Morgon, Villié-Morgon (Beaujolais)
The Domaine de la Bonne Tonne now headed by Marcel & Monique Grillet is a family wine farm that has been growing grapes for 6 generations. Marcel's elders worked on a small surface like 3 or 4 hectares, doing some vegetables and a few cows on the side too. Marcel Grillet who will be succeeded by his son Aurélien works on about 4 hectares, his philosophy has never been to grow his surface but keep quality terroirs and work them well.
is interesting not only because it is now organic since 2006 (it started its conversion in 2003) but because well before that time it had already taken a qualitative approach on its own. What made him decide to farm organic back then was that he wanted to return to the real values of farming, initially it was not even to be organic certified but he just wanted to plow his vineyard and stop dumping all this herbicide. Even at the start of the domaine from 1975 to 1978 he was not using herbicide, the first year he used some was 1978, but he never felt at ease with this spraying, and later, even before he started his conversion to organic, he began to plow his vineyard instead of spraying the weeds. Then later he thought he might farm organic altogether and began the conversion. He has to make 5 runs with the tractor to control the grass, which is not that difficult actually, and his vineyard is in much better shape. Given that he has some surface on Côte du Py, Aaron asks how many other vignerons are farming organic on this terroir, he says just Foillard and Lapierre. Again it is surprising how few growers on the best terroirs in the Beaujolais have common sense and do a respectful work.
Pictured on left : Mélisse, the cute and discreet domaine's dog. Mélisse is also a plant, and Marcel Grillet says with a laugh that he always names his pets along a plant.
Marcel Grillet had been selling his wine to Georges Duboeuf (the négoce company) for years then, a bulk sale which was widespread in the 2nd half of the 20th century and which was not always incompatible with quality. But things change and in 1999 the buyers at Duboeuf who taste the wines of the domaines each year to select their picks didn't want his wines anymore. The reason ? Marcel didn't want to use thermovinification in spite of their advance warning of the importance for them to have at least part of the production made this way. Thermovinification is a hugely-corrective manipulation consisting of heating the juice, this changes drastically the nature of the wine, bringing excessive extraction and color and turning wines from what is a relatively-northern latitude into almost southern wines. This practice started to generalize in the Beaujolais around 2000 and many wines from family wineries use the trick in the belief that their wines are better if not more true. Asked about when it began to be used in the region, Marcel Grillet says he began to hear about neighboors doing this in the 1990s' but he doesn't recall exactly when, he just says it ramped up gradually along the years. Duboeuf was not alone to ask for these wines, all the other négoce kind of required the domaines to do that, so the only alternative for Marcel was to sell his wines directly in bottles.
This said, Marcel Grillet isn't taking part into this debate, he's making his wines his own way and sells them to his customers. This hasn't been easy when overnight he had to find buyers after the négoce company left him in the cold. When he was still selling to the négoce he also sold about 10 000 bottles a year directly to his customers but then he had to sell all his production himself and that was a challenge. He tried to sell to other négoces including to one based in Burgundy but they all wanted him to do thermovinification. Marcel Grillet says that obviously they trusted thermovinification because they could count on a "stable" product, a wine that could be reproducible year after year whatever the vintage.
Marcel Grillet says that in the past (in the 80s' and 90s' for example) there were many small négoces and when the marchés aux vins took place every year in Fleurie and Romanèche, the wine brokers would come and taste and spot the best cuvées in the lot and buy them, causing an emulation that pushed the winegrowers to do their best, which as a result translated in varying prices. But when this thermovinification thing became the norm you had virtually the same wine everywhere and the prices were set not by the winemaker but by the négociants, who could say that they could shop next door if the seller was not satisfied with the price. What was initially a comfort technology made wine become a commodity, erasing the differences between the vintages and the terroirs. By the way these wine markets of Fleurie and Romanèche stopped because they had become pointless as a result of the new wine-market conditions permitted by thermovinification.
