Beaujolais has long been the preferred terroir for gamay, ever since the grape variety was deemed unsuitable for the Pinot Noir terroirs of the Côte d'Or at the end of the 14th century. With its early ripening, fewer problems with cultivation and good yields, not to mention the crisp fruit and juiciness of its wines, Beaujolais Gamays quickly gained a reputation for being easy-drinking and ready to drink when young.
Their drinkability goes hand in hand with a method of vinification in whole bunches that favours the aromatic expression and the freshness of the “vin nouveau”. This type of light wine was successful in the Lyon region before conquering Paris from the 18th and 19th centuries, and then the whole world in the 20th century with the official legalisation in 1951 of the sale of that year’s Beaujolais, known as "nouveau" or "primeur", at a date brought forward to November. In 1985, it was decided that Beaujolais Nouveau would be released on the 3rd Thursday of November. This success soon surpassed that of the Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Crus, which waited until Easter before being released onto the market.
The principle of Beaujolais vinification is based on the vatting of whole grapes, part of which is crushed at the bottom of the vat by the weight of the harvest, thereby releasing juice that begins to ferment. This fermentation naturally produces carbon dioxide which gradually fills the vat, thus creating an anaerobic environment (without oxygen). In these conditions, the grapes undergo a type of fermentation called "intracellular", i.e. an enzymatic degradation of the sugars inside each grape, before completing the fermentative cycle by way of a "classic" fermentation of the juice that comes out of the press. The resulting wines offer a greater aromatic richness, as well as lower tannins and acidity; they are said to be fresher, more flavourful and more supple wines.
This traditional Beaujolais vinification was called semi-carbonic maceration, thus differentiating it from pure carbonic maceration (theorised and developed before the First World War by professor Michel Flanzy), a method based on the vinification of whole grapes in a vat filled with CO2 prior to vatting. Very fashionable from the 1960s onwards, exploited by the big Beaujolais wine merchants with the help of yeasts selected by the industry for their fermentative and aromatic characteristics (such as the infamous 71 B, "the yeast for primeur wines"), this type of maceration has often been pushed to the point of caricature.
In contrast, at the same time, Jules Chauvet, a wine merchant, researcher and winemaker (La Chapelle-de-Guinchay, Beaujolais), paved the way for natural Beaujolais winemaking (grapes grown without chemicals, no exogenous yeasts or sulphur), a path followed by a generation of winemakers whose major concern is authenticity, first in Beaujolais (Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard and others), then in other regions and for various grape varieties. Farmed and vinified following natural methods, Gamays are at once deliciously drinkable and, particularly in the Beaujolais’ ten Crus, offer real depth.