You may have heard already about Correns, this village in Provence which markets itself as being the first village in France to be 100% organic, meaning that 100% of the food and grapes produced on the village's administrative sector are organic. This charming village with a population of 820 has a total administrative surface of 3700 hectares of which 400 are cultivated, mostly with vineyards. The picture above shows one of these vineyards, the village itself being afar on the left of the dark tree in the center [see close-up on the right]. The village and its surroundings are particularly well preserved, I mean still authentic despite its 100%-organic fashionable motto and the recent arrival of a famous American family. It is located in the Var département, relatively far from the Meditterranean, in a hilly and forested region which is dubbed la Provence Verte (green Provence), gathering 37 villages of the inner Var, far from the crowds and the noise. The windy secondary roads that lead to Correns pass through the most scenic Provencal setting you can imagine : woods and garrigue, small plots of vineyards stuck in the undulations and curves of valleys, intertwinned with olive tree orchards and opening here and there on these mountain villages with narrow streets and lots of fountains where houses seem to huddle tight against each other around the church. Just the trip from Brignoles, the nearest mid-size community in the region is a wonder by itself : after you pass Le Val, you have this scenic road across the scented landscape, vineyards, olive trees and an occasional chapel or old construction standing there, exemplifying the beautiful interaction between an age-old civilization and nature.
There's one place where the couple occasionally goes for dinner, this is L'Auberge du Parc, the gastronomic restaurant of the village (owned by the Dutch Onno Stijl), at a stone throw from le Cercle de l'Avenir, the Café/bar. According to this recent article (in French) about the famous couple in Correns, the coming of the couple to the Auberge was kept secret when they decided recently to dine there and other customers in the restaurant were asked to switch their mobile phone off by fear of snapped pictures ending up in magazines... The Chef makes a Menu du Marché every day, based on fresh products bought in the area and adapted to the client's tastes. There are two formulas for lunch, priced 25 and 30 Euro, and a Menu Complet for dinner at 35 Euro. A few wines (bottle prices) spotted on the wine list :
Le Vallon Sourn (coop) Blanc cuvée tradition 2007, 17 Euro; White l'Or des Fées 2007 (coop), 30 Euro; there are three other Correns-coop wines including a red magnum at 36 Euro; Domaine des Aspras : a red, a rosé and a white (2006-2008-2007) at 25 Euro each; Chateau Miraval (this it !) : Miraval Rosé 2008 C. de P. 25 Euro; Miraval Red 2004 C. de P. 30 Euro; white 2007 Coteaux Varois, 25 Euro; Miraval, Red Bergerie d'Aquino 2004 (from vineyards Miraval has in Tourves, near La Roquebrussanne) 58 Euro; Domaine de Saint Andrieu, Sauvignon 2007, 16 Euro; Bandol La Tour du Bon, white 2008 28 Euro, rosé 2007/2008 25 Euro, red 2005/2006 30 Euro; Chateau des Annibals, white and rosé C. V. 2008, 20 Euro, red 2004 la Ribotte 28 Euro; Real Martin rosé 2008 30 Euro, red 2005 30 Euro, Optimum Rouge 2003, 30 Euro. Chateau Routas, white Blanc coqueliquot 2007, red Rouge Cyrano 2007, both at 34 Euro; Champagne Corbon Cuvée Prestige Avize Grand Cru 53 Euro. and other wines... Seems a very well-priced wine list here.
Now, B. and I are cautious with the organic wine concept. There's a lot of confusion behind these words. First, in France, people usually don't say the full "wine made from grapes grown organically" ("vin issu des raisins de l'agriculture biologique") but just "organic wine" ("vin bio"), ignoring in the way that if vineyards are farmed without conventional chemicals, these certified wines can be vinified using all sorts of additives to build artificially the mouthfeel and the tasting qualities of the wine. But most people ignore that these technical ways to "correct" the wines even exist in the first place. And this misconception is not restricted to the ordinary consumer : as Alice Feiring said a couple of years ago in The Pour (Eric Asimov's wine blog), Food lovers are around me are accepting a level of processing in their wine glass they would never accept on their plates. This is a disconnect I find fascinating.
So, keeping that in mind, an organically-farmed vineyard is an important step to make a good wine, and the Coopérative vinicole of Correns like the other vignerons of Correns follow this path. La Corrensoise (this is the official name of the Coop) has a wine range with rosés, whites, reds and sparklings. The Appellations are AOC Cotes de Provence and Vin de Pays d'Argens. Bottle prices begin at 3,3 Euro. We dropped at the tasting room of the Coop to sample the wines. There were local customers buying bibs, and also three Russians who came in a car with Marseilles license plates.
__ Pesque Lune, white Vin de Pays d'Argens 2008 [pic on left]. 10% Grenache Blanc. 13°. Fruity and fresh. Richness. 3,3 Euro. The Argens is the small river that runs through the village (see pictures below).
__Croix de Basson, AOC Cotes de Provence 2008 white.90% Rolle, 10% Ugni Blanc. Fruity with a nice crispy mouth. 13°. 5,5 Euro.
