Planted in the territory since the early 17th century, the gamay variety and the Beaujolais vineyard share a common history. This area has proven to be the perfect setting for the variety to develop all its finesse and diverse expression. Visually, its thin, delicate purple-black skinned grapes are cylindrical and compact, surrounded by flat, fairly even-edged leaves.
Although granite soils seem to be its soil of choice, the variety is good at adapting. Historically, before the phylloxera epidemic, the variety was widespread in France and is estimated to have covered over 160,000 hectares. Nowadays, half of the 30,000 hectares of gamay planted worldwide are in the Beaujolais region, where it covers 98% of the areas that produce Beaujolais wine.
A natural cross between pinot noir and gouais blanc, the gamay noir à jus blanc variety makes it possible to produce wines with multifaceted fruitiness: from “cheerful fruitiness” for Festive Beaujolais wines – and hence “Beaujolais Nouveau” – to “complex fruitiness” for the Exceptional Beaujolais, and including “racy fruitiness” for the Expressive Beaujolais.
With its great breadth, it can be used to produce hugely elegant wines that can be consumed young as well as cellar aging wines. Resolutely modern, it allows the elaboration of supple, fruity wines that are low in alcohol content.
The early-ripening variety produces wines with a pretty red-coloured robe, often lively and bright, with aromas that are predominantly fruity (raspberry, wild strawberry, blackberry and black cherry) or occasionally peppery and floral.
The gamay variety requires meticulous care and attention. The more vine stocks on a plot, the more prolific the gamay variety is. Consequently, it has to be tamed to readjust the balance between grape quantity and quality. Short, gobelet-style pruning is one of the best methods for managing the variety, although the use of other techniques (fan, single cordon, etc.) are now on the rise. Well aware of that, Beaujolais winegrowers have developed undeniable knowledge over the years to master the variety’s natural exuberance and bring out its best qualities.
Since 2010, Inter Beaujolais, the Beaujolais Wine Council, has promoted the gamay variety by organising the International Gamay Competition. An event aimed at boosting the image and reputation of the variety among consumers and producers worldwide.
In the vineyard, the wines produced with the gamay variety are mainly red, but it also produces rosé wines in the Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages appellations.
From north to south, the gamay variety is the common thread running through the 12 appellations of the Beaujolais vineyard. It expresses itself in nuances on multiple terroirs to entice and fascinate wine lovers the world over.