This is the time of the year when you can taste the paradis in the winery, this French word meaning "paradise" or "heaven". The paradis is the freshly-pressed juice flowing from the press after a couple of weeks of carbonic maceration. This juice of gamay is
very different from what it would have been if it hadn't beforehand spent 15 days of forced seclusion within the
intact skins of the grapes, in a strong fermentation pressure kept in check by a natural production of CO2. It didn't get its name for nothing, and even for a non-expert juice taster, this is paradise on earth.
This paradis has a strong-enough evocative power to have inspired a few village celebrations throughout the Beaujolais, for example the Paradis et Artisanat day in Arnas, and the Fête du Paradis in Odenas. The grape juice will fill the glasses during these festive events, a juice which already has a small percentage of alcohol, maybe 3 or 4 % when you have it just at the press, a bit more later, and it makes you feel high in a very gentle way after a few refills, which are hard to resist.
The paradis is a close parent to the delicious bernache or vin nouveau, other names found elsewhere in France for the same sweet grape juice turning slowly into wine. I love to visit wineries at this time of the year and have a few glasses of this savoury fermenting juice, usually a beverage with a lightly more alcohol but still so beautifully sweet. But filling your glass under the press at Domaine Lapierre is not usual for me, and I enjoyed every sip, well aware of the importance of this moment. There was this glass sitting empty on the base of the press and I guess that Mathieu, Camille or one of the cellar guys would use it to check the juice and have a foretaste of the vintage, for this particular parcel at least.
Link to video on which Mathieu, then Guillaume taste routinely the press juice.
Cave Historique des Hospices de Strasbourg (Alsace)
Strasbourg is certainly a special town, and I think it owes its uniqueness to the fact that it was for a long time part of a cluster of free towns (Freien Städten) along the Rhine valley, a region where free ideas and intellectual creativity as well as commerce could flow unabated. A free Imperial city in 1262, it probably gained from being out of reach of French kings and rulers, and I like to think that something remains of this positioning between the Germanic sphere and the French one.
Strasbourg was also among the towns where Rudolf
Steiner gave many lectures, had an understanding following here because of certain freedom of thought, and this is where he met Albert Schweizer, a prominent Alsatian of that time. In short, I'm proud of the city that I consider as my home town, and returning to the Heimat and visiting my friends there is always a pleasure.
But Strasbourg is also home to what is possibly the oldest wine on earth, not counting the ones still sleeping (in a probably diluted form) in the bottom of the seas in the remains of Roman-ships hulls. This old wine resting in a cellar in Strasbourg was made in the year 1472, a year which it is good to remind it was 20 years exactly before Christopher Columbus sailed to a still-unknown destination.
The treasure sits in an old cellar under the majestic Hospices de Strasbourg (hospital), this cellar being older than the building above it (pictured onthe right), as it has been built between 1393 and 1395...
There's a long history of friendship between the hospices and wine, the best known case being the Hospices de Beaune. Everybody was making wine at the time, including the religious orders, and wine as well as parcels was a commodity that helped pay for the expenses of the hospital, many patients having little coin money but lots of liquid one...
Hugh Johnson wrote in The History of Wine that in 15th-century Germany, the yearly consumption was 120 liters a year per inhabitant, and that doctors and patients alike were drinking 7 liters a day (maybe different wines from our modern ones)...
Olivier Cousin in front of the courthouse in Angers
Some bad-mouthed people in France keep pretending that our judges are soft on crime and only pursue cases that fit into their progressive political agenda. These people couldn't be more wrong, and the lawsuit against Olivier Cousin is a living proof of the
staunch fight of our judiciary to defend the
well-being of our fellow citizens against troublemakers... who dare say (and print) that their organic but vulgar table wine is made in a place, for the matter, Anjou.