__Le Vallon Sourn, Cotes de Provence 2008 Cuvée Tradition (white). The Sourn is a smaller river that runs near the village. Vallon Sourn means "Sourn valley". Rolle plus a bit of Ugni Blanc. 13,5°. 7,2 Euro. Vinified in vats, elevage in casks. Nice nose with vanilla. A bit woody in the mouth. B. finds it very nice, with a neat attack and length, and also a very neat end of mouth.
__L'Or des Fées, Cotes de Provence 2007 (white). Rolle 100%. 13,5°. 19 Euro. Aged in casks. Very nice wine. Ampleness. Butterscotch.
__La Croix de Basson, Cotes de Provence 2007 (red). Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet. Very nice nose. Red fruits, cooked red fruits, small black fruits. The temperature of the wine is too high for a tasting though (it's a hot day and the reds are not kept in a temperatured control cabinet). No oak elevage for this wine. Quite good. 5,5 Euro.
__Le Vallon Sourn, Cotes de Provence 2007 (red). Cuvée Tradition. Syrah, Grenache. Spent time in casks. B. says that this wine is in the middle of a low cycle. In the mouth, I had the feeling that it has peaked somehow. 7,2 Euro.
We learn from the young woman who popurs the wine there that the Coop works from a total surface of 200 hectares, all organically farmed of course.
Bibs are also a good sell here [pic on right], here are the prices :
Rosé, Vin de Pays d'Argens, 10-liter bib, 22,2 Euro. 5-liter bib, 12 Euro
White, Vin de Pays d'Argens, 5-liter bib, 12 Euro
Red, Vin de Pays d'Argens, 10-liter bib 24,7 Euro. 5-liter bib 13,9 Euro
AOC Cotes de Provence (white, rosé or red) : 5-liter bib, 17 Euro.
From the outside it may look like an ordinary café-bar for the unsuspecting visitor, but its status is very special. It is a non-profit group (association) and if you look at your bill, you'll see that for each of the drinks, there is a separate billing for "temporary membership" to the Cercle. For example, my glass of white wine served with an ice cube (not very good btw) cost 1,2 Euro plus 0,3 Euro for what is labelled on the printed bill "adhérent ponctuel". B.'s café noisette cost 1,15 Euro plus 0,2 Euro for the same reason. In short, you don't even know it but you have a glass there on the terrace enjoying the good time and you're part of the Cercle Républicain. I find that great, even if I'm not sure that there are any high-flying debates about how to change the world anymore. That's also the perfect place to take shelter when a heavy storm floods the region [pic on left].
Back to this narrow bridge : We saw from there children jumping in the river from a rock cliff (it's quite deep in some places) and I was tempted by a swim (B. preferred to abstain) with the hot temperature of the day. The water was cool, even a bit cold, very refreshing, and unsusual in the center of a village. The Argens river has been the object of several studies (see this Argens study in French) because of the particularity of its water and the high number of fish species. Water ir a rare commodity in Provence, but the inner Var with its many streams and lower population doesn't lack it. Winter ans spring see usually a rebound in the water-table levels due to important rains.
If you're into crowds, you can visit Correns on the third weekend of august : every year, that's when Correns holds its Fête de la Bio et du Naturel, a fair gathering about 120 stands across the village. It is organized by the Maitres Vignerons Bio de Correns.This a good way to meet some of the 80 growers and farmers, the people of the Coop and of the three other wineries, plus the chicken farm and the goat-cheese producer.
I couldn't finish this story without posting two pictures of that amazing plane tree which has incorporated a bench in its trunk. The metal bench was probably welded too tight around the tree long ago, disturbing its growth. Can't take some weight here ? no problem, the plane tree just overwhelmed the bench like a runny cheese [click on the pictures to enlarge]. Plane trees in Provence are incredible, they are deformed by scars, accidents and disease, but manage to survive and adapt to their ordeal, sometimes they're completely hollow on the inside and still stand who knows how...
Back to Michael Latz, the man behind the revival of Correns : this man who at 51 has already 6 grandchildren is born in Burundi and has worked in different fields as an entrepreneur, including on both sides of the organic/chemical rift. He was for a while the manager of a company making phytosanitary products. From this experience, he realized that small-size farmers have no weight when it comes to chemical-products companies who manipulate them. Creating an organic haven in Correns was a way to give the local farmers leverage and open the market to their products. He considers that most of Provence could follow the path of Correns and improve both its quality of life and the living standards of its inhabitants. See this interview of Michael Latz (in French) for more.
I shot this picture just outside Correns, and I picked this leaf in the field in the background, right along the road where unsuspecting drivers pass by. Well, this is maybe what mayor Latz meant when he said he wanted to develop the production of medicinal plants in Correns :-)... Now, cool down folks, that's just hemp, and even though I noticed many missing plants and cut heads on the side of the field near the road, this variety is (organically) grown for other uses than the one you had in mind...