This was in the news these days, France won back the first place in terms of wine production for 2014 (source) with 46,1 million hectoliters (10 %more than the previous year), in front of Italy and Spain, the United States being 4th. The news coverage focuses only on the volume-side of the coin of course and I'm sure that the wine authorities in France are very happy by this turnaround as they applaud volume especially for easily-marketable international varietal wines. Expect a big overoverload of mid- to cheap quality wines in dire need of buyers, leading to renewed subsidies tu uproot (the good parcels of course). And this burst could yet be temporary because weather hazards played a part in 2014, notably in Italy where the harvest was down 15 % but also in the United States where otherwise the production had been growing steadily during the previous years. While we're into figures, French exports reached 7,8 billion euros, or more than Italy's and Spain's combined.
We of course know that the wines behind these statistics are very diverse and not reducible to simple economic data. Real wines, while growing in volume, are still a minority and the motive of most wineries remains volume and commercial efficiency.
Let's try to focus on more serious (and joyous) matters and just hope that all our artisan vignerons who make individually very small volumes of delightful wine will become all together a big river so that more national and foreign buyers awaken to the fact that wine can be more than an appellation name on a label...
That's a story I'm very happy about : a few years ago (3 years if I'm right), I uprooted a small fig tree in Provence with the idea to try replant it in the Loire. I had taken the offshoot (it was maybe 80 cm high) at the foot of a prolific fig tree in a side road in the back country of the Var département, I had managed to till the ground in order to get at least a couple of roots with the thin wood. Back north around september I went to the Loire a weekend to plant it, it seemed happy at first, developping generous leaves in autumn but it unexpectedly froze during the winter. I was almost defeated and fatalist after this setback but I was surprised to see it restart from the root. It prospered from then on, passed the following winter unharmed and this october 2014 it gave me the most delicious figs I could dream of, subtle, tender and sweet, they're the ones that are yellowish on the outside (not purple). Kudos to Mother Nature !
For a mere 5 € (and you can keep the glass with its logo) you get access and tasting to the wines of dozens of artisan wineries. These wines are known for their easy drinkability, but better not drive at the end of the day....
The exact location of the event in Fossé near Blois is quite a mystery though, the website tells about "le Complexe intergénérationel" but there's no such place on Google Maps. The organizers would have been wise to display a link to the location map ...
I dined recently with a few wine people at Autour d'Un Verre, Kevin Blackwell's wine restaurant near the Grands Boulevards in Paris. I had chosen the place to meet one of my sponsors, Raphael Knapp of Return to Terroir (pictured above on left), because the venue is no fuss and relaxed and you're likely to make exciting discoveries in terms of natual wines. The restaurant opened at 8pm exactly and it slowly filled up to the extent that I was happy to arrive early. Raphael gave me news about how things were going in California for his import business, he was visting France for several weeks to unearth new talents accross several wine regions. This was supposed to be a raisonnable evening (I had to go to work the following day) but Bertrand Jousset joined (he's one of the vignerons Raphael imports) as he was happening to be in Paris that day, and the whole thing veered off the tracks as bottle after bottle popped up for our party especially that Jousset had come with a few other wine people who sat at a nearby table. I barely took note of all the bottles we had. The first was a white, Le Mazel cuvée Mias (a 2013 I think), then another white, Antoine Arena's Carco Patrimonio 2013, then Jousset's Montlouis Singulier, Clos aux Renards 2013, and a last white, a Sauvignon from Australia brought by one of the guys : Giallo 2013 by Shobbrook Wines, a natural-wine producer there (see picture of Kevin being poured a glass by the guy who brought the bottle). The one was very nice and surprising, a skin-contact sauvignon that makes 11,8 % alc. Jamie Goode reviewed this cuvée (it might be the 2012), he says it better than me. I think we got only one red although I'm not sure now, and this was also an Australian discovery : Monomeith Estate Pinot Noir made by Lucy Margaux Vineyards, I couldn't read the vintage on the label which seemed to be made out rice paper, I could only decipher the words natural fermentation and unfiltered and "made by Sally and Anton". I should have asked I like tis red, it was brought by the same guy. Here is another profile of the winemaker.
I asked Bertrand Jousset about the vintage and the weather in his part of the Loire : Like elsewhere the end of spring and part of summer was awfully wet and humid but then came sunny september and from august 20th they didn't have any rain for one month and a half or more which save the vintage. At mid august by comparison the prospects were not good, it was cold, they even had a white frost one morning (august 16), the grapes were late in their evolution, they were beginning to see rot settle here and there and foremost they expected not to be able to pick before october. This year he says he spent lots of time on the tractor for the sprayings because of the disease risks. He spent 10 days in California in may and as soon back it's like if he spent two months on the tractor, plowing and spraying... At the end in 2014 he's quite happy with the vintage, the grapes were healthy which much less sorting than usual and the yields were not too low, 30 hectoliters/hectare. He thinks the vintage will be close to the 2009 (while a bit less rich which is fine) with the acidity of 2008, in short, a good vintage overall.