Our tax money at work, here is an affair that is already 2 years old, and as we know that the French courts are chronically congested, this must be a very important matter to keep the Judicial administration this focused and determined. You can read the sum up of this appalling story by Jancis Robinson 2 years ago, she highlighted at the time the French silliness over AOC which led authorities to drag to court a Loire farmer for daringly and humoristically spelling the variety name and the word Anjou on his table-wine labels, a serious crime that warranted the judiciary wrath and possibly a fine of 40 000 €... Decanter also had a piece on this, another setback for the credibility of the AOC administration and the French judiciary.
Olivier Cousin farms organic and vinifies without additives, and he is known for using a draft horse to plow his vineyard and carry the harvest boxes. He is a vigneron who makes Anjou wines shine in France and abroad, but it is forbidden to display that his table wines are made in the region of Anjou, because the wine administration uses the table-wine status as a punishing limitation, some sort of modern untouchable status where you're denied to display the region origin and even sometimes the village name if it is associated with a quality wine (the wine administration in this case wants the winery to use only the Zip code). The word "Domaine" is samely banned on these labels...
André Durrmann is a winegrower who is making wine from his old family house in the middle of Andlau, a beautiful village nestled on the first slopes of the Vosges mountains south-west of Strasbourg. A mere half an hour drive from downtown Strabourg, this village provides an immersion experience into the quiet Alsatian countryside, and as it is
less tourist-oriented than the wine-route hot spots of Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr, you have a
more authentic feel there.
André Durrmann took over the family winery in 1979 following the steps of his father and after a few years he has been exploring new ways to farm his surface, not only converting to organic but also doing things (-or not doing, in this matter) on the edge of permaculture, that is, leaving the ground unplowed and with all its grass, and training some of his vineyards on lyre for a better balance between the fruit load, the vines and the grass. He is now working on a total surface of 7 hectares.
His facility is not big, and he's having some interior remodeling done these days on the 17th century building so that the space can be optimized. The village houses have no underground cellars here because there's lots of water beneath, so the vinification rooms and cellars are on the street level. They work in two adjacent houses plus one on the other side of the narrow street and they live upstairs. These houses where he and his family are working were already registred in a plan dating from 1736 as being farm houses located outside of the Abbey of Andlau which was founded in 880 and protected by thick walls against invaders. Because of this abbey, viticulture and winemaking have of course very deep roots here.
Enderle & Moll is a fairly new winery set up by two young Germans in the Baden region, namely in the Black Forest foothills between Offenburg and Freiburg im Breisgau. Working from a 2-hectare surface, they're pretty isolated in the region regarding their approach to winemaking and viticulture,
choosing to let the vineyard live its life without fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and somehow taking parcels that
commercially-driven family wineries tend to abandon because of lower yields. On the cellar side they also work very differently from most of the trade around here, the wines are basically left by themselves uncorrected, including for the color of the Pinot Noir, and because of the striking difference with the "traditional" corrected wines of the area, they fearlessly bottle their wines as Deutscher Tafelwein (you understand German here, I guess) , an unprecedent rebellion in Germany. This reminds us of similarly demanding winegrowing work in France being rewarded by getting the supposedly-untouchable status of table wine (which has now almost become a blinker for real wines there).
I was tipped about Sven and Florian by my friend Surk-ki who runs the wine shop La Vincaillerie in Köln, thank you Sur-ki !
Münchweier is a charming village sitting on the first slopes of the Black Forest range, a region that mirrors Alsace's own Vosges foothills, and here like in Alsace the villages have deep winemaking roots, every old house having had in the past its own micto winery and tools. Some villages are particularly worth the detour, like Gengenbach a few kilometers north, a gem of a village where I used to go regularly (and occasionally drink wine) when I was living in Strasbourg a few years ago.
