Chénas

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Chénas is a small appellation for red wines produced in an area of northern Beaujolais that makes up one of the ten Beaujolais crus. It takes its name from the forests of oak trees (chênes in French) that once dotted the surrounding hillsides, an area that is now home to an ocean of Gamay vines. Chénas wines are among the heaviest in Beaujolais, and are known for their floral, earthy characters and ageability. Chénas, along with Moulin-à-Vent, is one of the most highly-regarded Beaujolais cru wines, and the best examples can be cellared for up to ten years.

The vineyards of Chénas can be found on the slopes of Mont Remont, sandwiched between the borders of Julienas and Moulin-à-Vent. The 700 acres (290ha) of vineyards in Chénas itself are split between the Rhône and Saône-et-Loire departments. Confusingly, the town of Chénas itself is located within the Moulin-à-Vent viticultural area due to changes in the appellation borders over time. As a result, only some vineyards located within the Chénas commune can be used in the production of Chénas wine.

An official decree from King Philippe V in the early 14th century saw the oak forests on the slopes of Mont Remont replaced with vines, and viticulture has been practised in the area surrounding Chénas since. These early vineyards were developed by rich Lyonnais in the 15th century, and were purportedly the favourite of King Louis VIII in the 18th century. In modern days, Chénas has the smallest area planted to vine, and as such has the smallest viticultural output of all of the Beaujolais crus.

The coarse, sandy soils in the Chénas appellation are made up of weathered granite, and are highly compatible with the Gamay grape variety. On these low-fertility soils, the vines are forced to grow deep root systems into the ground in search of nutrients, and the rapid drainage afforded by the slopes lessens the water intake of the vines. As a result, small, concentrated berries with thick skins are produced, resulting in a more structured and ageworthy style of wine.

The continental climate in Chénas is marked by warm sunshine in summer that extends into the fall, and drying winds from the hills to the west of Beaujolais help to reduce the negative effects of rain during the growing season. Some cooling influences from the Mediterranean in the south make their way into the vineyards of Chénas, ensuring that ripening happens sufficiently slowly to preserve acidity in the grapes.

The majority of wines produced in Chénas are made entirely with the Gamay grape variety, but appellation laws permit the addition of some white wine into the blend: namely Chardonnay, Aligoté and Melon de Bourgogne. Vignerons are only allowed to plant 15% of their vineyards with these white wine varieties, effectively limiting the quantities permitted in the wines.
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