What all began as an idea among friends with a common love of French wine, and France (our country of residence) has turned into what could be described as a "wine safari". With marketing, design and export experience, and a few glasses of wines behind us, we decided to set out to develop a less confusing, unified French wine brand with a variety of easy to drink, "today" wines selected from vineyards producing a quality wine, with a price that today's consumer could appreciate.

First, we needed a mascot. Hmm...already lots of animals on wine labels. But, what animal would best represent OUR wines? Known for extraordinary balance and keen sense of smell, what better to lead us on our wine safari than an ELEPHANT? Yes, we all agreed, an elephant could lead us in the right direction on our hunt for French wines. So, it was decided. We would unite together ?? ?our wines under a single brand identity our elephant: Elephant on a tightrope. And, so the safari begins...

First stop, Beaujolais. We recently returned from our first safari,"Les Rendez-vous Beaujolais" in the Beaujolais region of France. Spring in the Beaujolais region is the occasion to taste the new vintage. The home of the well-known Beaujolais Nouveau, a wide variety of wines belong to the Beaujolais Villages appellation, all made from the gamay grape. In fact, there are twelve different appellations, all different depending on the soil in which the vineyards grow. In general Beaujolais wines are pleasant, light, fruity, they can be drunk young or after a few years, according to the vintage. We decided to start at the top, literally.

The Beaujolais Crus area of Beaujolais, which consists of only five villages, is in the northern part of the region. Its wines are juicy and delectable, and range from aromatic and feminine to robust in style. The crus are much fuller, intense and concentrated, than the light-hearted Beaujolais. Some of the biggest crus can age for 10 years, gaining complexity and depth. is the crus situated the furthest north. We were graciously welcomed at the Château de Julienas, an estate that dates back to the thirteenth century, and in the same family for four generations. The estate includes 35 hectares of vines with a good south, southeast exposure on granite soil. The grapes are handpicked, made according to traditional methods, and aged 7-8 months in oak barrels. The château boasts the longest cave in Beaujolais region. The wine is powerful, robust, deep red in color and full of berry aromas. Our tasting included wines dating back to 2001. After a few years in the bottle it develops agreeable, well-balanced tannins. This wine can be easily drunk throughout the meal, and is best with poultry, meats in sauces, game, and cheese. Our tasting wa??s ?accompanied by a delectable buffet of traditional Lyonnais fare, another reason to visit the region. Luckily, our hotel was just down the road from the Château...

Not so bright and early the next day...

our safari continued, in the village of Villié Morgan, the home of the Morgon appellation. Morgon is another full-bodied wine that drinks well young but is also well suited for aging. We tasted several excellent Morgons, our first from the Domaine de Colonat, a 12 hectare estate run by the Collonge family for six generations. The average age of the vines is 60 years old. The Morgon "Les Charmes" deeply colored, with its aromas of raspberry and vanilla, cherry flavors, and silky tannins sets itself apart with its finesse and aromatic complexity.

The Morgon "Tradition" from the Domaine du Crêt de Ruyére is a deeply colored, full-bodied wine with a penetrating aromas and flavors of red fruits. This family domaine is run by Jean-Luc and his wife Cathy, and includes 6.5 hectares situated on south facing slopes in the foothills of the 'Massif Central'. Jean Luc, who has been working this estate since 1986, began, in 1987, to work the soils rather than use herbicides. Today his terroir is authentic, with no added fertiliser and with all the work in the vines carried out respecting the environment. The domaine has applied to receive organic status.

After a delicious buffet lunch, our destination was Beaujolais further south, to the region known worldwide for its Beaujolais Nouveau. Although most wines from this region are red, a delicious White Beaujolais, made from the Chardonnay grape, can be found in limited quantities. We tasted an expressive white Beaujolais from the Domaine de Rotisson, a domaine of 45 hectares, of which only 9.9 acres yields Chardonnay. A young wine with a pale yellow color and greenish hues, this wine has fresh aromas and intense flavors of e??xoti ?c fruits and is balanced and lingers long on the palate. A great wine for an aperitif or with seafood.

The Domaine de Terre de Sablons run by a young winemaker, Bertrand Durdilly offers an impressive Beaujolais Villages, a deep cherry red color, with aromas of red and black fruits, well-balanced and easy on the palate. The Domaine de la Chambarde, owned by Robert & Dali has been in the family for five generations. They produce a typically fruity Beaujolais that is highly aromatic and easy on the palate. A deep cherry red, with aromas of red and black fruit, it is a wine that could accompany a wide variety of dishes throughout the year. They also produce a limited quantity of Beaujolais Blanc made from the Chardonnay grape, known locally as the "Perle Blanche" or white pearl. We found this wine unexpectedly delicious, with subtle aromas of white blossoms and citrus fruit.

Our weekend ended much too soon. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this region and highly recommend it. The winemakers are open, friendly and enjoy the opportunity to talk about their wines. Many vineyards have an open house in November with the arrival of their Beaujolais Nouveau, an excellent time to visit the region--and to be the first to taste this year's Beaujolais Nouveau!