeed. We then looked at the two 2014 Morgons: one made without any added sulphites and one with just a little added at bottling. The latter was tighter and more precise, but both were quite beautiful, and it’s hard to say which I preferred. The 2015 will not be made in a no added sulphites version. Cuvée Camille is an incredible wine with real finesse in the 2014 vintage (2013 was the first), and this is quite thrilling. The 2014 Cuvée Marcel Lapierre is from schist-rich soils on the Côte du Py, plus a couple of other parcels of old vines, and it is sappy, vivid, fine-grained and astonishingly good. We then looked at the 2011 and 2008 vintages of the Morgon. 2011 is showing beautifully; 2008 is drinking very well but this tastes older than it is, from a very cool vintage.
Jean Claude Lapalu was the next stop, based in Brouilly. We visited him at home, where he was sitting in the garden having just completed a tasting with some sommeliers. Lapalu is a natural guy, and makes quite a broad range, most of which are sans soufre (without added sulphur dioxide). He adds some for selected cuvées at bottling, and for the white; a typical addition would be 15 parts. I really liked his Beaujolais Villages Blanc 2015 (we later ordered this in a restaurant), and his Beaujolais Villages Vielles Vignes 2015. The Brouilly Vieilles Vignes 2015 is a big but beautiful wine in 2015 and his Côte de Brouilly 2014 is a truly beautiful bottle. The most interesting wine in the range is the amphora-fermented and aged Alma Mater. This is just such a beautiful, expressive natural wine with fine grained structure and lovely detail. I had a slight preference for 2014 over 2013. The wine is made from the very best of grapes each harvest, and it can come from any of the vineyards he works with. Some of Lapalu’s wines are a little too far on the natural spectrum for me, but when he gets it right, they are just beautiful.