Have you ever been to the Beaujolais region of France, just south of Burgundy? How about Tuscany? If you dropped yourself off in the middle of the former, you just might think you’re in the latter. Beautiful farmland, wildlife, vines pockmark the rolling hills of the Beaujolais. Nestled into the southernmost part of the Cru region is where we found our latest producer, David Large.
David is a young winemaker who’s mastering the countless ways you can express the Gamay grape. Tasting in the cellar was an experience of the senses. He’s an avid lover of movies, hip hop, and mixed martial arts that brings some of that personality directly into his work. Movies, albums, and quotes are scattered across both the cellar and the wine labels themselves.
Before going into the wines, let’s back up a bit and chat about how David Large is different, and that story starts with a larger story about Beaujolais itself.
Beaujolais, as mentioned in the intro, is a small wine region just south of Burgundy. It’s long been a favorite of wine aficionados for affordability, food-friendliness, and value for money. Over 90% of the production is Gamay, with another 10% Chardonnay, and a minuscule amount of other varietals that more trend-setting winemakers are experimenting with.
There are 10 “Cru” appellations in Beaujolais, and below is a great map from our friends over at Wine Folly.
These all attained Cru status many years ago by having characteristics stemming from the geology of the region. In addition to the Cru Beaujolais, there is also Beaujolais Village, Beaujolais and a final one called Beaujolais Nouveau that is very special to the region. One loose way to thing about it is like a target, with the Cru regions in the center, Village the rings around the middle, and finally, Beaujolais itself enclosing the rest of the region on the outside. Nouveau is essentially a special release of the most recent harvest only a couple of months after fermentation.
History and tradition are hugely important to the region, likely due to its influence from its esteemed neighbors the north. These wines should taste a certain way, look a certain way, and be grown a certain way. David Large is bucking these trends.
Natural winemaking has often been a part of some of the more famous winemakers in Beaujolais, such as Marcel Lapierre. But, in most areas, the majority of Beaujolais winemakers still rely on inducing fermentation with yeasts, conventional amounts of sulfur, and some filtration.
Our friend David wanted to make wines his way. Natural wine, with native yeasts, minimal sulfites, and no filtration. The first few years were difficult, and he wasn’t getting a ton of support from his neighbors. To be fair, he wasn’t making it easy on himself with both his winemaking style as well as his labels. They’re covered with modern designs clearly influenced by comics, movies, and music – a far cry from the labels that dominated the region.
“When I started making wine, many of my neighbors thought I was crazy. ‘Who does he think he is?’, they said. It was a difficult time.”
However, after some number of years, David finally started getting the respect his wines deserved. He started placing in the top of local blind tasting competitions and getting his wines into highly rated restaurants, international distribution, and more.
Our tasting experience in the cellar that day was an incredible study in the varietal characteristics of the Gamay grape and the way it can take on completely different personalities depending on the terroir of the plot in which the grapes grew. For David, each Cuvee is like its own album or movie.
Broadly speaking, you can separate the wines from David Large into two buckets. Negociant wines, and Vigneron wines. As the name implies, Negociant wines are made from grapes he purchased. The reason for this, as explained to us, is pretty simple. David owns and rents several plots of land, mostly that which he inherited from his father then converted to organic wine growing. His goal is to continue growing and acquiring more of his own land, but, as is the case in almost every “classical” wine region, quality land is incredibly expensive. However, the quality of the negociant wines is every bit as high as the vigneron wines. Negociant wines are easy to identify by the labels. They all feature some type of cassette image on the front. Piranha is an example of a negoce wine. Every negoce wine still fits into our requirements for natural wine.
Let's take a look at the wines we're bringing in!
Piranha 2018 – This is a negoce wine grown in clay/limestone. It’s well structured, and is a little stronger than its 12.5% alcohol would assume. The name Piranha stems from the fact that when he got started, David was considered a small fish in the region. However, Piranhas are tough, toothy, and should be taken seriously!
Massai 2019 – Everyone’s favorite, Beaujolais Noveau! Back in the ’70s, Beaujolais Noveau got a bad rap for being cheap wine that was rushed out of the cellar and to customers as more of a novelty than anything. This one has all the characteristics we love about a good Noveau. Bubblegum, banana, and a little bit of sharpness.
Dos Argente 2018 – The only white wine David makes right now. 100% Chardonnay stored in fiberglass tanks. There’s no oak on it at all, which gives it an acidic backbone that beautifully counters the soft, butteriness that’s naturally present from the wine being completely unfiltered. They actually tested filtering this one but decided that they liked it much better 100% unfiltered.
Gamayhameha 2018 – 100% semi-carbonic Gamay with 11 days of skin contact in concrete tanks. It has a very traditional nose and palette, with red fruit, balanced tannin, and aromatics.
Les Grand Terriers 2018 – Les Grand Terriers is 100% Gamay that comes from plots that are special to David and his family. It’s a Beaujolais Village appellation on a very steep plot that was passed down from grandfather to father, to son. This wine underwent full carbonic maceration in a fiberglass egg, and has distinct characteristics of spice and is more austere than you might see in a typical expression of Beaujolais Village.
Moulin-à-Vent 2018 – Moulin-à-Vent is a Cru Beaujolais grown in a plot around 500 meters above sea level. It’s grown on a northwest-facing slope in a special pink (yes, pink!) granite. It’s pleasantly high-acid, with less tannin than you would expect from this particular Cru. For me, it smelled exactly like sour gummy worms. It’s one you’re guaranteed to want to keep drinking!
We also tasted a couple of special bottles, including a pet-nat that is slated to be available for purchase in the Spring. This was one that hadn’t been disgorged, so there was a ton of sediment floating in the bottle!
Bringing in this much Gamay from a single producer is definitely not the norm when it comes to wine importing. In fact, we were pretty wary of it ourselves! What if there wasn’t enough variability within the wines, and we ended up bringing in 5 wines that were super similar, or, worse, just being able to bring in 1-2 different cuvees?
Luckily for us, we found the perfect vigneron in David Large. He’s a great partner to help us show what you can do with Gamay in the Beaujolais region. Our goal when you taste these wines is to have you think about soil, geology, aspect, and other characteristics that shape the way a wine is made. Tasting Moulin-à-Vent and Les Grand Terriers is a learning experience in and of itself, and we can’t wait to have these stateside next month!
Check out his wines for pre-order!