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The best of Beaujolais: visiting some top producers in the crus

I've already written something of my trip to the crus of Beaujolais . Here, in photos and words, is more about the producers and the wines, unrolled in the order in which I visited them.

Nicole Chanrion and her son Romain, the eighth generation of this Côte de Brouilly family (above) in their vineyards at Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes. The average age of the vines is 50–60 years – the youngest being 30-years-old, the oldest 106 years – and they grow on the Côte's distinctive blue stone, which is of volcanic origin (right). Nicole Chanrion's wines are fragrant, pure and precise and they age well. A 2003 was unerringly fresh with a tantalising orange zest and herb finish – and this from a year of unprecedented heat that culminated in the earliest harvest ever. The picture on the left is Beaujolais but not as we know it. The Chanrions make a méthode traditionelle (Champagne method) Gamay which they riddle by hand in pupitres (above left) and disgorge by hand. It has 24 months on lees and the dosage is from zero to 3g/l, according to the market. It's called Effervescence Brut and is a Vin de France.

The unassuming Guy Breton, aka P’tit Max (above), of Morgon is one of the most highly regarded producers in Beaujolais, but you have to peer at his labels to find his name and there’s no name on his door. He’s one of the influential Gang of Four (term coined by American importer Kermit Lynch) who set off on a quality-oriented, more natural winemaking path at the end of the 1980s. He doesn’t use any sulphur in vinification, ferments in cement and polyester using wild yeasts only and doesn’t chaptalise or fine. He’s famous for his Morgon Vieilles Vignes and for Morgon P’tit Max, which isn’t made very year, but his flair is shown as much by his 2016 Beaujolais'Villages (blue label above, designed by a friend) and his 1989 Morgon. The latter was only his second vintage, and was made without any sulphur even at bottling. The bottle above (middle) had a lovely smokiness, silky texture and, yes, freshness.

Dominique Piron (above), based at Domaine de la Chanaise in Morgon Côte de Py, is the fourteenth generation of his family in Morgon. He now has 100 hectares in 16 villages across eight of Beaujolais' ten crus. Some grapes are also bought in. That he has supplied Fortnum & Mason with its own-label Beaujolais for ten years speaks volumes about the quality and reliability of his wines. We tasted a 1991 Morgon – delicate, lively and still with the sweetness of Gamay, rather than having veered towards Pinot Noir in flavour. There are no prizes for guessing that the Chénas (above right), highly recommended and produced in partnership with renowned chef Jacques Lameloise, is from quartz soils or that the rock pictured (centre) is quartz. The small, pink rock sandwich with it is quartz and pink granite, again from Chénas.

For the second year running Clos de la Roilette in Fleurie has lost 80 per cent of its crop to hail (see the damage to an old vine above). The hail this year, in July, was made all the more ferocious by an accompanying mini tornado that sliced 200-year-old trees in half and pulled wooden shutters off their hinges. Owner-winemaker Alain Coudert (above) must be all the more glad of his one hectare of Brouilly this year, though it’s a drop compared to his 13ha of Fleurie. All things considered, he was remarkably sanguine and generous with his time and tasting samples – wines with spice, fleshy fruit and texture, and structure.

Jean-Paul Thévenet (on the right above), like Guy Breton, is one of the Gang of Four who stirred up Beaujolais in the late 1980s with their more natural, quality-oriented winemaking. His Morgons have intensity and grip, but a flowing, suppleness too. His son Charly (above left), who works with him, is also making very impressive Régnie in his own right – wines with expressive fruit, minerality and a riveting sense of energy: his 2009 Grain et Granite was one of the best wines of a trip in which there was no shortage of highlights.

