Here is a show by two comedians which is centered on wine, it is named Entre deux Verres (between two glasses in French), it's humoristic and it sharpens the mind and the tongue. On one side there is a man who likes the high-end wines with prestigious pedigree, on the other side a woman who buys the wines with medals in the supermarket nearby. She loves to drink, he loves to taste, and this hour-long show is like fireworks of words where all the facets of the wine experience in a couple and in the social relations are dissected and listed, this show is like a mirror of our contemporary culture of wine, as this culture has changed so much over the last 60 years. The way we speak and behave around wine today will certainly be looked upon as
very exotic and marked with the faults of our 20th/21st century. That's why it's quite delicious to go see this show, but you better be at least a bit fluent in French, because it's a lot of references and litterature intertwined
with the vinous beverage.
As we were sitting waiting for the start of the show,B. and I spotted a man a few rows in front of us, and we immediately recognized Bernard Pivot who was there alone, he is both a man of words and a man of wine. Foremost he is known for having run for many years in the 1970s and 1980s a popular literary program named Apostrophes (see some archives here) where he'd debate about books with writers. Then he also wrote a couple of books o wine, beginning with the have we have at home, le Dictionnaire Amoureux du Vin, it's a very humoristic and searched where you'll find many surprises and learn unexpected things about wine.
The comedians/artists Pascale Vander Zypen and Christian Dalimier are from Belgium, a tiny country where the love for good wines is inversely proportional to its size, and that's why I'm not surprised that this show was created there. They played this show a lot throughout Belgium (about 135 times), for corporate events, private parties and cultural centers. The show needs very little decor out of a couple of spotlights and their talent, they can do their show at a wine tasting or also at a winery for a special event. This show in Paris was a test run to meet the publmic and possibly companies or organizations interested of having their show.
I asked Pascale about the creation of this duo show, she said they wrote it in a way that it is easily enjoyed by both wine connoisseurs and newbies, some scenes being more entertaining and others, while samely entertaining, dig their roots in more elaborate vinous references. There are a few jokes about the vin bio (organic) and the vin naturel, and it's fully non-judgmental so that every body can love it. Actually, she says, she was having dinner at some friends' restaurant in Tournai (Belgium) where they served lots of natural wine (the restaurant which closed since, she says, was named Vins Par-ci Vins Par-là) when this idea popped up about this show. You'll find some of the vinous literature of Bernard Pivot plus lots of their own.
Mareuil-sur-Cher, Touraine (Loire)
Winter is pruning season, the vines are bare and the vineyards are an austere view as their life flowed back temporaily deep into the soil. That's when you'll spot isolated workers doing the essential task of pruning, something which will determine in some extent the yields of the next harvest. Roughly, the pruning takes place from
december to march, more or less depending
of the weather and the availability of the winegrower, this is a calm season for him and he can usually choose his days without being bothered by other tasks except maybe the one of replanting or taking part to wine events.
Pruning is not an easy job, as the weather in winter, while not extreme, is often humid, making the temperature feel colder than it actually is. I remember when I had Russian visitors once in november, it was a typical humid time in Paris and they really found the conditions very unpleasant (to the point that they caught cold) as in their continental latitudes the cold is dry and more bearable in spite of the largely subfreezing levels.
While on a weekend in the Loire a few weeks ago I dropped at Clos Roche Blanche to see Didier work in the vineyard. This was saturday, and while Catherine goes to the marketplace of the charming town of Saint-Aignan nearby in the morning (I often stumble on her when I go there myself), Didier occasionally works between the rows. I drove straight atop the hill on the plateau after a short passage through the woods, leaving the manor-like house of Clos-Roche-Blanche on my left. I first missed Didier as he was far from the main dirt road and found a freelance worker indeed who was also busy pruning a block. Then as I was cruising back on the dirt road I spotted him.
Getting underground in Paris to get good artisan products
You certainly know about the food trucks where you can find sometimes refined foods but I guess like me you weren't familiar with getting your artisan food in an underground parking, and this, only at certain days you're emailed about beforehand. That's what I was initiated recently in the 20th arrondissement after having been tipped through Gilles Manzoni about the initiative of Jean-Christophe Hanier (and himself). Jean-Christophe holds regularly open tables in this underground parking (in the 2nd basement to be precise) where people in-the-know can come and buy organic artisan food and vegetables sourced by himself in France and Italy. You can almost certain that you'll get a pour of artisan wine as a bonus, as Gilles has his reserve there (he now stopped working as a natural-wine distributor and he works at Caves Augé).
Touraine, Loire This was during a weekend in the Loire recently, I was visiting an elderly lady in a village to buy her vegetables and eggs and I saw this huge pile of recently-uprooted vines, obviously old vines that were still looking very healthy and fit for grape bearing. The woman in question although
totally outside the hype of organic farming is growing all her stuff naturally, she also has a few sheep plus a couple dozen hens and that's always a pleasure to visit her and buy her stuff, this time I was looking for buying 10 kg of her wonderful potatoes, plus eggs and beetroot. The potatoes taste so good, they don't get chemical sprayings and the only fertilizers they get is sheep manure, and they're a steal at 1 € a kg...
