Situated at the mid-point of the sloping vineyards of Saint Amour, the Domaine des Billards belongs to the Barbet and Teissier families. The ancient parchment order book, still in the family’s possession, shows a number of prestigious customers in Paris in the 18th Century : In 1774, sale of 10 barrels to marquis Turgot, Louis XVI’s Finance Minister. The soil is composed of sandstone pebbles underlying granite outcroppings at a depth of 50cm to 1m and beneath that layers of clay. Farming is very traditional and natural. There is no use of herbicides. The soil is regularly ploughed to develop the biodiversity: the Domaine des Billards is today a paradise for worms and beetles! The traditional wine making process lasts between 12 to 15 days and the use of a weighted grill to keep the “crust” submerged in the fermenting juices leads to a more effective extraction of tannins.
|In 1821 the mayor of Chenas, Jean-Marie Loron, began exporting the wines Beaujolais and Macon around the world. After taking over the business some years later, Jean-Marie’s son married one of the daughters of the Charlet family in 1852. Her family owned the Clos de Billards vineyard in Saint Amour and, following the marriage, the two businesses merged. By the 1900’s the Loron family was one of the most famous negotiants in Beaujolais, with holdings in almost all of the famous crus. Unlike other negotiants, however, the individual domaines continued to produce their wine independently using the traditional methods they always had. Six generations later, this venerable family is still firmly rooted in the region and still producing outstanding Beaujolais. The wines are made by Xavier and Gregory Barbet, direct decedents of the original owners, and are labeled under the Barbet name.
This is seriously old-school winemaking: after hand-harvesting, the grapes undergo semi-carbonic maceration in vats using only indigenous yeasts. The wines are then aged half in cement tanks and half in large old wooden foudres with a light fining before bottling. Although delicious when young, the wines are incredibly age-worthy. A recent tasting of wines ranging back into the mid-1970’s showed great intensity and complexity without any sign of fatigue.
The Beaujolais region is finally getting the recognition it deserves and the Barbets are a perfect example of why; these are impressive wines with surprising complexity and elegance. They would not be out of place in any collector’s cellar nor on the table with your next meal. Luckily, good Beaujolais is still one of the great values in French wine.