The end of harvest is always a special turning point in wineries, a big part of the wine job has been made, I'd even say most of the wine job has been made for wineries making uncorrected wines (because the vineyard work is central there), and everyone rejoices in the courtyard in front of the chai, the pickers because they could hold through
long days of arduous work and the staff because they could manage all the timing with the weather conditions,
ordering schedule for the different parcels and taking care of the food & board for the pickers. Here at Dominique Derain, the pickers had "reserved" their job since may (I guess they'd been queuing until the ban des vendanges otherwise), they're housed upstairs above the chai, a prime location with no loss of time after- and before work, and considering what I think the food is, their working conditions are pretty enviable.
I had come across a couple of downpours on my way from Paris to Chalon-sur-Saone, which is not very pleasant on a motorbike but in Saint-Aubin it was dry even though the sky was grey. When I dropped unannounced this friday afternoon toward 5 pm at Dominique Derain, I was thinking there might be a chance to see some kind of activity at his facility but what I saw exceeded my expectations.
I had not called ahead because it's only while en route that I realized I'd pass next to Saint-Aubin (and anyway nobody answers the phone in these days). Outside, I spotted what was obviously a picker's car decorated with flowers (pic on left), a hint that harvest could be approaching its end. This happened to be indeed the last harvest day and all the pickers, staff and Dominique Derain of course were gathered, having a few glasses and celebrating the moment. There were still a couple dozens boxes of white grapes at the back of a tractor waiting to be loaded into in the Vaslin press and as it was still early Dominique had set up this festive apéritif.
We had a few weeks ago this very nice rosé des Riceys, a still rosé from Champagne by a Maison named Champagne Horiot Père & Fils. Very few people know about the still rosés of Champagne, and the domaines who keep doing them in the appellation area are quite courageouis because they could make more money with making 100 % of Champagne (I mean regular sparkling).. This was a delight, and this was also surprising because the wine was almost 11 years old and 2003 was supposed to be such a devastation for wines if you kept them in the cellar.
The wine which was maybe still approaching its peak was delicate and suave, I couldn't stop helping myself along the lunch. Both B. and me had bought wine there and this was the last bottle of rosé we had from this estate if I'm right (my cellar is not well organized).
For a big harvest, use a bit of Fluolite...[Pdf file of this page]
The 1930s', dawn of the insecticides era ?
Street flea markets give you the opportunity to put your hand on gems, sometimes it's by pure chance that I find something. Recently (this was in Mont-Saint-Jean, Burgundy), I found this 16-page prospectus which was printed probably around 1938 or 1939 as it recounts the harvest conditions of 1937, and the insecticide in question was apparently first released on the market in 1936. This pamphlet for which I paid 1 € targets the growers and the copy bears on the lower-right corner of its front page the stamp of
an insecticide dealer, M. Harant, based guess where ? in Reims...;-) - I didn't make this up !.
The product here, Fluolite, seems to have ben short lived, there are no traces online and while I found a few references for
a product named Fluolite (and patented by Zeneca and Imperial Chemical Industries), it seems to be
pointing to another type of chemical, a fluorescent whitening agent. The insecicide promoted by this 16-page prospectus is manufactured by a company named "Groupement des Industries Chimiques pour l'Agriculture" (GICA), with its head office at 11 bis rue d'Aguesseau Paris 8th arrondissement (in the 1930s').
Leafing through this 13,3 X 21 cm prospectus is very interesting because it immerses you in between the agrochemicals dealers and the unsuspecting vignerons of the 1930s', and at a time when growers where still working on a very traditional way, tending their vines and plowing their soils. We learn about the type of pests and trials they go through, the yields they make, with or without these products. The vignerons at that time were often living with more modest means compared to today and I guess selling them this stuff was not so easy, but given the testimonies printed here (if they're authentic), some could afford. This advertising literature points unusually to the different wines regions of France, with testimonies that are supposed to come from real vignerons of these regions. Among several interesting details from these testimonies, we see that all regions were exploring the use of insecticides, and the people who testify of the benefits are often major wine players, presidents of local coops, mayors or other local dignitaries...
It is rare to find such a long text (16 pages) to vaunt an insecticide (the chemical companies learned modesty and prudence since), the tone is very reassuring, no danger, very efficient and so on. Note also that at the time the vignerons were willing to give their testimony, praising the chemicals they were using, we'd be happy to have a similar openness today for the massive use of vinification additives that are used by conventional wineries. Alas, if we read today's advertising pamphlets vaunting additives we see only the manufacturers' and the dealers words, the users (especially the wineries) prefer to keep a low profile and stay in the dark...
