This pressing season was certainly comparatively early in 2015 because of a long sunny weather and by the end of september the carbonic macerations were going to the press, at least in the Beaujolais domaines where carbo is still practiced (it's less common that you may think). 2015 is a vintage with beautiful, healthy gamay grapes, certainly a great vintage even though acidity is lower this year.
I spent a few days in the Beaujolais with Aaron, who has been immersing himself for a few weeks in the local winery scene in order to learn more about the region. The Beaujolais is a wine region that deserves more interest, like elsewhere you
have the organic/conventional, uninterventionist/technological dichotomy, but it's foremost here that a
simple, traditional vinification was put back in the front seat by a handful of resolved individuals a couple decades ago. By the way there are two ways to witness this dichotomy, first when you drive through the vineyards and second when you taste the wines randomly. I won't be cruel to the point to ask you use the second option, just drive along the winding roads, you'll be surprised how a large majority of the vineyards are still soaked with herbicides in the Beaujolais. With the cellar pendant of this herbicide thing being that much of the wines go through thermo-vinification and don't taste anymore like a real wine, this leaves relatively few wineries to sample when you're looking for interesting wines.
This story is a visual one, no explanation needed, making real wine is pretty simple when you grow your grapes correctly and respect the soil. No technology here, just fairly traditioinal tools and fermenters in a bland building (pictured on left) without even the charm of a historical place, you could buy that sort of vertical press with little money, same for the fermenters. The mainstream consumer thinks all wines are made this way but that's alas not true. Here the quality of the grapes, the natural balance of the soils and of the vineyard management makes corrective technology and additives completely irrelevant. But it is probable that if modern, conventional wineries did vinify this way (no lab yeast, no additives, no correction) all the while keeping growing their grapes the way they do, their wines would be plain undrinkable [not that they're really drinkable without that....].
What seemed important here was hygiene, Yvon, his son Jules and staff Alexi (with cap) were hosing repeatedly everything including the ground. And the carefully-grown and picked grapes did the real work.
Picture on right : view from the chai with La Madone chapel on the top of the hill.
Riedel threatening writer Ron Washam for satirical article
When I read this story on Jim's blog, then the incriminating satirical piece, I thought I might try to say a few things about the issue. I never jumped into the potentially-hot issue of fancy glassware but you may have noticed that my pictures often show traditional non-tech glasses when I'm speaking about a particular wine I discovered here and there. I love these glasses, they're possibly not the most effective tools to detect the ultimate aroma coming out from a wine, but they're time-proven vessels [I
found many of them on flea markets] coming straight from an era (early 20th century) when wine was shared
around a table without this ostentatious need to analyze it from A to Z. People loved and enjoyed wine for centuries without fancy modern glass designs and I'm confident they still can today. But for a couple of decades we have entered an era of wine geeks and intellectualization of wine tasting, and these smart glassware companies made us believe that we can't be real wine amateurs if we don't invest in there costly glassware.
This blog article innocently mocking the prestige and the supposed calculations of Riedel was indeed feriously funny, and the thing is, it may have struck a chord among the business people behind these fancy glasses as they threatened to sue the writer who wrote this humoristic article. Now that's some thing, a big, powerful company like Riedel feeling so bad after a satiric story that they want to silence the writer... Doesn't this mean that they don't feel secure about the relevance of their supposedly-irreplaceable glass designs ? Then we learn that the Riedel people backtracked and said it was all fine, just that it had to be underlined that this was a satirical piece, not a real story. Actually they probably realized that this over-reaction was a very, very bad PR operation, but they switched attitude only after other influential bloggers and journalists like Jim put the spotlight on the issue. Come on... This was obviously a calculated move for damage control, not a sudden acknowledgement of the sense of humor. The good side of this appaling story is that it may spark some soul searching about the conformism that fuels the fancy glassware business. People enjoyed wine in many ways for centuries before the modern tech wonders, wine is to be shared and to be gently intoxicated (this is never adressed in the politically-correct circles of the wine media), and we all know that the best wines can do that.
Let's look at the issue from another perspective : what Dionysos would do in this context ? Like in this famous scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I doubt he'd choose among the fancy glasses and instead of the false Grails he'd grab a simple, non-tech glass to drink his holy wine....