We visited the chai, there was a line of cement fermenters of course, the carbonic macerations were finished since a week before and the wine was gently finishing to ferment with then the malolactic. His volume of wine is relatively modest, given his total surface of 4 hectares. He sells all his production in bottles.
You may see doors on the wall above the fermenters, that's where he brings the grapes so that he can fill the cement vats by gravity.
Marcel Grillet used to sell wine under the family name but years ago (when he was still selling to the négoce if I'm right) he had to get some sort of domaine name and he chose this Domaine de la Bonne Tonne. The word tonne is the equivalent of tonneau in French, which means barrel. A tonne is a vigneron's word (it's not really well-known by the French outside the wine trade) for large-capacity barrel, what he calls also demi-muids.
Some of these barrels in the chai are for the white, half of the white getting an élevage in wood, the other half in neutral vessels and at the end normally he blends the two parts.
Speaking of the Morgon wines this year it takes a bit more time than usual, he leaves them finish their suga. in the fermentersr, it takes more time because there is a higher alcohol potential. When he'll consider the right time he'll put this morgon in barrels also. It's easier to keep an eye on the alcohol fermenration when the wine is in a large fermenter, that's also why he waits a bit before filling the barrels and the larger-volume demi-muids. He uses relatively old barrels, like 5, 6 or 10 year old casks, and when he buys them they're already 2- or 3-wine old (he never buys new barrels). This is not usual for him to wait so much before filling the barrels, usually the fermentation unfolds in the wood.
Marcel Grillet has 3 different cuvées of Morgon : Les Charmes, Côte du Py and Grand Cras. The latter cuvée is the one is sells to the GD [French acronym for Grande Distribution, meaning supermarkets].
He also sells wine through Terroirs Originels, a grouping of artisan vignerons from the Mâconnais and the Beaujolais which was founded in order to sell wine directly and eschew the négoce. The grouping allows an ecomnomy of scale to distribute wines and the participating winegrowers must have a working philosophy geared toward quality. The guys at Terroirs Originels contacted him and asked him to join because his wines and work style was fitting their philosophy. The good thing is they have the tools and sales people to find markets he wouldn't have the time and means to canvass.
Asked if he cools down his grapes right after the picking and before the carbonic maceration, he says no, he just cools the vat with cooling coils, he doesn't do cold carbonic maceration (he has no cooling room anyway). This year the carbonic maceration lasted 15 days only, compared to 3 weeks usually, and this was because they noticed while doing some pumping over that
the juice tended to get harsher with bitter notes, so they stopped short and pressed. Speaking of remontage (puping over) they usually do one every other day for only 5 minutes, just enough to look at the density, the temperature and check the evolution and detect a potential problem.
In this chai there are also a few underground vats with the closed opening on the ground, but Marcel says he doesn't use these anymore, which I can understand given the small surface of his domaine today. He used to have more surface and volume when he was selling to the négoce 30 years ago.
The press here is a Vaslin, a traditional non-pneumatic press which he had modified with adding a SETIV kit that allow excellent low pressings. SETIV is a company specialized in viticulture tools and it is based in Trèbes, in the Aude département (Languedoc). The company set up an innovative system that you can attach to now-almost-obsolete non-pneumatic presses and turn them into powerful-but-sensitive presses. You get rid of the chains inside the press and put drains instead and can press with a low pressure, similar to the one on a pneumatic press. This system is now 15 years old and according to this article (in French) it gave a new life to many traditional presses and spared the cost of buying a new pneumatic press.
Additionally the press is standing high above the ground for an easier devatting of the must.
We walked a short distance behind the chai along a narrow street and soon reached the outskirts of Morgon and the vineyards. The parcels of the Côte du Py of the Domaine Marcel Grillet are right there, these are the first we come across with a soil that don't show the scars of herbicide. The goblets are let to grow quite high compared to what you see in Beaujolais, Marcel Grillet saying that he just trims the tip of the shoots, and modstly only the ones that rise high, he does that right after the blossoming, by hand. These vines don't seem that old but they are, they were planted by his grandfather, they're around 70 or 80 now. And of course like often with old parcels there are missing vines here and there. He prefers not to replant, i guess because it would bring too many young grapes in the batch. The casualties are often caused by the tractor, because aan old vine is more fragile, and a miscalculation with the plow or with the width of the tractor can uproot or badly break a vine. Part of his Côte du Py is younger, around 50.
