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In this episode of “Next Round,” VinePair CEO and founder Adam Teeter discusses all things Beaujolais with Romain Teyteau, export director for Georges Duboeuf. Born in Paris, Teyteau joined DuBoeuf as the North American export director in 2013 after working as a brand ambassador in New York and Canada.
Over the last decade, Beaujolais has become a popular, highly sought-after wine in America. Produced in the eponymous region in France, the wines come in multiple styles, though Beaujolais Nouveau or Beaujolais Villages are best known by consumers. Teyteau explains what to expect from different styles, as well as touching on the characteristics that Duboeuf focuses on in the production of its wines.
Georges Duboeuf is one of the largest producers in the Beaujolais region, but the brand chooses to pair with a patchwork of small family farms rather than large vineyards. The average size of these vineyards is only eight acres, and Duboeuf believes in allowing vintners to control their vineyards from generation to generation. This year, Beaujolais saw an unexpectedly dry, warm summer, forcing many vintners to harvest earlier. This timeline, plus concerns over Covid and the health of the 25,000 people who arrived to hand-pick grapes, meant a year like no other.
Nevertheless, Beaujolais prevailed, and Georges Duboeuf managed a harvest that Teyteau has high hopes for. He and Teeter discuss the American urge to pair Beaujolais wines with the holidays, and how to make the most of these refreshing, aromatic wines.
Or Check out the conversation here
A: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter. And this is a VinePair “Next Round” conversation. We’re bringing you these conversations between our regular podcast episodes to give everyone a better idea of what’s going on in the world of wine, beer, and spirits this year. Today, I’m talking with Romain Teyteau, export manager for Georges Duboeuf, about all things Beaujolais. Romain, thank you so much for joining me.
R: Thank you so much for having me.
A: So we’re having a really fun conversation today about Beaujolais. It’s the holiday season. It’s one of my favorite times of the year to drink Beaujolais, but I think a lot of people feel that way, because they really only know one style of the wine, which is obviously the red, the cru, the village, et cetera. Can you explain all the styles of Beaujolais to just kick us off and get the listeners interested in all of the different kinds of Beaujolais that we’ll talk about today?
R: Well, there are many kinds of Beaujolais. We have 12 appellations in Beaujolais. So Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, and 10 Crus. I think it’s important to say that we’re one region that’s very unique in France. We’re in the southern part of Burgundy. We make wine mostly from the Gamay grape and basically a lot of people know Beaujolais for the nouveau. Nouveau is a style of wine, but we do many more wines beyond nouveau that you can enjoy all year long.
A: So in terms of those styles, obviously you have the cru Beaujolais, which has become really popular in places like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco over the last four to five years. Now even where I go to wine lists, if you’re looking for a Beaujolais, there’s 10 cru Beaujolais on the list. And they’ve gotten more expensive, which is a bummer for me, but they’re absolutely delicious. But what other wines can we find from Beaujolais besides the cru?
R: You can find the simple Beaujolais, which I always find refreshing and delicious, and I’d like to see more of these on the wine lists. And we also see Beaujolais Villages. Let’s not forget Beaujolais Villages. That’s 38 villages tucked in between the entry Beaujolais and the cru Beaujolais, and you find fantastic values in Beaujolais Villages. And I really think it’s an appellation that has a future in the U.S. People are starting with cru Beaujolais and going to Beaujolais Villages. Usually, you work your way up the other way around. You go from Beaujolais Villages to cru Beaujolais, but a lot of people nowadays are introduced to the regions through the crus of Beaujolais, and soon, they can discover that it offers fantastic values and great profiles of wine.
A: So you’re the export manager for Duboeuf. Is Duboeuf the largest producer of Beaujolais in the region?
R: We are one of the largest, but we don’t consider ourselves in this term. We’re still family-owned and operated, and we work with hundreds of small families of vintners. To give you an idea, the average size of the domaines that we purchase grapes from for a winery is three hectares. So that’s about eight acres. That’s the average size.
A: So, very small producers.
R: Very small producers. Super-tiny producers. It’s a patchwork of small, family-owned and operated wineries that we work with, generation to generation.
A: So as the export manager, I’m sure you have a pretty good insight into the explosion of Beaujolais in the U.S. over the past five to 10 years. What do you think is fueling that? What is it about Beaujolais that has gotten so many people excited about it over the last decade? Has the region repositioned itself? Is it just that we’ve moved as an American wine-drinking culture in your mind to those brighter, higher-acid wines that Beaujolais really is known for? What are you seeing when you look at the market in terms of why you think Americans are falling in love with this region now?