These vines were given to her by a grower, it is pretty common in the French countryside to use uprooted vines as heating wood and for this lady with meager means this was pretty useful as she heats her house with a cook woodstove. Her son was going to cut this wood so that she could use it proprely.
What spiked my interest is first that the vines still had all their root system, and this was very interesting to watch the spread of roots in old vines that were intially farmed correctly with regular plowing and no herbicides/fertilizers. The woman told me that according to the grower they were 60 years old, that is, they were planted well before the time when easy conventional farming brought drastic changes in the root architecture and ultimately in the yields and quality of the grapes. Even if this vineyard was later sprayed with weedkillers and boosted with fertlizers, it still retained it's original web of major roots which was a useful indicator for me.
Ottorink is the oldest Weinbar in Berlin, in a city where wine-considered-for-itself made a recent entry : Just a mere three years ago according to several wine-wise Berliners we met, if you wanted to indulge in some well-chosen wines you had to walk into high-end restaurants like the one at the Hotel Adlon, and you had to order a regular meal to go with, because wine was not something you would order alone.
In Germany beer (and they're so good here)
can be had for itself while for the wine there's a whole culture to build, something Ottorink and several others have already managed to do.
The wine bar is located in the now-sought-after Kreuzberg neighborhood, an area which during the Berlin-wall years was somehow cornered and remote, facing the DDR south of the Spree river and west of the canal at Görlitzer Ufer. This area where you could also find factory buildings was favored by Turkish immigrants and also bohemians and artists who settled there in cheap rentals and developped an alternative lifestyle, turning Kreuzberg along the years into a magnet for the youth around the world. It's what the German call a Multikulti Bezirk, but from close it's a much softer area than many no-go zones around Paris (called euphemistically zones de non-droit or quartiers sensibles there), plus there's a growing gentrification going on in Kreuzberg, as was testified by an artist we visited on Maybachufer along the canal and who settled 35 years ago in a former factory workshop on what was then a dead end street running into the wall. This German artist saw appartment buildings along the canal being renovated and purchased to wealthy investors or Berliners, and same for some former factories although the building structures were very spartan. Although I'm fond of other Berlin neighborhoods like Friedrichshain or Prenzlauer Berg (both situated in the former DDR) because they have more a feel of the old Berlin, Kreuzberg remains an area to visit, beginning for its artist and small venues, and there is a wide choice of Turkish or Asian restaurants. The Dresdener Straße on which the wine bar is located is a quiet street between the Spree and the canal, near Oranien Platz (by the way, a tip : the easiest way to reach this street is to enter it from Oranien Platz rather than from its Kottbusser-Tor end).
Here is another of these very recent wine bars of Berlin (It's one year old to the day !), it is located on Gormannstraße, a quiet street also opportunely situated in the vicinity of the aptly-named U-Bahn station Weinmeister. Gormann straße is a quiet side street in Mitte, in what was a few decades ago east Berlin. This is a quiet area with a mix of new and older buildings.
On the wine bar website you can read in French
under the bar's name Bar à Vins Libres (libres __free in French__ for freedom and liveness I guess) which hints rightly that this wine bar is centered on natural wines. Further it explains that the wines here are made exclusively by small producers and winegrowers.
Maxime Boillat is from Switzerland (the French-speaking part) and he has been living in Berlin for 15 years now. But he had several lives before embarking on this wine thing, he took part to archeological excavations in Petra (Jordan) in 1997, he's also been a DJ in a techno club (Münzsalon), then he worked in various restaurants including, before opening Maxim, when he was running the restaurant HBC near Alexander PLatz. Maxime opened his place just a year ago with the intention to welcome wine lovers who just want to enjoy wine, and wines that are made naturally without correction or lab yeast.Although wine comes first here, if you want to eat there is a chef and a kitchen with 3 staff to prepare dishes that have been thought to go with a particular wine. I think that Maxim is the only wine bar in Berlin serving exclusively Naturweinen, wines that made from aus biologischem Anbau , that are made ohne Zusätze [I'll give you this one : without additives], ohne aufwändige Kellertechnik and that are unfiltriert gefüllt and often ungeschwefelt (I'm sure you already understand German thanks to your vinous culture...
For those of you who want who have German basics and wish to better their natural-wine lexicon, read the Naturwein page of Wikipedia. The history part of Naturwein is interesting because in Germany it started in the early 20th century in response to the correction techniques instituted by Ludwig Gall, a former proto-Marxist revolutionnary turned wine chemist (see story here).
When you travel to Germany you think primarily about beer, notably regarding their Trinkkultur over there, this country being a big consumer of the beverage with a multitude of local breweries which still for many of them follow a very strict and natural brewing-process
rule known here as Reinheitsgebot. Germany is also a wine producer
with several important regions but somehow wine remained in the back seat which explains why wine bars are not so common here, but this is changing rapidly and in the matter of three years Berlin which had no real wine bar until recently had 3 wine bars open successively.
