The beer festival of Portland, Oregon might be a good introduction for a first-time visitor of this vibrant medium-size city. Known as the Oregon Brewers Festival, it also highlights the vanguard work of Oregon artisanal breweries in the national microbrewery movement, with a stunning 26-year history of craft beermaking for this Northwestern State of Oregon. The beer festival in Munich is
certainly something that I dream to attend one day
but I can say now that Portland's beer Fest is something unique and unforgettable through which you will widen your beer experience and meet Portlanders and Oregonians in high mood.
The event draws hundreds of happy beer drinkers every last full weekend of july, people who come with friends to sample the dozens of small breweries of Oregon and a few others from neighboring States, all the while listening to live music.
In a recent issue, the Portland Mercury, a wonderful free magazine here, had a story about Oregon's riding the wild wave of artisanal breweries and it helped me visualize the extent of beermaking in this State. the article says that "the fest has earned a national reputation as one of the best, longest, loudest, happiest craft-beer festivals in the country" adding that Oregon's beer market is one of the most mature of the country. Besides Oregon's
prowess in the trade, this beer phenomenon underlines the ability of this country to reinvent itself and innovate all the time. And like the article puts it, the amazing thing about Oregon's beers is that you can find them samely in good restaurants, local bars and even in the retail [beginning with Safeway and Trader Joe's]..
After months of delaying, I ended up trying one of these food trucks that have been under the spotlight of the Parisian food people for a while. I didn't go around and chose the most iconic,
Kristin Frederick's Le Camion qui Fume(the smoking truck), the first, from what I know, who tried the unchartered waters of getting the city administration's green light and testing the Parisian palates for this type of food from a truck. Now there are quite a number of such food trucks, making Paris look like more like a normal city in this regard. Like you can read on the New York Times article, Kristin got every kind of push-back, like saying it wouldn't work or it'll be too expensive for street food, or the authorities will balk at giving the permission. But she did it, and in spite of parking at a different place every day (or because of), Kristin's truck gets clients lining up (like me) before the truck opens its service window. Here it was at Place de la Madeleine and the proximity of Hédiard and Fauchon didn't scare her at all, the place is one of her regular stops and I think that the business runs fine here too.
Kristin is a California native (from Los Angeles I think) and after studying in France she had the idea to duplicate this food-truck culture which was widespread in L.A.
When I arrived on the place de la Madeleine, I found the truck easily, parked near the small market, and a young (obviously) American woman was busy writing the menu on the blackboard. A few people were already waiting that the business hours begin, which was set at 11am. Kristin Frederick (the woman in black on the right), who isn't doing the service herself from what it seems, arrived later saying hello to the staff.
Canal Saint Martin (Paris)
This is the peak season of the year to picnic in Paris, and this business seems not to experience the French gloom at all. Walk around the improvised picnic areas in Paris any evening and you'll
see them occupied by 20ers and 30ers
busy partying and chatting, drinking booze in a generally pacified manner. Girls make a good share of the public and the youth in general are too happy to take advantage of a nice freedom that makes this city a nice place to live.
As I wrote earlier, several reasons explain this surge in the use by the young people of public space to have dinner or apéritif together. First, eating out is not cheap in Paris, and with Twitter or Facebook you can set up a flash party without bothering if the venue will have room for every one. Latecomers can join the fray, they just bring a few things to eat and a bottle, or nothing, it doesn't really matter, there will be usually enough for everyone.
Then, with joblessness at 26 % among the French under 25, you don't go out that much (I mean in restaurants and the likes), so, with these wonderful postcard settings at easy reach where you can just sit and unpack you dinner and drinks, who needs these bars and restaurants ? Life is beautiful...
Cravant-les-Coteaux (Chinon, Loire)
When I first met Helda while visiting Bernard Baudry earlier this year, my first impression was that she was someone with a project. She was presented to me as a worker at Baudry but my intuition was telling me she wasn't only a part-time worker in a winery, and as we exchanged words I learnt that she was setting up her own winery near the village of Cravant-les-Coteaux (picture on left), working with selected purchased from the Chinon area. She's been making wine under her
name since a year and from what I tasted she could
be around for the long term. Her story reinds me the one of Julie Balagny in the Beaujolais; like Julie, Helda is originally from Paris and she is also showing lots of energy in her approach.