Marcel Grillet used to plow his parcels with his horse (here is a picture of him walking the plow behind the horse) but he had to sell it very recently because of an eye infection it contracted not long ago, and he misses his horse and their working together. He's thinking about it and may bring a horse again in the farm.
From the viewpoint of his Côte du Py parcel, we can see the Grand Cras and Les Charmes : On the picture above the grand Gras is on this side of the road and Les Charmes beyond that road. His parcels of Beaujolais Blanc are yet in another location, near the small air field of Pizay. It's all within a short distance, maybe 1,5 km from the chai. Asked about the heat during the harvest, Marcel Grillet says that they were lucky and that they could pick after the peak of the heat wave, beginning september 3. His initial plan was to begin september 7 but some grapes were beginning to wither with the southern wind that blew for 5 or 6 days, so he prefered to play it safe and not wait longer. The weather was cool when they picked and with a light rain before the grapes had regained unruffled skins. His yields this year are fine, he says, 40 hectoliters hectare. With his small surface the harvest lasted only 3 or 4 days, the reason being that he hires a large team of pickers in order to fill the vats rapidly. His policy is to wait for the optimum picking time and then pick at once, so to say, in order to fill a vat per day, because filling a given vat along several days is not good, he thinks, the fermentation starts, then new grapes are brought in, that's not smooth.
While walking back to the hamlet of Morgon and the chai, we pass a conventionally-farmed parcel (pic on left) which is very convenient to see the rocks and mineral nature of the soil. This is a schist soil, with also blue stone, Marcel Grillet says, it's a former volcano around here.
We go taste a few wines in the barrel cellar on the street level. Marcel Grillet keeps his reds with a minimum of 12 months in barrels (which he buys used), the élevage being somewhere between 12 and 18 months, it depends of the vintage.
__ Domaine de la Bonne Tonne, Morgon Les Charmes 2014. Bottled since spring but not yet on the market. The color of the wine is light and vivid, lightly hazy. The wine looked unfiltered to me but he says that this one has had a light filtration, because he had a brett alert. The nose is generous and appealing with prune aromas. No sugary feel, a light bitterness. He says it's still reducted art this stage, because he didn't add SO2 at bottling, that's why, it's just a matter of time, he noticed it's already less reduced than it used to be after bottling (he said later that actually he put a bit of SO2 when he blended the barrels, but this was probably low enough for the wine to have this reduction). Aaron asks what is his policy regarding SO2, when in the vinification he uses to add some, to which Marcel Grillet says no, there's no SO2 adding anytime during the vinification and neither on the incoming grapes, and of course he uses wild yeast only. I ask since when he works on this no-so2 mode, he says 4 or 5 years, before that he used to add 3 or 4 grams (to feel secure) and let the wine breath, and then at the lab they told him that such low amounts weren't making a difference really, so he decided to scrap so2 altogether.
__ Domaine de la Bonne Tonne, Morgon Les Charmes 2013. This one is on the market. Lightly darker wine, a bit turbid too it seems to me, Marcel says it's indeed not been filtered. Nose : ripe, faded roses. Mouth : very enjoyable, 2nd mouth with a hint of bitterness. The parcels sit on clay/granite soils near Régnié which gives a feminine touch to the wines. Marcel says that you can find similarities between the wines from Morgon-Les-Charmes and the ones of Régnié-la-Ronze (a lieu-dit in Régnié).
This cuvée sells for 9,5 € tax included here at the domaine. Good deal. Aaron asks about the expression ça morgonne, would it apply here on this wine ? Marcel says no, because the word "morgonner" (which is an invented verb, you won't find it in the dictionary) describes wines that are tannic and a bit harsh, and this Morgon is supple with rather silky tannins.
