Couffy, Touraine (Loire)
There are grape varieties for which I have tenderness, like the Pineau d'Aunis or the Menu Pineau for example; these varieties that had well adapted to the Loire climate and terroirs over the course of several centuries but they were suddenly written off by the wine administration a few decades ago in their push to develop "noble" varieties like Sauvignon or Chardonnay, this, in order to "compete" with other more prestigious wine regions of the Loire. For this reason, the cultivated surface of these varieties has dwindled and a few parcels remain here and there.
When I called
Christophe Foucher the other day he told me he was about to do some routine work in his parcels,
beginning with his menu pineau, and I told him I'd love to see his parcel and what kind of spring work he'd do there.
I had written a story on La Lunotte a few years ago, where Christophe Foucher is managing a small wine farm with about 5 hectares of vineyards on the southern bank of the Cher river, near Couffy, a village east of Saint-Aignan in the Loir et Cher département. I often meet Christophe on the market place in Saint Aignan when I'm in the region for weekends (I also stumble on Catherine of Clos Roche Blanche as well as on Noella Morantin there....) and it's always a pleasure to chat about how things are going. Christophe is focused on doing the right thing on the vineyard management, which is entirely organic, and his cellar work is very simple in the sense that there is almost none except waiting.
Asked about when menu pineau was still easy to find around here, Christophe says that 30 years ago probably it was still a variety easy to find along the Cher river, then the winegrowers were encouraged by the conseillers viticoles and the Chambre d'Agriculture to uproot these low-yields old vineyards of menu pineau and plant sauvignon (high-yield) clones for the négoce and bulk-wine market, because at the time most of the wine here went this way. These clones were short lived because much more prone to diseases and, take the high fertilizers use and the rest, these sauvignon were often ripe for uprooting after a mere 30 years of intensive work. The odd thing, Christophe says, is that the winegrowers were encouraged to uproot well-adapted old vines and plant in their place high-yield clones that don't stand the test of time, and it is sad because the varieties written off by these wine authorities were also the Gascon, the Grolleau, possibly even some Romorantin although he is not sure this variety was common on this side of the Cher river, but whatever, these varieties had their own, recognized qualities.
The other day we opened a rare bottle, a Trevallon 2001 that B. had bought at the wine farm when we visited back in 2004. I had stopped short of buying one myself because already then it was beyond my means, but B. had walked the line and bought a bottle. She decided to open it recently when we visited her parents in Burgundy as her brother and sister were there too (she keeps a cellar there in Burgundy), thinking that, well, 2014 was maybe the right time to drink this wine.
This was a feast of refinement and balance, roasted aromas, dust, a slight bitterness, the type of wine you enjoy while drinking it and after swallowing. B. felt blackcurrant, cinnamon and pepper. The wine was telling you silent stories, it was all in restraint and tannins that were present but civilized, very beautiful.
And it was also an occasion to think about these early top-quality wines going
modestly under a table wine label, because Trevallon may be one of the first among these demanding artisan vintners scrapping the AOC cover (forced or by choice) and opting for the vulgar table-wine (or vin-de-pays) anonymity instead. From what I remember and recovered from my own writing, this wine was granted for a while the VDQS Coteaux d'Aix en Provence in the early 1980s', VDQS being a pre-AOC type of appellation then, meaning Vin de Qualité Supérieure. But one day, when the AOC Baux de Provence replaced the VDQS for his area, and because Cabernet Sauvignon wasn't allowed in the Appellation over a limited percentage, the AOC authorities asked Eloi Dürrbach either to comply and take the Cabernet Sauvignon percentage down, or have this wine downgraded as "Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhone". He took the vin-de-pays label instead of complying and his usual customers (who foremost were buying the bottles for what was inside) remained loyal, with retail prices at the winery already much higher than most AOCs of the area (read this page to see by yourself how much may cost his vins de pays). ELoi Dürrbach was particulaly upset in the sense that cabernet sauvignon had been very common in the area before the phylosera and in spite of the long history of cabernet here, the AOC rulers decided to minimize this variety in the "allowed" list. Most winegrowers who still had cabernet decided to comply with the rules then but Eloi Dürrbach chose to resist and stay in the cold (without the reassuring cover of the VDQS or AOC) and he sure made the right choice, his wine is here to prove it.