Helda Rabaut didn't take the shortest way to the life of winemaker, she was initially studying law in Paris and in parallel, in order to make some money and do something, she worked by chance in a wine bar near where she lived, le Baron Rouge. She began to appreciate wine there, because otherwines there wasn't a particular wine culture in her family. Two wines were a revelation for her in these years, a Saint-Aubin by Domaine Bachelet that her uncle poured her, and a Pommard Premier Cru. She doesnt remember the estate for this one, she had guests at home and just took randomly a bottle in her father's cellar and that was also such a great pick...
She worked 3 years at Le Baron Rouge until 2005 and she decided to drop the law school then. The only thing she knew then was that she wanted to work in this field, even though she admits that she didn't know anything about winemaking. As a first step, she thought that learning how to make wine would help her work in the commercial side of the trade or something like that, it was unclear at the time.
Picture on right : the town of Chinon and the Loire river
In the field of soil life and soil regeneration, Claude and Lydia Bourguignon have been playing a central role for years through their research and through the patented techniques applied in their soil laboratory LAMS, where they do consultancy work for growers in France and abroad (as far as California).
Claude Bourguignon is an agronomy engineer who was at a time director of research at the INRA's soil microbiology department, he and his wife met in the INRA and worked 10 years there before quitting the institute and setting up their own soil laboratory (LAMS) in 1989. In the late 80s' there was no concern in the public institute about the detoriaration of the agriculture soils, like the increasing nitrates presence in water and soils, the thinking mode being to hide behind the EC norms on nitrates for example, and the authorized ceiling had been conveniently raised to keep the problem under the lid. In this regard they were a bit of dissidents in the fact that unlike the INRA they didn't accept the fait accompli of the soil deterioration by the chemicals used in industrial agriculture.
I must say a few things about the INRA,
which is in some ways the result of the French Colbertism, this coupling of government spending,
industry lobbying and state control to achieve certain economical goals.
The INRA, with today 8500 employees and a budget of 880 million Euros has had a very pivotal role in the way the French
agriculture turned from small family farms into large-scale industrial farms. Agriculture has been indeed one of the fields where this French big-government approach was applied after WW2 to implement the revolutionary benefits of the chemical industry to the (sometimes unwilling) farmers. But unlike in the Vendée in the late 1700s' where the central government had to send its armed troops to implement its revolutionary ideology, the farmers didn't resist much to the promised wonders of chemical sprayings and it was only years after the landslide of what we call now conventional agriculture that dissident voices like the one of Claude Bourguignon began to be heard. The INRA was originally a state-funded research institute then it became an EPIC, acronym for Etablissement Public à Caractère Industriel, meaning that the industry was largely at the wheel from then on, but anyway before that, the French administration has very early favored an industrial orientation for the French agriculture, envisioning (with the remembrement for example) huge fields with efficient machinery and the assistance of miracle chemicals. The INRA is now an EPST or Etablissement Public à caractère Scientifique et Technique (we French love acronyms).
Somewhere in the Loire
First, sorry for pouring you, in this story, a type of red (pictured on left) which is not exactly the one that you'd expect in this context...
Boudin noir or blood [sorry again] sausage is one of these very simple dishes that don't need a sophisticated training to prepare, but few home cooks actually venture into the real thing, although
that's both very cheap
and a sure way to get a product without preservatives and other food additives. We are going here to review again how simple this recipe really is, so that you can decide for yourself if you're up to the job.
This story took place in an undisclosed village of Touraine (Loire), and this bulk of blood sausage was intended for a village event, like my first wine-pairing story featuring this popular dish. You never know if the French or European food-safety police is watching, so anonymity is the best option.
I rode my motorcycle to a village and an address which I had been given to me by one of the guys on the pictures, an experienced kitchen master, and everything took place in an outbuilding behind the owner's house; it is amazing how much room you need when you begin to prepare a particular dish, and an outbuilding or an annex, a converted garage is perfect, you can put all the mess in there without bothering to clean it all before preparing dinner, and the cement floor is taken care of with a simple garden hose. Still, this cooking routine was a man's thing, women have probably enough work with the family needs to add this village treat. Plus, all this blood......
Behind the hype and glamour of Champagne there are a few annoying things when you look closer at this thriving wine region.
Here is my translation of one of the related sentences :
The Champagne winegrowers are also the only ones (with the ones of the Charentes region - a region in Western France) to make systematic sprayings of mineral nitrogen. Nearly 80 % of the vineyard surface in Champagne gets nitrogen every year, the goal being higher yields. And when you get higher yields you get vines that are more fragile and subject to disease.
So it becomes clear that greed, higher yields, are directly connected with the heavy-handed chemical sprayings witnessed on this victimized Champagne vineyard...