Cravant-les-Coteaux, Chinon (Loire)
The Domaine de l'R is a fairly new, it was founded by Frédéric Sigonneau in 2007, and it is already counted by Chinon amateurs among the ones where cabernet franc shines. Frédéric and his parents have been living next door to Bernard Baudry, he was by the way a childhood friend of Mathieu, Bernard's son. Frédéric, whose family owned vineyards but rented them to different wineries,
began to work at Patrick Baudry in 1997, staying two years
there until 1999. He then worked at Fabrice Gasnier, an organic (and now biodynamic) vigneron 4 km away. Then at the end of the wine school in 2002 he went to Spain where he stayed 2 years, working on biodynamicly-farmed ungrafted vineyards. Back in France, he had an interlude of 2 years working in a conventional domaine before setting up his own domaine in 2007. His wines, which were then still under the radar by the mainstream wine media, were discovered by Olivier Grosjean, an out-of-the-box French wine writer during his visit at the Salon d'Angers in 2009.
Cravant-les-Coteaux is a village located 8 km east of Chinon, at the foot of the hills running along the Vienne river. The AOC Chinon is spread over 19 villages and as of 2005, the AOC had 254 growers among which 238 wineries (221 domaines, 1 coop and 16 négoces). Chinon is of course Cabernet Franc country but the wines of the AOC are not always exciting when you source your bottles in the wine aisle of a supermarket. Happily, there is now a good number of wineries doing an excellent job at setting the bar high for what Cabernet Franc can offer.
This is a last story to make you dream. When we saw this place and the people who live there, I thought that if a movie director had put it on screen for a story I'd have found that a complete idealized fiction and too nice to be true. But it isn't fiction, here are
a man and a woman who live in an old stone/wood cabin (dating from the late 30s') in the California backcountry, living off their vegetables and without many common amenities like air-conditioning and TV,
This is in a remote corner of California (no further location details, no need to bother Jonathan and his wife with visitors), and if the property is fenced it's not to fight off paparazzi or crime but to keep wild animals from coming in and eating the vegetables they grow, because the region being very dry they wouldn't have much left if they didn't close their lot. The area seems to have been inhabited even before the first settlers came in, because they found stones that had the patterns of human work near this house, probably Chumash natives.
I didn't shoot more pictures of the house itself by discretion but it was a marvel of a rustic house in the wilderness, the large living room was, how to say, extremely simple and at the same time so welcoming and imbued with timeless beauty, that's how I imagine the house of an ermit (or a couple of ermits in that case) where you root back to the important things in life, peel off the useless gadgets and connect to mother nature.
There's still room for people to live their dream in the United States, and wandering into the backcountry of Oregon and California convinced me of this, although it's certainly true in other parts of the country from what my past travels taught me. The hippie era may be behind us, but this is the Land of the Free and there's lots of room, both geographically and in the national psyche, for non-conventional individuals who want to follow their own route.
A craft-beer road story
This story will be again an ode the USFS, the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture, which made it possible for us to camp in unique settings and a pristine
environment , in forests, lakes and wide expanses of wilderness. What I like in the USFS' web of campgrouds is that some of them are above radar, easy to
find through a web search (and often full in summer) while others
seem to be intentionally hidden from a superficial search, and you discover them only by daringly venturing deep into the given forests and wilderness, be they state managed, regional or national. Thanks to these unsuspected facilities, we found several times a place to stay at the last minute when every listed campground had the feared sign "campground full" at its door (weekends near the bay area or major cities for
example). We not only found unexpected vacancy in these discreet campgrounds (home at last!) but also havens of peace that would have been fully booked
if advertised some way or another on the Internet.
This story is also an ode to craft beer, as instead of wine we mostly had beer in the evening with our barbecue, and that was the opportunity
to sample the large choice of craft beer found now in the United States. It was hot and anyway for the same budget we'd have had a poor selection of wines, so beer made more sense. We'd buy routinely corn, vegetables, beer and beef in the evening and put it all in the styrofoam icebox in the back of the car, a deserved evening treat after a long road. Beef in America is much more tasty than what we get in a basic retail in France. Safeway was our main source, and I even took my first supermarket customer card here in the U.S. (I never took any in France in spite of the pushy cashiers), as the rebates are so important there, like 7,2, $ for a big piece of meat without the card (already a good value for the weight compared to what you'd get in France) and 4,3 with the card. Kudos to Safeway !
