After arriving at the farm of Claire and Olivier Cousin, I spent maybe an hour chatting with both of them in the kitchen, which is also a pleasant living room with a fireplace and a wood cookstove. First, they hadn't finished their lunch yet, as I showed up earlier than planned, but this turned out to be convenient, because he could expose to me the events he had been through in the recent years with the administration, the compulsory tax to the Loire-wines corporate body et al. He left a second for the cellar and came back with this bottle of
Olivier Cousin is a free thinker in many issues, and not only regarding the appellation clergy, he says with a grin that some people may complain that he's never going to the church, but he points to the kitchen window, he doesn't need to, the church is so close that he hears everything that is said in the church, and its tower almost peers through the courtyard [I heard the church bells, very nice by the way, at least for a Parisian like me who longs for the real village life].
Before walking to the cellar, we stop at an intriguing machine in the outside, looks like a mobile air defence unit. I didn't know things had got this bad with the wine authorities or the DGCCRF and that Olivier was preparing for a long siege... No, actually, it's a relatively-modern military field kitchen from the Dutch army. It has nothing to do with the Dutch who were visiting that day, Olivier got this wheeled kitchen from someone else (don't ask me where it comes from) who let it here because he knew Olivier could make a use of it. It's very convenient to feed the pickers, there are two containers in its midst, and the food (actually some kind of soup or semi-liquid bortsh) can be cooked or maintained hot with a dual energy system, either gasoil or wood. He pulls it near his vegetable garden where the pickers camp at harvest, that's near where the horses graze and also not far from the vineyards, with an orchard and a cabin looks almost like a summer camp.
He's making the Gamay and the Grolleau with a carbonic maceration, and this, since 1986, and he always passed the appellation agreement without problem (he labelled his wines under the Appellation until 2005), and he was already vinifying this way then, SO2-free and no additives. He makes successive bottlings of this gamay, which means that this wine will be availabe also later, in 2012, this way, the tartar deposits in the bottom of the vat, which takes away some of the acidity. So after this recent bottling for the Nouveau, there will be another one in february, and a 3rd one in april, in the spring. He doesn't store the wine under artificially-controlled temperature in spite of the lack of SO2. He considers that as soon as you put a SO2-free wine away from the real temperature, it will turn bad when it's released in the real world without air-conditioning. So, in short, the wine is at colder temperature in winter and gets warmer in spring and summer, and it learns to behave and stand the changing conditions. He says that he tries to make wine without electricity, it's been done this way for ages, and it can be done today just the same.
Grolleau is a grape variety which was very widepread in the Loire, like Pineau d'Aunis or Fié Gris (a Sauvignon with a pink skin but a white inside). After the phyloxerra and the massive replantings, it was not as much replanted as before, and the appellation rules almost finished them off, by ignoring them in the allowed blends or single varieties. Olivier Cousin's Grolleau is maybe the flagship of this cuvées, and this local-variety wine is, like Pineau d'Aunis, high on pepper and freshness, and very surprising for a first-timer. The Loire shares with Jura (Trousseau, Poulsard) this particularity of being home to very distinctive red varieties with a small, but strong followship. I myself don't drink these wines very often, but it's always with excitement, especially that the vignerons who make these wines nowadays are particularly attentive at letting the wine express itself, without forcing it in a format demanded by the mass market (there's no mass market for these wines anyway). While I still prefer the Pineau d'Aunis among the two, I must make myself more accustomed to its unique tasting features.
Olivier Cousin tells us that the season was very easy in 2011, very nice spring at al, he just had some hailstorm 15 days before the harvest. The growers who wanted to make liquoreux could wait as late as they wanted safely (end of october). The wines are lower in alcohol than usual, around 12 ° (instead of 13 °), but that's nice too. Today, the malolactic fermentation is also over, and the wines have fermented smoothly and swiftly.
I have no notes, to my shame, about this old-vines can franc. I remember I liked it and felt you had a nice wine on its way, but I didn't elaborate the nose or the mouth.
As said, Olivier vinifies the Grolleau and the Gamay in carbonic maceration in the enamelled-metal vat, the wine process taking place inside the grapes, the grapes being pressed 2 weeks later or so, without any free-run juice occuring whatsoever. For his young vines of Cab Franc (the "Pur Breton"), he vinifies differently : he puts the grapes to macerate in a big 100-hectoliter metal vat, all destemmed, then he takes the juice off one night, leaves it separate a while at the ambiant temperature to help it ferment, then he puts it back on the top of the grapes in the vat again. The fermentation starts again in there for another 30 days or so.
The 3rd vinification process for his red is the one he uses for the old vines of cabernet franc : he destems the grapes on top of an open-top wooden tronconic vat, like it used to be in the past centuries. There's no hygiene risk for the grapes, they're brought here in boxes and destemmed just over the vat, no delay, pump or dubious transfer during which the juice can get spoiled by air or contaminants. Then it's foot stomped during about 8 days. He says that harvesting the grapes whole and in boxes is the only way to make SO2-free wines without risk. You can't make a SO2-free wine with a combine, he says, or if you use a machine to crush your grapes, because there's too much extraction and oxydation.
Olivier uses several presses, two of them vertical, and a larger, horizontal one, depending of the size of the batch and possibly in parrallel if needed (pics on the side).
The wine we're tasting will stay a year in here, under the chai, and another year in his other cellar (under his house), in 225-liter casks, this time. This cuvée will be named Le Franc. He says that until this stage in this cellar, the wine didn't go through a pump, it all came here by gravity. The first pumping happens when he lifts the wine above (before going to the casks in the other cellar), and the second before bottling the wine. For bottling he uses either his 4-spout filler when it's less than 1000 bottles, or he rents a machine when it's a larger volume to bottle (he sets it at a very reasonable speed so as not to stress the wine).
__ We taste now a Pineau d'Aunis from a 220-liter cask. From a 2-year old vineyard (10 are, very small), he made a rosé from these grapes. There's a bit of Cabernet Franc in there too. Delicious wine, with this pepper we'll all looking for in Pineau d'Aunis. That's a try and if he likes it, he will plant some more Pineau d'Aunis, adding that he still prefers the Grolleau, which brings him more satisfaction and pleasure. Plus, the variety is more regular year after year in terms of volume, with less disease pressure. He like the Cabernet Franc too but it's more complicated, you need to age the wine a bit, in the casks and possibly a bit in the bottle too.
This is actually more a farm than a winery here, and Olivier often says that he is a paysan or a cultivateur, which are two traditional names for farmer. I once made the mistake to speak of exploitation, which in French and in the agriculture context means an individual farm, but he said no, as exploitation underlines the concept of exploiting the land. He says that he plows the land, it's not easy to translate, he says je cultive la terre, which implies a different, almost sensual relation to the land. And Olivier's estate is really a farm as he has different types of animal farms and he grows also wheat (or rye if I remember), partly to feed his horses. In this sense, this is also in line with the agriculture envisionned by Rudolf Steiner in his biodynamy principles.
Olivier says that he stopped making white in 2008, adding that he feels more comfortable with the reds. Too bad.
See the previous story for the contact info.
The Loire is a very wide river, and what you see on the other side is not the north bank of the river, but an island. The Loire has often changed its course, even if slightly sometimes, and islands have appeared and disappeared along the years after the high waters and strong currents of spring.