June 2023 - Beaujolais (Jean Michel Dupré)

June 2023 - Beaujolais (Jean Michel Dupré)

May 2024


Winery Spotlight


Jean Michel Dupré


Beaujolais is one of those regions that people either love or don’t quite understand. In recent history, it has been often overlooked as a source of cheap, bubble-gum fruited Beaujolais Nouveau. The Gamay grape, which hails from Beaujolais, is well-loved in wine aficionado circles but relatively unknown to the general (American) populace. Being stylistically similar and requiring many of the same climatic conditions as the favored cash-crop of Pinot Noir, it makes sense that the grape was never adopted by American winemakers. And with much of the perception around the imported Beaujolais being cheap Nouveau-style wines, it doubly makes sense that the imported version never really caught on either. But to know Gamay, and Beaujolais, is to love Gamay. After this month, we have a feeling you will feel the same way (if you don’t already).

History & Geography

Sandwiched between Burgundy and the Rhône, Beaujolais is an interesting little region. Much like Chablis, it is actually a subregion of Burgundy yet it stands alone in identity and style - growing mostly a singular grape and doing so exceptionally well. 

Like many European wine regions, Beaujolais was first cultivated by the Romans but lacked any significant distinguishing factors outside of being an agricultural area providing grapes and many other things. In the late 900’s AD, the Lords of Beaujeu brought some notoriety to the region, as well as the all important root of the name (which is actually a town name to this day). Phillipe the Bold, a Duke of Burgundy, proclaimed in 1935 that Gamay be outlawed in Burgundy proper, due to its easier cultivation and earlier ripening (‘bad and disloyal’ were the words he used). Pinot Noir became king in Burgundy and Gamay was relegated further south, where it actually flourished due to the extreme granitite, schist, and marl soils and the slightly warmer climate. For the next 600 or so years, we see a wide array of different groups farming the Beaujolais and fine-tuning the best vineyard sites and discovering new winemaking practices. When we get to the mid-19th century, we see the rail lines expand across France, allowing the quick and efficient transportation of goods throughout the country. The bistro culture of Paris was quick to embrace the idea of Beaujolais, then a novel, fruity and playful alternative to the nearby Loire Valley and its earthy, peppery reds. 

Fast forward to the 1930s and we see the invention of Carbonic Maceration by Michel Flanzy, a scientist and professor at the Narbonne institute of viticulture. Flanzy discovered that grapes left in an oxygen-rich environment before crushing and fermentation developed different flavors than ones in a carbon-dioxide rich environment. By leaving grapes in their skins while the sugar inside the berry ferments, an intra-cellular fermentation happens, causing the berries to burst on their own time and juice to collect in the vat below. This fermentation happens without the presence of oxygen, since juice is contained within the berry, and allows for the development of notes like bubble-gum, banana, and ripe strawberry/cherry.

 (Note - some people say Louis Pasteur, whom we literally owe our lives to - invented Carbonic Maceration 60 years earlier, however he never implemented it in practical methods. It was not adopted until Flanzy, unaware of Pasteur’s work, made and shared his discovery across winemaking circles. Let’s not give Louis too much credit now.)

Carbonic Maceration can be a useful tool to produce beautiful, fruit-driven wines, however it is easily and quickly overdone. The production style essentially fast-forwards fermentation, which can often shorten the time between grape and wine to only a few weeks. This method was embraced by many in Beaujolais throughout the 1960s, but no-one adopted it more infamously than Georges Duboeuf. Duboeuf, originally a Burgundian winegrower turned Beaujolais negociant, popularized the style by embracing Beaujolais Nouveau - a wine that takes 8 weeks to release and is (now legally) allowed to be sold at 12:01am on the 3rd Thursday of November… of the same vintage. Duboeuf used this stroke of marketing genius to flood the market with cheap, near-instantaneous wine. Parties were (and still are) thrown each November, races were had (this article has some fun anecdotes), and each year the Western world was flooded with millions of bottles of cheap, uninteresting Gamay from late-November until the final bottles languished on the shelf months later, no longer fresh, fruity, or exciting. Dubouef and others became enormously rich and famous, but the 2000 year history of Beaujolais was hamstrung in a mere two decades.

While Beaujolais Nouveau struck a chord (good or bad) with consumers worldwide, winemakers with their boots on the ground were quietly revolutionizing Beaujolais. The developing Cru system in Beaujolais had been first adopted 50 years earlier, designating several villages as “Cru” with the larger region. These, mapped out here and explained in style here, are specific regions that have specificity in styles, soil types, and/or climate. In the 1980’s, several producers within these Cru had begun eschewing interventions like cultured yeast, sulfur dioxide, filtration, chaptalization (added sugar), and definitely a Nouveau release. This ‘Gang of Four’ included Lapierre, Foillard, Thévenet and Breton. Conveniently for us Americans, they were all first imported (and still are) by Kermit Lynch. These producers inadvertently kickstarted the Natural Wine movement (which we know and love to hate), as well as started a renaissance in high-quality, site-specific Beaujolais.

Three decades later, it is almost more often the norm rather than the exception to see a producer who follows the tenets of these winemakers. Or, at the least, someone who is forging their own path, perhaps with the judicious use of yeast and sulfur, rather than going the full Duboeuf commoditization route. While the above names are important for wine history, they are not the holy grail as a wine consumer and purchaser. Present day, they are increasingly expensive and hard to come by, with many places getting decreasing allocation sizes and collectors being voraciously on the hunt. If you walk into any small wine shop and ask for ‘Cru Beaujolais’, you’ll likely be met with excitement by the salesperson. Like German Riesling, Jura Chardonnay, or wine from weird volcanic Islands, this is something we intimately know, clearly love, and often cause people’s eyes at parties to roll back over.