The broader picture that emerges from this reading is that (you'll leaf here through all the other insecticides made by this company) in the 1930s' French growers were apparently already prolific users of insecticides including arsenic-based ones and that they were already wary of their health effects.
Notice the picture above with the moustached vigneron and these hills covered with vineyards, this is a typical monoculture situation (possibly depicting Champagne) where pests proliferate easily. The sign in the middle of the drawing says " Fluolited vineyards = pest-damage forbidden".
I've translated a few lines for each page, and you can click on the Pdf link to get more details of these pages.
The hand-written notes in blue on certain pages seem to be a marketing trick to attract the attention of the reader, these notes have ptobably been printed with the rest.
Pictures on the sides : advertisements for Fluolite (the one on the right which suggests to fight the doryphores __Colorado beetles__ comes from this page of the Journal de Vienne et de l'Isère (Rhone) - 21st of august 1937)
Bueil en Touraine, Coteaux du Loir (Loire)
Bueil is a charming village on the westernmost side of the Coteaux-du-Loir appellation area, the northernmost wine region in France which is home country for Pineau d'Aunis and Chenin. The Coteaux-du-Loir area sits on two départements north of the Loire river : 16 villages in the Sarthe and 6 villages in the Indre-et-Loire. This lesser known wine area has still deep roots, its origin
unsuprisingly going back tho hard-working monks in the Middle Ages.
When writing on the region, I always link to the extensive Coteaux-du-Loir page by Richard Kelley where you'll learn what is the Loir compared to the Loire (no mispelling), the peculiarities of this terroir and more details on when the Pineau d'Aunis was first planted by Benedictine monks near the village of Chahaignes (9th century).
On the Loire-region map I linked to above, the Coteaux-du-Loir area is roughly in the center near the top, this is the separate red patch above Tours, standing together with Jasnières and the Coteaux du Vendômois with which it shares more or less the same history (Chanin and Pineau d'Aunis being the major varietals there).
While the region of Bueil is mostly cultivated for mainstream crops like corn or wheat (because the vineyard part has dwindled since the phylloxera devastation a century ago), you still find a few parcels planted with vines here and there and there are everywhere architectural remains in the villages or at the foot of the hills proving a long winemaking history through the presence of many cellars, often former quarries conveniently turned into chais and cellaring facilities.
Renaud Guettier, whose parents are in the teaching sector, was trained originally as an agronomist specialized in plant physiology, his initial purpose being to work in the research sector in that field. But he understood quickly that the life in the research labs was not what he ticked for, and he soon left for Africa where he did some development work. Back in France in 2003 with his wife he looked upon working along his father-in-law who was a multi-crop farmer in Bueil, at the edge of the Coteaux-du-Loire. Wine was just one step away. He now makes beautiful Pineau d'Aunis and chenin wines without any added SO2.
Saint Maurice d'Ibie, Ardèche (Rhone)
Gilles Azzoni's domaine sits at a safe distance from the noisy Rhone valley with its freeways and endless suburban sprawl, you need to drive winding secondary roads to reach the idyllic Ibie valley, the Ibie
being a 33 km-long river running between sometimes-steep hills covered
with Provence-type vegetation. If I had been dropped there with no clues about the location I'd say this is the Var département, same bushes and scents, and a river as vigorous, deep and refreshing as the Argens river in Correns (near Brignoles). The drive was particularly nice, with old stone bridges over the river and natural beaches where vacationing families enjoyed the sun and the refreshing water.
Although I stock Azzoni's wines regularly, like last time at the Rue89 wine fair (3rd picture in the story) and although I had planned to visit him one day, I had delayed this visit for a long time but my meeting with Mito Inoue recently reminded me of him, Mito loves Gilles' work, she had a training here and she made her very first wine (a white) in Gilles' cellar. I don't know why but her story made me tilt at last and pick the phone, as B. and I had the opportunity to drive by en route from Provence. But the real reason may be that I simply enjoy so much Gilles Azzoni's wines, they're liquid food that I really can afford (there are so many wines that are out of reach for regular consumption), these SO2-free wines are probably of the type that have cheered the heart of humans and Dyonisos since the antiquity, when wine was judged more for its gentle intoxicating properties than for fitting a rigid framework of codified and controlled aromatics. Open a bottle and there is a good chance you'll finish it right away, even by yourself.
