Pouillé sur Cher, Touraine (Loire)
For us town people who come to the Loire mostly on weekends, there's a bit of jealousy when we watch fellow Parisians make the big step and leave the big city for good and settle in a peaceful village to make plenty of other things including tending a garden around the year, keeping hens and so much more.
In this story it that was even less common, Emily Dilling is a Californian native who has been living in Paris for 10 years, immersing herself in the food/organic/natural-wine culture there and enjoying it all the while writing her blog Paris Paysanne which you could translate more or less like Paris' Peasant, or maybe Paris Cowgirl, I don't know... Her blog is full of culinary experiences, recipes and the likes, and same for her book My Paris Market Cookbook, with also firsthand illustration pictures.
The story would be nice enough at that stage but the fairy tale goes on : Emily decides to live the experience of a harvest and comes to the Loire to do it at Noella Morantin's domaine, she had met her at the Dive Bouteille and was eager to see the production/picking side of her wines. While there, she met her sweetheart Ben who had been doing the picking at Noella every year and the two of them eventually decided to move to Pouilly and start a new life there.
Now that was an abstract of her French history, but more is to come as she is on her way to brew craft beer here in the Loire. She's been doing it repeatedly for a few months, buying ingredients and tools in California where she visits her family regularly, in Belgium and also in La Cave à Bulles in Paris. Even though it's only here in the Loire that she began making craft beer, back in the U.S. she was a beer lover and she has a deep culture to back her new passion, which helps her build her expertise.
Beaulieu sur layon, Anjou (Loire)
Sébastien Dervieux, better known in the vinous circles under his surname Babass is a key player in the artisan-wine milieu, and you may know that Anjou is certainly with the Beaujolais one of the most vibrant wine regions on the scale of natural, non-interventionist winemaking. He is making wine on a small surface in Beaulieu-sur-Layon just south of Angers, near where the Layon river flows into the mighty Loire. Sébastien Dervieux was running a few years ago the domaine Les Griottes with associate Pat Desplats, they were among the first rebels in Anjou to eschew SO2 during the whole vinification. They parted in 2010, each of them downsizing to about 3 hectares, changing their agricultural status to one named cotisant solidairewhere you're spared the brunt of taxes and administrative hassles if you agree to remain
under a set surface and yearly turnover. He farms now 2,85 hectares, 30 ares of which were planted last year and are not yet in production. He can't purchase grapes with his status and also doing it would put him above a turnover limit and could nullify his new status. Anyway that a correct surface to make a living and manage the vineyard work almost by yourself.
Sébastien__ let's call him Babass__ has also been organizing for a few years Les Vins Anonymes with Jean-Christophe Garnier, one of the most interesting winefair in what the French call the Angers Off, which is a collection of natural-wine fairs happening at the same time than the historic Salon des Vins d'Angers (seems that they're now virtually more sought-after by pros than the original fair...). Les Vins Anonymes is a gathering of similarly-minded artisan vignerons making wine without sulfites and working naturally all along, included in the vineyard. You can see the participating vignerons here, a nice party to enjoy the whole day for a fee of 5 € (and you can keep yoour glass).
The Maison Leclerc-Briant has roots going as far as 1872 when Lucien Leclerc founded his business in the village of Cumières, even if it became formally a Champagne House in the mid 20th century when Louis-Bertrand Leclerc moved the company to Epernay and changed its status.
The Maison was to become then a pioneer in the field of organic viticulture and even biodynamic farming under his guidance, something almost inexistent then
in Champagne and which was looked upon in disdain. His son Pascal Leclerc-Briant took the relay, getting the organic and biodynamic certification in the late 1990s' for most of the estate
vineyards (a total surface of 30 hectares in 2010), the mere existence and perpetuation of the Maison Leclerc-Briant proving that you could farm organicly a respectable surface in Champagne, a region which is known as certainly the French wine region which is the most polluted with vineyard chemicals.
The unexpected death of Pascal Lecler-Briant in 2010 challenged the achievements of this small Maison de Champagne with as a consequence its partition and dismemberment a couple years later. What Pascal and his father had built patiently over the years, especially with the purchase of grouped parcels which made it easier to farm on biodynamics without interference of nearby chemical overflowings, was cut into pieces and sold, the facility being sold separately. 15 hectares went to the Maison Bruno Paillard and 15 hectares to Roederer. At this point it was almost hopeless, especially for those who like to see a commonsense organic viticulture take hold in Champagne, where short-sighted greed prevents any serious rethinking of disastrous practices.
