Updated: Oct 3, 2021
If you do it right 2 days is almost enough...
"It's the Tuscany of France" my co-worker shouted as I mentioned I would make the trip down after our time in Burgundy. I didn't fully comprehend what he meant as I've seen the rolling hills of Tuscany with my own eyes. "No way," I thought. "No way could any place be as beautiful as the hills of Tuscany." I was wrong...
We made the trip from Beaune to Villé-Morgon on a Saturday morning. I highly recommend NOT visiting on a weekend, by the way. Most of the producers are quite small with families who spend their weekends doing, well, family stuff. Unfortunately with our schedule, this was our only option. Lucky for us (and the rest of the wine world), the people of Beaujolais will bend over backward to ensure you get the most out of their precious region. As an example, when I reached out to Domaine Bonnet Cotton (Pierre Cotton), I was met with a response that said, "you are most welcome to visit, BUT let us know the exact date because I'm supposed to give birth in late July and we may not be available. Anyway, send me an email a week before and we'll see where we are." I mean, if that's not accommodating, I don't know what is! Of course, I didn't want to bother them right before welcoming a baby into this world. We decided we would just support them by continuing to buy their wine here in New York. Pro tip: they have magnums of Pierre Cotton at a reasonable price at Joseph Leonard's in the West Village.
If you're coming from Beaune, the easiest way to get to Beaujolais is by car...but make sure someone in your party can drive a manual! Automatic cars are pretty tough to come by in these smaller towns. The drive is about an hour and 15 mins (with a little traffic), but you'll drive through the beautiful Mâconnais region and even be graced by the Rock of Solutré on the right-hand side. You'll know you're in Beaujolais the second you enter the first cru of Saint-Amour. WOW...it truly is the Tuscany of France!
Where I stayed:
I didn't want to label this, "where TO stay" as we were only there for 2 nights and I immediately knew I wanted to stay at Château de Pizay in Villé-Morgon. I found this château simply by googling "the best hotels in Beaujolais" and you better believe this was the first hotel to came up on every list. Even when I told producers in Burgundy we were staying there we were constantly met with, "WOW! That's a really nice place." A nice place indeed...
A castle, a vineyard, a spa, a pool, and a winery...what more do you need? Château de Pizay has over 1,000 years of history. The first writings of Pizay were mentioned in the Charters of CLUNEY Abbey in 1030 AD. Today, the château farms 82 hectares of vineyards spanning from Beaujolais to the crus of Morgon, Brouilly, and Régnié. The restaurant is also killer, but we'll get to that later...
Where I tasted:
My first visit of the trip was with Sébastien Congretel of L'Epicurieux. Talk about setting the tone! I found this husband and wife team by scouring the Grand Cru Selections website. Every single wine Grand Cru brings in is incredible in my book, so I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. Séb wasn't always in wine. He was working on offshore oil rigs when he married his Beaujolaise wife in 2011. He would spend one month on and one month off the job. When he was off, he'd spend his time at his in-law's vineyards. It was in 2016 when he and his wife Charlotte bought their first parcel of vines in Morgon and the rest is history. Séb and Charlotte now vinify wine from Beaujolais-Villages, Morgon and Régnié. They practice a real "back to basics" mentality that involves organic farming, biodynamic practices, and minimal to no intervention in the winery. Séb is one of those people you connect with right away. Something about the way he speaks so frankly while smoking a cigarette makes you want to share a glass (or several) with him at 10:30 in the morning. He's real, no BS...just like his wines. They say you can learn a lot about a producer by getting familiar with their wines. This is especially true here.
Next up was Château de la Chaize. This was a completely different vibe, but so magical. Located in the cru of Brouilly, Château de la Chaize is one of the oldest, most historic estates in all of Beaujolais. The gardens were built by André Le Nôtre who was the gardener to the king and later went on to create the famous gardens of Versailles. The estate was purchased by the Gruy family in 2017 who have since brought about many updates to the winery including a new winemaking facility, equipment, and a plan to achieve a "High Environmental Value" certification followed by the conversion of the vineyards to organic and biodynamic. The cru of Brouilly is known for its famous pink granite soils and south/southeast exposures. Château de la Chaize produces wine from 11 individual climats in Brouilly and has vineyard holdings in Côte de Brouilly, Morgon, Fleurie, and Pouilly-Fuissé in the Mâconnais.
