Making wine is one thing, making good wine is yet another thing, and finding customers for the wine is another challenge that the young vigneron must overcome. That's not the easiest thing to do, these two guys are probably more in their element when they deal with the vineyard or feel the pulse of their cellar, but jumping in the cold water (beginning with the drab périphérique pictured on left) is something you can't escape, because the restaurants and the wine shops in Paris are where your wines are ultimately tested full-scale and find their public.
Kenji Hodgson and Philippe Delmee who both make wine in Anjou drove to Paris together for a couple of days with a busy schedule of visits at selected restaurants and wine shops, no time for Eiffel tower strolls or other leisure stuff. They'll see Paris, but with the specter of unpredictable traffic jams that can derail their arrangements and meetings.
Each has brought samples of his own wines to present to potential buyers in the capital city, and doing the trip together in a single car helps share the costs and on the restaurant side, tasting two new wineries in one go is more time efficient than doing it separately, because restaurateurs are always very busy and have little time to offer.
You may know these two vignerons, Kenji Hodgson is a recent transplant from British Columbia (and partly__including for his winery training__ from Japan), while Philippe Delmée is a former maths teacher who changed career and landed like Kenji in Anjou to make wine there. Both of them are part of this new generation of vintners who don't use systemic products, fertilizers or weedkillers in the vineyard, and vinify their wines without corrections.
Having asked Kenji to tell me when he'd come to Paris so that I could buy him a few bottles, I thought I might follow the two of them in a few venues and see how this unfolds. All right, I couldn't ignore that I'd taste and drink a few good wines in the way...
For their first visit in the morning after driving straight from the Anjou, they were lucky, they could manage to park Philippe's old car right in front of the wine shop Au Nouveau Nez, although there was no parking spot per se, they just sort of climbed on the sidewalk (beware of the tow-away trucks in Paris, they're working non-stop). For their first day in Paris, Philippe and Kenji had planned to visit venues centered in the 11th and the 20th arrondissements, a part of town with a higher percentage of cavistes/bars open to artisan and natural wines, the population in this area being at the same time wine educated and also less AOC-minded than in more affluent parts of Paris like, say, the 16th, 7th or 8th.
This place (where you can also drink and eat) is one of these new wine shops focusing on non-interventionist wines, it is very encouraging that an increasing number of cavistes select their wines on their inherent qualities and not on flawed notions of AOC. Au Nouveau Nez is located in the 20th arrondissement on rue de Bagnolet (you're lucky today, this story will tip you on several great wine spots in a single take !).
This is a small place with a wall of bottles on the right and some sort of central bar counter to put the glasses and bottles. In the evening, you can drink some wine with a little something like a charcuterie plate or some tapas in this cave. The food is sourced in the French provinces, sometimes it's goat cheese made by the wife of the vigneron... Agnès, who runs the wine shop says that there are many wine lovers who drop there in the evening or afternoon just to tell about this or that wine that they discovered, and the cave has become a place where people socialize and spend time, and she loves that. She's even invited occasionally for dinner by her own customers, just to say how the bonds are good. She changed career to manage this wine shop but her grandfather had a wine shop in Burgundy, in Sennecey. She tries to visit a few wine fairs like La Dive Bouteille, Renaissance des Appellations (the biodynamie wine fair created by nicolas Joly) and recently Puzelat's wine fair...
Philippe Delmée explains that he followed a traiing for one year in 2006 and he began to work on one hectare let to him by Benoit Courault, living for 3 and a half years literally in the vineyards, in a trailer next to the mobile home where Benoit Courault lives with his family. Later he shared Kenji's chai because he still didn't have his own facility. He now works on a surface of about 4 hectares.
the tasting then started right away (time is running) and this was for me the opportunity to discovers Philippe's wines :
__ Philippe Delmee Rozetto, Vin de France (table wine) 2011. A rosé. Vibrant color with onion peel shades. Cabernet Franc/Grolleau. Nice appealing aromas of faded flowers in the mouth, quite suave. Lovely wine. Costs 5,7 € without tax (they give only wholesale prices to the cavistes of course). Picked up late, Philippe says, 4 grams of residual sugar. The label says 12 ° in alcohol but it's rather 13 ° he says. Although they brought a cooler to keep the wines at the right temperature, the rosé is not cold but it still tastes so good and gourmand. Next year he will name this cuvée La Grosse Nadine as a play of words for Grenadine which is an aroma he likes in rosés.
__ Kenki & Mae Hodgson Ptit Luchini, also a Vin de France 2011. A thirst wine with a light color, it's a carbonic maceration of Cabernet Franc which got a bit of SO2 at bottling.
__ Kenji & Mae Hodgson Faia, "Vin Blanc" (white wine) printed under the cuvée's name. Vin de France 2011, no AOC again here. Chenin, 10 months in 3-to-8-old casks. Very clear color. Very aromatic nose with a high freshness, very mineral freshness indeed. Soil : schists on a slope going down to the Layon river. Very nice.
__ Kenji & Mae Hodgson Ö Galarneau, "Vin Rouge" printed under the cuvée's name. Vin de France 2011. Red wine. Superb nose. I like the texture and substance of this wine in the mouth. Good aromatic intensity too with strawberries and some other small red fruits. 10 months in casks, more than 50 % of the grapes being destemmed. Some pigeage. Some SO2 added before bottling. Very onctuous and appealing wine. Costs 7 € without tax.
__ Philippe Delmée, Ca Faye Douze, red Vin de France 2011. The name hints that the wine sports 12 ° in alcohol and that it comes from Faye, a well-known village of Anjou, which is risky to print on a table-wine label as the authorities don't allow a vulgar Vin de France to hint about the location of the winery (only zip codes are allowed when the village happens to be a revered location). A bit of reduction on the nose. Blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon and Grolleau, with a bit of Pineau d'Aunis. Gets down easily. No SO2 here, just lightly earth filtered. Not bad, I like this wine. Nice aromas of meat juice in the mouth.
This first visit was friendly and it seems the wines were well perceived by Agnès. No orders made yet but there could be some in the next future. She has a tiny 6 square meters cellar undeneath the wine shop where almost all her stock sits quiet. She has another small cellar elsewhere.
After Au Nouveau Nez, I left with the wine I had ordered to Kenji and rode my motorbike home with the case on the back. Meanwhile, Kenji & Philippe visited another venue and I joined them again in the middle of their 3rd visit, as they were finishing their lunch at Le Repaire de Cartouche, one of the most prestigious restaurant in Paris for its unique wine list : about 450 wines, not all being listed in the wine book. B. and I visited the place for the first time in the first months of WineTerroirs and that was a treat. Rodolphe Paquin has done a good job at managing this reference in gastronomy and wine for 15 years in a very competitive environment, which is not an easy thing, especially now when so many new bistrots serving good healthy food with natural wines have opened in this part of Paris. He still looks for wines and is curious to taste them himself, without rushing, he takes his time all the while to chat with the vignerons, giving his feelings and recounting a few anecdotes. Very interesting person, I was happy to witness this.
I didn't look at the wine list but spotted two blackboards with specioal offers of wines : Coteaux du Languedoc Clos Marie Simon 2004, the glass at 7 € and the pichet (50cl pot) at 35 €. The other was a Christian Chaussard who passed away very recently and I think it was nice to highlight one of his wines : Coteaux du Loir les Mortiers 2009, glass 6 €, pichet 22 € and bottle 30 €.
Rodolphe Paquin has been selling lots of wine including natural wine here from the early years, and he could see a change along the years with these vintners having less defaults in their wines. He says that in these early years there was lots of things like reduction, gas and perly feel in these wines from domaines like Dard & Ribo [the restaurant is know to have an impressive vertical of Dard & Ribo], Gramenon, Marcel Lapierre. On the other hand, time could often overturn what seemed a faulty wine, like for this Gramenon wine which they put on the side for being really too perly and which turned out to be back on track and superb just a few days later.... Speaking about the wines he is tasting with us, he notices that the small part of Pineau d'Aunis in Philippe's cuvée "Ca Faye Douze" has left its particular mark in the wine (this peppery side of Pineau d'Aunis). He also liked the Rizetto rosé if I remember, and Kenji's Ô Galarneau (although he says he's not usually a Cabernet-Franc fan). I poured myself some wine too (I love this job), the Rizetto rosé, then Kenji's Chenin Faia and Ô Galarneau which I all like particularly. The wines come from the same bottles that were opened earlier in the morning at Au Nouveau Nez and they are standing the time fairly well. Kenji and Philippe didn't bring some stock with them, if someone orders wine they will deliver it later (plus if they had come with a van it would have been risky to leave it parked unattended with its cargo inside).
The conversation drifts then on the MSA checks. The MSA is the monopolistic health insurance administration overlooking the French farmers and their employees. Rodolphe Paquin says that in the last years when he took part to the pickings there was this pending risk of a surprise raid by the MSA, many friends of the vignerons like himself having gone to the vineyard with their family to take part to the picking. The MSA doesn't get the friendly side of this, and they'd be hard to get around. I learn that Olivier cousin had such a raid while he was picking last year (seems that the French administration has him in the crosshairs...) and 5 pickers on a total of 25 were not registered (the MSA guys must have been salivating), but it was his birthday and he said people had just showed up to help him pick that day, so what should he have said, go away ? It's seems they ended up dropping the case but if there's some new develoment about this other hassle, I'll communicate about it.
After the visit at Le Repaire de cartouche, Kenji and Philippe went to Les Babines, another venue in the same area of Paris, a wine shop where you can also have a glass and eat something. I joined them for the following visit which sits right on the other side of the street from the wine shop of Le Verre Volé on rue Oberkampf (Le Verre Volé has two places, this one which is a wine shop solely and the other one near the Canal Saint-Martin where you can eat in addition to buy wine to go. Aux Deux Amis looks like it has not been remodelled since the early 1970s' and it's casual, there's a small terrace which may be worthy although the street, if narrow, is quite busy.
