04 February 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: nicolas chemarin, marchampt

Expect to hear a lot of bitching and moaning about Beaujolais in 2015. Alcohol levels are abnormally high for the region, in some cases turning what ought to be elegant, light-spirited wines into the Incredible Hulk. I tasted some primeurs this year that could overturn tractor-trailers.

More recently I've tasted tank samples from various cru producers that were more encouraging: the best wines manage to integrate the heat of the vintage into a kinetic, powerful whole. Furthermore, the unusual ripeness of the vintage wasn't bad news for everyone. 

In the backwoods Beaujolais-Villages hamlet of Marchampt, young natural winemaker Nicolas Chemarin stands to benefit. Marchampt lies southwest of Régnié at the foot of the Beaujolais vert, the mountains bordering the region's west, which serve not for viticulture, but rather for hunting and goat cheese production. Marchampt is at high elevation in the shadow of a mountain range, highly exposed to the north wind, meaning it's always about 3°C cooler than Morgon or Fleurie. So a little extra ripeness shows nicely on the wines from Chemarin's Beaujolais-Villages parcels. From the highest, a 600m altitude old-vine parcel called "Le Rocher," Chemarin has since 2012 quietly been producing a minor classic of the region. 

Chemarin and his outrageously cute daughter.
Chemarin, who goes by the nickname "Le P'tit Grobis," officially took over the domaine from his retiring father Lucien in 2015. Out of deference to his father's existing clients, Chemarin will still produce filtered versions of his basic cuvées, red and white Beaujolais-Villages wines both called "Le P'tit Grobis." But as of 2015 they'll finally exist in unfiltered version.

Chemarin already vinifies with low sulfur and indigenous yeasts. The sooner he can ditch his father's geezer clients the better, to be honest. The 2015 "P'tit Grobis" rouge, from 450-500m altitude parcels in Marchampt, was positively singing when I tasted it from tank in late November. Bright, with finely acidulated strawberry and cherry fruit, it was precisely the sort of quaffable, discrete beauty that might be quite rare for the vintage. The wine saw 15-day carbonic fermentation in unlined cement tank, before elevage in fiberglass. (Some has already been sold to his friend Damien Coquelet for latter's négoce wine. The rest should be bottled by April.)

Chemarin's cellar is unusual for the somewhat helter-skelter arrangement and sizing of its cement tanks, which were built into the walls by his grandfather. 

Vatting is done by gravity from an entrance on the other side of the facility. Chemarin has until now devatted via pump, a practice he intends to stop for the 2016 vintage, finding that it extracts too much from the stems. He presses the harvest in a pneumatic Vaslin. 

Also of note, in Chemarin's cellar, is this painting of winemakers dining in a cellar surrounded by topless women in short skirts. 

The Chardonnay vines for the "P'tit Grobis" blanc were planted by Chemarin's father in 1993, the first whites to be planted in the village. The 2014 succeeds in about the only way a filtered Beaujolais Blanc can be expected to succeed: as a trifle, a way to diversify the domaine's offerings. 

Of more interest is an unfiltered old-vine Beaujolais-Villages cuvée called "Les Vignes de Jeannot," named after Chemarin's uncle. It's an assemblage of vines between 60-80 years old, and another parcel with vines about 40 years old. The 2015, tasted from concrete tank, was deeper and grapier than the "P'tit Grobis," and seemed to show a kinship with the nearby Régnié cru. The 2014 was wiry and, after a time in glass, red-floral.

Chemarin also makes two climats of Morgon, "Corcellettes" and "Les Charmes," as well a Régnié cuvée "La Haut Ronze." The richer "Corcellettes" sees all barrel aging, where the others see both barrel and cement tank. Chemarin, for now, does no pre-refrigeration of the harvest before vatting, although he'd like to someday with his "Corcellettes" and "Haut Ronze" cuvées. He nonetheless controls temperature during carbonic via drapeaux, allowing nothing to rise beyond 25°C. 