Jean Michel Dupré - Winery Spotlight

Jean Michel Dupré comes from five generations of Beaujolais farmers/vignerons. In the early 90’s, he inherited a small farmhouse and just 2 hectares (5 acres) of vineyards in Les Ardillats. After converting the farmhouse to a winery, Jean began to search surrounding appellations for old-vine vineyards to augment his small home vineyard. He found plots dating back to just before WW2 in nearby Morgon, Régnié, and Beaujolais Villages. To date, he has ownership or contracts to vineyards planted in 1911, 1918, 1935, 1940, 1948. The entire collection of vineyards has been practicing organic for many years, but only sought certification in the last few years, and achieved it from the 2022 vineyard onward. His winemaking style is mostly hands off, with the non-dogmatic liberty to use some additions like SO2 (to ensure safe transit for export), whilst still focusing on purity of fruit, old vines, and a farmer-first mentality. It would be unfair to say that Jean Michel - and many others - are simply following the practices laid out by the Gang of Four above. While it may be true that they forged an alternative path to success than the mogul Duboeuf, it is also true that they were simply following simple, inherited principles laid out by their forefathers, much like Jean Michel is doing here.

Winemakers like Dupré are exactly what we look for to showcase at Dogwood. While his story here may not be some sing-song love story full of twists and turns, he’s as authentic as it gets. We found the Dupré wines through an importer who knows him personally and has provided us with most of the information regarding his lineage and history. I went to his website and found two pictures, several out of stock wines, numerous broken links, and zero marketing paragraphs. Other online stores weren’t much better. When the almighty internet turns up nothing, you can be rest assured that you’re drinking some sort of a hidden gem - even if you’re 5332 miles away.

‘Les Temps des Oranges’ Chardonnay, Vin de France 2023

Gamay is not the only grape allowed to be grown in Beaujolais, though it makes up 98% of plantings. Chardonnay and a few other obscure grapes are allowed. Pinot Noir is definitely not. Sorry, Phillipe the Bold Dead.

While Dupré might be a traditionalist with his reds, there clearly exists a stroke of the experimental (in winemaking and marketing) with this wine. While the label seems to be chasing the Orange wine trend hard, the wine inside is serious and laser-like. This Chardonnay is harvested from younger vines in Tour Bourdon, near the Cru of Regnié. They are grown on steep, south-facing slopes of sandy, silty soil. The Chardonnay is picked early to retain acidity in the finished wine, and fermented with two weeks of skin contact in stainless steel. It is aged in neutral oak, which allows the wine to breathe and oxygenate before release in August.

Notes of mandarin, cara-cara, stone fruits, ripe apple and a light nuttiness explode from the aromatic glass. On the palate it is clean and crisp, with bright acid and lower alcohol. This is closer to a rosé drinker’s orange wine than a cider/sour beer lover’s orange. Personally, I would serve this wine closer to cellar / Portland basement temp (55F) rather than a cold fridge temp. However if you don’t have a basement or wine fridge, my general rule of thumb with these kinds of wines is to have the first glass cold, slowly, while the rest of the bottle warms up to an agreeable 40-50 degrees and then pour the second glass and compare/contrast. 

Or just pound it on the patio the next sunny day, see if I care. Jean Michel surely does not.

‘Terre Noire’ Vieilles Vignes Gamay, Beaujolais 2021

Terre Noire, meaning ‘Black Earth’ refers to the blue/black granite soils this wine originates from. Sourced from Dupré’s home vineyard in Les Ardillats, northwest of Régnié, these grapes are grown from 65 year old vines at a south-southeast exposure at 380m (1250 ft). The wine is fermented with partial whole-cluster fermentation, which is a common method of modern Beaujolais (and many other) winemakers. Partial whole-cluster (also called partial Carbonic) employs some methods of Carbonic Maceration, like leaving the grapes whole during fermentation, whilst foregoing the full-blown method of capping the vessel with a pressurized lid to expedite the fermentation. 

The result is wines that see the benefit of stems in the fermentation vat (spice and herbs) whilst also allowing a partial oxygenated environment (no/less banana, bubblegum, raspberry). As you progress up the legal pyramid of Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais, Beaujolais Village, Cru Beaujolais, one will typically see less and less Carbonic Maceration supplanted by (also decreasing) amounts of whole-cluster fermentation in its place. In simpler terms, simple Beaujolais may be fully Carbonic or partial whole cluster, while Cru Beaujolais will rarely ever be fully Carbonic but will almost always have some element of whole cluster fermentation.

Today, we will also see judicious use of whole-cluster fermentation in wines like Pinot Noir (Burgundy and domestic), Cabernet Franc, Mencia, young Tempranillo, and many other fruitful, early-to-consume wines.

After fermentation, this wine is aged for 5 months in concrete vats before bottling. The resulting wine is lively, with fresh red fruits of currant, cherry, and kirsch, alongside pepper, floral notes, and soft spice. I’d drink this with the exact same guidelines as the Orange above (cellar, but cold and warming up if you must, pounding it if you can’t resist). For food, anything meaty like beef, mushrooms, or lamb will be quite complimentary with the spice delivered from the whole cluster fermentation. 

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