R: First, I think it’s because it’s simply delicious. Beaujolais is delicious. And what I saw over the 10 years I’ve been sending wine to the U.S. … 10 years ago, I would go to a restaurant in New York, and the sommelier would say, “OK, I love Beaujolais, I drink it at home, but I don’t put it on the wine list because people don’t know Beaujolais, or don’t understand Beaujolais.” But we need people like sommeliers, or even people in wine shops — or in larger supermarkets, sometimes you have a wine that people that know wine, we need people to help sell the wine, talk about the wine. And so all these sommeliers were saying, “OK, if you love the wine, it’s your job to transmit that passion and tell these stories to your people attending your restaurant or going to your shop”. And if the wine is delicious, then you can fill the need. And I think that maybe the newer generation, but actually old generation can love Beaujolais, but people are trying to go away from over extracted, too big, too high-alcohol, too tannic wines, over the top, and trying to go to something more aromatic, fresher, lighter bodied with less alcohol that actually is much more pleasurable with food.
A: Why do you think the wine has such a nice connection to the holidays? Obviously, I drink Beaujolais all the time throughout the year, but I feel around the holidays, everyone thinks about bringing it to homes with them. Is it just because it pairs so well with all of the different dishes? Or because it’s so festive? Or has there been a strategic marketing plan in order to do that? And is it the same in France as it is here, that we think of it as such a holiday wine? Or is it really an American phenomenon?
R: I would say it’s an American phenomenon. Of course in France, we drink Beaujolais all year long, and in the U.S., it has to go with the most festive wine that we have. We like to say our wines can be festive, we also have wines that are more expressive, and some that are actually exceptional. So actually, let’s say just a few days after Thanksgiving — you can really imagine going to your family’s place for a Thanksgiving dinner — you’re going to start with perhaps a festive wine like Beaujolais Nouveau. And with a nice chill, it is refreshing, cheerful, and then you will go to a Beaujolais and then open a cru Beaujolais for the main course of the dinner. So I think it’s really something that historically has paired very well with the holidays and something has to do with Nouveau itself, because it’s coming a week before Thanksgiving. And basically, people shop and go shopping the weekend before Thanksgiving. And that’s where Beaujolais — it can be Nouveau or other Beaujolais — are in stores at the time. So I think it’s a coincidence, but it’s a good question. At least for us, it’s a wine that is great for the holidays.
A: That makes a lot of sense. So in terms of the wine, what should people be looking for when they’re looking for Beaujolais? What flavors should they be picking up? What’s the tip? How would you describe the typical style of the wine for both members of the trade who are selling the wine, and also consumers who are interested in getting into the wine for the first time?
R: But you see, there’s no straight answer to that. First, just open the bottle and taste by yourself. There’s nothing I hate more than when people say, “OK, you should taste that,” “You should smell that.” You have a nose. If it’s functioning a little bit, you can get some aromas, and typically to generalize, we would say that you will find Beaujolais light- to medium-bodied and very aromatic. So actually a lot of things are going on on the aromatic side, and then you have a wine that has a good acidity, which is super important in wine and has been too much forgotten, I think. But great acidity, very balanced. But I’m generalizing, because if you’re comparing a one-year-old Beaujolais to 10-year-old Fleurie, it’s night and day. So it’s a wine that actually offers a very diverse palate, aromatic palate. And there is no straight answer to your question, Adam.
A: Right, so it can be very festive, but then it can also be light and fun, but then it can also be very age-worthy and deliver up. I mean, that’s why I love the wine. So let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening in Beaujolais now. So first, obviously there’s been a flood of interest in the U.S. What’s happening in terms of winemaking in Beaujolais? Are we seeing in the same way — the way you see excitement of other regions around the world — a rush of new people coming into the region to make wine, with new generations taking over? Can you talk to me a little bit about that?
R: So there is actually an analogy I like to say. I think you’re broadcasting from Brooklyn, New York. I used to live in Brooklyn, myself for a couple of years, back 10 years ago. And to me, I would say Beaujolais is to Burgundy what Brooklyn is to Manhattan.
A: I like that. You do see a lot more Beaujolais on Brooklyn wine lists than in Manhattan.
R: I couldn’t. I tried to live in Manhattan, but after one month, I left Manhattan. I went to Brooklyn, and I found a better rent and also a better vibe. And it’s the same in Beaujolais. Personally, I love Burgundy, but who can afford the rent? It’s hard to be a newcomer in Burgundy, whereas in Beaujolais, the price of the land is much less, and you can really go there and start your winery and really express yourself and try new things, and so that’s why it’s a fantastic wine region. And Georges himself, he was not originally from Beaujolais. He was from the neighboring region, and he went to Beaujolais to really embrace the world of wine.
