Salon de L'Agriculture 2007, Paris.
The Agriculture Fair in paris is the place to enjoy a taste of the deep french country every year. You visit the expo complex as much for the farm animals and the food products (including the wines) of all the french regions as for the people encountered there : because both the exhibitors and many of the visitors are deep-country people, and their face, appearance and demeanor is so different from the ones of city dwellers. You feel that they live simple life in the beauty _and harshness of climate_ of mother nature. It's even surprising that in 2007 such a palpable difference can be so obvious.
The "Salon" is visited by the politicians too, and whatever day you choose among the 9 days of the event, there's a good chance that you will see at some point a cohort of journalists, photographers and security moving swiftly with an important guest from stand to stand.
Nicolas Sarkozy [click to enlarge], presidential contender for the right-of-the-center UMP visited the Salon de L'Agriculture last friday and approaching him was a sporty exercise, I can tell you... As usual, he went to the farm-animals expo building first (the fair takes place in several buildings of the huge Expo site at Porte de Versailles). That's where you can see and touch hundreds of pigs, cows, bulls, horses, sheep and other farm species from all breeds. This is real fun. It smells like in a stable and teenagers or employees from the participating farms overlook the animals, comb them and keep them clean and well fed. I heard that some of the animals have a hard time standing the noisy atmosphere and the crowd for 9 days (plus the transport stress), but they looked OK.
Among many stops at as many cows, bulls, draft horses, etc... for a brief chat with the owners and stable lads, Nicolas Sarkozy paused for a sip a couple of times. The first pause was for some smoked ham and a glass of Chablis [pic on left and right, click to enlarge], actually a Chablis Premier Cru Vaucoupin 2005 by Domaine Millet. I heard him say that he doesn't drink alcohol or wine to stay fit and sporty, but his diet can suffer some exceptions, it seems. And he reiterated during this visit his will to allow advertising for wines in France again, if elected.
The conservative politicians are usually more at ease to visit the Salon De L'Agriculture and risk a crowd bath there : The french deep-country is a bit more on the right than the french average and I think that the growers and vintners fit that profile too, on the whole. Wineries, like farms, are family businesses, and before all other political considerations like the hot subject of the intifada-style rioting in muslim suburbs, farmers tend to see the socialists and other left-of-the-center parties as not being business-friendly (then-Premier socialist Lionel Jospin was pelted with a hail of eggs when he visited the fair in 2001). And if you add the EC changing policy on Agriculture, you have a potential of discontent. But still, politicians from the whole political spectrum visit the fair, including Ségolène Royal, the contender for the socialist party, who waited this saturday to visit (sorry, I couldn't be there today, I would have loved to offer you pictures of her drinking wine_she loves it !).
Now, what about the wine in this Fair ? All the french regions show their products in a two-level building, that is the food, the vegetables, the charcuterie, cheeses, olive oil, everything you can think of, including the wines, hard spirits, beers. Tasting is free and you can easily spend a day just in this particular building which is also scattered on its sides with improvised restaurants from the different regions where people sit and eat.
The exhibiting wineries are diverse : family-owned wineries, Negoce Houses, Coops, regional stands offering a selection of wines... There's so much to taste that if you want to see the animals also (you need a full day just for the farm animals), you will need two days for the whole thing. The father and sons on the picture above were from Brittany and tasted several Poulet wines. From what I saw at most of the stands, the pours were generous. I did not taste myself, except a Jura by Henri Maire, because I was sick with a sore throat and cough, and quite exhausted already.
The "Viti de Beaune", or Ecole Viticole de Beaune (Burgundy), had set up this cooperage workshop where students showed how casks are made. The school also trains for the vinification and vineyard management. I guess that a teenager who enrolls in this sort of school can find work everywhere in France at the end of his studies, and even abroad if he/she speaks english or german. These casks look nice and authentic but the school is known to train the future vintners with all the recipes for "efficiency" and "predictability", ignoring the "slow wine" approach...
When it says "all the french regions", it means it. All the "overseas territories" (Territoires d'Outre-Mer) and "overseas departements", known under the acronym "Dom-Tom" (call it our colonies if you want) were represented in the fair. Nice occasion to taste a carribean drink like a punch, which is made whith Rhum (Rhum AOC, of course). But for some reason, it was not free, but sold 4 or 5 Euro a glass. The stands were grouped together and just by walking among the stands you breathed an air full of aromas of vanilla, cinnamon and other spices...And like the other exhibitors from the deep country, these ones had this distinctive-something telling you that they just arrived from their faraway places and isles, and that the Caribbeans living permanently in continental France lost.
I can't finish this post without showing one of the pictures of these incredible animals, the pigs. How is it possible to love both the taste and mouthfeel of porks' meat and products, and the living pigs themselves, which are just so funny and moving. Even when they just sleep (and probably dream) like on this picture, they're so cute...