Every year Majestic staff have a chance to go across the channel and pick some grapes in the harvests (la vendange) for our friends in France. Becky from Majestic Isle of Wight was part of one group that popped over earlier in the year for the harvest at Chateau Pizay in Morgon…
The harvest was all but over by the time we arrived! The estate just had one plot left to be harvested. Using mini scythes, about the size of a tablespoon, we worked in pairs along the rows of wines cutting off the ripe bunches of grapes along with a number of spiders scurrying around (I didn’t scream once!). Proper pickers work 8 hour days for up to a few weeks – my back had had enough after just a couple of hours. By the time the plot was clear we’d picked about 1200kg of Gamay grapes. These grapes are used in the production of the chateau’s Beaujolais wine; Pascal the winemaker felt they were too ripe to produce a satisfactory Morgon.
Whilst we may not have had many grapes to pick, it did give us plenty of time for wine-tasting and a tour of the region. The greater Beaujolais region is a little bigger than the Isle of Wight, but what really surprised me is how small an area the 10 Beaujolais Cru cover. It seems everyone’s a winemaker here, and there were plenty of opportunities to stop for tasting.
It’s only about 20kms from Brouilly in the south to St Amour, the most northerly Cru, but because of the varying rock and soil types, each Cru produces subtly different wines from the same grape. Morgon & Moulin-a-Vent lie on granitic soils; their wines tend to be muscular, fuller-bodied, spiced and slightly tannic. Fleurie, lying on sandy soils, produces lighter, silkier wines. Due to the tannins, Morgon can age well. We sampled 2001, 1994 & 1988 vintages of Morgon from Chateau Pizay. The older wines had developed more savoury, almost gamey flavours, reminiscent of red burgundy, compared to the fresh fruit characters of the 2009 & 2010 vintages. Beaujolais red wines are often better enjoyed at cellar rather than room temperature.
We also spent a bit of time in the winery. Many producers in Beaujolais use a process called carbonic maceration to start fermentation. Whole bunches of grapes are put in the vat, which break under their own weight releasing the juice – naturally occurring yeasts trigger fermentation. We emptied a vat where carbonic maceration had finished – the wine was siphoned off leaving a knee-deep layer of grape skins & stalks, known as the must. We had to climb down into the vat to shovel out this grapey mulch, soon feeling rather light-headed due to the CO2… Still, it was nothing a glass of Pizay’s finest couldn’t sort out.