Beaujolais - current facts and figures

27 Jul 2011 by Guest contributor

The trade body for Beaujolais wines, Inter Beaujolais, recently held their 2010 vintage tasting (see here for Jancis’s tasting notes) and provided such a wealth of background information for each AOC that it seemed a shame not to share it (especially useful for diploma students and budding MWs). For more information on Beaujolais, go to Instant expert or search for Beaujolais in the online Oxford Companion to Wine.

See 40 tasting notes on Beaujolais 2010s and Jancis's views on What's so good about Beaujolais 2010. For other opinions and comments on Beaujolais 2010, see forum discussions here and here.

Photo courtesy of Mick Rock at Cephas.

THE 2010 VINTAGE
After a hot month of July, the first fortnight of August was relatively cool. The weather conditions over the last weeks of August and the beginning of September were particularly good. Harvesting began around 13 Sep and finished around 6 Oct, which, according to Anthony Collet, Communications Director of Inter Beaujolais, defined the vintage; ‘this is a definite confirmation of the late-ripening characteristics of this vintage, though less so than years like 2008 for example. This vintage the wine bears the marked stamp of the Gamay grape, with a rounded, supple structure, well coloured and showing lots of crunchy fruit flavours.’

While 2009 showed great concentration and tannic structure, 2010 is more classical, showing lovely natural acidity over fresh, ripe fruity characters. ‘The wines are bursting with aromas, flavours and colour.’ explains Bertrand Chatelet, technical manager of Sicarex (the research institute in Villefranche-sur-Saône devoted to the study of Beaujolais vines). Collet added, ‘The fall in acidity and the increase in pH are keeping the acid potential for the 2010 at a good level, close to the potential alcohol/pH ratio of 2009.’ Richard Rottiers, a winemaker based in Romanèche-Thorins, adds, ‘The tannins are lively, long and perfectly integrated. With its luscious acidity, 2010 resembles 2005.’

BEAUJOLAIS IN NUMBERS

  • Total surface production area: 19,000 ha 
  • 99% of production is made up of Gamay for red and rosé wines with around 1% made up of Chardonnay for the white wines 
  • Number of estates: 3,000 
  • Average estate size: 7.3 ha 
  • Authorised yields: 48 hl/ha AOC Beaujolais crus, 50 hl/ha AOC Beaujolais-Villages, 55 hl/ha AOC Beaujolais 
  • Average annual production: 825,000 hectolitres (133 million bottles) 
  • Over 36% of market volumes are exported to more than 129 countries

BEAUJOLAIS AOC (RED)
Accredited in September 1937, the regional appellation of Beaujolais is the most emblematic and the most widespread. It makes up half of the entire region’s annual wine production. The area circles Le Bois d'Oingt and then lengthens down to the south towards Villefranche and along a ribbon of land that verges the Saône River up to La Chapelle-de-Guinchay. This is the only Beaujolais appellation that may use the Guyot pruning style along trellises, with the single or double canes pruned to a total of six to eight buds.

BEAUJOLAIS-VILLAGES (RED)
The first appellation in France to have used the term ‘villages’. There are 1,250 winemakers producing Beaujolais-Villages.

CHIROUBLES

  • Soils: rough granite, with some fine traces of quartz 
  • AOC decree: 11 Sep 1936 
  • Hectares under vine: 350 with 60 different growers 
  • Average annual production: 18,000 hl 
Around Chiroubles, the village which lends its name to the cru, ‘gore’ is a type of sand resulting from the erosion of the adjacent rocks, and gives the Gamay grape variety near-perfect growing conditions in which to produce a light texture. Chiroubles is also the Beaujolais cru grown at the highest altitude: the vines are planted on hills that are between 250 and 450 m above sea level. The slopes are steep and ridged, and soil erosion is a constant problem. The vinegrower digs shallow ditches into the slopes between every eight or nine rows to channel the rain water down the hills. Large groups of rocks are assembled as barriers in the ditches along the roads. And if soil or landslides do occur, the soil is immediately shifted back up the hillside.

Temperatures in Chiroubles are lower than in other parts of the Beaujolais, which means that the vines are some five to 10 days behind everywhere else. Generally, harvesting starts around one week after the official go-ahead is given for the region (the banns).

ST-AMOUR

  • Soil: granite and clay, some shale and pebbles 
  • AOC decree: 8 Feb 1946 
  • Hectares under vine: 313 with 115 growers 
  • Average annual production: 12,000 hl 
With its highly romantic name, this is the most northerly of the crus – grown in the far north of the vine-growing region in the Saône-et-Loire department and skirting the borders of Saint-Véran and the Mâconnais. Made up of granite, clay and schist-based soils, this cru produces two types of wine, depending on the vinification method used by the producer:
- Light, fruity wines, very typical of the appellation, complex, produced by quick maceration and to be enjoyed young within 12 to 15 months following the harvest.
- More powerful, fuller wines which are at their best after four to five years of ageing, depending on the vintage.

