Château de La Chaize’s Premier Cru Project Takes Shape

With its single-vineyard approach and long-term push for premier cru recognition, Beaujolais’ most ambitious estate is ushering the region into a new era

Château de La Chaize
Photo courtesy of Château de La Chaize.
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Château de La Chaize has always been an icon in Beaujolais. Built in 1676, the magnificent castle and its adjacent vineyards were the dominant force in Brouilly for over a century, at one time encompassing an entire village. Today, now fully restored to its original architectural splendor, the estate is continuing its tradition of bold leadership as a model for viticulture.

“My ultimate goal is to produce some of the most iconic wines of Beaujolais and to make Château de La Chaize a new beacon in our region,” says director and winemaker Boris Gruy. “We want to put Beaujolais back on the map of great wines.” 

To do so, Gruy is looking past the potential of Chaize’s vineyards alone—many of which are monopoles that lie atop precious granitic soils—and to the French National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO), the certifying body with the power to classify vineyards as premier cru. The process is long-winded, yet would serve to elevate Beaujolais alongside its peers in Burgundy and inform drinkers worldwide of the wines’ quality and position. 

This undertaking, which has been ongoing for five years and will culminate with a presentation and submission to INAO in early 2023, represents a total transformation for Beaujolais, from the land of celebratory, simple nouveau wines to the source of terroir-driven, high quality, and long-lived wines. 

“Beaujolais Nouveau was a fantastic marketing product,” says Grégoire Hoppenot, an ambassador for Inter-Beaujolais and one of the vintners collaborating with Château de la Chaize to elevate Beaujolais sites to premier cru. “Like famous Champagnes brands, we wanted to propose the same ‘product’ every year. But we have a high diversity of terroirs in Beaujolais which can produce true terroir-driven wines.”

Proving A Worthy Terroir

While official certification for Beaujolais lieux-dits would be new, the region’s history for excellent wines is anything but: Regional publications mentioned prominent lieux-dits as early as 1747, a fact Gruy and Hoppenot emphasize as evidence of the appellation’s sky-high potential. 

“The terroir is the founding element of quality, but we make the selection [of premier cru sites] on concrete facts: Declarations, publishings, ratings, prices, and the most important of all: tasting,” says Hoppenot. He notes that the region’s INAO application encompasses current and historical wine ratings, evidencing the distinctness of each proposed premier cru site. 

Boris Gruy, the director and winemaker at Château de La Chaize. Photo courtesy of Château de La Chaize.
Boris Gruy, the director and winemaker at Château de La Chaize. Photo courtesy of Château de La Chaize.

“Beaujolais has a great diversity of terroirs, even within the same cru,” adds Gruy. “Among the twelve Beaujolais appellations, more than 300 different soil profiles have been identified, making it the richest wine region in France from a geological and pedological point of view.”

Those soils, predominantly granite among the vineyard sites cultivated by Château de La Chaize, form the perfect backdrop for elevating Gamay Noir. Poor in nutrients and well-drained, they reduce Gamay’s natural vigor and promote the cultivation of complex berries that clearly transmit their origins. 

According to Gruy, Gamay Noir is an ideal vehicle for showcasing the diversity of Beaujolais and thus prove its terroirs deserve to be elevated. “Winegrowers in the region often define Gamay as a ‘terroir sponge,’” he says, noting Château de La Chaize wines from Fleurie, Morgon, and Côte de Brouilly can vary enormously, despite identical winemaking processes. In some cases, such as between Brouilly’s La Chaize Monopole and Combiliaty lieu-dit, where subsoil depth is the main differentiator, the differences remain profound. 

“The objective is to preserve the purity of the Gamay fruit, which is expressed in different ways through each terroir,” says Gruy. “The more you do in the cellar, the less the consumer will have a sense of place and terroir in the glass.” 

A One-Track Approach

To showcase that elusive terroir in the glass, Gruy and his team at Château de La Chaize harvest each vineyard separately, and ferment all of their lots in concrete and stainless steel vats. Large neutral oak foudres are used for maturation. Utilizing native yeasts—and as little human intervention as possible—further enhances the distinctive character of each site.

“Putting the emphasis on single vineyards is key to producing wines with strong identities, especially with a single grape variety,” says Gruy. Each Château de La Chaize wine speaks for itself, he says, from the floral, elegant Fleurie lieu-dit, La Chapelle des Bois, to the blue-fruited Côte de Brouilly lieu-dit, Brulhié, and the uniquely spicy wines from the Brouilly lieu-dit La Chaize Monopole. 

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Gruy believes Château de La Chaize’s commitment to single-site wines builds upon the appellation’s history, and in turn strengthens their case for premier cru recognition. “We decided to adopt a single-vineyard vinification to highlight our terroir diversity,” he says. “We all need to remember that Brouilly, Morgon, Fleurie, and Moulin-à-Vent were all worth the same as Pauillac or Gevrey-Chambertin before the 1950s.” 

Re-Establishing the Chaize Legacy

To re-establish Beaujolais alongside those greats, Château de La Chaize is doubling down on farming methods that will elevate Gamay Noir by embracing modern schools of thought, which champion a return to more traditional techniques. All of their estate vineyards are certified organic, and many sites use horses for gentle plowing rather than machines. Gruy is also implementing regenerative farming techniques throughout their holdings, including cultivating permanent cover crops, reforesting cleared areas, and experimenting with no-till farming in certain areas, as well as relying on biodiversity instead of chemical pesticides and herbicides.

Underneath the vines, the estate continues to innovate and will rapidly achieve complete energy self-sufficiency, generating power from a geothermal system built into the hillside. The team will rely exclusively on electric vehicles in the vineyards and cellar, reducing carbon emissions and fumes among the vines. Coupling this advanced approach to sustainability with a clear strategy to elevate Beaujolais, Château de La Chaize stands not just to reassert its own grand history but that of the entire region. 

“I want our wines to be perfect translators of their terroirs,” says Gruy. Now, the world will wait and see if that translation yields Beaujolais its coveted premier crus.


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