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.
Winegrowers from the Forez, Auvergne, Saint-Pourçain and Côte Roannaise
Paris, 11th arrondissement
I went to a wine tasting event named Ici Commence la Loire some time ago (check the participating domaines on the linked Pdf). This was a few weeks ago but I was busy until now and delayed the story, it was taking place at La Cartonnerie in the 11th, a nice place to organize a professional tasting event, a no-fuss place, not too big and with several connecting rooms (this is a well-preserved set of former workshops). I went to quite a few artisan-wine tastings in this venue. The event was organized the wine communication agency Clair de Lune.
The wines featured there were coming exclusively from the eastern wing of the Loire region, namely from 4 small wine
regions, the Côtes d'Auvergne, the Côtes du Forez, the Saint-Pourçain and the Côte Roannaise, an area that seems to sit closer to the city of Lyons than the Loire valley proper, but which is still part of the extended family of the Loire wines. The name of the event (Ici Commence la Loire) means "Here Begins the Loire", reminding that the Loire-wine-region's eastern lands start here, and also that the river Loire has its source in these eastern mountains.
Mouse this Loire-region map down to its far right/lower corner and you'll spot the 4 colored patches of these tiny wine regions that stand clearly apart from each other, 2 of them (Côte Roannaise & Cotes du Forez) being next to the Rhone (69) département.
There were almost 40 domaines taking part, and while many of the wines (especially the reds) were a bit rough for me and still very conventional, I discovered a few nice wines. I went there after work and only managed to sample a few wineries. This far-east area of the Loire is completely under the radar, and while the main reason (I think) is that many of the wines there are not very exciting, it's a region with a good potential for change, so I try not to miss an occasion to visit the rare tasting events exclusively devoted to this region. The other positive aspect of these little-known Loire regions is that the wines are pretty cheap.
As I was tasting at a table I heard that the winegrowers were called for a group picture and I jumped on the opportunity to take a shot of these cheerful vintners. Small wine regions have the advantages of easy-going relations and you could feel that clearly that day.
What follows is a very quick and partial overview of the wines found at this event, hoping this will nonetheless make you want to discover the wines of this area.
I read recently an captivating essay by Kevin Goldberg on Lars Carlberg's Mosel Wine website, it was on a little-known aspect of the struggle between partisans of non-interventionist winemaking (call it natural) and additives-enhanced winemaking
(call it industrial).
His piece was utterly interesting because
while we know about Chaptal who fathered the chaptalization bettering technique, what Kevin reports on happened also long time ago in the mid-19th century, but it happened in Germany, not a country we usually associate with natural-wine struggles or with an historical role in the massive correction of wines (I mean we know that the mainstream wines there have been routinely corrected but we somehow missed the scientist/initiator behind these corrections). I thus discovered an unknown part of the history behind the "modern" wine and its skilled techniques to improve our wines.
This article offers also indirectly an interesting insight into the particular mindset behind the man who devised a way to correct and shape the wines of the Mosel region (and then of Germany at large) through the wonders of science and the human intelligence. We feel that at that time the mood was like, in some way, a better future was at an easy reach, thanks to a few drops here and there....
We usually associate corrective winemaking with industry-driven interests, that's why we like to target the big companies who manufacture the additives (nothing better than a Monsanto-like scapegoat to use as a strawman), but a closer look at several of the initiators for corrective winemaking seems to show that these individuals were often on the progressive side of the society, sharing optimist ideals featuring social change (sometimes scarily bordering revolutionary ideals) and the substitution of tradition by science to cure all human ills.