__ Domaine de la Bonne Tonne, Morgon Côte du Py 2012. Bottle opened the day before. On the marker for a year. Unfiltered. Is this me, I reall feels there's a plus when the wine is unfiltered. Exciting nose, the mouth is deliciously silky with a vibrant acidity. Costs 12,2 € tax included, very good deal. Aaron notices the refineness of the tannin. Asked about the pumping over or the lackthereof for this silkiness, Marcel Grillet says he doing a pumping over (remontage) every other day, and like said before, just to check the temperature of the juice. He says something interesting here, when they do the pumping over, they take some juice out and before pumping it back over the top, they block the cap (which has gone down a bit after they took out the juice) with a grid, preventing it to bounce back at the surface when they pump back the juice. This operation is called griller in French, putting a grille (a grid) atop the cap. He explains also that it's very fashionable nowadays in the conventional wineries to do long délestages, an operation where you take out the juice in the bottom of the carbonic-maceration fermenter for, say, 8 hours, before pumping it back. The goal behind the practice is to activate the fermentation, raise the sugar level and augment the extraction. If you taste one of those overextracted, tannic Beaujolais wines, that may come from both a thermovinification and the overuse of délestages.
Asked about how he remembers his grandfather was vinifying, in comparison, Marcel Grillet says that it was pretty simple, he would put the grapes in the fermenter and that's all and after the carbonic maceration he would fill the barrels, as simple as that. By the way, he says, his grandfather was a friend of Jules Chauvet and every year, Jules Chauvet (who was also a négociant) would come here visit his grandfather (who was some sort of local figure in the village, with his big hat and his black work coat) every year to buy the family wines, this was in the 1970s' and the 1980s'. Marcel Grillet who was between 14 and 20 at that time was very impressed by this tall man and he regrets not having been more daring and asked questions. __ Domaine de la Bonne Tonne, Morgon Côte du Py 2013. Not yet on the market. Mouth : more austere, seems to me the wine is still young, will need to wait, Marcel humself says there's a green side right now. I love so much the 2012 right now. Still, Marcel Grillet says that this wine got a rated at 18,25 by Decanter in august 2015. 20 mg SO2 added here.
Marcel Grillet asked if we ever met Jacques Néauport, pointing to the fact that he was the guy who made Marcel Lapierre come out with his sulfur-free vinifications. We then told him that we missed him shortly recently. He doesn't hhwant to be more explicit and get into the details but I feel that in his mind Jacques Néauport deserves more credit for the start of the natural wine movement that what is awarded to him. He met him several times through the 10-strong group of Beaujolais organic vignerons "Cep et Charrue" (created in 2003), as Jacques Néauport has regularly invited for the last 3 or 4 years to help about natural vinifications. Marcel took part only to the early sessions, Jacques Néauport coming from his Ardèche base in august around the harvest season to give advice, for example about the fermentation temperature, the different stages of the fermentation and which temperature is best each time.
__ From the barrel : Morgon Côte du Py 2014. Will be bottled around november 2015. Color : vivid with a nice energy. Nose : floral, faded rose, generous and feminine. Simply delicious, already nice to be served for me. Nice tension. I wish he'll not filter this one in order not to take anything away (he says it will not be filtered). Asked about his bottlings, he says it's done by a service company, I ask if he never thought to do a silmple gravity bottling, given the relatively-small size of his cuvées, he says the problem is 4-spout gravity filling is not done with a secure vacuum process and there's a risk of oxidation.
__ Domaine de la Bonne Tonne Beaujolais Blanc 2014 (bottle). Color : gold, because picked ripe, and the wood may have brought some color too (7 to 8 months in barrels). He picked 8 to 10 days after his peers who also do whites. Parcel near Saint-Jean-d'Ardieres with clayish soil. Alcohol : 13,5 %. Malolactic not done (using so2), in spite of this apparent ampleness, that's why the fresh side I guess.