Paris, Porte des Lilas (20th arrondissement)
Beautiful photography, shaky camera, dogs playing around and captivating interviews : Jonathan Nossiter is back with another documentary about wine and winegrowers : Natural Resistance.
The Paris avant-première took place at Porte des Lilas in a recently-built multiplex theater along the périphérique which was expectedly packed, with both press invites and paying spectators, especially that in addition to the new movie you could listen to Nossiter and to several of the Italian heroes of this documentary and ask questions.
We're really spoiled, there was another treat after the screening, everyone could mix in the theater hall and have a glass of several of these Italian wines central to the story. Not that I want to make you salivate but this was love on first sight for me for the three wines I had a glass of that evening.
This time, thanks to Nossiter, we head for Italy where we follow artisan winemakers showing their vineyards and speaking casually of many different things, from why has Tuscany become a Disneyland for the rich to why these artisans love working the way they do and how they find their energy to face the administration or AOC hassles. There's a late-summer feel in these outdoor shootings that will certainly make you want to wander along these old family houses and experience the dust of the grass roads, because you'll be mostly where these people live, and it's simple and eerily quiet.
This avant-première screening was the conclusion of a two-day tasting event named Salon Rue89, which was organized in Paris for the second year by Antonin Iommi-Amunategui who is behind the wine blog No Wine is Innocent. Antonin whose blog has been hosted by Rue89 (a left-wing Internet-only news network created by former Liberation journalists in 2007) had the idea to organize a wine event centered on natural wines in partnership with Rue89. This two-day tasting event which took place in the 20th arrondissement in Paris was a success from the first year (in 2013) and attracted crowds of young urbanites.
Morgane Fleury happened to be chatting with Giovanna when I spotted her in the crowd after the avant-première while sipping a glass of red wine that happened to be one of hers, and I shot this portrait. From what I understood, Morgane Fleury who manages Ma Cave Fleury (Champagne wine shop/bar rue Saint Denis in the 2nd arrondissement) will sell Giovanna's wine soon in addition to the list of French artisan wines she already sell there, and beyond of course her family's organic Champagne wines (Champagne Fleury).
Like Jonathan Nossiter said at one point, the quality of the wines are the only guarantee for the documentary's accuracy and he suggests that at the end of every show (when the documentary starts in the theaters next june in France), wine be served to the public, adding that maybe due to the small production of these people it might not be feasible. At last this time we could drink several wines and although we were not glued to the bottle corner B. and I managed to drink three wines, two reds and one white, all just such a treat to drink, beginning with Giovanna's "second wine", so meaty, full-mouthed with this tiny CO2 fizzyness that hinted its zero-SO2 nature. I learned by someone that it cost 10 € at the domaine. Can't believe. I can't but praise the other red, by Guccione Azienda Agricola (Palerme), a more complex wine and also easy-drinking. We had also an outstanding white, could be an orange wine, so beautiful, B. loved it too. I've no idea who made this wine and I didn't get its label pictured.
Stefano also appeared to be very attached to the historical roots of his region, he shows at one point an old massive building which he says is in disrepair and forsaken by the Italian authorities and which was the symbol a few centuries ago of the wealth of the region, Genoa playing then the role of Switzerland as world banker. He says that in France the building would be signaled on signs 1000 km away but here in Italy the authorities don't care...
When I approached Stefano in the crowd after the show, he was with Emma Bentley who seemed to know him so I dared to sneak into their group. Emma is this British woman whom I met a couple months ago for a tasting of Japanese wines, ans it seems that her freelance agent work for artisan winegrowers is growing, she is going to sell Stefano's wine at the Odeon shop of La Maison du Whisky (I learn that surprisingly they also sell excellent wines there like Stefano wines) and have them shipped to wine bars in Paris.