The 2014's, while relatively pure and wholegrain, all tasted somewhat scrawny for the vintage, lacking the flirtatious side one finds elsewhere. Nothing quite prepared me for Chemarin's Beaujolais-Villages "Le Rocher." 

The nose - a delicate, homemade cranberry sauce, rose-acetate accord - reminded me of Métras Beaujolais tout court, which, incidentally, also comes from a very high-altitude parcel. Yet the palate was more lush, with vivid blackberry and cherry fruit surrounding a mineral core. The wine showed a finesse on par with Yann Bertrand's Fleurie, or Pierre Cotton's Côte de Brouilly. Only it's Beaujolais-Villages from unheralded terroir.

The surprise was like putting Georgia metal band Baroness' recent record for the first time, and hearing, instead of metal, some heroic, catchy power-pop.

"It’s very mineral, we always have a lively side," says Chemarin. "My dad all his life he sought to efface that difference, because he thought it made the wines too different from others. Me, I want to keep that - because I realised that not many of us have stayed in the high altitudes."

Chemarin vinifies the wine in sputnik - the spherical fiberglass tank used by many local winemakers for their microcuvées. He credits some of the striking success of the cuvée on its monthlong maceration in sputnik, since it allows for a more hermetically sealed style of carbonic fermentation than he can achieve with his cement tanks. More important, though, in Chemarin's estimation, is the fact that the harvest was vatted and de-vatted by hand, in small bennes, which kept the bunches more intact. He plans to apply the same practice more widely in 2016.

What's clear is it's an example of seriously majestic terroir left out of the cru appellations. 

Chemarin beside Le Rocher.

Chemarin hopes eventually to move towards more organic practices in the vineyards. For now he plows most of the vines that source the fruit to the domaine wines, employing herbicides on other parcels. (He has an arrangement with Kéké Descombes to save time on commutes, wherein Kéké plows his Morgon and he plows Kéké's Beaujolais-Villages.) 

While remaining firmly pro-organic, I try not to come down too hard on young winemakers in Beaujolais who haven't gotten it together to go whole-hog. Beaujolais vineyards are, for one thing, more difficult to cultivate organically than those of many other regions. (It's to do with vine density, steepness of slope, thinness of soil.) Given the low prices the wines currently fetch, it's understandable that it takes time for a young winemaker put organics in place. 

"I know I have the terroir for it, I know what to do, but I don’t dare," he admits. "I don't dare because I don’t have the clientele yet, I don’t have the [commercial] perspective."

Chemarin says he found his own way to natural vinification - and not necessarily the most direct route.

"It’s idiotic to say, but in Beaujolais, you go out with friends on Saturdays, and for a long time I never posed myself the question how Damien Coquelet makes his wines, how Kéké Descombes or Le Noune makes his wines. I learned some things at school and I realised that maybe we could go further and I realised I had friends who already worked like that."

Nowadays, when he speaks about the wines he admires, it's clear Chemarin's heart is in the right place. He's a devotee of the wines of Max Breton, for example, some of whose vines are not far from Chemarin's Charmes parcel. "I get the most vibes and emotions from Max's wines," Chemarin affirms. "I like acidity. I’m a poulsard fan." 

It's a perspective that hasn't always made him popular in Marchampt. 

"What you must realise is that in Villié, it’s a clan, and elsewhere in Beaujolais it's the opposite of what they do there. When you live outside Villié, you have people who come and complain your wine is no good, it’s meagre, it’s acid, it’s not black…"

Whatever happens, he won't have that problem in 2015. When we tasted in late November, "Le Rocher" was at 15.2° alcohol, and still finishing its sugars. This year marks Chemarin's biggest yield from the parcel - all of 3 barrels.

Nicolas Chemarin
Les Villiers
69430 Marchampt
Tel: +33 4 74 69 02 19

Related Links:

Beaujolais, Autumn 2015:

Anthony Thévenet, Villié-Morgon

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