Unexpectely, business angels turned this nightmare around, under the shape of American investor Mark Nunnelly and his wife Denise Dupré who decided in 2012 to purchase the facility with its sole remaining parcel of La Croisette and engage in the long task of buying back available parcels in order to revive the Maison Leclerc-Briant. Mark Nunelly, who until 2014 has been the managing director at Boston-based (and Mitt-Romney-founded) private-equity firm Bain Capital Partners LLC, wasn't interested in short-time returns on this venture, he and his wife are said to be truly in love with the wine culture behind Leclerc-Briant as well as in the French lifestyle, and they were ready to do whatever it took to restore the Maison to its former glory and even beyond, which seems already well on its way.
Uninterventionist wine means you don't do anything and just wait, and Andrea Calek isn't shy of saying he is lazy, that's why the wines are good. The good thing with him is that you won't have the expected narrative, there's always something off what has become the beaten path of natural-wine discourse. He doesn't care what people think and just do things as they come, with resulting wines being splendid year after year.
The guy is elusive to square systemization, and we know that even in the rebel nature movement we
tend to substitute an old (conventional) formatting by a new (natural) formatting, especially in the narrative. None of that with Andrea, don't expect the usual answers or you'll feel off balance.
Andrea Calek [or Ondra] landed in the wine trade by accident, asked about the start of this story he says that he was on his way to Brazil and met a French woman in Nice, so he stayed in France with her, then both of them travelled to the Czech Republic, then back to France in the Haute Provence near the French Alps, this was in 1990, the iron curtain had just vanished. Asked how and why he went to start doing something in wine, he says with a grin that's because he thought it might be better to be paid to maintain his addiction to alcohol... In the Haute Provence he worked in the agriculture tending olive trees as well as at Domaine de La Blaque, then at Chateau Rousset. He later helped Dominique Hauvette in Saint-Remy-de-Provence convert her domaine to biodynamics, something which put him on the map in the artisan-wine scene. he had got his training here and there, with his Bac Pro at the Agriculture School of Carpentras and a viticulture-enology training at Isara Lyon, and he had also helped Nicolas Joly who needed a translation in Czech of his book (Nicolas Joly also travelled to the Czech Republic for conferences). Of course he had begun to meet artisan vignerons and came to know the work of Marcel Richaud, Marcel Lapierre and Guy Breton. In 2007 thanks to Geral Oustric he finds a few hectares of vineyard in the Ardèche (Rhone) and that was it...
Blois, Loire valley Wine bars & restaurants entirely focused of natural wines have almost become mainstream in Paris today, and even conventional and established venues can’t eschew having a selection of these wines if they pretend to have a demanding food menu made with real, old-fashioned-grown vegetables and meat. But you may know that the phenomenon isn't restricted to the French capital
(where it all started in the 1990s') and is spreading to regional capitals and cities (even, more and more, in villages), most regional towns having now at least a bistrot,
a restaurant or a wine bar centered on these authentic wines, and that’s encouraging because it’s a new way to discover your own local products, I’ve met so many artisan vignerons who told me that their wines were snubbed by local restaurants although they found a vibrant customer base in Paris and abroad as far as Japan and the United States, it’s quite a shame actually, you may have expercienced this yourself : you sit in a restaurant where you feel a pretention to be classy and above the flock, and all their wines are conventional, mainstream crap (but of course with the right, established appellations on the labels), you wonder, maybe they source their food the same way, that’s unsettling, let’s go somewhere else, or : no, after all, I’ll take a draft beer....
Les 400 Coups is one of these new vinous venues popping up in the French provinces and bring fresh air in the diluted wine-bar format. It opened a year ago, july 9 2015 thanks to the will and backing of several vignerons of the area. There wasn't really until then a venue in Blois serving 100 % of artisan/natural wines and this was the first. The wine bar/bistrot (you also can eat) isn't flashing its nature colors on the street sign, it's a wine bar and people can come here to enjoy the' wines and learn more in the way, they didn't want to make it right away a club where only people-in-the-know would venture, you don't need to know all the intricacies of the natural-wine scene to enjoy these wines...