The documentary has also in it different extracts from old movies, which add a dimension to the discourse and sometimes a documentary information, like when you see these black & white images of national news in Italy showing dozens of vans filled with "documentation intended to raise the agricultural and technical knowledge" of the Italian farmers. This is striking because you feel how it all started, with this urge for efficiency in the name of science and progress, so typically post-WW2. We had the same pushes in France and in my mind they were not initiated by industry lobbyist even though they probably encouraged through their printed documentation the wide use of chemicals, the initiators were largely progressive technocrats who really thought they were doing the right thing to help the farm people raise their revenues and life standards. The movie is also interesting in this regard, Jonathan Nossiter still has this idea of an artisan-vigneron-vs-industry struggle, almost like a remake of the class warfare between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie but what I felt in the movie is that these vignerons (like btw the ones I regularly visit in France) are particularly vocal about several other issues, like the defense of their cultural identity, the hassles and fines of the administration and of the European Union with its normative push. One of the women (Eleana Pantaleoni) in the movie asks typically for more freedom, they just want to work freely without being being told what to do, their main concerns are the ones of small businesses faced with big-government pushes, it seems to me. I personally differ on the real reasons behind the administration pushes against the artisan growers : first, speaking of the AOC label being refused to them for "atypical character" (it's amazing how similar the situation in France and Italy is in this regard), it is because fellow winegrowers want to keep their "typical wines", that is their conventional wines safe from these rebels making authentic wines that taste differently. The big wine industry may be a culprit here too, but a secondary one, most of these AOC recipients who bully natural wine being from family-size wineries. Regarding the larger administration harassing them with fines and other rules, I'm not sure this bureaucracy really wants to promote the industry, most of these administration people being rather positioned left of the center like the European bodies from which many of these rules come from. The problem in my mind is that the European Union (which plays a large role behind these rules hampering the artisans' work) was not created as an entity genuinely dedicated to promote the diversity of its member countries, it was from the start a mirror-creation purposed to oppose the United States, the initiators of the EC being obsessed by the US and sharing an ideological will to "counterbalance" (contrepoids is the favorite term used in France) and "surpass" it. With this mindset they are more focused on figures and production statistics, and not on the quality and artisanship of ageless agricultural traditions. The "European" project was doomed from the start, it seems to me, because the motives fueling the economic construction were ideological from the start and had nothing to do with the farmers/Europeans at the ground level.
At one point in this video you'll see Stefano making a hand salute, that was when Nicolas and Virginie Joly left the theater. Retrospectively I'd have liked to hear him too this evening, he has a lot to say and you don't get tired and always learn new things or from different perspectives.
Eleana Pantaleoni, the woman grower (pictured on top with her niece) says many interesting things, like making the parallel with the suicidal norms imposed on raw-milk cheese farms for spotless, bacteria-less facilities, she asks something like "how do you want to make rawmilk cheese in a sanitized cheese lab ? In this insightful interview of her (in English) we learn that Jonathan Nossiter began his filming without being sure what he would do next, if he would make a film of it or not. I like that because I'm functioning a bit like that, let the circumstances and the unfolding of events tell you what to do next, you work more freely and without the stress of having always the big project hanging above your head. Jonathan told the audience after the showing that indeed he was not sure from the start what he would do of this, it came to him naturally, and this answered somehopw the question of someone in the crowd asking if there was also something like "natural cinema". Elena says that she didn't feel like she was being filmed, which helps you understand the natural feel in this documentary, like in Mondovino (where several people probably said more than they intended...).
Elena's winery is La Stoppa, it is located in Emilia-Romagna and shi inherited it from her parents.
Giovanna was asked by Pierre Haski in the debate following the show to define this concept of "resistance", if she her friends "lived in resistance", but she answered rather that the movie shows the way how people should tend to work and be in this world. Same for Stefano who downplays the struggle and says that for him it's not really a resistance, they're just trying to be normal and live normal lives [working like their ancesters did]. Haski tries to bring back the resistance thing by pointing to the attacks they're getting__the logo with hammer-and-sickle-style crossed glasses is not there without a reason ;-)__ but Stefano says that after all it's not the case, he and his friends have a strength that helps go beyond those attacks, they feel a menace of course, but it is a "menace made of paper", a "bureaucratic menace" he says with a laugh, and they keep calm in the face of it. He says that the earth and nature sends them a message of optimism [when they work correctly], he says that he can for example resurrect a chemically-devastated parcel in 4 or 5 years by working correctly, and that when some one begins to try eat and drink real agricultural products he doesn't come back to his old conventional food ways. This, he says, is the truth of taste and joy and helps fuel this real resistance which is spontaneous.
Answering Pierre Haski who was speaking of civil desobediance or citizen revolt [révolte citoyenne, a favorite left-wing expression in France], Jonathan Nossiter says that what strikes him in the natural-wine movement is the fact that it is not ideological stricto-sensu : he notices that in Italy [where Nossiter has been living for a few years] there are about 300 or 400 such winegrowers, in France maybe 1000 and the movement grows all the while respecting the individuality of each grower/winemaker. He says that by the way it would almost be sad if someone succeeded to impose precise rules for natural winemaking [I guess he means some sort of rigid certification process] because what is beautiful is this notion of freedom in the artisanal art of all these producers taken individually. I fully agree, regulations and rules are the favorite tool used by the bureaucracies including the European one and freedom, letting the people choose which product is best for them is a better option on the long run. I think it's Stefano who speaks of these breads that don't feed anymore and make you sick (the gluten story), it has all to do with standardized flour and industrial moves for years in the bread chain.
Al these testimonies, you could object, could have been made by anybody, but these winegrowers have proved by their own experience that you can make real products and that people are happy and healthy consuming them, that they are themselves at peace with the world, it's a whole way of life that can change the world.
And that it may also be very affordable, you'll be surprised to listen at one point one of the winegrowers saying that he/she has a cuvée (wholly natural wine) at 2 € a liter (tax included at the winery, from what I understood). I need to watch this movie again and make a road trip to Italy....
Trailer for Resistenza Naturale (in Italian - no subtitles))