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.
This is yet a a couple metro stations outside the Yamanote district, but on the other side of Tokyo : here is a low-buildings neighborhood with lively narrow streets and few cars, the area is residential, thickly inhabited and with its own gentle character. I discovered the place years ago and even though I didn't visit it often, it's one of my favorite spots in this town.
I had called Terumi who lives in the area so that we could go out for a drink and find another casual bar, we had taken a few addresses including a few ones provided by John W. who has a good experience with these, but we actually decided to try this one which was very close to the
train station, it was cold and this would leave us with more time with Terumi. She is initially a friend of B. and one of the first friends she made in this country when she settled for a few years in Japan, and I know Terumi is a perfect companion to go to places, she enjoys going out for sure...
The Japanese people are pragmatic and mix tradition with modernity without bothering too much with esthetics, and these PVC strip plastic were protecting so much better from the cold than the traditional Noren shop curtains. They were scratched and worn enough to keep a bit of privacy for the patrons and were doing a good job to keep us warm.
Shimokitazawa is really a gem of a neighborhood, low key with its small street and mostly devoid of tall buildings, the kind of area you wish to live in (mabe at some distance of the most frequented alleys). But some people in the city or region administration have had bright projects for Shimokita and would like to cut through the thickly-built area to open a few large roads, not really something people who love this neighborhood dream of. Some residents, native or not, have grouped together to fight off the threat on their town, and even though the remodeling project has been around for years, no real decision has been firmly taken yet.
Vimeo video on the left was found on likeafishinwater.com (I think you can have a glimpse at Techan at min 6:52)
A couple more stories on relaxed venues where ordinary Tokyoites go out for a glass before heading home (Tokyo's unexplored wonders).
These two cheerful girls look
small holding this bottle of sake but the trick is that this is a traditional 1,8-liter bottle, the type you always get your sake from in the popular Japanese venues like the izakayas and tachinomis (standing bars).
This entry is
again about one of these Japanese bars in Tokyo conveniently located near the myriad of train or metro stations so that salarymen and other male employees can have a few glasses with colleagues before heading home in the suburbs. Typically this one is located in a non-descript street where you'd have pain to think it's worth a detour when you get around it on day time (see Google's street view of the place). Tokyo is in many ways the opposite of Paris, no exciting history thoughts in the observation of streets and buildings but behind the walls you find age-old ways that survived modernization. And like often in Asia where architecture and buildings rarely go beyond the functional requirements, a bland street lined with aging concrete facades turns into a more lively place at dark where your attention goes to the red lanterns and smoky rooms behind the glass doors.
This standing bar is located right under the railroad tracks of the Kinshicho station on the Sobu line. To find the station on this Tokyo metro map, you must first locate Akihabara station on the Yamanote line (the black-and-white one on the map), you can catch the Sobu line there and Kinshicho is only 3 stations eastward. Kinshicho is one of these entertainment/red-light districts that remain under the radar for foreigners.
I was led to the venue by an experienced Tokyoite but if you're on your own in this big city, you can train your eye to spot the sort of sign like the one on the right, the two people standing and holding a glass mean you have here a tachinomi, or standing bar. You don't need to be in the most famous Tokyo neighborhoods like Shinjuku or Ueno to find these places, large stations and railway junctions outside the yamanote in the suburb also have plenty of them.
Shinkame owner Yoshimasa Ogawahara in the cooling room
Hasuda, Saitama prefecture (Japan)
The Shinkame sake brewery looks like any other family sake brewery in Japan, but it stands apart because it is the one that started the revival of authentic sake making several decades ago. From a Western perspective we often look at sake without distinguishing the deep differences in the sake-making types, considering that apart from various degrees in the polishing or milling of the rice kernel, sake is anyway always made of fermented rice, mold/yeast and water. But in the recent history a few decades ago, sake ceased to be
junmai (just water and rice) as breweries discovered shortcuts using additions. This phenomenon reached a point where not long ago back in the 1960s' there was actually not a single sake brewery making any pure sake.
We often take for granted that sake (called nihonshu in Japan) is made with just rice, water and yeasts/molds, with a long fermentation process taking place and yielding the famous Japanese beverage. But during World War II, because of an acute shortage of rice, the sake-making process was changed so that it could use much less rice, the trick was to add alcohol and other additions like sweeteners ans flavoring substances to, say, a base of one third of real sake. This way the struggling Japanese could sustain the war effort and keep having their booze, which even if somehow less rewarding in terms of taste and drinkability was welcome in those dire years of destruction. France also had its Ersatz products in those years (this German word which remains in use in France means replacement product) like for coffee for example, but the real products came back immediately after the end of the war even if chicorée and rutabaga survived as a niche market. But in japan, the altered sake remained the norm until much later.
Speaking of the sake found today on the market, you can know which type you're having by reading a sake label, here is a sake classification page to get it straight.