November 1st, 2016

Enter Beaujolais: The Sons of Anarchy Rise

Anthony Thevenet Morgon (Cru Beaujolais 3-Pack) - Viticole

I feel like starting “In Beaujolais we have a saying…”, but I don’t know one. If there isn’t one there ought to be. Imagine Mardi Gras without the beads. Sub Gamay for Bourbon and Hurricanes and you have what Jean-Louis Dutraive dubs a “jour normal’ (a normal day). After three trips of pure debauchery I guess I have to believe him. As I’ve only spent time with the “natty crew”, I have to wonder if the old guard parties as hard.

The Natty Crew
Ok, time to explain. There is a great divide in Beaujolais. In response to the mass production and rampant chemical farming that defined the region, a small group of anarchists led by Marcel Lapierre went full granola. They started farming organically and making Gamay with natural yeast and often very low amounts of sulfur. Legendary importer Kermit Lynch hailed them the Gang of Four, today a growing army of like-minded naturalists (hence “natty”), making – as Mathieu Lapierre said it best – “vibrant wine for the now that if it ages well is just icing on the cake to accessibility”.

Now in their 50’s and 60’s, the original natty crew have offspring. The sons of arnarchy – decidedly millennial – are starting to bottle their own wine. There is Justin, son of Jean-Louis Dutraive…Jules, son of Yvonne Metras…Alex, son of Jean Foillard in Morgon…and, of course, Jean’s “adopted” protegée, Anthony Thevenet…

Anthony on the far left, Jean-Louis Dutraive in arm/pre-phylloxera Gamay vines inherited from Anthony's grandfather.

Anthony Thevenet Morgon (Cru Beaujolais 3-Pack) - Viticole
Anthony Thevenet Morgon (Cru Beaujolais 3-Pack) - Viticole

April 2015...
The first time I ran into Anthony was last Spring. Importer Ted Vance and I were 19 days into our death march of over 55 winery visits. Anthony was pouring his inaugural 2013 vintage and Ted and I just kind of looked at each other and smiled. That day Anthony got an importer and the west coast got Anthony. Ted = Santa.

A few days ago...
I caught up with Anthony at the domaine before all hell broke loose at a local tavern, and we had a relatively sober conversation about his regime (special thanks to David Chapel for translating, as it’s debatable whose second language is worse between Anthony and I).

Farming and production-wise, the influence of Foillard and Descombes before him is obvious. The differences are primarily cosmetic - slightly different fermentation temps, picking bins, etc. What separates Anthony are two major things:

1.) In the vintages I’ve tried (2013-2016), there is a consistency that can be elusive for even the most skilled of natural wine producers. His wines are cleaner without being sterile or overly-crafted.
2.) He’s got Baller holdings. Capital “B”.

A view into Anthony's 19th century cellar

Anthony Thevenet Morgon (Cru Beaujolais 3-Pack) - Viticole

An aside: The Great Paradox
Of all the regions I've visited no winemaker would ever chain smoke during a tasting. In Beaujolais, it's as unapologetic as a kiss on each cheek. You just have to smile and scratch your head as passionate vignerons go on about the merits of organic farming, while gesturing with a cancer stick. I will never get it only to say that agents of change have to have a few vices or they lose their edge. Love them.

About the 2016 vintage...
I was in the town of Fleurie in May, when the first of two hailstorms devastated Gamay vines. Anthony lost all of his 2016 Vieilles Vignes. Dutraive will have to pool together what's left of his single vineyards into a 'tout ensemble' (all together). California winemakers, if you're out there, count your blessings...

Well its 3:30pm here in Lyon and Café Moxka is still buzzing. Most of you on the west coast are still in the sack. I'm about to head up the river, Apocalypse Now style. The drive to Morgon is short but the night will undoubtedly be long. If you don't here from me by tomorrow, send out a search party...

- Brian McClintic

Cheat Sheet

Tasting Notes: 2013: This is pure silk, a clinic on finesse. Fresh pomegranate and cranberry notes give way to spicy/savory nuances. 2014: The old vines add another level of depth and richness without getting heavy, the mark of wine that - if I had any restraint - would age gracefully in my cellar.

Seasonal Pairing: Holiday Fowl (yes, even Turducken)...

When to Drink: 2013 Morgon: now - 2020, 2014 Vieilles Vignes: now - 2024+

Geeky Things: All wines are fermented whole cluster, using natural yeasts, and bottled with very minimal amounts of sulfur. All Anthony's holdings hail from granitic soils except for Cuvee Julia which is from the heavily-volcanic Cotes du Puy.

Area Eats: Hit up XViii in Belleville and drink well...

Vintage Report: 2015's are big, muscular wines that should age well. What's left of 2016 is similar in style to the classically balanced 2014

Bigger Than Wine: $5 per case will be donated to Character Loves Company. This one is personal to me. As a former baseball player, sports was an indispensable part of my individual growth. My best friend, Pete Paciorek just launched Character Loves Company, a non-profit focused on the development of strong character in youth through sport participation (which is down 6% nationwide). Bravo for your efforts, Pete! You can check them out online.

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