08 October 2015
Most wine regions have a colourful word for the traditional end-of-harvest party. In Burgundy it's la paulée. In the Aube it's le chien. In Beaujolais it's called la revole. Chez Yvon Métras la revole this year resembled an unending apéro, punctuated by bouts of pétanque and attended by a wide cast of friends and neighbors. Having harvested sixteen days straight with a string of different domaines, I was in less than sterling form for la revole. At one point I just conked out and scootered home to take a nap, only to return and continue drinking two hours later.
I must have felt particularly well-rested, because upon return I found myself cheerfully agreeing to harvest yet again the following day. Laure Foillard and her friends - many of them, like her, winemakers' daughters - invited me to help harvest ten bennes or so of what would become "La Cuvée des Copines."
Laure explained that it was a project they'd begun the previous year, when they harvested an untended parcel of vines and vinified it with help from their families. The results were bottled and divided up for personal consumption among the numerous participating copines - Poline, Ophélie, Camille, Alexia, Inès, Elisa, etc. This year the copines had their sights on a steep, neglected parcel of Chiroubles belonging to Elisa's family. Sounds like fun, I said. But if I harvest with the copines, do I have to dress up like a woman?
Laure had told me to meet them at the somewhat inexact address of "above Cercillon." Cercillon is the lieu-dit containing the vines that yield Yvon Métras' Beaujolais tout court. I knew where that was, having spent the previous week there stooping around cutting grapes. If one passes Cercillon on the trail north, one goes a bit off-road before eventually reaching the vicinity of Michel Guignier's biodynamic farm in Vauxrenard.
Cercillon was formerly part of the Fleurie appellation, before being de-classified to basic Beaujolais in 1994, for reasons of altitude, I'm told. Above Cercillon, really just a scant few hundred meters, one passes into the Chiroubles appellation, for which even higher altitudes are apparently no obstacle.
I was rather late, but I located the copines in the end. Helping them was Jean Velay, Jean Foillard's right-hand cellar guy. I took a few photos before finally fulfilling my harvest dream of being a porter, or jarlot in the local slang. (I'm 6' tall. If I were just slightly less wiry, I'd presumably get to be a porter all the time. As it is whenever I harvest I'm invariably relegated to picker status, along with pre-teens, Laotian grandmothers, and other short people.)
The vines hadn't been tended in several years, and were overgrown with all manner of briars and man-shredding plants. Elisa's grandparents had planted them, presumably in the late sixties or early seventies. I'm told this is just around the time when the expectation of chemical viticulture began allowing many otherwise brutal slopes to be planted to vines. What should be done with such vines now? I asked Yvon Métras recently. He replied: "Either we abandon them, or we find someone young and courageous to work them."
For now the copines had no trouble finding enough fruit, even in such straggly untended vines. They actually appeared to be working totally willy nilly, in full confidence they'd find the ten bennes they needed without recourse to organisation or workflow of any kind.
It began to rain soon after we loaded up the bennes. So we took shelter in the remaining van for the ritual post-harvest drink. (A mini-revole, as it were.)
In researching Beaujolais, it's impossible not to remark, from time to time, a vague misogyny permeating the social landscape like mist. This is not a dynamic unique to Beaujolais; to some extent it applies to all agricultural regions, any place where pre-feminist farmstead household dynamics still obtain. But in Beaujolais it manifests itself as a scarcity of female winemakers. I can think of just four off the top of my head: France Goncalvez, Julie Balagny, Camille Lapierre, and Anne-Sophie Dubois. So a little project like "La Cuvée des Copines" - even as it resembles a total lark - can't help but take on more significance here.
Due to other commitments, I couldn't be present for the vinification. But Copine Poline kindly sent along some terrific photos she snapped. Vinification and elevage for this year's "Cuvée des Copines" is taking place in the cuvage of Elisa's father, Philippe Guerin of Moulin-à-Vent estate Domaine du Moulin d'Eoles.
I have been assured that for my hardy work as jarlot I'll be entitled to a bottle of the finished cuvée, despite my not technically being a copine.
Beaujolais, Autumn 2015:
Beaujolais Harvests 2015
Beaujolais Bike Trip, Summer 2015:
Georges Descombes, Vermont
Jean-Paul Thévenet, Pizay
Jules Métras, Fleurie
Rémi et Laurence Dufaitre, Saint-Etienne-des-Ouillières
Jean-Claude Lapalu, Saint-Etienne-La-Varenne
Benoit Camus, Ville-sur-Jarnioux
Beaujolais Bike Trip, Summer 2011:
Karim Vionnet, Villié-Morgon
Café de la Bascule, Fleurie
Isabelle et Bruno Perraud, Vauxrenard
Le Coq à Juliènas, Juliènas
L'Atelier du Cuisiner, Villié-Morgon