With Typepad under DDoS attack for 5 days, WineTerroirs has been down for a while, be patient
The courtyard of Domaine Lapierre in march 2006
A bit of visual wine history
I couldn't attend La Beaujoloise in mid april but here are a few pictures shot when B. and I attended the very first one (if I'm right) of its kind, the one of 2006 in Villié Morgon at Marcel Lapierre's.
This was quite a new type of event, an almost-unofficial tasting event taking place in the margin of a larger, more conventional tasting gathering, in the matter the Rendez-Vous-du Beaujolais organized by the Comité Interprofessionnel du Beaujolais (a regional wine syndicate) in a string of villages. B. and I had gone to the mainstream event where by the way Marcel Lapierre was also taking part (see the 2 pictures below) and then there was also this almost-confidential (back then) event and we decided to drop there in the afternoon.
These salons off (meaning off the mainstream event) like the French call them were only beginning to sprout, like the Dive Bouteille in Angers (on the side of the major Salon des Vins de Loire), but the concept behind Marcel Lapierre's Beaujoloise was different : it was
a very small gathering of winegrowers/friends who set up a few tables in a lead winery, here for instance the one of Marcel Lapierre, and poured their wines to professional visitors. This format of event, even more casual than the Dive Bouteille and still dead serious about the quality of the wines and the passion of the attending public, was to become viral in the following years among the artisan vintners looking to connect with the buyers, the market and with their fellow winemakers in a very relaxed way. Today there is not a single wine region in France without these friendly-organized events often taking place in the facility of one of the participating winemakers.
A courtyard with a few tables in front of Marcel Lapierre's wine farm in Villié-Morgon, the setting was pretty austere but you had here a bunch of high-flying artists, I was very impressed and shy, I don't have many pictures, and I remember that it was very cold. I probably have an orange notebook somewhere with notes and if I dig it I may add a few comments but pending that we'll be content with these few pictures, especially the ones where Marcel Lapierre chats with a few people in the cask cellar at the end of the day (the cellar door is on the street level if I remember).
Courgis, (Chablis, Burgundy)
Thomas Pico started working on 2,5 hectares in 2005 and 2006 in the vicinity of Courgis on the edge of the Chablis Appellation, an area with maybe more woods and landscape diversity than
much of the rest of this wine area. Thomas decided to farm organic unlike his father who was himself
a winegrower here, and he ended up convincing his father (who had 22 hectares then) to make the U turn to organic viticulture in 2007 (the family domaine was certified in 2010). In his early years he was keeping a day job as an empoyee at his father's domaine while setting up his own wine farm. Year after year Thomas Pico grew his surface step by step, getting (mostly through rents) parcels from his relatives or acquaintances and reaching 6 ha in 2006, 8 ha in 2012 and 10 ha in 2013. At the end of this year he'll take over 5 hectates from his father, making a total of 15 hectares in total. Having started his winery separately from his father's own allowed him to farm organic unfettered on his (at the beginning) small surface and learn the different aspects of the trade like hand picking and long élevage.
Courgis is a small village east of Auxerre and 6 km south of Chablis (the Google map oddly displays "Laroche Sa" in the place of Chablis). Courgis is also home to a small artisan winery that shines well beyond the borders : Alice & Olivier De Moor, and Thomas knows them well of course, which must have played a role in his turning to organic farming. There are still 15 winegrowers in Courgis but only two sell their wines in bottles, the rest selling to the négoce or to the big regional coopérative (which is some sort of négoce in its own kind).
I visited on april 1st (fool day) and Thomas had just discovered that he went around unaware that he had a beautifully-drawn fish on his back, the work of his young (and talented) young daughter...