Rue Daguerre, 14th arrondissement (Paris)
This was supposed to be a very rainy day. After weeks of balmy, sunny days, rain had come the previous day over the region, soaking everyone that had gone out without cover, and sunday was going the same way, in the morning at least, a nightmare for fleamarket amateurs (there were many vide-greniers in Paris that day)
and for strollers in general. But Dionysos had his say I guess, and things
turned miraculously around :
by 2pm it was almost sunny in this corner of the 14th arrondissement, and the yearly wine party organized by the Cave des Papilles
was going full speed, with free food and free [natural] wine poured at will.
There is no secret around this yearly event, you don't need to have a special introduction to join the Fête de la Cave des Papilles but either because Parisians are spoiled or have many other opportunities you still could reach the inside for a glass and have it filled with one of the nice wines and move around enjoying the party and the music scene. There are certainly places in the world where such a venue would be swamped by wine lovers like Middle Eastern migrants crashing the gates of Germany, and the whole block would have to be cordonned off by riot police, but here in Paris it's almost taken for granted to have repeated pours of free natural wine while chatting with friends and bathing in live music...
This is a yearly event where indeed everyone is welcome, be it the regular customer or anyone interested in wine, and why not, music. I'm usually in the Loire or elsewhere on weekends, especially in september but I had decided to stay this time, partly because the weather forecast was gloomy and also because the newsletter reminding me of the event had somehow caught my attention (thank you Florence !). I went first this morning to a street fleamarket rue Raymond Losserand not far from there but then came the rain and instead of going to the Cave des Papilles next, I went back home, waiting for better conditions, and I must confess I was ready to forego the event altogether if these downpours had lasted. By 2 pm it was clear you could go safely and have a drink without fearing being drenched to the bone. Dionysos had moved his finger and allowed us to party...
Mareuil-sur-Cher, Touraine (Loire)
Julien Pineau is having his first harvest season on his newly acquired vineyards, and he has been very lucky because this first vintage went through an ideal weather throughout
summer and harvest time (you'll hear that across all of France I think for 2015) : healthy grapes and sun all along with just enough rain to better the juice in time.
To wind back
a few years ago, Julien has no family in the wine trade, years ago he was doing some seasonal jobs in Ardèche, picking pears, apricots and so on, and someone there told him that he was going to do the harvest at a friend's domaine in Montlouis,
this was in 2009 and he went along. The vigneron was Bertrand Jousset, and he was to begin to get the virus there. He loved this experience and Bertrand offered him to hire him as a trainee if he enrolled at the viticulture school in Amboise (the curriculum includes 10 weeks as a trainee in the domaine of your choice). That's what he did, spending his training month with Bertrand Jousset in 2010 and 2011. His initial idea was not to become a vigneron, his father being a cook and all his family and friends loving good (and organic) food he kind of envisioned himself opening a wine bar or something like that, but little by little after months working in the vineyard he realized that this was what made him tick.
In 2011 after graduation from the viticulture school he left for Provence to work for Jean-Christophe Comor in the Var département. He had discovered his wine at Bertrand Jousset (vignerons always exchange bottles) and as a girlfiend was studying in the University of Aix-en-Provence where jean-Christophe Comor also taught, he got connected with him and went down to Provence 3 years in a row for the harvest season, working on the vinayard and in the chai as well.
Rochefort-sur-Loire, Anjou (Loire)
Thomas Boutin started his domaine in 2008 with a tiny 80-are vineyard of chenin located in Saint Aubin de Luigné but he didn't have his own chai until last august when Christophe Gallienne who had started his own domaine 2 or 3 years ago let him use part of his facility set up under his own house at a short distance from Rochefort, south of Angers. Christophe is slowing down his domaine and Thomas is in the process of taking over Christophe's vineyards, something he began in 2011 when he took the relay on a 90-are parcel with gamay, chenin and
cabernet franc. Then in 2014 he took over more parcels, some chardonnay planted near Christophe's house,
plus a parcel of chenin previously worked by Sébastien Fleuret, another natural winemaker based in Beaulieu. Thomas' present vineyard surface remains low, with 2,4 hectares, the good side of it being that he can do all the work by himself.