Camping is not only cheaper than motels, it's like an unfiltered, uncorrected drink, you get all the breeze, the smell of dew on the bushes and the positive vibes from the telluric depths, and it all makes for a great sleep in the midst of mother Nature. You can look back at those wonderful places and say, I was there, I was part of this magic. So, let's pack the camping gear into the car, put the music on, and take the road !
Santa Maria Mesa Road, Santa Maria, California
A last winery story in the U.S. (3rd week of july)
If Jim Clendened hadn't become the now-famous winemaker/owner of Au Bon Climat, he'd be a cook for sure, and certainly as successful. Here is a man who in spite of the charge to run a winery and make wines, prepares lunch for his staff almost every day, from what I understood, and
Jim Clendenen's lunch is indeed something you must have gone through at least once, because
it's at the same time a daily routine and a prized epicurian ritual for the visitors, be they other winemakers or journalists, in the sober setting of a winery facility and barrel cellar.
Before founding Au Bon Climat in 1982 with associate Adam Tolmach (who now runs Ojai), Jim Clendenen worked a few years at Zaca Mesa where Adam was a fellow employee.
Born in Ohio in a family that was not familiar with wine, he eventually moved to Santa Barbara, attending the University there. Getting to visit Bordeaux in a junior year, he discovered the wine world and came back in France in 1977, this time in Burgundy where winegrowers are closer to their land than in Bordeaux, and working on smaller surfaces. Back in California he worked at Zaca Mesa, then did the harvest in Australia and Burgundy, helped by Becky Wasserman for whom he realized the interviews of 40 prominent winemakers of the region (beginning with Henri Jayer), as he was fluent in French. He and Adam had a great time in Burgundy and it helped forge the winemaking culture that they'd put to work later in California.
Having tasted and loved the pinot noir of Au Bon Climat during a wine tasting event organized at the U.S. Embassy a few years ago, I wanted to see him here in California.
AmByth Estate is pretty unique in California, it's as far as I know the only winery making wine from estate vineyards that are 100 % dry farmed, that is, non-irrigated. Most vineyards in California have these black hoses underneath and the vines get a regular dose of water, even in some places that are not desperately dry, like this vineyard near Healdsburg (Westside road).
Considering the punishingly-dry climate in the area where AmByth is located, south of Paso Robles, this was quite daring. the Wikipedia page for Templeton designates the region as having dry summers, with the rain falling
between november and march and
tapering off almost completely by the en of april, temperatures going from 10-15 ° F (minus 9 °C) in winter and up to 115 °F (46 °C) in summer. This was indeed hot when this visit took place a few weeks ago in july, and walking through vineyards that hadn't the ubiquitous
drip black hoses was a very interesting experience.
Pioneers are passionate people whose drive is more passion than profit, and Philip Hart took
risks on his own funds to build this winery and plant these vineyards from scratch and without the security of dripping, but the resulting wines prove that he made the right bet.
Templeton (pic on left) is a small community located roughly between Santa Barbara and Monterey, 23 miles from the Pacific Ocean by road but much less as the crow flies. To quote the Expedia page again, Templeton will occasionally receive fog due to its proximity with the California Coastal Range, the Pacific Ocean, and the higher valley temperatures of Templeton itself : the differential in density between the warm rising air in the valley causes it to be displaced with the descent of the cooler marine air layer. This means that even though we're here in a hot area, there's a strong influence from cooler air and this has a positive effect on the vineyard.
We reached AmByth driving from Santa Barbara, and thanks to the GPS we found the remote corner of a valley where the property sits. As soon as we parked the car in the shade, we were greeted by Frederic whom I knew when he was still working at Champagne Krug, with whom I had kept in touch along the years, and who has been working here for a year. We refreshed ourselves with a glass of water in the shade, Philip Hart and his wife Mary were on a trip that week and Frederic Ballario was the one who would show us around.