I showed up some time ago at the Bistrot des Halles in Paris, after finishing a job nearby. I hadn't seen Jean-Claude for a while and his bistrot is so friendly, I just wanted to have a glass of white wine and see what where the news , I was in the mood for it. J-C was fine, his business was good as usual (this guy is a hard worker...), he advised me a Quincy Beauchamp 2007, a refreshing white from the Loire. I asked which new wine he added to his list recently and he told me about this Turbullent by Stephane Serol, a surprising rosé with only 6,5°, which is made with 100% Gamay. The fermentation took place in the bottle and the wine is designed for light drinks without risk of hangover. The Côte Roannaise is located west of Lyons, it's almost touching the Beaujolais but is considered part of the Loire. That's a long way from the Muscadet... Serol makes special cuvées for the Trois Gros in Roanne. I have to visit that guy, the Côte Roannaise is another of these disregarded Appellations with beautiful little-known wines, but it's pretty out of our way when we travel in the region, we'll have to drive in unchartered territorry. Read Jim's Loire Story on Serol.
While we were speaking and commenting on these wines, I had noticed this guy nearby at the counter, who was offering glass after glass of beer to this old woman, a local and regular of the bar who seemed utterly happy of the chance. She kept praising this man for his gentleness and his generosity... He was actually from Holland and was a sales agent representing a dutch brewery. He had just made of Jean-Claude a new buyer for his Grölsch beer and as we turned to him, he offered me to taste the beer too. Reluctant at first (beer after wine ?!?), I accepted to share his happiness, nodding to the old woman who was obviously enjoying her umpteenth beer at the counter. The beer was fine, light and with character at the same time, although as I told him, I would prefer one these dark beers from Düsseldorf like the Diebels Alt, but we never see them here. Anyway, I left the company with 3 glasses down instead of one...
Bonny Doon is probably the best-known estate using biodynamie for its vineyard management in the United States, and its founder Randall Graham has been a good advocate of this farming method, all the while being also considered as a flamboyant marketer. A lover of Rhone wines and Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines, he called his cuvée Cigare Volant after reading a flying-saucer story from 1954 where CDP vignerons passed an ordinace forbidding extraterrestial ships to land in their vineyards...
I also noticed that on the question of additives which is a taboo for most wineries, Bonny Doon is the first winery to list the additives on its labels, opening the way to something that, when mainstream, could help lift the veil on the subject of the heavy use of chemical vinification tricks.
We invited François Morel, a wine writer, and Gilles Manzoni for this garden tasting in Paris. Both are wine professionals with a particular knowledge on natural wines, and inviting them to taste wines from a prominent estate using biodynamie in its vineyard was something I thought interesting.
The weather was nice and not too hot, and the wine had been resting several weeks to recover from its flight. First, it's all Stelvin closures (screw caps), which is still rare, at least seen from France. The tasting order was, I hope, the right one :
__Bonny Doon Albarino 2008 (white). Gilles Manzoni says that he didn't remember that this variety was that fresh. This is a simple wine, says François Morel, noting that there is 21% of Loureiro, a variety that is found in Galicia. The Treixadura (4% here) can also be found in the Pays Basque, it is a very acidic variety, he says. In Galicia, this type of wine is drunk like Muscadet can be in France, the climate over there is by the way very similar to Britany's. 12,8°. Additives : Organic yeast nutients and bentonite. 65 ppm total/20 ppm free Sos.
__Bonny DoonMuscat 2008. Very flowery on the nose. Citrus with lemon notes, B. says. Nice acidity, says François Morel. The mouth is not fully in line with the nose, it seems to me.Additives : same as tha Albarino, SO2 at 75 total/25 free.
__Bonny Doon, Vin Gris de Cigare (rosé) 2008. Nice balance. François Morel feels the tartric acid here. The label says on the additives line : tartaric acid, yeast nutrients, bentonite and SO2 at 80-total/25-free. Gilles says he is also disturbed by the acidity which takes its grip on the sides of the mouth.