Crowded counter at Ahiru Store (Teruhiko on right)
Shibuya, Tokyo (a last Tokyo story)
Ahiru Store is a gem of a wine bar serving food and natural wines on the outskirts of Shibuya, it's rather on the Tomigaya side but an easy walk (see itinerary by foot) from the famed Shibuya
Hachiko crossing. The business card of the place (pictured in left) which looks as if it had been drawn by the owner a few seconds before is a good omen for what it has in store...
People go to Ahiro Store for both the food and the wines, which are mostly artisan wines from France. The food is prepared
on the other side of the counter where most of the patrons stand, although there are a couple of standing barrels that you use as a table when the counter is full or if you want more privacy. The wine bar/restaurant is easily full because it is one of the casual restaurants serving these wines which are increasingly popular in Tokyo. This is definitely a place to go to if you want to experience the natural-wine public here, which is more mainstream maybe than in France, and possibly younger.
I was tipped about this wine bar by Rebekah (seen on the picture on right walking into the venue) who in addition to be a fine-sake specialist knows much about the wine scene in this big city. She had presented me to the founder of the place, Teruhiko Saito (picture above, on right), who was also visiting Festivin (the Tokyo natural-wine fair) a few days earlier.
Read Rebekah's profile on Ahiro Store, written 15 months ago.
Hahiro Store is the convenient translation of the Japanese name of the place, アヒルストアの which meand "duck shop" (Ahiru is duck). I forgot to ask the founder why this name.
This remote part of Shibuya where the bar is located has nothing to do with the noisy, neon-lit streets and alleys around Hachiko crossing, it's almost residential and very quiet. You can't miss the place with the line of empty bottles (inspiring labels...) and the freshly-baked (home made) bread behind the window.
Oji, Kita ward (Tokyo)
Here is an izakaya which is particularly cheerful and easy going, a very popular venue in its neighborhood, frequented by working-class people and maybe retirees. You feel like being among a big family here and by the way, it's run by a real family with several generations,
including the grandma who must be well over her 80s and who' still runs to the tables to bring the sake and other drinks.
My friend in Tokyo
learnt about the place through someone whose cousin was one of the middle-aged guys running the place, and he had the intuition that this was the sort of place I was looking for. On target, man, this was a perfect pick, exactly the type of non-pretentious place full of life that I like and want to share. Forget the Michelin awards and bring the booze...
Don't pay attention to these awful neons that are indeed a poor way to light a place, I gave up long time ago taking into account my instinctive philosophy regarding lighting in appartments and businesses in this country, and these lighting fixtures which would make me upset in France don't even bother me here, I focus on other things that I find pleasant and more important.
The street where the izakaya sits is not even gloomy, it's a perfectly anonymous and bland street, I wouldn't have bet a 100-Yen coin that anything interesting could be located there if I hadn't been tipped about the place.
The izakaya is located in the north-east section of central Tokyo named the kita ward, just north of the Yamanote circle (the equivalent of the middle of nowhere for someone like me who barely begins to explore beyond the Yamanote ring). You can reach the Oji station with the Keihin Tohoku line from Tabata staion, or with the Namboku line through Komagome.
This photo story is about one of the most intriguing place in Tokyo, a place where you will find a cluster of eateries (50 or 60) where salarymen gather do drink after work. It's called piss alley or Shonben Yokocho in Japanese. The name of this narrow street (plus a couple of side alleys) speaks length about its nature, it was nicknamed so in a time when you didn't have toilets to relieve yourself, the middle of the alley being probably where all this urine excess would flow a few dozen years ago. The smell reputation of this alley made probably the area a no-go zone for the respectable people of the 1940s'.
The odd thing is that this old-time street has managed to survive in what is the most modern and active neighborhood in Tokyo : Shinjuku. Shinjuku, for starters, is a hot spot of Tokyo's evening life (partly red-light district), a shopping area and one of the major train/metro hubs of the world, and Japan's first : just think that it handles 3,6 million commuters per day... Not really a forgotten stretch of shitamachi like in the vicinity of Minowa or Ueno where it would be less surprising to find remnants of the old ways.