A: Oh wow. So am I understanding you correctly that a lot of people that are coming to Beaujolais now to make wine are from outside of the region, as opposed to people inside the region or the next generation making wine? Or is it both at the same time?
R: It’s a combination. You have people who are starting and came from other places and fell in love with Beaujolais. For example, our head winemaker is originally from Champagne, and he fell in love with Beaujolais. And you have people also that are native to Beaujolais and bring their own philosophy. So it’s a new generation, and maybe they learned from their parents or grandparents, but they want to bring their own way of doing things. And the change also comes from the change of generation. We also have at Duboeuf a change of generation that translates into the winemaking as well.
A: Interesting. Are you seeing the excitement from people from outside of France moving to Beaujolais to make wine? Is that a thing that’s very common, or not?
R: Oh gosh, I don’t have a lot of examples of that. There must be. I’m sure there must be. I know there are a lot of connections between Beaujolais and other regions of France. For example, you have some winemakers go to Oregon, to do a few harvest and vice versa. Or besides Oregon, you have California. Yeah, our head winemaker was trained in Oregon and spent time also in Sonoma. We have people going to all major wine regions in the world. So it’s an exchange. No, we’re not close to the rest of the world in the trends, and we’re very happy when people are inspired by Beaujolais. For example, when I go to Napa and I see a winemaker doing a 15.5 Cabernet that drinks Beaujolais at home, I’m super happy.
A: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Are we seeing that in the style, as well? Obviously, we’ve seen the taste preferences on the U.S. market evolve from people first coming in contact with Nouveau, and then really getting to realize that there’s this whole fine wine behind Nouveau. Nouveau is kind of the banner that built the name in the U.S. Are a lot of people who are moving to the region bringing new techniques and things like that? Are they changing the way that the wine is made in some regards? Or are there a lot of people moving in and really honoring the tradition and the history of the way that this wine has been made for generations?
R: There are as many ways of making Nouveau as there are winemakers. So I can talk about what I know from Georges Duboeuf. At Duboeuf, what we realized is that for years, we tried to look at our neighbors. And so we’re all in Beaujolais, and we’re looking north to Burgundy, and we’re looking south, and we said “OK, we’ll try to experiment and try to do things differently.” But now at Duboeuf, what we decided to do is to go back to what Beaujolais is all about. So we’re big on carbonic maceration. A lot of people decided to distend partially or completely, and we are back on, on full-cluster, on whole-cluster fermentation. We are trying not to extract too much. We think that maybe for some years — we were looking back 15 years ago, the general rule was to try to get as much extraction as you can, but is it really what people are looking for when they are buying a Beaujolais? Are you looking for over-extracted wine, or are you looking for something more aromatic, more refreshing? So that’s the kind of thinking we have going on here among the winemakers at Duboeuf. And I would say that now we’re going back to basics and what makes Beaujolais very special and different from other regions.
A: Can you explain just a little bit, for listeners who maybe aren’t as familiar, the process of carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration and what it does to the wine? And maybe explain why you’ve decided to go back to it?
R: Carbonic maceration is something we’ve always done at Duboeuf. But what I’m saying is that we’re taking pride in what makes Beaujolais. And that’s something very important for us. Being proud of what we are and what makes Beaujolais different. So to your question about semi-carbonic maceration, we will always use the word “semi,” because there is no adjunction of carbon dioxide in the winemaking process. So basically with semi-carbonic maceration in Beaujolais, we hand-harvest the grapes in majority and we are going to do whole-cluster fermentation. So basically, the whole bunch of the Gamay grape is going into the tank, and we’re going to close the tank and the fermentation is going to start within the berries themselves. So we have the fermentation that is going to induce carbon dioxide inside the fermenting tanks, so we’ll have what we call a hypoxia. But we’re going to fill up the tank with carbon dioxide, and then it will induce an anaerobic process inside the intact berry. So basically, you’re going to have a fermentation within the berries themselves. So I like to say each berry is going to become its own fermenting tank, and that’s what gives the fruitiness to the wine. That’s a very unique process to Beaujolais. It’s something actually that suits the Gamay grape very well . And that’s something we really enjoy in Beaujolais.
