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What I've Been Drinking Lately: A Tale of Three Families in Burgundy
By John Anderson
Jul 27, 2022
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The Côte de Brouilly is one of the four smallest crus of Beaujolais, typically producing less than 20,000 hl of wine per year.  At the heart of this Appellation Controlée (A.C.) is an ancient volcano, the Mont de Brouilly, which rises to 1,640 feet with vineyard land stretching up its steep incline on all sides.

Below, the Mount is surrounded—again on all sides—by its kinsman, the Brouilly A.C. proper, which produces on average four times as much wine each year.  The largest cru in Beaujolais by a notable margin, Brouilly is sometimes (unfairly) dismissed as just “an elevated Beaujolais-Villages.”  In this regard, I always think of a memorable line from Serena Sutcliffe, M.W.’s pocket guide to the Wines of Burgundy.  Mount Brouilly, Serena writes, has been “described as a sort of giant mole-hill placed like a lighthouse at the head of the Beaujolais,” adding that “the person who coined that mixed metaphor must have imbibed a good deal of its wine!”

In this case, small really is beautiful, and, without dismissing Brouilly in the least, I think it’s fair to say that the best wines of the Côte de Brouilly are easily among the best in all of Beaujolais.  Certainly, they are quite unique.

Fortunately for us, three of the best of these estates have been in the hands of three interrelated families for over a century and a half:  Jambon, Chanrion and Geoffray.  Their history is rich and illustrative.

The oldest—and most famous—estate in Côte de Brouilly is Château Thivin whose history begins in the 12th century and whose manor house dates from the mid-late 14th century.  House and grounds were purchased by a member of the Geoffray family in 1877—hence the 2017 harvest marked the 140th vintage made by the Geoffray family.  Today, it’s Claude-Vincent Geoffray and his wife Evelyne who preside over the estate, ably assisted by their son Claude-Edouard and his Swiss-born wife Sonja, both of them trained oenologists.

The Geoffray’s cousin Nicole Chanrion, assisted by her son Romain, presides over the wonderfully evocative Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes.  Nicole is one of the pioneering women winemakers in Beaujolais, having taken over the helm of the estate in 1988 after having worked there since the 1970s and having meantime gotten her training at the viticultural school in Beaune.  Known as “La Patronne de la Côte” (the Boss of the Côte!), she was elected president of the Côte de Brouilly A.C. in 2000.

The neighboring Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes belongs to their cousin Paul Jambon and his wife Betty and Paul’s daughter Laure, also a trained oenologist.  Their American importer, Roy Cloud of Washington, D.C.-based Vintage ’59 Imports, has done a yeoman’s task in outlining the relationship between the families.  I owe much to Roy’s scholarship.  To sum-up:  The Pavillon had been acquired by the Jambon-Chanrion family in 1861, its history becoming intwined with that of Château Thivin when Yvonne Chanrion married Claude Geoffray shortly after the end of La Grande Guerre (the First World War).  Claude then inherited Thivin while Yvonne took a third of her family’s highly regarded vineyards as inheritance.  Yvonne outlived her Claude, and on her death in 1987, her inheritance reverted to her nephew the former French Air Force pilot Paul Jambon, as did 50% of the land that she and Claude had purchased over the course of their marriage.  The remainder of the Thivin property and manor itself went to her great-nephew . . . the present-day Claude-Vincent Geoffray, who further inherited vineyards from his family.

Appropriately enough, Thivin and the Pavillon share the same 1930s Art Deco label.  And, today, to round out this little family saga, the young Laure Jambon-Mareau of the Pavillon is being assisted by her older cousin at the Domaine de la Voûte, Nicole Chanrion.

To which I would add, we wine lovers are all the better off because of it!

The best wines of the Côte de Brouilly, Serena Sutcliffe, M.W. tells us, have “tremendous projection of fruity, rich, savory and grapey,” while the wine of the flagship Thivin has a “wonderful, gutsy, fruity nose, lovely fruit and no hardness….  Terrific wine.”

I could—and will—say the same of the wines from all three of these exemplary, family-related properties.

Geoffray, Jambon and Chanrion alike make fabulous wines that continue to be sold at a more-than-fair prices (about $25 retail).

Kermit Lynch imports both the Geoffray and Chanrion wines, while Roy Cloud brings in the Jambon “Ambassades” bottling—so-called because the Pavillon has traditionally sold its wine to the Quai d’Orsay—the French foreign ministry—for use at its embassies around the world.

I haven’t had a chance to taste the 2020 Thivin or “Voute,” but I loved the ’20 “Ambassades,” not least  because it managed to be restrained and elegant in this hot vintage.  Fit for an ambassador!  I did, however, taste the 2018 and ’19 “Voute” from my cellar together over three nights.  I liked them both a great deal, but I found the ’19 to be the least impacted by the heat.  Again, a very elegant, minerally sort of wine, with aspects of dark blue and black fruit and a touch of menthol, which I also noticed in the ’15.  The famous volcanic blue granite of the Côte de Brouilly really speaks in these wines—and in the ’15 of Château Thivin, which I also had recently.  Both these ‘15s had a nice streak of underlying acidity beneath the ripe fruit, suggestive of a long life ahead, and reminding me the better ’09 red Burgundies.  High praise, that.

The former Parisian-cum-viticulturist Laure Jambon-Mareau recently added 6 hectares to her estate.  I can’t wait to see what she does with these 30 to 40-year-old vines.  With the experience and advice of her cousin Nicole to draw on, I am expecting great things of her.  Lucky Laure.  Lucky Roy Cloud.  And lucky us.             

Read more by John:    John Anderson       
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