Biodynamic Beaujolais – Domaine de la Bonne Tonne

Domaine de la Bonne Tonne
In August, we had the opportunity to spend a day in Beaujolais. In my visits, I especially enjoy digging a little and finding less famous domaines, hard working family operations who nevertheless are making authentic, delicious wines. When I can find a grower using less chemicals, organic or biodynamic viticulture, I’m especially intrigued. I was tickled to find all these characteristics at Domaine de la Bonne Tonne  in Morgon, one of the Beaujolais Cru’s in the northern section of the Beaujolais region. Thomas Agatensi, Marcel Grillet’s son-in-law and one of the younger generation preparing to take over the estate in the coming years, was our host.

Thomas Agatensi at Domaine de la Bonne Tonne in Morgon

Thomas Agatensi at Domaine de la Bonne Tonne in Morgon

Domaine de la Bonne Tonne has been in the Grillet family for seven generations. During most of that time, farming was done in an “organic” fashion because that’s what all agriculture was. There were no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and the work was done by hand.  Along came modern agriculture, and farmers around the world were lured into the higher productivity of using the modern aids.  By the late 1990’s the Domaine de la Bonne Tonne had about 13 hectares (about 29 acres) under vine. But there was a problem: Marcel Grillet, the owner of the domaine, realized that he was no longer happy drinking the wine he made, he felt all the chemicals were ruining the essence of his work.

(click on any photo to view full size slide show, hit “escape” to return)

So, in 1999, Marcel decided to stop spraying, he had enough of all those chemicals. In 2003, he embraced organic viticulture and began converting the farm, reaching full certification in 2006. They began using biodynamics in 2007. Domaine de la Bonne Tonne is a family operation, they get help picking, but the farming is done by the family.

I knew that organic and biodynamic farming was more labor intensive, but how much more? During the chemical days, the family could manage 13 hectares. Today, with organic and biodynamic agriculture, they farm just 4.5 hectares, but they are happy and proud of their wines.

Hail damage to Gamay grapes from the 2017 vintage

The July 10th hailstorm wreaked havoc on the vineyards in Morgon and some of the other Crus.

The biggest risk to grape growing in Beaujolais is the threat of hail, and the last few years have been tough. In 2016 they lost 40% of their crop to hail. Unfortunately, 2017 was even worse. On the afternoon of July 10th, terrible hailstorms hit Beaujolais and the Cru villages in the north were especially hard hit. A second, more damaging group of hailstorms hit on 30 July! Many winegrowers lost 70-100% of their 2017 crop. When we visited in August, Thomas didn’t know yet what the losses would be, but we could see the damage out in the vineyard.

Domaine de la Bonne Tonne 2015 Morgon Cote du Py

Marcel wasn’t satisfied that the 2015 Cote du Py was ready, so he kept it in barrel

Commitment to Quality in the Cellar
After seeing the challenges out in the vineyard, we went to the cellar. We tasted through the wines, finding them delicious and well balanced Cru Beaujolais.  They grow a tiny bit (1/2 hectare) of Chardonnay outside Morgon, which produces a seriously steely wine, not quite like any other Chardonnays I’ve had. Unique and delicious.

Their normal red wine approach is a cool vinification with semi-carbonic maceration followed by barrel aging in old barrels. Many Beaujolais vignerons use thermovinification, often at the insistence of their negociants. Here they refuse, believing the higher temperatures erase the sense of place in their wines. They use no sulfur in their winemaking process with the exception of a small amount at bottling.

Finally, Tomas showed us the Cote du Py barrels marked “2015”. So serious about the quality of the wine, Marcel wasn’t satisfied the 2015’s were ready, so he decided to leave them in the barrel longer.  And there they’ll stay until he deems them ready to go.

(click on any photo to view full size slide show, hit “escape” to return)

This commitment to quality, to preserving the environment of the farm, you might think the wines are very expensive. We purchased 6 bottles for just over € 70. Now you know why Cru Beaujolais is one of the secret values of the wine world! If you get the chance to tour Beaujolais, make sure you schedule a visit to Domaine de la Bonne Tonne!

Comments
9 Responses to “Biodynamic Beaujolais – Domaine de la Bonne Tonne”
  1. I appreciate that their commitment to the environment equals their commitment to producing quality wine.

  2. Lynn says:

    It’s truly eye opening to see the difference in the number of hectares one can farm biodynamic versus conventional- 13 vs. 4-5 hectares here- significantly less quantity. And Domaine de la Bonne Tonne wines are still very affordable as you say.

  3. Wow! Can’t believe that price! Sounds like wonderful wines Jeff!

  4. Jill Barth says:

    Really great piece. I love reading about biodynamics. Jerry Clark just wrote a guest post on L’Occasion about RAWWINE LA and he very much highlighted the natural wine practices in Beaujolais – a real landscape of interesting, meaningful work. Thanks for a great post!

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