__Bonny Doon, Le Cigare Blanc 2007 (white). Floral freshness, apple, citrus notes. Nice woody mouthfeel, a bit too pronounced maybe. Gilles is surprised that the previous wines had no wood. Nice richness in the mouth. Round and rich mouth, says B. Warmful end too. François Morel finds some bitterness in the end of the mouth. B. likes the wine, nice job. But here again, François Morel thinks that this unpleasant bitterness at the end of the mouth may have to do with added tartaric acid.
__Bonny Doon Sangiovese 2006 (red). 77% Sangiovese, 16% Freisa, 6% Syrah and 1% Grenache. Raspberry, toasty. Also an acidified wine, with cultured yeasts, nutrients, malolactic sulfate, copper sulfate. Wood comes from chips and French-oak casks. So2 at 80-total/22-free. The balance is not optimal here. François Morel says that the acidification can be felt from the start, from the attack to the end.
__Bonny Doon, Le Cigare Volant 2005 (red). The high-end cuvée. 50% Grenache, 24% Mourvèdre, 22% Syrah, 3% Carignan, 1% Cinsault. Very fruity nose, raspberry, cooked (compotée) cherry, peony says B.. A bit animal too.That's a beautiful nose, very elegant. 13,5°. Liquorice. Complexity. Onctuous mouth. May come from the use of lees for this wine. The information sheet for this wine has no additives (Ingredients) chapter.
As a conclusion, I'd like to give an excerpt of the winemaking page on the Bonny Doon website, it's at the same time very frank, humorously visual and shows a clear will to depart from tricky wines and tend to wines which translate the intelligence of the vineyard :
We are certainly in a transitional mode these days as far as our winemaking methodology. Heretofore, when we have worked primarily with purchased grapes from conventionally farmed vineyards, we have had to resort to considerable winemaking intervention – be it in the form of acidulation of musts, use of “designer” yeasts and bacteria, yeast nutrients, organoleptic tannins, dealcoholization of wine , use of settling enzymes, saigner (the bleeding off of juice to concentrate the skin/juice ratio) etc., in short, all of the modern New World winemaker’s bag of tricks – all perfectly licit, but essentially oenvil. These tricks were, if not exactly for kids, at least seemed to do service to a somewhat juvenile world-wine-view - wine as a sort of fairy tale: there are no ogre-ish harsh tannins or wicked herbaceous notes lurking in the (color-corrected) dark (oak chips ahoy) woods.
The new paradigm is deceptively simple: Why not strive to make wines in a more or less old-fangled way, absent of adornment/special FX, moderate in alcohol, tannin extraction and the use of new oak? But the intent here is not to produce a bland, wishy-washy, Casper Skimmilque (medium+) toast wine. Quite the contrary. What is most interesting is the idea of producing wines that are profoundly organized. There are a number of ways of describing or visualizing this, but organized wines, by which I mean vins de terroir, have what I imagine as a sort of clearly defined center, a strong nucleus that holds the wine together, a bit like that found in the Nils Bohr planetary model of the atom. I imagine this mineral-intensive center not unlike a pebble that is tossed into a pond of water, creating concentric circles radiating out from it. It is the archetypical iron fist in the velvet glove, a wine that seems to possess a sort of moral authority, in virtue of its extreme coherence. Wines like this cannot be “made.” They must be in some sense be translations of the intelligence of the vineyard.
I usually don't miss these village sidewalk sales and check the vide-grenier website for the nearest such event. Here (link) are the next ones for the département of the Loir-et-Cher (41). In this one, I had just another good surprise : at both ends of the maze of streets hosting the brocante, there was a table serving free Kirs to whoever wanted to relax with a drink. A Kir is a cocktail often served as apéritif and made with white wine (here in the Loire probably Sauvignon) and a bit of blackcurrant. As I walked along the streets looking for some oldie or good bargain to buy, I had seen the first such table at one end of the sidewalk sale, but didn't understand at first what it was about. I thought you had to pay for a glass or something like that. But at the other end of the village, stumbling on the same table covered with glasses, it was then obvious, the volunteers behind the table were clearly inviting the passerbys to help themselves and enjoy their time. As you understand, I'll not tell the name of the place, the hygienist police would be happy to sue for "incitement to drinking". But this again says a lot about the reslilience of the country people, kudos to the organizers who had the idea to do that...