FLEURIE

  • Soil: exclusively granite (pink granite) 
  • AOC decree: 11 Sep 1936 
  • Hectares under vine: 857 with 180 growers 
  • Average annual production: 33,200 hl 
In the north of the region, Fleurie sits in a specific geographical area - a group of small hillocks, backing onto a range of ridges (Fût d’Avenas, Col de Durbize, Col des Labourons and Pic Reymont), which fall sharply from high points of around 450 m, before gently sloping off to an altitude of 220 m. This appellation – whose name has nothing to do with flowers but is named after a Roman legionnaire – covers an unbroken area of 890 ha within the boundaries of the commune of Fleurie. The soil is almost exclusively made up of granite, a pinkish-coloured stone which is unique to this part of the Beaujolais.

Fleurie has 13 different climats (named vineyards), as recorded by the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine), and as many different terroirs, each producing a specific style of wine. These are (from north to south): Les Labourons, Poncié, Les Moriers, La Roilette, Les Garants, Montgenas, La Madone, La Joie du Palais, Grille-Midi, La Chapelle des Bois, La Cote, Le Bon cru and Champagne. Their size varies from La Joie du Palais, the smallest (5 ha), to the biggest, La Chapelle des Bois and La Madone (both cover 50 ha).

RÉGNIÉ

  • Soil: predominantly pink granite 
  • AOC decree: 8 Dec 1988 
  • Hectares under vine: 400 with 80 producers 
  • Average annual production: 15,500 hl 
The majority of its 950 villagers are involved in winemaking in one way or another and, to them, it is more than just a job: they are passionate about the wines they produce on the 120 wine estates in their cru area. Set in the heart of vine-growing Beaujolais, the cru spreads 500 ha on pink granite, mineral-rich light, shallow terrain. The vines are planted on the hillsides at altitudes of around 350 m above sea level and are mainly south-east facing.

BROUILLY

  • Soil: thin, acidic, dry, mixtures of four different types which lend different characteristics to the wines, depending on the local terroir: pink granite around Saint-Etienne-la-Varenne, Odenas and Quincié; less acidic diorite on the hills; diorite with layers of limestone-marl around Charentay; and alluvial deposits with traces of crystal and clay from the rock erosion 
  • AOC decree: 19 Oct 1938 
  • Hectares under vine: 1,327 with 530 producers 
  • Average annual production: 66,000 hl 
Brulius, a Roman army lieutenant posted to the region, gave his name to Mount Brouilly. It overlooks the most extensive and most southerly stretch of Beaujolais cru vines (Mont Brouilly – 485 m) and is one of the geographical markers of the winemaking region. With its 1,300 ha, Brouilly covers 20% of the total area of Beaujolais crus, and produces an average annual volume of 70,000 hl (more than 9 million bottles) of a wine which has a reputation for being joyously elegant.

Brouilly is produced in six communes, none of which carry the name of the appellation: Cercié, Saint-Lager, Charentay, Odenas, Saint-Etienne-la-Varenne and Quincié, the smallest of the production zones. As far back as 1769, these little villages were already actively involved in winemaking: they were among the 16 Beaujolais parishes which were authorised to sell their wines to Paris. However, at that time, wine was far from being the most important product of their agricultural labours – milk was more important than wine. Just one-fifth of the land was given up to wine production.

Brouilly has a firm grip on the real world: spearheading Beaujolais cru sales, it makes the largest volumes and is consequently well known around the world. This cru has made major leaps forward in terms of direct sales: 32% today compared with 18% ten years ago. 20% of its total production is sold to Parisian on-trade.

CÔTE DE BROUILLY

  • Soil: granite, diorite (plutonic rock) and shale 
  • AOC decree: 19 Oct 1938 
  • Hectares under vine: 322 with 50 producers 
  • Average annual production: 15,000 hl 
In Odenas, in the heart of the Côte de Brouilly appellation area (note that this cru is always referred to in the singular as in ‘Côte’), the vineyard stone is unusual in that it has a mottled blue appearance. This indicates the presence of diorite from the slopes of Mont Brouilly: a very hard volcanic rock from the Palaeozoic era, which varies in colour from very dark green to black. This is the famous blue stone of Brouilly, sometimes also known as ‘corne verte’, which lends the cru its specific characteristics. The terrain is largely uniform across the whole area of the cru. Only on the western slopes is there a little pink granite mixed in with the soil. Although quite limited in size, the appellation is across four communes: Saint-Lager, Odenas, Quincié and Cercié.

The fact that the slopes are so steep means that any mechanical work in the vines is done using a winch attachment to the tractor, which is parked and anchored on the relatively level vine track above the plot being worked on. There is also a constant battle against soil erosion. As in Chiroubles, the vine growers on the Côte dig channels into the slopes in order to drain off the water and they regularly mulch between the vines.

With much lower volumes than its brother Brouilly down the hill, the winemakers have made enormous efforts in the areas of direct sales and in the on-trade. The appellation is showing strong growth: 51% of the cru is sold direct to its main European markets of Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and the UK.