Ouchamps, Sologne (Loire)
I met Kevin Henry a few years ago at at Olivier Lemasson (les Vins Contés), a bustling domaine in the Loire doing sulfur-free wines, a winery which is a perfect example of the easy-going and friendly ways of these natural-wine domaines. Kevin began to work in the vineyard and wine world almost by accident : as I reported already back then, he was travelling across the region almost
10 years ago, hitchiking along a road in nearby Contres
(a village in the middle of Sologne) when Olivier Lemasson gave him a ride. He was kind of adrift with no clear plan on what he wanted to do, then, having just dropped out his previous job. They chatted during the short ride and before being dropped further along the road, Olivier told him that if he needed a job in the coming weeks he could come at the domaine at the time of the harvest; Kevin didn’t really pay attention immediately but he remembered the offer and came back in time to take part to the vendanges. That was a good pick, and he was to remain for good...
I don’t know of any other profession or work culture when you can get a kickstart and initiation so easily, especially in France where access to work and careers is so difficult and protected, with an obsession from the part of the employers on cursus, diplomas and job references. But if there’s a common trend to be found in all these natural wine & artisan domaines (beyond the organic farming and non-interventionist winemaking), it’s precisely this openness to beginners and newcomers, this natural enthusiasm to share. On the opposite, I witnessed firsthand how conventional vignerons behave and that was so different : a couple of time I visited conventional wineries with young people who were eager to learn and start something in wine, they were looking for a small parcel to rent or buy (with the intention to work for an established winery on the side as a day job), and the people on the other side weren’t helping at all, they were almost suspicious that someone from outside with no family roots in the vineyard world could be interested in tending a vine and making wine. And when you told them that the project was to farm organic, that was the last straw, you just felt that you had just blown up your chances to get tipped on any available parcels, even the ones dismissed by the trade because their yield is too low.
Pic on right : Ouchamps is a village étoilé [starry village], says the road sign : this small (pop. 800), charming village has taken steps to fight light pollution, which means they shut out street lights early at night so that everyone can enjoy a real night situation. Too many villages try to copy towns and suburbs, keeping lights on all night. There’s nothing like a real dark night to enjoy the serene peace of the countryside and watch the stars...
Montlouis, Loire valley
Welcome to Chenin country. Montlouis is a small town overlooking the Loire river atop a hill, on high enough ground so as to be safe from the regular overflowing of the river, which could be severe a few centuries ago, before dams and dikes more or less secured this untamed and wild river. The wine region is known for its Chenin, although there's also some red varieties around here, which is then labelled as Touraine wine.
Julien Prevel is not originally from a viticulture or winemaking lineage, he was intially in Angers then left for Rouen, Normandy for a degree in history & geography [makes you get a job in the teaching sector usually] and he came instead here near Tours in 2010 to grow vegetables, something which didn't work out for administrative reasons and he ended up at the employment services finding a job with a training on how to prune the vines, this was in early 2011 at Frantz Saumon near Montlouis and that was it, he was to continue on this path...
All the while working for the Domaine Frantz Saumon he got the opportunity in 2012 to tend a small, 20-are vineyard surface which was until then worked by Stéphane Cossais, a narural-wine vigneron who passed out unexpectedly in 2009. He had frost and disease issues on this plot for 2 consecutive years but that's how he trained his hands on both the vineyard work and the winemaking (it was uprooted in 2014). His real start with winemaking was with a 60-are parcel of gamay which he got in 2013, he still has this plot, it was planted along several years, between 1970 and the 1990s'. Then he got a sizeable surface of Chenin, making for a total vineyard surface of 2,5 hectares today (all is fermage aka rentals), to which he'll add another 2 or 3 hectares this winter. The vineyard management is organic, the sprays are done by a group of fellow growers, a CUMA who owns the tractors and tools.
Tállya, Tokaj (Hungary)
You may not familiar with the name of Tallya but this village at a short distance from Tokaj has even deeper roots in the wine history of the region, and its climats or terroirs were considered the best several centuries ago by the wine-wise elite of this time.
László or rather László Alkonyi like we say outside Hungary (Hungarians like the Japanese put the family name first) was in his former life a writer, and at the beginning he was writing about financial issues and stock exchange in Budapest and in the mid 1990s' he foresaw that Hungary, his country was heading toward big problems,
social and economic after the fall of communism. People were quite desperate, companies were closing or were sold and dismantled and people were not prepared for this different world, they had little hope. He had the luck to have had a good job and he decided then to create a wine magazine because in his mind the wine business with all its ramifications could save many families and jobs. He undesrtood that the country needed more and more independant people who can lead their own lives, and family wineries plus all sort of wine-related businesses could do the job. Something had to be done so that people could have hope, have dreams and have children and make plans, and he viewed a wine magazine like a way to help all these things come true.
