Beaujolais is certainly not what it used to be. Synonymous with Thanksgiving swill, most 20th century American drinkers were probably unaware of the noble grape behind Beaujolais—Gamay. With its bright acidity, fruitiness and gulpability, Beaujolais was not taken very seriously until the last decade or so.
A lot of this turnaround is due in part to famous wine writer and importer Kermit Lynch and his travels through France in the 70s and 80s. Lynch saw the potential of Gamay and the ten crus of Beaujolais where it is grown. He also befriended Jules Chauvet and the Gang of Four (Lapierre, Foillard, Breton & Thévenet) who upheld the tenants of organic viticulture, hands-off winemaking, low use of sulfur and staying true to the unique terroir of Beaujolais.
Enter the Dutraives. When Jean Dutraive (senior) purchased Domaine de la Grand’Cour in 1969, it was one of the oldest domaines in Fleurie. The family also owns a small chunk of land in Brouilly.
Jean-Louis Dutraive (junior) joined the family business in 1977 and took over in 1989. Jean-Louis’ children are very much a part of the present day estate, as well.
Terroir in Beaujolais. Fleurie, as the name denotes, tends to be the most flowery and elegant of the Beaujolais crus—not quite as dense as Morgon (arguably the most popular and well known of these 10 crus). Fleurie’s soils are based on schist and granite. Brouilly has a bit of limestone, as well.
Beaujolais is one of the warmest places in France in the summer, but being situated at the foothills of the Massif Central, the cooling breezes keep the Gamay from getting too concentrated or overripe.
The Skill and Charm of Jean-Louis. In addition to knowing how to expertly handle Gamay, Jean-Louis has a reputation for being a charismatic and affable personality in Beaujolais, with a never-ending supply of sausages and nibbles for passersby. His estate is just a short walk from the center of town.
Jean-Louis has found his own unique style of winemaking and has been organic for many years. He was certified in 2009, but practicing way before then. Harvest is carried out by hand and the grapes are immediately placed into tank (without sulfur) so carbonic maceration can begin. The wines are fermented with indigenous yeasts and spend 15-30 days on the skins before being placed in old Burgundy barrels for 6-15 months, depending on the cuvée. Generally, no fining or filtering are carried out.
His wines have the ability to age like a top-notch Burgundy and one whiff of these wines reminds you of exotic spices and lush fruit—all that Gamay can be. His wines also have the ability to age and will just improve over a decade of laying down.
Famille Dutraive: The Next Chapter. Between the frost of May 2016 and a hail storm in June 2016, Jean-Louis lost a devastating 90% of his crop. He began to question how he would continue his family business, with three children helping and ready to lead the estate. Thanks to his large network of friends, Famille Dutraive was started as a négociant for he and his children (Justin, Ophélie and Lucas). They buy fruit in both Beaujolais and the Languedoc—but still uphold their standards of purchasing only organically farmed grapes. Their cellar practices remain the same as if it came from their own land.
The main family wines.
Jean-Louis Dutraive Fleurie "Caralon" 2017 $35 BOTTLE
From grapes purchased from a single parcel in Fleurie, located at the northwest of the appellation with granite terroir and very shallow soil. The vineyard is very steep with southwest-facing vines.
Domaine de la Grand'Cour Fleurie "Champagne" 2017 $50 BOTTLE
Just below the Clos is the historic, 1.5 hectares terroir known as Champagne, containing the oldest, lowest-yielding vines in the Dutraive arsenal (70-100 years old).
Domaine de la Grand'Cour Fleurie "Les Déduits" 2017 $45 BOTTLE / $95 Magnum
From two parcels vinified together in the same tank, lieux-dits “La Grand’Cour” and “Les Déduits” on medium deep soil over the granite bedrock. As a result, single-vineyard cuvées were not possible. Vines are mostly around 40 years old with 1.5 hectares of 80-year-old vines average for "La grand'cour" and on the east face, “Les Déduits,” 3.5 hectares of 50-year-old vines.
Justin Dutraive Beaujolais "Les Bulands" 2017 $25 BOTTLE
Les Bulands is located right outside of cru Fleurie. The parcel is farmed using organic methods in accordance to the lunar cycle.
Justin Dutraive Fleurie "Pied d'Aroux" 2017 $43 BOTTLE
Pied d'Aroux is situated on the famed, steeply sloping La Madone hillside of Fleurie. Granite is very close to the surface, with just a skift of topsoil. All natural yeast fermentation and little or no sulfur additions. Justin adheres to his father's cellar motto of "minimal intervention and maximum surveillance."
FAMILLE DUTRAIVE WINES
Wines from the Dutraive family négociant project created in response to crop losses of 90% from storms that ravaged the vineyards of Fleurie.
Famille Dutraive Chiroubles 2017 $38 BOTTLE
From two parcels vinified together in the same tank. Different terroirs with shallow soil on the granite bedrock (from 370m high to 430m), which gives the typical freshness of Chiroubles. Vines are from 60-70 years old and are located on hills exposed both southeast and south.
Famille Dutraive Beaujolais Villages “Haut du Bois de Leynes” 2017 $30 BOTTLE
From a single parcel, mixed terroir of clay, galet stones, and a majority of sand on granite gives this wine great complexity. Located at the very north of the Beaujolais. Organically-farmed, 50-year-old vines planted on hills (430m-450m altitude) with south-southwest exposure.
Famille Dutraive Cap O Sud VDF Carignan 2016 $29 BOTTLE
From vineyards farmed by a vigneron friend of Jean-Louis Dutraive in Trausse-Minervois about 3 km north of Carcassonne in the Languedoc. 60-year-old vines. Farmed organically, harvested into tiny bins in the morning.
Famille Dutraive Cap O Sud VDF Cinsault 2016 $29 BOTTLE
Sourced from vineyards in Peyriac-de-Mer (near Corbiéres) owned and farmed by Magali Terrier of Les Deux Anes, who was kindly willing to sell the Dutraive family some fruit following the destructive storms that ravaged Fleurie vineyards.