A: So obviously as the export manager, prior to Covid, you traveled a lot, I would assume. With the explosion or the rise in popularity of Beaujolais, I’ve seen a lot of people throughout the rest of the world doing much more carbonic maceration than they used to. Do you think that that is in part due to the rise in Beaujolais’s popularity?
R: I think there is something to do with that. I saw some Gamay Nouveau or Pinot Noir from Sonoma and from Oregon. We see a lot of regions doing carbonic maceration, and I hope that it’s an inspiration from the Beaujolais region. We’re happy to share the technique, and people trying to learn this are welcome to come to Beaujolais and learn alongside our very talented winemakers that we have all over the region of Beaujolais. You see in Beaujolais, we like to bring people together to share techniques, to share ideas, to share a good meal and a bottle of wine. So that’s why nowadays, it’s a little sad not being able to welcome as many people as we wish we could.
A: So just to touch on briefly because you brought it up — and because we’d be ignoring it if we didn’t — I’d like to talk a little bit about the Covid impact on the region and the winemaking. How has it impacted Beaujolais this year?
R: We think first of all of people. For example, when we had the lockdown in France, it’s not the same thing being locked down when you live in the countryside and you’re working all day long in your vineyard than if you’re in a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. It’s not the same. So we were actually living a different experience of the lockdown, and we stopped traveling because of that, and we spent more time in the vineyard, and personally, I reconnected much more with nature, with the vineyard, with the pace of the vineyard. So it actually was the best place to be, among all places you could be during that time. So it’s been challenging, but actually, Beaujolais is one of the regions in France that’s still doing well. Even though we have this Covid crisis and other crises in the U.S., Beaujolais is still doing well as one of the two regions in France that are actually rising in popularity worldwide.
A: Wow. That makes a lot of sense. It’s a delicious, approachable wine. So it makes a lot of sense.
R: Exactly. So it’s been a challenge for the hand pickers, because we hand-pick in Beaujolais, so we had 25,000 hand pickers coming for the harvest. So that was a bit challenging to ensure their health, to ensure everyone is healthy. For us, the impact is not so big. But we are trying to make sure first that everybody is safe and we can have good conditions for everyone. And the world cannot travel, but the wine can still travel and cross borders. So that’s the most important.
A: Right. And so then how was harvest this year?
R: So this year, actually, it was a very extreme year. We had extreme temperatures, very high temperatures. It’s been a very dry year, and we had a very early harvest. So basically, we had the very early bud burst at the end of March. The months of April and May were very warm and dry and sunny, and even the flowering stage, you know we like to say that the flowers have been a hundred days before the harvest, and that was very early in Beaujolais at the end of the month of May, so everything was early. Very warm and dry. And the month of July actually was the third-driest since 1964. So with all that, we started harvesting around the 20th of August, which is very, very early. So that’s the earliest since 2003, super-early harvest. But we had a nice phenolic ripeness, nice structure and colors, very good aromatic elegance. And what we find in the wine is that they’re very balanced, and we felt a lot of freshness. So it’s too early to tell for the crus and most of the Beaujolais that will be bottled in a few months, but we think we’re on track for a fantastic vintage.
A: Wow, so do you think it will create a richer Beaujolais because it was so hot in July? Are there characteristics that the winemakers are already discussing that they think they will get from these grapes compared to a harvest that wouldn’t have been as early and wouldn’t have had as dry of a month as July?
R: Actually, we’re always afraid when it’s too warm. You can lose balance, you can lose acidity and have something that’s almost a character of cooked fruits, and we’re not having that. That’s one of the reasons we decided to harvest early, is to really capture freshness and make sure we have wines that are balanced. So typically, we’ll have more dark fruits than red fruits. This year, some wines are going to be a little higher in alcohol than the average of the last 10 years, but overall, it’s very balanced, and we still find very good aromatics.
A: Well, Romain, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I know that you’re incredibly busy, especially given everything that’s going on in the world. So I appreciate the 20 minutes or so that we spent this morning talking about Beaujolais. I plan, as always, to have it on my holiday table. It is my absolute favorite wine to pair with anything during the holidays and one of my favorite wines in general, so it’s always a joy to talk about this wine that I love so much.
R: Thank you for promoting the wine and talking about it. We need people to be invested in all Beaujolais, and I’m glad that you’re one of them.
Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair Podcast. If you enjoy listening to us every week, please leave us a review or rating on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show. Now, for the credits. VinePair is produced and hosted by Zach Geballe and me, Adam Teeter. Our engineer is Nick Patri and Keith Beavers. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder Josh Malin and the rest of the VinePair team for their support. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again right here next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity