One of the highlights of this type of small wine fairs in France is the dîner de vignerons that often takes place in the evening following the fair. It is something not to miss beginning with the reason that it's a very relaxed and friendly dinner, plus the food is heartening and no need to say anything about the wines that come with. You have such vintners' dinners organized at the end of most of these artisan-wine fairs that are sprouting now all over France. Basically it's a no-frills, brotherly dinner with nonetheless the best food you can imagine and all of this washed down with the longest wine list you can dream of, that is, the wines (bottles or magnums) brought by all these vintners who of course take part to this invigorating feast themselves. I costs usually around 25 € per person, wines included, and it beats the best dinner in town, believe me. Plus, you're seating at the side of vintners you know primarily through their wines and this is the opportunity to experience the fact that these real wines are made by real people who don't take themselves seriously and have a lot of fun with their fellow winemakers.
The dîner de vignerons of Chateldon also includes live music and concert, and this is in the real sense of the term food for the body and for the soul.
While I couldn't stay at the dinner taking place in the evening after the wine fair because we had to drive back to Paris, I could attend the dinner organized the previous evening before the fair. It was supposed to be for the vintners and their mates only, most having arrived in the village the day before the event, but we were allowed to attend also, having ourselves driven to Chateldon on the previous day. It was less crowded than the dinner following the wine fair, the public not taking part, but it was as genuine and unceremonious, you could melt into the brotherly wine family all the while drinking much good stuff.
So, we arrived on friday evening before the wine fair and we joined the vignerons' dinner just in time. The salle des fêtes (the community building of te village) was well-heated and looked almost cozy with this setting, the outside temperature being far colder than the western Loire or Paris, this was indeed the Auvergne mountains in winter even though were were still in autumn. We were going to live a rehearsal of the dinner following the event and this was a marvelous introduction to this whole event and its underlying spirit.
She is sitting at side of Raymond on the picture above right.
Olivier will soon follow a draft-horse training course in Roanne. I learnt on the web that the training lasts a week and takes place in the Chervé School of Agriculture & Forestry. The use of draft horses is going up in the vineyards, particularly for parcels on steep slopes. Roanne is a medium-size city located east of Chateldon and West of Macon.
How Harry lester landed here is worth a story : he was in London and he and his wife were eager to try something else at that time, they had a two month son already and it could be the right time to move on. He happened to chat with a woman one day in a bar who told him about , an auberge (an old-style hotel) which was for sale in the middle of nowhere in the Massif-Central mountains in France, and he looked on the Internet, found the place interesting and they ended up moving there. He opens the place a few months a year, say from june 21 to early september and the rest of the time he enjoys his family (he has two children now) allthewhile ovelooking his wine import company Gergovie Wines in London. He does the cooking in the auberge of course, sourcing the local products, meat, vegetables and wines. For the wines at the beginning he had trouble finding good wine, he was not really familiar with natural wine and one day he met Fred Gounan of the Vignoble de L'Arbre Blanc, and the guy was very friendly and casual, he spent hours there, and the wines were likewise enjoyable. This was an important moment and from then on he met by word of mouth many other people working on the same philosophy. These people were making more than wine, they shared this friendly spirit and he really apreciate to work with them.
If in the first half of the century the auberge and its peaceful setting attracted people from Paris and Marseilles, now people come from even farther and I hope to add my (and B.'s) name on the long list of people who discovered this part of Auvergne through the urge of visiting Harry's Auberge in Chassignoles.
The village is located in the same wooded area east of Clermont-Ferrand, just a bit more to the south, in the Haute Loire département (# 43 on license plates). The satellite view points to a bucolic place far from highways and surrounded by forests.
Note that Harry is organizing a small wine fair of his own, named La Fête du Vin, and in 2013 it will be on saturday 20th, and there are about 20 vignerons taking part, many from Auvergne and also a few from Italy and Spain. People come for the weekend and it's a lot of fun, good food and good wine. Check at the auberge.
Harry is also quietly looking for a restaurant in Clermont-Ferrand, so you may have more ease to experience his cuisine in the future.
Here Harry (right) and Vincent are busy slicing the lamb which was grilled on the open barbecue just outside the cuisine in the courtyard.
Asked where he found his meat, Harry says that the animals come from his own garden ! they are from the Bizet breed, a local breed originating from the Massif-Central mountains which is quite hard to find today. He had 4 of them in his garden and two were killed for this dinner. I asked if his children weren't too sad but he says that they're used to this routine now, to the fact that they rotate from time to time. The lamb meat was marinated with mint, lemon juice and garlic. On the other side he prepared a sofrito with cooked onions along with tomato, plus some Ras el hanout or moroccan spices, to which he added the chickpeas, turnips, rutabagas and carrots. At the last minute he added some picarda, a mix of parsley, hazelnuts, saffron, garlic and olive oil, the whole adding some freshness to the dish. I think that's what Harry is pouring into the iron-cast pot on the 2nd pic above. This huge iron-cast pot is a dream tool to prepare food for a large family, you can do lots of things in there from mere potatoes to blood sausage, and farmers used to have it in their fireplace, cooking for hours different things together.
Tony bernard, the mayor of Chateldon, told me that he had been visiting the Dix Vins Cochons when it was still in Thiers (which is 15 km from Chateldon) when he heard that the organizers weren't fully happy with the conditions in Thiers and were looking for another place, so it was natural for him to propose the village of Chateldon as an alternative. During a conversation I had with him, he reminded me that until the end of the 19th century, Chateldon was a village of vignerons and grape growing & winemaking were the main economic activity there. The Phylloxera disaster (all the vineyards died across France) put an end to all of this but they kept celebrating the Fête des Vignerons every year in october and the village retains beautiful remains of this era through the many vignerons' houses which are an architectural gem. He is working by the way with the village administration to buy back some of these houses, renovate them and rent them as Gîte (recreational rental) for the weekend o for a week to visitors. He also has plans to bring back the wine culture in the village by encouraging a grower/winemaker to settle here and revive vineyards around the village. There are still actually a few parcels here, owned by individuals who make wine for themselves. This would be a great idea, and it reminds me what Pierre Beauger did not far from here in Auvergne, his village having likewise encouraged him to revive and replant vineyards on abandoned terraces. If you're a motivated grower willing to revive this terroir, make sure to contact the mayor of Chateldon...
Tony Bernard told me that in the beginning, the inhabitants of the village had to become familiar with these wines bottled as vin de table and they were puzzled to see so many visitors coming from faraway places (including foreign). But ultimately, many of them discovered the experience of wines that are alive and made without tricks and SO2, and they liked it. Tony Bernard loves the idea that Chateldon, which has been known for so long for its lightly-sparkling mineral water (found in exclusive venues like Maxim's, Le Crillon, Le Fouquet's, Le Lutecia, Hédiard and Fauchon), finds step by step the way back to its vinous roots.
Article in Libération (in French) about the water of Chateldon.
Data about the mineral composition of the water of Chateldon
Pic on right : the Panier de Fruits of Jean-François Chéné, which Tony was drinking at this stage.
__ Le Scarabée,Isabelle Frère, Nina. A red Primeur, vin de France, with one-year élevage. This is the wne through which I discovered Isabelle Frère (scroll down to the 8th picture in this story). The baby has grown up, showing that these Primeurs mature well.
__ Samuel Boulay, La Berthe. Red vin de table, no added sulfites (sans sulfites ajoutés) printed on the label. Tawny notes on the nose, exciting (I know people are not always excited by tawny notes). In the mouth, light perly feel because of gaz coming out. Nice drinkability and velvety feel, a "little Jesus in velvet breeches" like we say in French (petit Jesus en culottes de velours). The guy is not far from Clos Roche Blanche and Noella Morantin, I should visit him one day.
__ Les Vignes de Babass, Le Groll'n Roll, red vin de France. Grolleau, as the name of the cuvée hints (these guys are looking for trouble with the appellation watchers...). Babass, alias Sébastien Dervieux, is onne of the two guys who were managing Les Griottes, the other one being Pat Desplats. The two parted to downsize their surface, they're still in good terms with each other, it's just from what I remember Pat saying to me, that the tax pressure was so big in terms for example of compulsory health insurance costs (the MSA) that it was more interesting for them to manage separately a very small surface like 2 or 3 hectares each.
The wine is a bit cold but I feel already an intensely preasurable wine, with a light perly side on the tongue, which can go away I guess through a precautionary decanting. The wine makes only 11,5 ° in alcohol. I love the Loire !
See this forum (in French of course) where farmers complain about what they often see as the MSA's extortion practices.
__ Le Scarabée, Isabelle Frère, Murmûre MMXI. Red vin de table. Carignan with a bit of Grenache. Got SO2 adding, 2 grams/hectoliter at the pressing because the malolactic fermentation was starting and the previous year she had had a cuvée veering similarly with a volatile hike, so she decided to take this unusual preventive step. Right now any way considering the dose she used, there's no more free SO2 and lmost no total SO2, but she wanted to be honnest on her labelling, that's why she had contains-sulfites printed on this cuvée.
__ Peyra, Corent Continu, vin de table 2002. Sorry, I have no picture of this bottle that was passed around. This red was obviously a matured wine, but still very beautiful, with a light color and very alive.
__ Le Casot des Mailloles, Soula 2011. A red poured from a magnum, a good point because we we happy to reach to the bottle now and again for another pour. The wine is gouleyant with a good drinkability. Here is another of these wines from the south which go are swallowed very easily. Made from Grenache Noir. The price is in around 34 € according to this page listing several other cuvées of this small wine farm. A side anecdote : here is a business page about Casot des Mailloles where my pictures are used without my authorization. I please remind wine dealers that my pictures are not "feel free to serve yourself", my fees are very moderate and the least I ask to commercial sites is to pay a decent share especially when you defend wines with an ethic.
__ La Coulée d'Ambrosia, Panier de Fruits 2009. A white vin de France with an orange color (pictured above), made by Jean-François Chéné in Beaulieu-sur-Layon in Anjou, not far from Babass and Pat of Les Griottes. This is Chenin. Jean-François and his wife Johanne were there at our table, they're a young couple beaming energy. There is no SO2 in this Chenin, it was vinified in vats, Johanne says that the wine has CO2 gaz but it doesn't feel like (it's not perly).
Jean-François is from a family of vignerons in Anjou and he discovered through his neighbors at Les Griottes an until-then-unknown world of wines that are alive and real, and this was an awakening moment for him, after which he departed from the conventional management of winemaking in which he had been raised.
__ La Coulée d'Ambroisie "O 2 Vigne", white vin de France made from grapes harvested in 2008 (the label reads in French "harvested in 2008"). The cuvée name sounds in French like eau de vigne, or "water from the vine". After smelling and tasting I ask if this is a veil wine. This is a surprising wine with a classy mouth typical of a veil wine. Turbid wine. As we chat at the table, Franck says that if we look closer, there's no Bordeaux, no Burgundy and no Champagne on any of the tables around us. We're indeed very odd wine lovers...
Les Vignes de Babass, La Navine II, white vin de France (table wine). 12,3 ° in alcohol. Turbid wine like the two previous wines. Perly in te mouth with a light and welcome bitterness.
__ Karim Vionnet, Moulin à Vent 2011. Made in Villié-Morgon in the Beaujolais. Appealing, exciting nose. The mouth is pleasantly chewy, silk-paper like, with very nice softened tannins. Another guy I'm sad to have missed during the wine fair because the wine was great.