Unlike most of the other wine regions (and along Bordeaux), Champagne is largely resisting the move toward a vineyard farming preserving the life of the soil, mainly because business keeps getting better and because most growers are paid by the weight and not by the organic quality of their grapes.
Georges Laval is a deep-rooted family Champagne house, with documented vineyard-growing activity by the family as far as 1694. This is a small domaine with only 2,5 hectares, and it is organicly farmed since 1971 (it's even in byodynamy for a while), and given the record in this
regard elsewhere in Champagne (and the difficult weather conditions), that is quite exceptional. Before that time, the family was selling the grapes to the négoce.
The village of
Cumières (picture on the right) is only 5 kilometers west of Epernay (on the right wing of the pale-rose patch on this map -- Vallée de la Marne), and it sits right down the slope with the Abbaye d'Hauvillers at the top of the hill surrounded with woods. This abbey which was founded in 650 A.D. had been a pilgrimage destination and it got a now-famous host, Dom Pérignon, the Benedictine monk who played a central role in the way Champagne wines became sparkling wines. When you drive from Epernay, as you approach the bridge over the Marne (picture on the left), you have a good view on the patches of parcels along the chalky slopes with the woods at the top, the abbey being in the middle of the woods (out of the frame, further on the right).
Vincent Laval has followed his father's steps and he keeps doing an artisan work on the tiny vineyard surface, working mostly in a way. His wines are unchaptalized (chaptalization is widespread over here) and are vinified in casks. The annual production here is about 10 000 bottles a year (next year itshould make 15 000 bottles), not even a drop compared to the yearly output in Champagne : 323 million bottles in 2012. The yields on Vincent's vineyards are also much lower than the norm in Champagne which is 92 hectoliters/hectare.
It is now a fact that the Japanese are among the most demanding wine amateurs in the world, but this was still a surprise for me to discover that several of these Paris-based Japanese wine people had set up a free wine magazine in Paris, I mean a real magazine,
not a leaflet with a few adresses but a real glossy magazine that could even compete in regard to the pertinence of its content with many subscription
magazines of the continent if it was written in French or English. The magazine, which is published by the Centre du Vin
Franco-Japonais (C.V.F.J.) is financed by advertising, both with small ads from wine restaurants in Japan or larger-size ads from Japanese businesses.
The magazine is named 33.Vin,
and this spring issue is the 2nd issue, it comes after a trial issue printed this winter (read it here - Pdf file) where you can see a profile of all the knowledgeable writers (a dozen - pic on right) who take part, two of them being acquaintances to B. and me, Akiyo Hori and Bunpei Someya who now works as a sommelier at le Kigawa in Paris and who is knows lots of details about the terroirs and their relation to wine. The trial (winter) issue contained a long interview of Anselme Selosse and his son. The first (spring) issue contains 36 pages, and unlike many commercial wine magazines you don't have to scramble across the pages looking if there's any content hidden behind the ads.
What impressed us both too is that the magazine adresses both the knowlegeable amateur and the novice visitor who is eager to learn, be it through sommelier notes or Q & A about a type of wine (in this issue, it was Champagne).
Vermont, near Villié-Morgon (Beaujolais)
This story took place in the 3rd week of may and Beaujolais was quite damp and cold. We visited a couple of vineyards with Georges Descombes, and the vines looked indeed a bit late for this time of the year, and instead of a vivid green some leaves were bordering something more yellow than green, as if crying for more
sun and light.
Let's remember that Georges Descombes in his early years used
to work for a bottling company in the region (his own father was also a vigneron), and of course, when you oversee a bottling machine, you taste the wine you're bottling, that an unwritten priviledge of the job, and when in 1982-1983 he tasted the wines of a then-unknown vigneron named Marcel Lapierre, he knew that these would be the wines he'd try to make later. Lapierre's wines which were titally uncorrected, unsulfited and unfiltered had a quality that stood largely above what he'd routinely taste in the vatrooms.
Back to the weather in this spring of 2013 : Georges Descombes says (as of mid-may + when we visited the winery) that it was not very nice, lots of rain, quite late even if the season is only beginning and things can improve. They didn't have frost damage this time, contrary to last year. They has a bit of hailstorm on may 1st but the vineyard not having much foliage yet it was OK.
We stopped at a young Gamay vineyard planted in 2004. The vines are trained in goblet like usual, and low, near the ground level, but lightly above the height found in the old-time vineyards so that the plows can do their work without endangering the vines.
If I'm right, this picture was shot on the Morgon area, on a terroir named Bois des Lys.