You may wonder about the happy finds on such vide-greniers, here [pic on right - click to enlarge] is something that I bought recently and that I had the good idea to shoot a picture of before making the deal. And this is wine related ! : a 100-cork pack (for my home bottlings) with still the price in French Franc on it, and I got it for 1 (one) Euro...
I happened to have found this school book in such a village brocante. I usually check some of the old books, magazines and LP's (I make random checks only, there are too many of them), you happen to find some uncommon things there. As I leafed through this 1967 school book [picture on left] intended for the Cours Elémentaire, a school class also called 9éme and 10ème, I was stunned to see a page titled "la Vendange" where such a politically-uncorrect scene could be printed for the purpose of educating 7- to 8-year-old children : some one there is shown obviously downing a glass of wine, without any moralistic warnings or fine print regarding addiction and its fateful consequences...
This sounds like coming from another planet compared with the country I know and where the wine culture is been largely ousted from the school programs as well as pork from the school cafeterias. When was that ? 1967 ? That's a year before 1968 which saw the dawn of political correctness, who would have predicted then this weird turn of events ? Wine was still a normal thing part of our civilizational heritage and newspapers could write on Champagne and not be sued for that. The interesting thing to note on this matter is how some countries like the US moved from a situation where wine was on the back seat to the one of a mature consumer of wine, while in France hygienist interest groups moved the country more and more toward a dry status.
History will tell us if that can be reversed, but I thnk that the natural-wine movement could be the dawn of a new era where people enjoying themselves with a hearty, vinous beverage could propel a healthy trend...
Look at the pictures on the right (click to enlarge) : the children could even learn what a foudre looks like and compare with a tonneau, a baril, a barrique and a cuve... And for the other line with the bottles and decorking, I can't believe my eyes here : These are other essentials : to decork, to pour, and to drink, with the second way to drink being called boire à la régalade (it is with a traditional leather flask used by Basque sheperds).
I had noticed in my visits elsewhere that being a vigneron means being able to do a lot of things, like welding and working on metal, and here was an example. This scene takes place in a building of the winery which looks more like a repair workshop or a garage. If you plan to set up your winery with your own vineyard management, you better check this part of the job before, and be ready for heavy duty metal work from time to time.
This machine is a new model and the demand at the factory is such that Jacky Preys even drove himself to Bordeaux with a van to get it in time (it spares the delivery fee too). He says that it is on sale from this spring 2009 and a couple hundreds of units have already been bought by wineries around France. The tool is desifgned to swing around the vines and cut efficiently the grass under the rows, a strategic step to avoid using weedkillers. The other tractor used to cut the grass [pic on right] cuts the grass only between the rowsd but not under the vines. The tricky thing is that it has to be fixed at the back of the tractor which requires some well planned work. Once put in place and welded on the special tractor trailer, its use will be very simple. Jacky Preys is helped for this task by an employee.
The name of this winery is GAEC Etienne & Fils Descottes and it is located in Millery (69390) near Lyons. Phone +33 4 78 46 18 38. I paid 5,35 Euro at Uniferme (a cooperative farmer's market selling artisan wines and foods) and at the winery (in Millery) it costs 5 Euro. Great bargain, believe me.
I shot this picture between Correns and Carcès in Provence : vines have been uprooted here and you can see clearly how the soil is different inside the same vineyard block. It's like currents in the sea, you have an almost redish earth at the end, a lightly darker soil and the withish limestone/clay in the middle. A geologist would read like in an open book in front of these geological layers surfacing in this vineyard, but the vigneron has often learnt empirically through the terroir translation in his grapes. Of course, not all the vignerons would make separate cuvées in this context, especially when the harvest is made with machines.
Here is my contribution for Buster, a picture of him playing with me and my leg in the chai at Thevenet.