Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Shot Heard Round the Beaujolais

I’m a little late to the game on this, as I’ve already read commentary about it at Rockss and Fruit, Burgundy Report and Manuel Camblor’s La Otra Botella (ok, I could only sort of read that one...). But I expect that there are at least a few readers here that might not regularly peruse those great sites. In any event, intrepid importer and occasional blogger Joe Dressner recently broke the news that Jean-Paul Brun’s entire 2007 production of Beaujolais “Cuvée L’Ancien” has been denied AOC status by France’s INAO tasting authorities. In other words, this wine, which has rightly been called “Beaujolais” for years, can’t be in the 2007 vintage.

This is not a new phenomenon. I’ve mentioned its occurrence before in the context of a piece on the wines of Domaine Ricard. It also seems to happen with alarming regularity to Thierry Puzelat in the Loire. Like those producers, I expect Brun will weather the storm based on the strong reputation and large following that he’s developed over the years.

The gripe expressed by the INAO in these cases is consistent: atypicity. In the context of Beaujolais, I could see a wine being dismissed if it were treated to lavish new oak, saturated and black in the glass, or pumped up to 15% alcohol. Brun’s wines are not. They’re natural, pure and mighty enjoyable expressions of real Beaujolais. I have yet to taste the 2007 but I can’t imagine it’s a total Mr. Hyde to the previous years’ releases.

Bill Nanson at Burgundy Report soberly points out that the explicit reasons for Brun’s demotion are unclear and that Dressner, as he is Brun’s main importer for the US market, may be biased. However, if Joe D. is right, it’s the commercial interests of the big shippers that dominate the Beaujolais market that are behind the INAO’s decision. For a region that already suffers from declining sales and widespread misunderstanding, that can only be bad business.

Again, I’m confident that Brun and other natural and quality conscious producers like him will weather the storm. But what will it mean for the future of Beaujolais?

Update: Apparently, the denial of AOC status applies only to a portion of Brun's 2007 “Cuvée L’Ancien,” even though all of the wine comes from the same production. Check out Dressner's blog for the details. (Image courtesy of JD.)

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