There's been a natural-wine tasting earlier this year in New York at The Cleveland and from what I understand this first importers' tasting was successful, so The Cleveland has been reiterating the experience under a new format : a wine dinner where two competing wine importers will joust for the delight of wine lovers. Louis Dressner Selections and Zev Rovine Selections, represented by Jules Dressner and Zev Rovine will defend their honour with their best bottles and secret vinous weapons, the challenge being to get the right wines with the four-course dinner prepared by Chef Max Sussman. The importers will be blind in this exercise, ignoring to the last minute what the other knight has in store for the fight. But rejoice, the double-edged swords will be no pesticides and no poison, so drink all you can...
Reservations can be purchased online.
If reading this website isn't enough and you need to leaf a book on natural wine, the last book of Isabelle Legeron titled Natural Wine could do the job. I received it in the mail box thanks to a generous reader of WineTerroir who lives in California (thanks, Erik !) and reading it sheds light on many issues, some I'm familiar with and some not that much, like for example when exactly wines began to receive sulfites addition in the past centuries (that's relatively recent actually). Isabelle Legeron also reviews natural wines categorized like light-bodied, full-bodied and so on, which makes it easier to navigate through even if you're not familiar with the different wine regions. All continents are looked into among them America with for example AmByth estate. You'll find unexpected gems like this long chapter on Nicolas Joly where you learn how to recover birch water from birch trees at certain seasons and drink it to improve your health. You'll learn almso about home bread making with the iconic Italian winemaker Agiolino Maule.
Click here to leaf a few pages and see the content list.
Go see on Sylvie Augereau's Glougeule this excellent serie of portraits of wine people by Remi Dazin, this is very unusual and inspiring. Just click on the icons to see the pictures. The photographer took the opportunity to shoot these portraits in a small wine gathering taking place at the Chateau Moulin Pey-Labrie (Canon Fronsac, Bordeaux), this was what we call in French a dégustation off, meaning an artisan-vintners' tasting on the side of a larger, more commercial event, in the matter Vinexpo. Look for the other portraits, among them Jo Landron, Agnès and Jean Foillard and others.
Here you might have recognized Elisabeth Saladin, one of the two sisters behind the Domaine Saladin.
The great natural-wine tasting of Tokyo comes back soon, saturday november 29 ! -- I have featured earlier this year on WineTerroirs (see this story) a "light" version of the event (which hadn't taken place in fall 2013 like it should have), so be ready for the full-size thing this time.
Here is the Pdf version of the flyer. Lots of good music like usual, thanks to François Dumas who in his earlier life was organizing music tours in Japan for a living (see this page for more, and pics of musicians).
The even takes place in Shibuya (location map). Be careful, the number of tickets is limited and better buy early if you're sure to come.
After having witnessed it in different organic vineyards which I visited, like by Jo Landron himself in the Muscadet, I recently picked myself for the first time some wild lamb's lettuce in the Loire. The wild lettuce has certainly been around for years but somehow I didn't notice, except one of these last weekends when the similarity of these leaves with lamb's lettuce struck me. I picked a few of them, keeping a few ones in place so that I can find more in the future (I don't know how they reproduce, to be frank). Ignoring the danger (this could have been some indigestible plant) I rinsed the salad lengthly to take off the earth and I had my first ever salad of wild lamb's lettuce. B. wasn't around that weekend so if I had made a poor choice I'd be the only one to fall. I wasn't poisoned and it was an interesting eat, you had to chew it quite much (even compared to quality lamb's lettuce) and the taste was a bit different, herbaceous and almost tannic, which made me wonder if this was really the right vegetable. I'll ask around, it may just be a question of when to pick it.
I was supposed to go to the Loire that weekend but for a reason I forgot I had to stay in Paris and I learnt on friday evening that André Durmann, the organic vigneron whom I had visited a year ago in Alsace was selling his wine in an organic farmer's market the following day in Montreuil, a suburban town next to Paris on the east. That was for me an opportunity to go there see him, buy a few of his bottles and look around to the one-day event where all sort of producers presented their products. The concept of farmer's market is not that widespread in France, most markets selling produces sourced at wholesellers. Montreuil is kind of a militant town in the organic issue, as it is (or has been__I'm not sure about the last elections as the left lost many of its towns) administered by ecologists and whatever, the town had given the use of the covered square for free for this farmer's market. The farmers, producers and vignerons had a place nearby to sleep, made available for free by a non-profit group (the Confédération Paysanne maybe, I don't remember) so that the prices of the products didn't skyrocket because of the costs. That's why I could buy andré's Pinot Blanc without sulfites at the same price than at the domaine, that is something like 5,6 €.