Before starting his domaine, Thomas studied at the wine school (BTS enology) in 1998-2000 and from then on he worked here and there in different domaines, in the Dordogne département (Chateau de Fayolle), in the Bordeaux region near La Roquille (Chateau la Maroquine), after which he came back in the Angers region working in different places. Then he went to California where he worked 4 months at J. Lohr (Paso Robles) and also 6 months at Wild Horse near Templeton. He worked only on the cellar side, he says that in the United States they don't understand when you ask to work in the vineyard, this is kind of the job assigned to the Mexican workers and the managers don't see the interest of sending winemaking-wise staff there. Back in France, Thomas worked in Vouvray and in Chablis in domaines owned by de Ladoucette where he was cellar master. Back in Anjou he met people doing nature wines and this was an eye opening experience, his mentors being Xavier Cailleau, also Christophe Daviau, and lastly Benoit Courault who was the living proof that he could also make wine even with a small surface (this was around 2005-2006).
Pictures on the sides courtesy of the village's website
Champ-sur-Layon, Anjou (Loire)
I met Damien Bureau here and there, tasting his wines on wine fairs, the lastes occurence being at the pet'nat sparkling fair in Montrichard.
Anjou is an area where you may find affordable vineyards but finding a roof for your chai and cellar may be more tricky because of the real estate pressure, and Damien has been sharing a
building with Kenji Hodgson, whom I visited a few years ago now. I won't say I found my
way immediately (these winding side roads of Anjou are not the easiest to navigate through) but once arrived I was in familiar territory. When you arrive at the intersection pictured on right (vineyards in the background not belonging to any grower I know) outside of Champ-sur-Layon, just follow the small blue sign (on left)...
Damien Bureau began to make wine in 2006 after Babass from les Griottes let him a parcel to work on, he made his first barrel from which he'd do his sparkling Saperlipopet. Before that he had been working for different domaines including in Burgundy. He then rented his first parcel (it was Chenin, 0,5 hectare) in 2008, keeping making his sparkling. In 2010 he bought a 70-are parcel of old vines with Pineau d'Aunis and Chenin, this parcel being previously owned by les Griottes. With then a 1,25-hectare surface he was beginning to have more raw material to make wine and he made his first red, a Pineau d'Aunis named la Poivrotte. Next to this Aunis there was 45 ares of Chenin with which he could begin make dry Chenin. All the while beginning his wine farm he kept working for other vignerons, in 2009 he began working for the Clos de L'Elu not far from here, staying there until 2013. He kept increasing his own surface and When he stopped working for this domaine they helped him find additional parcels so that since 2013 he works on 3 hectares, the majority being planted with Chenin (he also has some Grolleau). This is the right surface he says when you want to do everything by yourself, the pruning, the plowing and so on.
Marc Houtin, founder of the domaine (Chenin on left)
Soulaines-sur-Aubance, Anjou (Loire)
The Domaine de la Grange aux Belles is one of these fairly recent artisan wineries that make Anjou shine beyond its borders in spite of its humble table-wine status. This winery started a few years ago from scratch in the south of Angers without family backing, not even an old farm which is sometimes is a good help, and the result is simply very good.
I discovered them in an open doors a few years ago, their Chaussée Rouge was just a killing, a pure
pleasure of a red wine, connecting you back with what wine is supposed to be.
The facility is located near the village of Soulaines-sur-Aubance, this is a new warehouse, an efficient but bland construction. It is very difficult to find available buildings in the vicinity of Angers because of the real estate frenzy, people look for any ruin to renovate, they call it home and commute to work in Angers which has become a busy/noisy metropolis surrounded by a maze of freeways and highways. As a result it's sad to say, you see subdivisions sprouting up at the edge of what were not long ago quiet villages with charm and history. This often leaves the aspiring vignerons with little choice other than building something near the parcels.
This all began in 2004, Marc Houtin was a wine lover who was employed in a major oil company in his former life. His references were Patrick Baudouin, the trigger being the wines of domaine Léon Barral which he visited in 2002. To rewind back, he had quit his job in 2001 and enrolled in Toulouse for a DNO (enology degree). At the time he'd taste plenty of wines and visit vignerons he loved. Barral was a shock and remains a reference for him. The domaine is now managed by two men, himself and Julien Bresteau who joined the winery in 2007.
Pascal Potaire checking sediment in the bottle neck
Faverolles-sur-Cher, Touraine (Loire)
The Domaine des Capriades which was founded by Pascal Potaire is particular in the sense that it makes only natural sparkling, its entire production is centered on these bubblies where, unlike for Champagne, nothing has been added to make the wine fizzy, no sugar, no dosage and no so2 (all the wines here have no added sulfites).
