Bonjour! Last April, I had the pleasure of being assigned Beaujolais for National Geographic Traveler Magazine. It had been many years since I had been to France, so I hired a French tutor in order to brush up on the language. At one point in my life I was fluent, yet living in the US and traveling to countries that spoke just about any language but French, my skills had gotten a bit rusty. When we landed in Lyon, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily my French returned and I was quickly on my way to 10 days worth of adventure in this beautiful area of France. Because we were arriving at the very beginning of the tourist season, we had to stay in two different hotels. We checked in to Auberge du Paradis, a lovely, well appointed boutique hotel located in the region of St. Amour in the heart of Beaujolais. The room was very modern and the cuisine nothing short of incredible. What was so surprising was the flavor of the food that was served. The owner and chef, Cyril, was delightful as a host but also a master in the kitchen. The food was infused with incredible flavors informed by Cyril’s time in Morocco. The other hotel we stayed in was not technically in Beaujolais, but just over the border in Burgundy, La Source des Fees. Half of this hotel was built in the 13th century, and the other half, the 17th century. The rooms were spectacular and the cooking was what I would expect, but better. The meal style at this hotel was classic French, prepared by a lovely young woman who used her grandparents’ recipes. They hailed from the countryside around Bresse, the area made famous by Julia Child when she declared their chickens to be the finest. Besides the amazing food, beautiful countryside and historic architecture, we had a few specific things to cover before our job would be complete.
One of the most joyous parts of this story was to photograph a Fete des Conscrits. We were lucky enough to find one in full swing in the beautiful hill town of Oingt. This celebration is unique to this region in France and occurs in different villages on different weekends throughout the spring. The celebration revolves around birth years and descends from the time of World War One when young men were conscripted into the army. Now, it’s more of a community celebration. I met several people who had moved away to other countries, yet came back to Oingt to celebrate their fete as well as see old friends, dance in the streets and, of course, drink wine from the neighboring vineyards.
The heart of this assignment was to investigate the area through the lens of two winemakers, Julien Sunier and Mathieu LaPierre. Both Sunier and LaPierre are making excellent wines in Beaujolais, a region most noted for its, (much maligned), Beaujolais Nouveau. These two, along with a handful of other vintners, are making wines based on the old practices of French winemaking. Their methods include working with old vines, not using any synthetic herbicides or pesticides, and following organic and biodynamic vineyard practices. They also age their wines in old barrels which makes a tremendous difference in the depth and complexity of the final product. You can see more pictures from the assignment on National Geographic Traveler’s web site here. Merci et a bientot!