Beaumont's Black-Market Wine - Gastro Obscura
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Beaumont's Black-Market Wine

Rebellious French villagers have grown outlawed grapes for decades.

In the remote mountains of southern France, Beaumont’s villagers have been making wine from jacquez and herbemont grapes for more than 150 years. Since the 1930s, however, this wine has been outlawed. But that doesn’t stop a collective known as the Mémoire de la Vigne from producing more than 7,000 bottles each year.   

The tiny, 200-person village of Beaumont is located in the Cévennes National Park along France’s highest mountain range. When hybrids combining hardy American vines with European varieties were introduced to Beaumont’s farmers more than 150 years ago, they thrived in the arid shale soil. Villagers experimented with sweet wines made from the grapes and, through the generations, used the jacquez and herbemont varieties to create a distinct regional wine. 

Unfortunately, following a glut in national wine production, the French government passed legislation outlawing hybrid vines containing any American lineage in 1935. The beloved wines of Beaumont became illegal. However, considering the village’s tiny population and remoteness, Parisian inspectors never bothered to visit. Production continued much as before. 

It also helped that Hervé Garnier, a fierce advocate for Beaumont’s wines, found a legal loophole. Since the grapes’ vines are in a national park, French law technically protects them as a “living historical landscape,” and, by extension, protects their cultivation. And while producers cannot legally sell Beaumont wine outright, it can be distributed within “associations.” As such, Garnier organized the Mémoire de la Vigne in the village in 1993, which shares its Cuvée des Vignes d’Antan among members.

Swirled in a glass, the garnet-red Cuvée des Vignes d’Antan offers the floral, fruity aroma of blackberries topped by hints of violet and peony. After it’s allowed to breathe, vanilla, mild spice, and licorice can be detected. A sip brings thick, pleasantly rounded flavors backed by a finish of smoothed-out tannins and a flavor remarkably like its bouquet.

Need to Know

Though Beaumont’s wine remains technically illegal to sell, memberships to the Mémoire de la Vigne are not. Anyone can join for the cost of 48 euros, and membership comes with six bottles of Cuvée des Vignes d’Antan. (However, international shipping can be tricky, and costs extra.) Memberships and visits can be arranged by contacting Mémoire de la Vigne president Hervé Garnier directly at herve.garnier@wanadoo.fr.

Where to Try It
  • Association Mémoire de la Vigne
    L'Elze, Beaumont, 07110, France

    Located in the lower level of a beautifully restored 13th-century abbey, the headquarters of the collective in Beaumont boasts beautiful surroundings. It's near Cévennes National Park and reachable by car. Call or email in French or English to ask about tastings or becoming a member: http://www.vigneantan.com/en/contact.htm.

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