The event was organized by the Les Amis de la Confédération Paysanne (a militant farmers group) and 60 farmers or producers were present, coming from 16 French regions. I liked the friendly atmosphere especially that it was family oriented, there were goats for the children and so many different stands that you could stroll anf find something of interest to eat or for a gift. There were quite a few wine stands, I only stopped at a couple of them.
André Durrmann also had worries this year with the small insect named Suzuki which has done lots of damage on the grapes before the harvest this year.
The pinot Blanc is now unfiltered in addition to the fact that it's totally without added SO2, there's a haze of turbidity because they leave the wine on fine lees.
I tasted also the Pinot Noir 2013 Cuvée Nature (No SO2), also unfiltered. Nose : dust, mouth with thin tannin structure. A bit perly on the tongue although I didn't feel it on the first sip. Costs 9,6 € tax included, good deal.
The only other wine stand I tasted that day (there were quite a few all around the market) was the one of Vincent Chauvelot, he makes wine in the Chateaumeillant area south of Bourges and of Sancerre, in the south of the Cher département. He started his winery in 2007, labelling his wines mostly as Vin de France (table wine) because the varietals planted in his producing vineyard (which makes1,2 hectare) doesn't fit the requirements of the Chateaumeillant appellation : he has pinot noir and a bit of gamay when he should have a majority of gamay. He replanted gamay to reach the required proportion but his young plantation (which make 1,25 hectare) don't produce grapes yet, so he's in table wine right now. Until a year ago he had a job but right now he is centered on the winery, doing everyrthing by himself including the plantings and the bottling and the direct sales. No chaptalization here, no oak, all is vinified in vats, he wants to keep the original aromas. He may do barrels later when he'll have more production.
He has 3 cuvées to show here :
__ a 2013 white (a chardonnay-sauvignon blend from a young vineyard planted in 2009)
__ La Vignonnerie, a vin gris (rosé) 2012 (a blend of pinot noir & gamay on two parcels aged from 20 to 40). 93 % Pinot Noir & 7 % Gamay. Vincent says that he tries to make a red and a rosé (gris) every year, in 2012 he didn't make any red because the harvest was very small (mildew). Abit of residual sugar (mouth) because the fermentation stalled, 5 grams he says, he still didn't put more SO2 but he hasn't had issues of refermentation with this wine (it was bottled a year ago). Nice presence in the mouth, powerful too, interesting wine.
__ Seize pour Cent, a red 2013 which is also a blend pinot noir (84 %) and gamay (16 %). I chose to taste this cuvée. The name Seize pour Cent (means 16 %) is a humoristic reference not to the alcohol content but to the percentage of gamay in the blend, viewed as largely unsufficient for the appellation requirements. Regarding the alcohol content it's only 11 %. The wine is organic and unfiltered but Vincent added SO2 before bottling in order to keep the aromas he says. The amount here he says is 40 mg per liter when the maximum authorized for organic wine is 100 mg. Nose quite aromatic, cherries, cooked fruit on the nose. He doesn't use lab yeast but he says he adds also sulfur on the incoming grapes in order, he says, to get rid of the bacteria that might be on the few damaged grapes. I'll not dare a remark but I think this adding may not be necessary considering the hand picking and the way he works and may explain the feel I had of a wine not letting itself go out (I don't want to lecture winemakers but sometimes I feel like I should say the way I feel things...).
The bottles cost from 8 € to 9,5 € tax included at the domaine. In Paris his wines can be found at La Cave Marcadet.
I read on this article (in French) that Vincent plans to revive a nearly-extinct local varietal named Genouillet. Wines made with genouillet have begun to be produced in the area (read story in French), I can't wait to try that...
Vincent Chauvelot, Maison Rouge, La Cour, 18360 Vesdun - +33 2 48 63 16 48
I also tasted a few very nice craft beers on this organic farmer's market, the beers made by Jérôme Picard in the name of his new artisanal brewery, Crazy Hops.
__ Crazy Hops, Che' rveza, Bière à l'hibiscus. The color is very wild, rosé-like with something more, and the aromas goes from lychee to passion fruit. He gave me many details of the way to yield these aromas. Alcohol : 4,4 %.. Nice balance between the bitterness and the chew.
__ Bière de l'Ourcq Ambrée, a collector bottle (75 cl), Jérôme says, this was made before he moved to his new facility near etampes in the south of Paris. This one mas brewed in claye Souilly in the Paris region in an old farm belonging to his family, 100 % artisanal. Color : amber, very turbid. Very suave beer with a welcome bitterness at the end of the mouth, mokka notes. He used to make batches of 60 bottles of this beer each time.