When László Alkonyi decided to start a wine magazine and write about wine in the mid 1990s' there was no independent wine magazine in Hungary and his goal was to start the first, with the possibility to say the truth and not only polished myths to enhance established wineries. With his previous work in the financial sector he was independant enough himself to start this venture without the sponsoring of powerful wine companies or wineries, he knew he had the means to remain free. Borbarát started being published in 1996, immediately covering local artisan winemakers who were then under the radar. He took some advertising in the magazine but mostly from banks and car makers. There happened now and then that big wineries post advertisements too, but for example once in the same issue there was an article with a comparative tasting in which the wine of this particular winery scored the worse, it made waves of course, the winery owners weren't very happy but the magazine proved it was serious in its independance stance.
Tokaj, Tokaj wine region (Hungary)
The Tokaj region may be felt like an established wine region from abroad due to its documented tradition in the past centuries but oddly it's also a very dynamic region in terms of young artisan winemakers, it'l like if Burgundy met Touraine or Anjou, and there may be several reasons behind this, one of them being possibly the socialist interlude during which the parcels on the slopes, the equivalent of the Burgundy climats were abandoned under the post-war communist rule in favor of massive plantings on the flatland for productivist efficiency : Since
freedom of enterprise came back around 1989, daring vignerons had all these slopes (then covered by bushes and woods) to reconquer with great potential for making quality
wine again. You can see on the pic on left that the slopes and terraces are being restored but woods still occupy large swaths of the prized terroirs.
Tokaj as a small town retains something of his old glory, it is architecturally beautiful, especially compared to the villages in the flatland (some of them still have this communist-rule touch in the landscaping and destitution feel.
Judit Bodó like her husband József who started their Tokaj pince (domaine) in 2005 is originally from Csallóköz, Slovakia just north of the border from Hungary, she's Hungarian speaking as her home region like many satellite regions around Hungary was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire prior to 1920.
She first landed in this region in 2000 when she came along her employers from South Tyrol who were in the process of starting a winery here. She had initially gone to South Tyrol to better her language skills in German and get some work (as babysitter first) and ended up picking fruit and working in a winery. Having trained in winemaking and vineyard management with her new employers in South Tyrol she could help them with her cultural and language skills through the administrative hurdles of establishing a domaine in Hungary and book keeping. 5 years later in 2005 with their first child coming, Judit and József decided to launch their own winery, Bott Pince, and they bought their first hectare in the Tokaj region. She was to become a rising star on the Tokaj wine scene.
I found recently this great document showing in detail how Champagne was made in the early 20th century. This issue of Le Monde et la Science subscription magazine (it was to be an Encyclopedia at the end when you collected all the issues) seems to have been one of these short-lived
publications profiting from the new opportunities of mobile
photography, as cameras were getting easier to transport and set up even if tripods were still used routinely. I initially thought this magazine to have been published around 1930 [there's no publishing dates on the 4 issues I bought] but as I've done a short research it seems that it dates back probably from around 1910. This issue caught my eye among the couple dozens issues I saw on this village flea market as it showed something few people know today : that trellising and wires were unknown then, as Nicolas Renard told me incidently during my recent visit, it has no historical roots in the viticulture, it was invented for the convenience of mechanisation, for tractors in short, and like in the rest of France vines in Champagne were until then grown on échalas or posts.
Another aspect of this report is to restrospectively highlight how natural the viticulture in Champagne was at that time, all these people on these pictures would have been dumbfounded to learn what would be done in the vineyard later in the late 20th century/early 21st century, like this casual walk in randomly-chosen parcels shows. For us today, it's a good reminder that Champagne knew a more authentic viticulture not so long ago (100 years is not that far away). Many of the technical words are also different from what is used today, it seems to me, in this sense it's also an information mine.
If the picture settings look great in general it's almas not very sharp and the contrast is sometimes poorly managed by the printers, I hopê all these silver plates have been saved somewhere and could be used again for a big-size quality printing.
Here on this first page of the 17-page story you can see this incredible vineyard landscape in Champagne around 1900-1910 : a forest of wooded posts which (another unexpected thing) would be taken out after the harvest, steamed (pic lower right) in order to kill all the pests or their larvae and stored until april. The lower-right picture shows what they call the provignage (what we call marcottage to day I think) : replacing the missing vines by lying the next vine so that it takes root in its place.