The wine bar is located on Große Hamburger Straße, a quiet street on Mitte close to Prenzlauer Berg in what was in the past part of East Berlin and the DDR. It's ironically located near a U-Bahn station (line 8) named Weinmeisterstraße, Weinmeister as you guess it, meaning wine master in German.
The venue is run by 4 associates, all passionate wine lovers, among them Willi Schlögl who was at the counter that day when B. and I dropped unannounced. The wine bar is the place to visit if you're here to taste not only German wines (which they have) but also Austrian wines, as it has a big selection of them. We have to aknowledge that as recently as three years ago the only place you could find quality wines was at Hotel Adlon, a high-end venue of Berlin, and only as a side thing in the restaurant. Elsewhere, from what people told me during this berlin stay, you'd find only generic wines without real commitment.
Thank you for what I feel are countless solidarity thoughts streaming from the whole world for Charlie-Hebdo.
Barbarians stuck in
the 7th-century-thinking of their desert tribe are believing they can put the world civilization in reverse mode, back to their own flat-earth cult in countless countries, from India to Thailand, the Philippines, the whole Middle East, Nigeria, Somalia, China, Russia, the United States and Europe (and many more). They might meet some effective resistance one day, possibly from within, but since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the tepid response of the free world, the pressure has augmented, putting even the historians under threat. Let's hope that France will awaken after decades-old policies of appeasing terror groups as well as their sponsor states and rewarding the bad guys with huge ransoms against hostages.
Make sure to buy next-week's issue of Charlie Hebdo, they'll have one million copies -- 3 million, now 7 million__ and counting__ printed (instead of the usual 50 000).
The candle on the left is our own contribution sitting outside at our window in Paris, the breeze gently left it quiet.
A vinous travel through time
A new year is beginning, let's remind the great moments we went through in the past year, moments whose greatness was often beyond our understanding of their real, unique value. Casual drinking in good company for example is one of these human activities that make life worth living, more than the superficial pursuit of wealth or other recognition or status objectives. The people pictured on this story enjoyed some kind of togetherness years ago, they paused a second in the swirl of their everyday life holding a glass with friends and family, and had not this snap being shot by one of them, we'd ignore that in this somewhere and sometime something really meaningful occured...
As always I picked all these documents (except the last one) in street flea markets here and there in France, mostly in either the Loire region or Paris. I am a fan of these vide-greniers, brocantes and marchés aux puces where you can find everything from the plastic junk of our modern era to old dusty stuff that seems to have really been found in an attic. I find lots of diverse stuff in these flea-market foragings, including things that I'll use in everyday life like kitchen tools and old wine glasses, but these stacks of pictures are always touching because it is often obvious that the last person who took part to these anonymous events is gone.
Essoyes, Aube (Champagne)
You might have an image of Champagne like a monocultural landscape of hills covered with vineyards and nothing else, but this corner of the Aube is so different. With the woods and the narrow valley you would probably have betted on another wine region if having to decide blind, but this is Champagne. We must remember that the Aube was historically the underdog of Champagne, and in the early 20th century the Maisons de Champagne of the Marne came here to buy grapes, especially between 1907 and 1911 when the harvests were calamitous because of the phylloxera and bad weather. The Aube was just good enough to sell its cheap grapes to the Marne so that the respectable Maisons could turn these otherwise-vulgar grapes into prestigious and expensive
Champagne wine, the Aube being the back door where you could source fruit in case of emergency. In those dire years where there was a shortage of grapes, the Aube where the fruit harvest was less affected than the Marne's, helped keep the demand for the prestigious bubbly satisfied, but it was itself not allowed to make Champagne wine according to the Appellation of that time, only the Marne could. the Marne growers were unhappy of this switching to the Aube grapes and this sparked what is known as the Champagne revolts : in short, to calm down the anger of the Marne growers the authorities decided in 1911 to allow only Marne grapes (and a few from certain villages of the Aisne) in Champagne wines, to which the Aube growers responded with demonstrations (picture-postcard). Faced with sometimes-destructive riots, the government after sending the Army in, then chose to sit on the fence and gave Aube the status of "secondary Champagne zone". While this history relativizes the real value of an Appellation, it rewarded at last the Aube for it's humble growing service that had not been recognized before that. The Aube was formally integrated (without restriction) in the Champagne region in 1927.
You can have a look at the distant Aube region on this interactive map of Champagne : mouse down to the southern tip of the Aube département and then zoom in, you'll see that Essoyes is as close to Burgundy as Les Riceys, another hidden gem of Champagne.
Leppert-Leroy, named from husband and wife Bénédicte Ruppert and Emmanuel Leroy is a small winery making less than 5 hectares in vineyard surface. It is located a mere 7 kilometers from the village of Grancey-sur-Ource which is already in the Burgundy region (Côte d'Or). The domaine's vineyards have been farmed organic since the start and are now biodynamic, and for a couple of years it has been making its Champagne wines without any added SO2 from A to Z (from the pressed juice to the bottling).