__ Bière de L'Ourcq, La Rousse Pète. Very saline beer, I love that mouth feel, also very onctuous, lovely beer.5,2 % alc.
Asked what he thinks of I.P.A. beers which seem to be the new trend, he says that maby breweries make IPAs that are not really IPAs because the bitterness should be much bigger than what you find most of the time. He says that for example he could have put IPA on the label for this Rousse Pète if he had followed the softened versions that we see here around.trend but he says that when he'll label a beer IPA it will be a real one, not the soft versions that masquerade as IPA. A real IPA is minimum 6 or 7 % alcohol and today you find breweries that market IPAs at only 4 % with a tamed bitterness, the goal being only to sell because of the appeal of the name.
This was kind of a tricky season for mushrooms, they were late to come out because it was so dry in the underwoods and the village people I talk too, like the hunters I've seen recently even think that there are no mushrooms yet this year, but I can testify that they're out, even if in smaller numbers compared with previous years. Given the mild temperature we will possibly have a later season with still good picking volumes into december. I had to walk quite a distance in the woods before finding any (I'm mostly looking for boletus right now (Hedgehogs aren't fully out yet) and I understand some people can get tired after 15 minutes and quit. Each time I'd find enough for a meal though, and even if some of the mushrooms had been partly eaten by slugs they were pretty healthy.
The picture above is for the beauty (I shot this a week ago), I didn't pick them, they may be edible but I don't know them.
Here is a scene I always find fascinating, like a ghost factory or a boat wreck in the bottom of the ocean covered with sediments : an abandoned vineyard. You find many of them here and there in certain regions (here in Touraine) these are usually a handfull of rows, no more than 10 in general, which were previously cultivated by farmers for their personnal use, something that is becoming rare as "modern" farmers don't feel like they have the time and energy to care for a few rows, and as they have enough money to buy their booze in the supermarket, they look at this home-wine tradition as something of the past. What happens is that one day or another retiring farmers stop tending their parcel because they're too tired or they die, and you see clusters of rows sink slowly into oblivion for the best delight of all the wild animals and insects that make it their home. There's a certain beauty to it, I feel, and at last now, these vines which were probably farmed with lots of chemicals, know some sort of deserved respite.
Here is the next step : I found this other parcel (also a private parcel making exactly 10 rows) a few kilometers away, it is rapidly turning into a small forest, trees have been going up after a few years, give it a few years more and you'll not even guess there has ever been a vineyard in this spot. The sad thing here is that the vines have been apparently poisoned by the farmer when the parcel was abandoned and with these frozen vines you feel like grazing a ghost ship. The soil is probably happier today though and mushrooms are popping up all over the place, which I doubt would have been possible in its former life...
Taybeh is an arab village known for its beer, for its Oktober Fest and coming soon, for its winery.... Expectedly, this village doesn't sit in the muslim part of the Middle East but in the West Bank along Israel, which against all odds appears now more and more like the only country in the region where christian arabs (and other minorities including, yes, muslims) can live without being ethnic-cleansed or genocided for displeasing such or such muslim sect. The pictures found on this Russian-speaking blog about this part of Palestine are gorgeous and give a rare glimpse into the christian arab area by an insider [click on ( Читать дальше... ) each time to see more pictures].
Taybeh became a beer spot when David Khoury and his brother Nadim (the master brewer) came back from the United Stated where they had been living, they invested in Palestine in 1994 with the intent to revive the economy in their home village. This was a rapid success as the beer was exported in various countries (Denmark, Sweden, Japan, Germany) beginning in Israel and even selling more and more in Gaza before the terror group Hamas took the power there. The brewery employs today 15 people and produces 6000 hectoliters yearly (5,113 US barrels).
In 2005 David Khoury took another step with the organization of an Oktoberfest, the first of its kind in the arab world. The two-day festival typically gets 16 000 visitors and features now not only beer but other local products.
This year alas the Oktoberfest was cancelled, the official reason being because of what happened in Gaza but when asked more discreetly the reason was that the new city council elected in 2012 opposed holding the festival in Taybeh again, and Maria Khoury who co-organized the event says when asked for more precision that the people opposing the event are “the ones who do not share our vision of a free Palestine where human liberties are secure and celebrated.” While many people are afflicted by the cancellation and suffered losses because it had such an economic impact, we can hope that the city council pedals back next year in the face of the general discontent.
David Khoury keeps having ideas to develop the region and the village, he plans to open a winery, having been used to make wine at home for years...
NY Times story (2010) on the Taybeh brewery.
Video story on the Taybeh brewery. Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/10/palestine-oktoberfest-canceled-solidarity-gaza-war-victims.html#ixzz3I7ojCvTk