Saint Amour: Village Profile


Saint Amour Basics:
AOC – Since February 1946
AOC Area – 320 hectares
Allowed Yields – 58 Hl/ha
Allowed Colours – Red only
(White bottled as Beaujolais Blanc)
Allowed Grapes – Gamay Noir with up to a maximum of 15% ‘others’ including: Aligoté, Chardonnay, Gamay Blanc & Pinot Noir
Commercialisation – Allowed from 15 December following harvest

12 kilometres south-west of Mâcon, near the Montagne de Bessay, Saint Amour sits with Juliénas to form the most northern block of the Beaujolais Crus – together they border the Mâconnais and the appellation of Saint Véran. St.Amour is one of the smallest of the crus of Beaujolais – just 320 hectares can take the name, and the vines cover virtually all orientations (exposures) and altitudes too – from 250 to 470 metres above sea-level. The slopes and soils are very complex here – just look at the geological map of the appellation – to the extent that even the particular climats within St.Amour are highly variable.

St.Amour has long traded on its evocative name, though the origin of that name is complex and was only fixed in 1909. The name derives from a modest corruption of the name of a Roman soldier – Amor – who (it is said) was part of the Theban legion. In 286 CE Amor deserted the army, refusing to march on the Christians – a good choice as this was not a good end for many Romans at the hands of soldiers of Valais (today’s Switzerland). Amor converted to Christianity and became a missionary, later to be canonised as Saint Amour. This name was attached to the village, but was changed in the (very secular) Revolution who removed the name ‘Saint’ from most place-names, and the village became known as Bellevue, only in 1909 was it officially renamed Saint-Amour-Bellevue.

Link to map of appellation.

Unlike most of the crus of Beaujolais, St.Amour doesn’t strictly have a town-centre to call its own – it has a number! The nearest thing to a ‘town-centre’ would be Le Plâtre Durand with no-less than 3 restaurants – if you have the time then Auberge du Paradis and Restaurant au 14 Fevrier both have Michelin stars, alternatively you can visit the excellent Josephine au Table if your schedule is tighter. There are multiple small groups of buildings such as Le Bourg where the main church is sited, but also Les Thévenins and La Ville.

The average domaine in St.Amour has 5-10 hectares of vines, commercialising less than half of that, the vast majority of the production heading to the large appetites of the négoce – though they bought less in 2016 than most previous vintages. Given that St.Amour has a special commercial aspect (lovers and Valentine’s Day) the bulk pricing has, for as long as anyone remembers, been modestly higher than most of the other crus – financially it is better to own a hectare of St.Amour than virtually all other appellations – perhaps a little like Meursault over the last 10 generations in the Côte d’Or…

What’s wrong with Saint Amour

I chose St.Amour as my first real ‘cru profile’ because my favourite wine from the 2014s tasting report was indeed a St.Amour – from Domaine des Bachelards. The first and second parts of this process – the blind tasting, followed by visiting the producers of some the best wines tasted – was easy. Writing a more in-depth look at the cru and its vineyards turned out to be nigh-on impossible – but why?

The market:
St.Amour is the perfect poster-child for the marketing quandry that the best wines of Beaujolais find themselves in; in the 1970s a bottle from this appellation would have cost you roughly the same as good villages Chambolle-Musigny – today it ‘commands‘ something more like one-fifth the price of of a Chambolle.

The way (much of) the wine is made:
Could it be worse? Well, yes it could – not only is the wine (massively) under-priced (under-appreciated more like!) more than half the appellation’s annual production is sold for Valentine’s Day celebrations. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if those bottles had a little maturity, but given a combination of modest volume harvests, very low bulk pricing and, perhaps worse, the fact that the wine can be bottled only a few weeks after a Beaujolais Nouveau – so earlier than the other ‘crus’ – means that much of that February consumption is little more than 5 months old – “Actually 6 or 7 months old” a local producer corrects me! If you are going to make a short elevage with thermo-vinification, then it should be obviously differentiated from wine made in a more conventional, more time-consuming and a more expensive manner.

Climats of St.Amour:
Côte de Besset
En Paradis
La Folie
Le Châtelet
Le Clos de la Brosse
Le Clos des Billards
Le Clos des Guillons
Le Clos du Chapître
Le Mas des Tines
Les Bonnets
Les Champs Grillés
Vers l’Eglise

The way (much of) the wine is labelled:
The missing link for discovering St.Amour has to do with its 12 official climats – right?

In theory, since 2004, the climat names (above) can be appended to the name of St.Amour, six of these are now under discussion to be described as 1er Crus. The problem is that virtually no-one does this – so these climats are, at least for the moment, largely redundant! That’s the biggest shame in all this commercial mire; if you have to sell your St.Amour for €7.50 because everyone else does, then your most obvious point of differentiation, instead, would be to make, for example, a great Saint-Amour Le Clos des Billards and sell that for €15 – the market will determine the merit of that – or not. This is day 1 marketing theory, yet it remains so rare. The most differentiation you will commonly find on labels is St.Amour Vieilles-Vignes or (God forbid!) St.Amour Eleve en Fûts de Chêne!

Unfortunately St.Amour is far behind Moulin à Vent, where climats are often used on labels, and even Fleurie and Morgon. This seems to me that’s the only way forward for the producers, outside ‘natural wine-making‘ – but good natural wine-making! For the moment we are overwhelmingly left, only, with the name of the producer.

The geology:

You need only take a look at the map of the appellation to take in an appreciation for the complexity of the soils – very little here has the granitic consistency of Beaujolais’ other crus. Many a vigneron will point to the flat land on the eastern side of the appellation and say that it is less gifted (my word) than the hillier, more granitic soils to the centre and west of the appellation that produces more sauvage wines. Though some producers in the village will counter that by saying ‘That’s only the case for lazy producers – work the soil properly and you will see how good it is.’ Herein lies our inability challenge those viewpoints, as bottles labelled with the name of the lieu-dits are so rare. The (relatively new) team at Domaine de La Pirolette are planning to go this route, initially labeling a couple of climat wines from the 2016 vintage – but it is very early days.

I did tour some of the vineyards, but my notes on soils are somewhat abstract if there are no wines to compare them to! For instance;
Mid St.Amour; Tête de bonnet granite in the middle, pink sand, a relative plateau in the variable hills of St.Amour
Côte de Besset; Here there’s a vein of sandstone (gres). On the hill is a pink, stratified sandstone that looks like a Fleurie granite, but it’s not!
La Folie: Very stony here. ‘Producing more sauvage wine with more depth and length.’

The recent mapping used about 20 soil pits and ~200 observations and boreholes – the complexity (I should say across the whole of Beaujolais) is on another level versus that of the Côte d’Or – alluvial deposits, overestimating the importance of granite, metamorphic and volcanic (Devonian) rock, meta-diorites and meta-basalts of the ‘Pierres Bleues,’ sandy, sandy-clay, sandstone soils – clay and limestone.

It will be a long road…

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