Thouarcé, Anjou (Loire)
Among the vibrant group of artisan vignerons who have put Anjou in the spotlight in the recent years, Mark Angeli is the precursor, opening the way through a return to a serious work in the vineyard. My own personnal experience with Angeli's wine was with La Lune 2009, of which
I purchased a few bottles a couple of years ago years ago
(5th picture on this page). This was a beautiful wine moment, hard to describe, although I can say that for me it resided in the life, vibrancy and texture of the wine as well as in its aromas, the whole being very enjoyable. I still have a few bottles from that batch and I open one when I really want to indulge in an exciting Loire white. This chenin is labelled as a simple table wine (and not Anjou), another hint as the relative worthlessness of the appellation status when you're into these lively wines made without concession.
Mark Angeli's winery is managed along the biodynamic principles (Demeter certified) and that may be why he has not named it domaine but Ferme (farm), as you may know that ideally for Rudolf Steiner, an agricultural entity must be structured like a living farm, complete with its farm animals and different crops in order to create a diverse and balanced farm ecosystem that can result in healthy crops and products. Biodynamy is quite widespread among the vibrant vignerons behind the renewal of the wine culture in the region (Anjou), and Nicolas Joly who is probably the most colorful and energetic promoter of this vineyard management (certified biodynamic since 1988) is based close from here in Savennières, only 20 km away. Nicolas Joly's dry whites have tilted many initially-dubious winegrowers toward biodynamie, as these wines were really different. Now that the movement expanded, I am pretty sure that Mark Angeli's La Lune can break certitudes and make new converts to this type of agriculture management.
Thouarcé is a nice village of Anjou, a region where the architecture and village structure espress best a certain art de vivre that we're always happy to experience in this part of the Loire region, with something like a sense of civilized moderation and harmony.
Rablay sur Layon (Anjou, Loire)
Richard Leroy is running a small winery in the Anjou region, his work is almost entirely focused on the vineyard management and the soil management and the result are dry chenins that are very pure and that reflect the shists and rhyolits underneath. After years of trying make his best with the intricacies of the appellation system he
just quit and he now bottles his wines as
table wine (Vin de France) like more and more demanding vintners in Anjou.
Like many of his peers who set up a small winery with an artisan approach, Richard Leroy wasn't raised in the wine trade when he came here in 1996, he comes from the Vosges region of which he still has a slight accent. His wife is also from there and it happens that she was the one who back in the 1980s' made him discover the world of fine wines. his future wife at the time enrolled in the wine school of Macon/Davayé in Burgundy while he was still studying law and economy in Nancy university. He was at the time more involved by football actually, one of the reasons he went to the university, and when he visited her during her winery trainings in Burgundy, he bagan to appreciate this world of vignerons, the relation with the land and so on.
Another step was a long training she (as well as he) had in the Etablissements Nicolas around 1982-83 for a planned summer job managing a branch of the wine-shop chain. The chain had at the time a huge cellar and devoted resources and time to train properly its future managers through tastings of fine wines. These older and rare wines (he remembers wines like Latour 1961 or Carbonnieux 1928) were also sold on the demand to the customers at Christmas time. This was during these Nicolas tastings that Richard learnt a lot and educated his taste for fine wine, he read many books all the while because he didn't know anything about these wines before landing there and he had a virgin mind in that regard, discovering wines like Cheval Blanc 1978 or Chateau Branaire without any preconceptions, after which he would read avidly from writers like Alexis Lichine, putting knowledge in place near the beautiful olfactory impressions he had got while tasting the wines.
Looking for smoother pours in Paris summers
Forget the cork, the crown cap and other sophisticated closures not really suited for swift home use : let's reintroduce the milk bottle, a good way to bottle your thirst wine intended for early drinking and no-fuss wine experience. You don't need a cork
screw anymore, the larger size (one liter versus 75 centiliters) makes it convenient for a party
or a picnic, the bottles are shorter, more stable and easily reusable, there's hardly an hesitation when you look closer.
The only thing is your guests might think this vulgar bottle contains a uninteresting wine (no label, bottled in a sort of jug) but consider this judgement on the container like those negative views on sediments in a bottle (sediments used to be associated with faulty wine in the conventional school) : if your guests know your wine tastes and experience, they'll go beyond the first apprehension and open themselves to the wine, brushing aside the odd container.
The other advantages of this format are many : You bottle the wine with a single quarter turn and it's air-tight, you dont' need a funnel to fill the bottles, you don't have to plan ahead to organize a bottling session in your kitchen with all sort of tools and precautions. And still if you leave on the side one of these bottle for a few months (not drinking the wine right away) it is very likely that your wine will be fine after a few weeks, possibly months__and maybe years although I'll not risk this type of bottling on a high-value wine, given I'd find a high-value wine in bulk in the first place (ever asked in a "top winery" if they had wine in bulk ?). So, we're dealing with thirst wine here, but quality thirst wine : wine made without enological corrections, a rarity nowadays, as rare as real milk, you got to source your milk directly in a dairy farm (with precisely these same bottles) in order to get milk that has not been robbed of its natural fat.