Kenji tells me that the three guys of Aux Deux Amis came in person in Anjou to the small wine fair that they organize yearly, En Joue Connection [click on entrez, I hate these flash websites] and they bought his wines there. They're genuinely looking for new talents in the young generation and try to diversify their portfolio. The small group of En Joue Connection was created in 2011 on a philosophy centered on organic farming (certified or not), wild yeasts and low-or-no sulfur in the wines, there are 15 wineries taking part, all young or having started recently in the trade. Doing things together is better than individually is the motto. Their last salon/tasting took place at Champ sur Layon in december 2011 and this year I guess it should happen at about the same time. Kenji says that actually there were 18 vintners taking part and as the group has been set up very recently and consists of mostly-unknown guys like him and Philippe, they were thrilled that 3 restaurateurs from Paris made the trip and were intetested by their wines. Compared to En Joue Connection there's another small yearly tasting event in Anjou which is comparably much more famous, it's Anges Vins, headed by René Mosse, which the restaurant/bar people tend visit. Whatever, he and Philippe felt very encouraged by these guys and actually the wines sold well there, so there's another order underway.
Roseval is another new place that I'm discovering thanks to Kenji and Philippe. It's located at the foot of rue de ménilmontant in a side street near the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix. The street name is already quite esoteric (rue d'Eupatoria) but to make things more mysterious, the restaurant has no sign outside (yet. Erika told us it's underway__when the artisan finds some time)...
Kenji and Philippe were received by Erika at the counter, it was about 6pm and the place was still quiet. Erika has been spending some time in a revered wine restaurant on this side of Paris, Le Chateaubriand, like by the way some of the guys at aux Deux amis. She is a young woman full of energy and humor, and she seems to have very keen and focused tasting skills, she's obviously the wine person in this restaurant and she knows what she likes and what she wants. She jokes with Kenji who is part Canadian, part Japanese that she has also a dual heritage with a Columbian mother and an English father (ot it's the other way around, I'm not sure)...
They visited this restaurant last july first, Erika took them wine then and she later called to buy some more, so they came to show also other cuvées that she had not tasted back then. Erika loves Philippe's rosé (Rozetta), she says it sold very well by the glass in summer. She asks questions about Kenji's cuvée Faia, which she discovers today, a Chenin with character, she says, asking how many bottles of it were made (Kenji says 1300 bottles). About Philippe Ch'nin on Boit, she says that it was a hit among the customers, but she usually carafed the wine, she says, to get the reduction and autolyse notes away.
Erika swirls her glass, smells, tastes and expresses an opinion which is well worded and confident. She asks for more info about the carbonic-maceration Ô Galarneau, Kenji's beautiful Cabernet Franc. This wine definitely catches the attention of the cavistes and restaurateurs. She finds a saline side and compares with the other Cab Franc, the P'tit Luchini which is very light, "tout en tendresse". The conversation drifts on another restaurant they found the time to visit that afternoon (I wasn't with them) : Pierre Sang at Oberkampf not far from Aux Deux Amis, the guy who opened this was a winning Top Chef on the TV channel M6. I'm not familiar with this Top-Chef thing (even back when we had a TV we didn't watch these programs) but they have a sizeable following and it helped him open this restaurant which seems to be doing well. Philippe and Kenji showed thzeir wines to the sommelier there, Maxime Guignard, who worked at Meurice, Pierre Gagnaire and L'Os à Moelle. Dropping at Pierre Sang was improvised but when you're for only two days in Paris, calling on short notice is the quickest way to add more potential buyers of your wine.
Before leaving, Erika offers us to taste an Aligoté from Yann Durieux (read Aaron's report), a young vintner of Burgundy who delivered his wines here the previous day. She generously opens a bottle of Love and Pif, the cuvée of Aligoté. Read Aaron's visit of Yann Durieux, Ther's a light perly feel that goes well with the Aligoté's freshness. She has another Aligoté on her wine list, she says, it's the one of Nicolas Vauthier who is more on the oxydative side. Philippe tells Erika about another great Aligoté, the one of Claire Naudin who works sulfur-free on certain cuvées including the Aligoté. Claire is Jean-Yves Bizot's friend and both of them are making beautiful wines (even if Bizot's are quite out of reach for most of us).
The following day, Kenji and Philippe visted another string of cavistes, restaurants or bars, among which the Dirigeable, the Jeu de Quilles, Mi-Fugue Mi-Raisin and Quincave and the Cave des Papilles. They like the good atmosphere of Quincave which is a small wine shop in the 6th, with a young and energetic staff. They got lots of orders from La Cave des Papilles in the 14th, so you'll find their wines in this iconic wine shop in addition the the few other places in Paris where they already sell.
They'll be back in Paris next november for additional visits.