I've been chatting a lot about the crus here, but don't sleep on Beaujolais-Villages! It was an absolute pleasure to meet and taste the wines of Domaine de Mont Joly with Jean-Baptiste Bachevillier. He's part of the "new school" in Beaujolais that is passionate, driven, and producing terroir-driven wines that we need to pay attention to! JB is the third generation to produce wine at Domaine de Mont Joly, and after years of traveling the world studying viti and viniculture, he came back to his home of Blacé to acquire 2.5 hectares of vines and a small cellar in the Beaujolais-Villages appellation. Blacé is in the northern part of Beaujolais-Villages bordering the cru of Brouilly. Here, JB has rich granitic and limestone soils bringing electricity to his wines. He's currently a one-man show doing everything from top to bottom as naturally as possible. He even designed the wine labels which I'm currently obsessed with. These wines are expressive, energetic, and reflective of where they come from. I'm actually dying to get these wines to the US so if you're a wine importer, please reach out to me!
To wrap up our tastings, the last visit was with Mee Godard...the legend! Mee studied enology and trained at Oregon State and Montpellier. In 2013 she moved to Beaujolais and started producing wine in Morgon. She started with 5 hectares and is quickly acquiring more. Inspired by the likes of Jean-Paul Thévenet, Jean Foillard, and Marcel Lapierre, Mee farms organically and is producing wine as naturally as possible. Her Domaine looks over the famed, "Côte du Py" which was exciting for me to see as it's one of my favorite climats! Our lineup included Beaujolais-Villages, Morgon Corcelette, Morgon Grand Cras, Morgon Côte du Py, and Moulin-à-Vent. These wines are dense, precise, and packed with concentrated fruit aromas. These are wines for cellaring, or as they say in France, "vin de garde."
Where I ate:
Our first lunch was at Le Morgon about a 4 minute drive from Château de Pizay. The menu offers up local favorites like Beouf Bourguignon and Salade Lyonnaise. The atmosphere is cute but casual and makes for the perfect stop for in-between wine tastings!
Next up was my favorite meal of the trip...Le Coq à Juliénas. This was quite possibly the best Coq au Vin I've ever had. Located in the heart of Juliénas, Chef Marie Dias is bringing a "chic rural" lifestyle to the restaurant combining taste, aroma, art, color, and hospitality. Do yourself a favor and sit on the back terrace while starting with the Pâté en Croûte!
Our last lunch was at L’Echanson in Vaux-en-Beaujolais. At this point of the trip, I was in desperate need of a salad and was overjoyed with the fresh farm-to-table ingredients in the Salade de l'Echanson. My husband ordered the Burger de Joue de Boeuf Confite otherwise known as the beef cheek burger. He said it was one of the best burgers he's ever had...and he's had his fair share of burgers! The wine list is strictly Beaujolais, and the list of growers is always changing.
We ended our trip right where we started...at Château de Pizay. Dining here is like taking a step back in time. The service is excellent, the food is flavorful, and the atmosphere is romantic with candles and white tablecloths. At the end of your meal take the rest of your bottle out to the front terrace and have one last nightcap overlooking the château in all its evening glory.
How I got home:
If you're wondering the best way to get back to CDG airport in Paris, the quickest way is via Lyon. Lyon is about a 40-minute drive south of Château de Pizay, but if you're leaving on a weekday, make sure to give yourself some extra time! As with any major city, there is going to be some traffic heading in. We dropped our rental car off at the Europcar location right at the Lyon-Perrache station. From there, we took a direct train from Lyon-Perrache to CDG and it only took 2 hours and 18 minutes. So easy!
*Written partly in partnership with ATOUT France