Southern crus and communes from Lancié to Tarare
By Michael Edwards
This Guide was last updated on 26 April 2011
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Beaujeu, the ancient capital of the Beaujolais in the heart of the 'Villages' vineyards. © Mick Rock/Cephas
Beaujolais is considered part of Burgundy, but is really a separate sub-region of considerable size and importance. Its 22,000 hectares of vineyards planted to the juicy Gamay grape carpet the sunny slopes below Les Monts de Beaujolais - delightful bucolic hill country with stunning views on a clear day to Mont Blanc and the Lyonnais, the land of ultimate gastronomy. It's said that three ‘rivers’ bathe Lyon – the Saône, the Rhône and le Beaujolais.
The choice part of the region is the Haut-Beaujolais centred on Belleville-sur-Saône, a market wine town close to privileged vineyard sites like Le Mont de Brouilly and Morgon's Côte de Py. A little farther south the Beaujolais village of Vaux was the model for Clochemerle, Gabriel Chevalier's hilarious 1950s satire of French village life, complete with bibulous vignerons being wheeled home in barrows after a pot too many.
Further south still beyond Villefranche, the regional capital, you come to the Bas Beaujolais, where the heavier soils are home to the simple Beaujolais Nouveau that made the fortune of many growers in the 1980s. But by the century's end the world had fallen out of love with this fast-turnover, tutti-frutti red, and it's only now that the Beaujolais wine community is emerging from crisis. A new generation of growers are reclaiming their wine heritage and 80% of the wines recommended here are matured briefly in large oak casks: the aerating effect of the wood really does release the flowery, fruit loveliness of the best Beaujolais. This land is an unspoilt rural paradise of food markets showcasing the best local ingredients, bistrots with great regional cooking, and hills and valleys where cyclists and walkers can work off the extra indulgence.
Beaujolais is the most southerly region of Burgundy, rather confusingly in the Rhône department, and this micro-region is just to the north of Lyon. The climate has some warming influence from the Mediterranean, but also has some continental influence with cold winters and hot summers. Apart from a dry period during most summers, there is regular rainfall. Hail is an occasional hazard.
This is an area of rolling hills with vineyards facing mainly south or east. Soils vary from north to south. To the north of Villefranche, the characteristic granite or schist so beloved of the Gamay grape is found on the upper slopes, with stony clay soils lower down. Further south, the soils become heavier clay and limestone (known in this area as ‘Pierres Dorées’ - golden stones), sometimes with sandstone producing lighter wines.
The largest town of the southern micro-region of Beaujolais is Villefranche which is close to the A6 motorway, exit 31 and the drive from Paris takes four hours. There are numerous daily TGV trains to Paris Gare de Lyon and you can either stop at Mâcon-Loché or continue to Lyon taking two hours. There is also a regular coach service from Mâcon Loché to Belleville, or a train connection that takes half an hour to Villefranche. The closest international airport is Lyon St-Exupéry, which is about half an hour’s drive. Other easily accessible airports include Geneva, Saint-Etienne–Bouthéon or Grenoble.
Villefranche-sur-Saône Tourist Office,
96 Rue de la Sous-Préfecture, 69400 Villefranche-sur-Saône
Beaujolais Val de Saône Tourist Office,
68 Rue de la Répblique, 69220 Belleville
Official Beaujolais wine website
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