About a month ago now, we had a Friday off and decided to take a long weekend and meet up with a friend visiting France.
While we were there we decided to do a Beaujolais wine tour since we were so close by and it happened to be harvest time. The tour lasts all day; we got picked up at the auberge at 9 a.m.
We drove from Lyon north into the Beaujolais region. Our guide said there are about 2000 separate vineyards in the area.
Beaujolais is most famous for the Beaujolais Noveau Day, which is every year on the third Thursday in November. Basically it’s a publicity party serving that year’s newly harvested grapes in a newly made wine. The wine is not high-quality and not meant to last long, up to one year, and seems mostly to be a good excuse for a party.
Regular Beaujolais wine has much higher quality and lasts in the bottle for years (depending on the variety).
Here, the vines are kept short, between knee and waist height. One winemaker told us this is to keep both the quantity of the grapes per vine lower and also to minimize the amount of sap, both factors contributing to the quality of the grape.
We were here the first weekend in October, and the big harvest had been the week before. This region still uses people to harvest instead of machinery. They hire temporary labor for about 2 weeks to gather the harvest. The vineyard pays around 60 Euro/day and include meals and a party at the end. In this photo you can see the temporary camp that was set-up and used by the grape-pickers:
Our first wine tasting was at Domaine Chasselay. Claire told us all about her family’s wine business. Her vineyard has been getting lots of press lately because they are growing the grapes organically. Nice!
Father and son at work:
We got a chance to see the grapes in the chambers. In these, the red color from the grape’s skin will turn the wine red.
Barrels and barrels:
Claire showed us where the bottling is done after the wine has aged for the appropriate amount of time:
We got to try the wine and also, as a special treat, we got to try the fresh grape juice, both red and white. I was really surprised by the juice. The white tasted exactly like grapes, without the skin or pulp, and the red grape juice tasted like raisins a bit. Nothing I’ve ever bought in a store tasted like either, both were sweet and delicious. The wine was great too, we bought two bottles.
After lunch and a few scenic stops, we stopped at the second vineyard, makers of the Domaine de Milhomme.
Here they were busy at work too, the harvest just behind them but still much work ahead. After the wine has sat in the chambers long enough, the grapes are pressed for the juice in a machine that looks like this:
The owner here let us try some of the fermenting wine, it’s called paradise wine.
Trying the paradise wine. It was opaque and bubbly.
After the paradise wine, we walked in the vineyards. There were still grapes here so of course we tasted some too.
It’s a common practice to plant a rose bush at the end of each grape vine row. The rose bushes are susceptible to the same diseases as the grape vines and serve as early warning.
Another tasting. This vineyard has been around for 120 years. They had some very nice wine here.
And more purchases:
For the most part my wine education has only involved learning what varieties that I liked and didn’t like. According to many sources, Beaujolais is a great wine for new red wine drinkers because it is usually more fruity and contains less tannins than other red wines. I’ve always preferred red wines and I liked the Beaujolais.
The tour turned out not to be a snobby affair at all. The wine making process, in this area at least, is very earthy, and the people were friendly – that makes me happy. I’m thinking I should find a book about French wine and it’s history.