The natural sparkling, dubbed Pet'Nat or Pet-Nat in the
wine milieu in France has become over the years of the natural-wine version of a bubbly, some sort of light-hearted counterbalance of Champagne which even if it is regarded as a more respectable bubbly is much less natural beginning its widespread farming management. Like said before, natural sparkling has actually deeper roots than Champagne historically, as it could be compared to the older Blanquette de Limoux, which was made in the early 1500s'.
The domaine's facility sits in a wine farm at the foot of the hill along the Cher river, with the ubiquitous cellar dug into the hillside. Faverolles is one of these winegrower villages along the Cher, like Mareuil or Pouillé a few kilometers east where Clos Roche Blanche and Noëlla Morantin are based. Every single house in this street was long time ago making wine in its respective cellar under the hill, the parcels and fields being conveniently atop of the hill. The area of Touraine is still very affordable for a young vigneron who would be looking for parcels to purchase or to rent, and the region is thus a magnet for artisan winemakers wanting to start a domaine.
Bruno Allion in a young parcel of Sauvignon (15 years)
Thésée, Touraine (Loire)
Bruno Allion and his family live in a quiet lane in the village of Thésée with view on the church in the distance. The area on both sides of the river (which flows into the Loire a few kilometers west of Tours) is now home to quite a number of artisan winegrowers who make wine without additives and from organic grapes. Bruno Allion is also part of a group of biodynamic growers who gather regularly to exchange and prepare herb tea for spraying. I tasted his wines now and then in the last few years and met him last near here in Montrichard, at the natural sparkling fair. I visited him on
a warm august day and we had first some refreshing mint syrup in the
It is noteworthy that Thésée is a very old settlement dating from the Roman times, there was a roman road going through the area and linking Bourges to Tours (named differently back then), and you have still-standing impressive ruins (monuments des Mazelles) near the village that date from the 2nd century.
Bruno Allion set up his own domaine in 1981, starting with a 2.5-hectare vineyard surface. He is from a family of growers along the Cher river east of Tours (named differently back then), his father was selling to the local coop since the start of his working life as a grower in the 1960s'. the coop (the Confrérie des Vignerons de Oisly et Thesée) at the time was working hard to achieve quality.
Bruno's father had uprooted the hybrids farmed in time by his own father, replanting Sauvignon, Gamay etc instead. Bruno's oldest parcel is a plot of 80-year-old gamay which remains from his grandfather's surface. His total surface today is about 13 hectares.
Bruno's official installation was 1987, he did like his father, selling his grapes to the coop but he began to make wine on the side, competing thus on a small scale with the coop, and at the time it led him into trouble because he had a favorable article about his wine in Decanter following a sale he made to a UK exporter. The managers at the coop instead of being happy that the region and one of their growers was spotted abroad saw this as a blow on their own work, an unfair competition and he was pressured to keep a lower profile, especially, they said, that he wasn't supposed by contract to make more than a certain percentage of wine in his own chai. He was not farming organic at the time, he remembers that his father started using herbicides in 1976-1977 when he himself did his time in the military, and he stopped using them 1996, which makes an overall relatively short time. He was officially certified in 1997 (the conversion had begun in 1995). He has been vinifying his wines for a few years without added sulfites.
Somewhere in Provence
Summer is I think a time of the year you're more likely to drop your guard on your purchase rules regarding wines : you stay far from home without good caviste at easy reach, you have other spending priorities and will
fall easily into buying cheap vinous booze (namely rosé, or white) that can stand being had in the hot evenings and with which you know you'll not be restricted on the volume side. And there's also the factor like, nobody looks, let's try this crap for lunch...
In short, summer is a season you may be less regarding for the quality of the wine on your table, even if now and then you manage to get a bottle of worthy, real wine. This story which I typically make every other summer is about that contradiction and the challenge when buying cheap wine in supermarkets and discount stores.
Here is a wine which I picked in the wine aisle of the Leader Price chain, I thought it was from Alsace, its price tag was 4.12 € and I thought it might be better than a rosé in the same price bracket. I was right, except that the sylvaner was German (Rheinhessen), if bottled in Alsace. The mouthfeel was pleasant here, there was almost a tickling on the tongue like when it has very little so2, and whatever the way it was made it went down easily in the particular conditions of these late-afternoon apéritifs which are I'm sure the norm in the region in summer. Never forget the context, it's crazy how bland wines can come up pretty good when you have them in good company. This wine makes 11,5 % in alcohol which is a very good point, that may have been the reason why I chose it in the first place, beyond its price.