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Matt Mills
 
April 13, 2015 | Matt Mills

Mes Aventures à L'étranger

 

In 2005 I had the tremendous opportunity to conclude my business school studies at a program at the École de Management in Lyon, France (a culinary capital of the world, just like Napa). Jumping on the chance to study overseas, I packed my bag and left for Europe for a course in international business practices. In addition to standard coursework our program director also included a couple days of “case study” in a village named Morgon just outside of Lyon. Unbeknownst to me at the time and of the future implications for me now working in the wine trade, Morgon is a premiere destination within the winegrape growing region of Beaujolais. This was my first adventure in wine.

 

A brief introduction to Beaujolais. The Beaujolais Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) is a region south of Burgundy. Climate has a Mediterranean influence and soil is predominantly limestone and granite. Unlike Burgundy which focuses on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production Beaujolais is famous for the growing of Gamay, a red skinned grape that produces typically lighter bodied, lighter tannin, clean and fruity wines. Wine Expert Karen MacNeil refers to Beaujolais as “the only white wine that happens to be red.” From largest to most defined region, the AOC tier is Beaujolais, then Beaujolais-Village, then Cru Beaujolais, of which Morgon is considered one of the very best.

 

My interest in Morgon was strictly business… of course followed shortly by excessive tastings. In the business of wine, Beaujolais catapulted to fame with the introduction of “Beaujolais Nouveau:” an extremely light, fresh, sometimes slightly effervescent red wine released just weeks after harvest. The release was heralded as a celebration that harvest for the year had concluded.  While not nearly as popular as it once was it can still be found at your local specialty wine merchant in time for Thanksgiving dinner. In the world of viticulture and vineyard management, the vines of Beaujolais are cultivated nearly exclusively in the gobelet style. This system trains vines closer to the ground with less shoots and zero reliance on a trellis system. The vines end up looking like small bushes which assists in air circulation to prevent rot and mildew. And in winemaking, this region championed the fermentation style of carbonic maceration. This is a nearly yeast-less fermentation style whereby the grapes undergo intracellular fermentation in an oxygen-less environment. This technique of reductive winemaking preserves the fresh and fruity aspects of the wine without extracting tannin.

 

What was my takeaway from my first adventure in wine? Well at first we were all amazed and perplexed by the rigidity of the AOC system which is notorious for regulation in grapegrowing and production in France. Despite those regulations, it’s important to note that AOC serves to protect the identity and history of these regions (Beaujolais was first planted by the Romans in the 7th century). Second not too many people identify themselves as “winemakers,” rather these owner-operators are “grapegrowers.” This concept along with the AOC system, one gets a feeling there is an underlying reverence and appreciation to the earth, the sites, the vines and vine growth. As we experienced at the end our “studies” wine is every bit of a daily lifestyle there. Opening bottles of wine wasn’t the occasion, rather a complement to living. It’s a concept still largely foreign to us in America where we like to sometimes hold onto bottles for special occasions, when we should just be enjoying them for the sake of enjoying.

 

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