JULIÉNAS

  • Soil: granite in the west, alluvial clay deposits in the east 
  • AOC decree: 11 Mar 1938 
  • Hectares under vine: 586 with 120 producers 
  • Average annual production: 14,000 hl 
A major marker in the history of wine growing in the Beaujolais, Juliénas can trace its wine roots back more than two thousand years. Juliénas and Jullié, two out of the four communes which produce this appellation, take their name from Julius Caesar himself. We know for sure that vines were grown in the Gallo-Roman period on the surrounding hillsides. Today they are grown at between 230 m and 430m above sea level. In the far north west of our winemaking region, marching with the Mâconnais winemaking region in the south of the Saône-et-Loire department, the appellation area is set in four villages: Juliénas, Jullié, Emeringes and Pruzilly, the latter just putting a toe into the Saône-et- Loire department.

The wine’s character stems from its wide range of different growing terrains and local growers declare it to be ‘one of the most important parts of the region’. This appellation is divided between granite-based soils to the west and ancient alluvial deposits to the east, with some sandy clay soils bringing the clay content up as high as 20 to 30%.

CHÉNAS

  • Soil: mainly granite in the higher areas, otherwise siliceous-clay 
  • AOC decree: 11 Sep 1936 
  • Hectares under vine: 253 with 100 growers 
  • Average annual production: 7,600 hl 
Only the name itself remains from the past when the commune of Chénas was surrounded by dense oak forests. These were gradually cut down - firstly by the Gallo-Romans, then by the monasteries and finally, under orders from Philippe V ‘le Long’, who ordained that all the trees on the slopes of Mont Rémont should be replaced by vines - to the point where the site is now surrounded by vineyards. To whom do we owe the original vineyards? Nothing is absolutely certain, but we do know that during the Ancien Régime, the region’s aristocracy fought hard over the local land in Chénas due to the substantial revenues which were brought in by the vines. In the 18th century, Chénas was well known for exporting its highly valued wines to Paris, where it was the favourite wine of Louis XIII. Brac de la Perrière, the first wine historian of the Beaujolais region, said of Chénas in 1769 that it was one of the best vine-growing areas in the region.

Chénas, which adjoins Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent and Saint-Amour, extends over two communes: Chénas (in the Rhône department) and la Chapelle-de-Guinchay (in the Saône-et- Loire department). On the appellation’s really steep north-east facing slopes, Gamay is grown on just 280 ha to produce the most rare of the Beaujolais crus.

MORGON

  • Soil: eroded rocky terrain and crumbly schist 
  • AOC decree: 11 Sep 1936 
  • Hectares under vine: 1,126 with 250 producers 
  • Average annual production: 47,000 hl 
With its 1,100 ha overlooked by Mont du Py, Morgon is the second largest cru after Brouilly. It is named after the local hamlet of Morgon, in the centre of the area, bordering the village of Villié-Morgon, which itself sits in the heart of the Beaujolais crus area.

Morgon is one of the Beaujolais appellations where the notion of terroir is the easiest to explain with the specific nature of the soils and the particular siting and different locations of the crus. Its soil is very specific to the area, being made up of mixture of eroded deposits from the soft crystalline rock rich in iron oxide with traces of manganese, schist and old volcanic rock: the people of Morgon call the resulting soil ‘rotten rock’ (la roche pourrie).

The cru has six different climats (named vineyards), which divide the area of the appellation into three bands, facing south, south east and north west, each producing very different styles of wine. From east to west they are as follows: Grand Cras, Les Charmes, Côte de Py, Corcelette, Les Micouds and Douby.

MOULIN-À-VENT

  • Soil: pink granite with seams of manganese 
  • AOC decree: 11 Sep 1936 
  • Hectares under vine: 663 with 280 producers 
  • Average annual production: 25,700 hl 
This most highly rated of all the Beaujolais crus is not named after any particular village in the area. The area of Moulin-à-Vent, with its 660 ha, spreads over two communes : Romanèche-Thorins (in the Saône-et-Loire department) and Chénas (in the Rhône department). It was first registered by the Mâcon courts in 1924, in an effort to combat numerous counterfeit wines around at the time. The appellation area has remained the same ever since that time, and is produced from the same granite-based soils. It is the different sites and altitudes which create the range of climats.

Mainly facing east, the Moulin-à-Vent area slopes gently down from heights of between 230 and 390 m above sea level. It is gentle, rolling countryside, depicted by the artist Utrillo, and is dominated by a windmill which stopped working in 1850 and was classified as a historical monument in 1930. Today it is the well-known symbol of the cru [pictured above left in the beautiful photograph by Mick Rock of Cephas].

One of the appellation’s main features lies in its soil: made up of basins of soft and crumbly pink granite – often called ‘gore’ or ‘grès’ - the soil has seams of manganese which give the Moulin à Vent its particular character.

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