The natural wine world lost one of its leading figures, Sunday night, when Beaujolais winemaker Marcel Lapierre died after a long battle with melanoma. From his vineyards in the Morgon cru of Beaujolais, Lapierre had become a champion of natural wine, strictly defined as organic in the vineyard, and wild yeast fermentations with nothing taken out and nothing added in, including SO2.
Working closely with his wife Marie, Marcel Lapierre had also started working in tandem with his son Mathieu, who is expected to take on his father’s mantle. Lapierre wines were highly successful and exported to over 20 countries, including Brasil, Japan, China, Britain, Australia, Canada, and the United States.
Lapierre studied oenology in the late 1960s and returned to the family winery using modern techniques, eventually taking over the estate in 1973. By the end of the decade, however, he had grown weary of the effects of modern winegrowing and winemaking on the taste and quality of his wines.
In 1981, after having met Jules Chauvet, the man largely credited with defining the natural winemaking approach, Marcel Lapierre decided to convert the vineyards to organic and biodynamic viticulture and to turn the winemaking to a fully natural approach: wild yeast fermentations only, no sulfur or other additions. At a time when Beaujolais Nouveau was the big commercial success in the reason, and large-scale producers like Georges Dubœuf were rising to the forefront, a small group of Beaujolais winemakers like Jean Foillard, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton, as well as Georges Descombes and Lapierre nephew Christophe Pacalet, among others, followed suit and decided to focus on this more traditional, less interventionist approach.
Lapierre’s Morgon and other Beaujolais wines were seen by many as the quintessential vins de soif—thirst-quenching wines, in French—but also as a true and original expression of the local terroir.
On Monday, as the news spread around the wine world, tributes and expressions of sadness abounded, including posts by Eric Asimov, Alice Feiring, Jon Bonné and Cory Cartwright. (See also a roundup of posts on French site Bourgogne-Live). Also on Monday, restaurants like Bar Boulud in New York and RN 74 in San Francisco were pouring Lapierre Morgon by the glass at little or no cost, as a tribute to the great winemaker.
Indeed, a more fitting tribute could not be found than raising a glass to his memory.