The quality of Arnaud Briday's Domaine des Cher wines shows that you don't have to have a gleaming modern winery or serried ranks of smart barrels to make good wines. He makes a particularly lovely, raspberry-scented Saint-Amour from old vines high up in the village, but all the wines I tasted were good and he is looking for a UK importer... He has 1.5 hectares of Saint-Amour, four hectares of Juliénas, where he's based, and 1.5 in Moulin-à-Vent and his vines are 40–70 years old. He also has 0.6ha of Chardonnay in Saint-Véran. The Juliénas vines and grapes in rude health, above right, were just starting veraison on 27 July. Arnaud took over the estate and the winemaking in 2009 after his father died – he's only 34 now – but didn't assume all the viticultural work until 2014 when he gave up his day job (marketing then banking – useful experience). He treads the grapes himself in whole bunches and doesn't de-stem . He doesn't need to, he says, because his vineyards all have favourable exposure and so mature fully.

Fabien Duperrey (above) of Jules Desjourneys is a man making awe-inspiring Beaujolais. I tasted various Chénas, Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent from 2015 and 2014 – from old vines cultivated organically and biodynamically. He no longer uses oak because, he says, he wants it to be all his own work in the bottle, not partly François Frères. We talked and tasted in his winery, but weren't allowed to see the vinification area because he has been developing glass eggs (200 litre and 500 litre) for fermentation and ageing that he's intending to patent. There's much more to say, but I'll have to save it for another blog. Suffice to say here that it was a remarkable visit.

Should you be visiting Pascal Aufranc (above) at home in Chénas, don't give up as the twisting road mounts ever higher, leaving farms and houses behind. You get to the end of the road eventually, at about 330 metres, and almost stumble on the cluster of traditional stone buildings that are the Aufranc family's home and cellar. Surrounded by woods, fields and five hectares of Chénas in a single west-facing parcel, this is a lieu dit on granitic soils called En Remont. The oldest vines were planted in 1939 and are bottled separately in a wine (above right) that has a wonderfully floral (peonie) perfume and white pepper spiciness, particularly in 2016. The Juliénas (above left) is called Les Cerisiers and is from a lieu dit called Les Crots which is bordered by cherry trees. It sounds like auto-suggestion but the wine has an enticing cherry aroma and cherry flavour, together with racy minerality. Pascal has six hectares of Juliénas altogether: the top cuvée is Probus which, as from 2016, was fermented in one-third polymer eggs, one-third concrete and one third five to six-year-old oak.

Jean-Jacques Parinet (above) bought the iconic Château du Moulin-à-Vent in Thorins with his son Edouard in 2009 and spent the years 2009–2011 (and clearly a good deal of money) restoring the winery and cellars. When they bought it, the wine was all being sold in bulk. It's now one of the few estates in Beaujolais where you find a cellar full of new oak (above right). They have 228-litre and 350-litre barrels, of which 25 per cent are new each year, but they have chosen stainless steel tanks for fermentation. Like Fleurie, but not quite as badly, Moulin-à-Vent was hit by hail this year, so their 2017 crop will amount to about 300hl, instead of the 1,300hl of a normal year. Painful. The wines are impressive, from the approachable Moulin-à-Vent Couvent de Thorins 2015 to the blended estate wine, then the three terroir selection wines and finally the later release, Clos de Londres. The 2011 Clos de Londres has an exotic floral aroma (peony, iris, violet), black fruit intensity and spice, a silky texture and a framework of acidity and tannins that promises years ahead.

Food is a way of life in Beaujolais. Left to right above: an archetypal plate of charcuterie and paté; foie gras crème brûlée at Les Plâtanes de Chénas restaurant; honey from Château du Moulin-à-Vent's vineyards. Bee-keeping and vine-growing/winemaking often go together in my experience (Louis Latour's winemaker is another who produces a.delicious honey – from Latour's Corton vineyards).

I didn't visit Mee Godard in Morgon Côte de Py, but judging by this wine, which I drank in a restaurant in Chiroubles, she is one of Beaujolais' most exciting new producers (she created her domaine in early 2013). The cork is from Charly Thévenet's 2009 Grain et Granit et Granit Régnié, one of the highlights of the trip; the rocks are granites from the vineyards of Dominique Piron.

All photographs by Joanna Simon

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