Jean-Paul Thevenet Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2019
Imagine the Green Bay Packers without Vince Lombardi. Imagine rock music without the Beatles.
You can’t, can you?
Even if we didn’t watch Lombardi coach the Packers to Super Bowl victories in 1967 and 1968, even if we didn’t see the Beatles play Shea Stadium on their famous 1965 tour, we can still watch replays of those old Packer games, and we can still watch documentaries about that concert and that tour. We still benefit from the fruits of what Lombardi did for the Packers and what the Beatles did for music.
That’s just how great Jean-Paul Thévenet the Gang of Four are. You can’t imagine wine without them.
For most of the second part of the last century, the region of Beaujolais was known for producing mass quantities of industrial wine. But in the 1980s, a band of four Beaujolais winemakers — Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, and Jean-Paul Thévenet — were rediscovering the way their grandparents made wine — the way wine was made before pesticides and chemicals saturated agriculture in the wake of World War II. The winemakers were under the spell of Jules Chauvet and Jacques Neauport, two oenologists who advocated ways to make wines with as few additives as possible — as naturally as possible. Jean-Paul and his comrades became known as The Gang of Four, a name given to them by the American wine importer Kermit Lynch. And so, along with Chauvet and Neauport, Thévenet and the Gang of Four became the founding fathers of the natural wine movement.
Then as now, Jean-Paul harvests his grapes manually and as late as possible, allowing them to become as ripe as possible. After a rigorous triage to identify the healthiest berries, he leaves whole clusters of grapes to ferment naturally, using their indigenous yeast. He allows his Morgon to ferment at low temperatures for 15 to 25 days before aging it on fine lees in old Burgundian barrels. He doesn’t chaptalize or filter his wine. He bottles his wine with little or no sulfur.
Using these techniques, Jean-Paul — known as Paul-Po to his colleagues and friends — allows his Morgon to express the character of its terroir. Vintage-to-vintage, his is a wine of great breadth and depth, yet somehow weightless, with ripe fruit and velvety tannins. And Jean-Paul’s 2019 vintage is just as magical, just as rustic, just as refreshing, with a lush bouquet of red summer fruits, purple flowers, and orange spice, and a complex palate of red currant, black cherry, and granite minerality.
Along with his son Charly, Jean-Paul still farms his small, five-hectare Morgon vineyards. His objective is still making the best wines his vineyards can naturally offer. And he makes just 2,000 cases of wine per year. Every vintage, I always buy as many cases of his wine as I can. We may not have been in Beaujolais to watch Jean-Paul and the Gang of Four change the world of wine forever, but we can still drink a couple of bottles — or a case! — of his life-changing Morgon.