We were having a glass of Cousin Oscar with a friend along the canal Saint-Martin in Paris when we met a friendly couple passing by, Jérôme Sélèque and his friend Louise who were on their way for a drink too in the area, Jérôme happens to be in the Champagne trade (Champagne Sélèque) through his family domaine working on a 7,5-hectare surface split on 7 villages.
Milkman, keep those bottles quiet ! (The Pied Pipers)
Faverolles-sur-Cher, Touraine (Loire)
Mikaël Bouges is a winegrower with 4 generations behind him in the winegrowing trade along the Cher river in the Loire. He founded his own winery in 2005 after working with his father's Domaine de la Puannerie since 1999. When his father decided to retire in 2005 Mikaël had the choice between buying back his father's 16-hectare domaine or set up a separate, smaller estate for a slower beginning. His father was selling
both to the négoce and to private customers, but the larger surface would have pushed Mickaël to hire, which he did not want to, at least in the early years, so he opted for a separate domaine,
managing 5,5 hectares, some being rents. Over the years he grew up and he now farms 8 hectares, adding parcels with a different terroir or expression.
I understand that it is was not that difficult to find available vineyards in this area until 2005, either to rent or to buy, but he wanted to be selective in his choice. In 2005 the growers were offered generous grubbing-up subsidies (prime d'arrachage in French) by the French administration and as usual elsewhere in France, these are often the good parcels (small, old and located in uneasy corners) that were uprooted, which means that from 2005 it was tricky for him to find interesting parcels to farm.
It seems to me that the government and agriculture bureaucracy (Agrimer) never learn and that the taxpayer's money supposed to raise the wine prices by reducing the vineyard surface leads a counterproductive result, as quality parcels are being erased first, instead of the high-yield/flat-land/conventional vineyards. The scheme is not effective at all for raising the price of bulk wine, but no one complains as growers are being offered pocket money by the EU or the French state.
The terroirs under these uprooted vineyards are still there today with their minerals and soil characters but you need to replant from scratch when you could have had old vines on it without this big-government interference. MiCkaël Bouges replants little by little, 20 ares every year, so that he can spread the replanting over several years.
For the facility, he found this group of cellars in the limestone with a long history of winemaking, even if only the small house along the street was used when he bought the whole thing. This house was built around 1950 and it was kind of a miniature farm with a chicken coop, rabbit hutch and pig pen, there was enen a small side building for a horse. He put down most of these structures to have a suitable room outside the cellar. He had a concrete slab poured in front of the cellars and a large roof erected over it so that he had a secure chai for the pressing and the early fermentations.
Champeix, Auvergne (Loire - pink patch on bottom-right of the map)
I had heard for a while and on a few occasions that a young Japanese woman was making wine in the remote slopes of Auvergne on a very small surface, it's been whispered to me here and there, beginning with wine people met in Japan, and I couldn't resist tempting a visit and meet this winemaker. The weather was great when I visited and the terraced vineyard offered their nice side under the sun, I guess winter is more
austere if very beautiful in its own way,
but not an easy season on a motorbike. Here is another hard-working artisan winegrower who does her part to revive the age-old wine culture in this region (remind that Auvergne was the 3rd French wine region in terms of volume in the 19th century).
I met Mito in Champeix where she has her small cellar (she lives in Montaigut 3 km away) and if I was wondering before this day why she had come such a long way from Japan to settle in the region of Auvergne, I had aleady a better understanding when in the place : the region has these well-preserved villages and landscapes and she just felt like in a new home here. Plus of course, Auvergne has quite a few motivated artisan winemakers working the most traditional way and often without any sulfites, and there's a buzzing rebel scene among the remaining vineyards.
Let's start with the beginning : Mito first came to Paris in 2003 to learn French, and while there she came across many wine fairs as Paris is overwhelmed with wine salons (fairs) and dégustations (tastings), most of them almost free. That's how she began to make her wine education because when in Japan she didn't like wine much because of the headache when she had some. Later she'd understand that the excess of sulfites was why these headaches and she began to know better how wine was made. Once as she was beginning to be curious about the winemaking, she asked (this was 2004) to a vintner she had met about doing a training at his place, he was from Bergerac, but once there for her training during the harvest this was a shocking awakening : the winegrower was adding all kinds of additives during the winemaking process, she couldn't believe it and she wondered if this was what wine was about.