Chateldon (Auvergne, eastern Loire), Aux Dix Vins Cochons wine fair
One of the highlights of this type of small wine fairs in France is the dîner de vignerons that often takes place in the evening following the fair. It is something not to miss beginning with the reason that it's a very relaxed and friendly dinner, plus the food is heartening and no need to say anything about the wines that come with. You have such vintners' dinners organized at the end of most of these artisan-wine fairs that are sprouting now all over France.
Basically it's a no-frills, brotherly dinner with nonetheless the best food
you can imagine and all of this washed down with the longest wine list you can dream of, that is, the wines (bottles or magnums) brought by all these vintners who of course take part to this invigorating feast themselves. I costs usually around 25 € per person, wines included, and it beats the best dinner in town, believe me. Plus, you're seating at the side of vintners you know primarily through their wines and this is the opportunity to experience the fact that these real wines are made by real people who don't take themselves seriously and have a lot of fun with their fellow winemakers.
The dîner de vignerons of Chateldon also includes live music and concert, and this is in the real sense of the term food for the body and for the soul.
While I couldn't stay at the dinner taking place in the evening after the wine fair because we had to drive back to Paris, I could attend the dinner organized the previous evening before the fair. It was supposed to be for the vintners and their mates only, most having arrived in the village the day before the event, but we were allowed to attend also, having ourselves driven to Chateldon on the previous day. It was less crowded than the dinner following the wine fair, the public not taking part, but it was as genuine and unceremonious, you could melt into the brotherly wine family all the while drinking much good stuff.
Here is an iconic wine fair you might consider going to one day. It is quite out of the way speaking of access because there's no train going there and you need either a car or take a long taxi drive 50 km north-east of Clermont Ferrand, the regional capital city of the Massif-Central mountains. But this tasting event is unmistakably the best such event that I attended.
Les 10 Vins Cochons is
a small wine fair which was created 9 years ago and is managed now by two people :
Stéphane Majeune and Jean-Philippe Juge, with the help of Tony Bernard. Stéphane is a well-known figure in the natural-wine world, he was one of the 3 guys behind the iconic Domaine Peyra in Auvergne, Jean-Philippe Juge is the president of the non-profit group organizing the event, and Tony is the bold mayor of the village of Chateldon, a village known for centuries for its mineral water which can be found only on high-end tables and venues.
The name of the event needs to be explained first, especially for a non-French public as its literal meaning, "Ten Wines Pigs" may be unsettling : At the beginning this was really a small wine gathering and only 10 vintners were taking part, all making additives-free natural wine from organic grapes, and basically often without added sulfites either. That makes Dix Vins (ten wines) and as it sounds like divine in French, it was turned out like "the divine pigs" (cochons) because pigs are a gastronomy symbol conveying a sense of unrepentant and omnivorous appetite. Plus like we say in France, everything is good in the pig (tout est bon dans le cochon), and this tasting event was from the start a place where you could eat gorgeous food including charcuterie made by well-sourced artisans following the same standards of truth and quality than the participating wineries. Each year there's a different logo for the fair and the one for 2012 (pictured on right) illustrates perfectly the joyous and Dionysian spirit of the event.
Chateldon is located in a wooded area north-east of Clermont Ferrand, this village (picture on left) is charming with beautiful architectural remains from I guess the Middle Ages. There doesn't seem to be vineyards in the immediate vicinity but the region of Clermont Ferrand itself is home to several outstanding vintners who have put the wines of Auvergne on the map for demanding wine amateurs. This region is technically part of the Loire Appellation but it's quite off-centered and much closer from Lyon than from Chinon for example.
La Ficelle in Paris
This was in Paris in the last week of november : Christine Ontivero and her wine communication agency had organized a special evening and dinner at Le Café du Commerce around what is known under the name of La Ficelle, the 26th edition of some sort of Nouveau-day centered on the wines of Saint Pourçain,
a little-known AOC and wine region part of the Loire and Auvergne. The
event was about the Union des Vignerons de Saint Pourçain, aka the local coop, which vinifies 400 hectares of vineyards on a total planted surface of 600 hectares in the appellation area. The appellation whites are Chardonnay blended with Tressallier and the reds are Gamay and Pinot Noir. The Saint-Pourçain coop decided in 1983 as a wise marketing tool to hire every year a different cartoonist to design the Nouveau label and since then, every Nouveau has got a new cartoonist draw the cartoon du jour, adding a fun note in an already-festive event around what is a typical bistro wine. Let's remind that the Auvergnats who have been for ages behind the bistro and café business in Paris used to import primarily the wines of their own regions for the counter wine. In the past, wine was often had à la ficelle meaning that you'd pay what you'd drink : the waiter would leave a full bottle of wine on your table and you'd pay depending of the level measured with the knots on a string attached to the bottle, in short, wholesale price for wine or pay-what-you-drink.
Caves Augé, 116 Boulevard Haussmann, Paris.
The 3rd thursday of november is usually when the Beaujolais Nouveau of the year is poured for the first time, it has been now a "tradition" for years all over the world albeit not a very old one (1951). Let's be clear, it's still mostly a Beaujolais day but you begin to see Nouveau from other regions as well, here and there,
and that's what the Caves Augé in Paris offered to passerbys
and people in the know : a gorgeous tasting of a few Nouveau wines from a handful of iconic vintners (4 of them that day) who were there in person to pour the wines. But a first glance at the small crowd could make you think that there were more vintners presenting their wines than the 4 that were announced : it seems that the word had got around in the trade that you had to be at Cave Augé that day, because there seemed to be more vintners visiting from their province than Parisians.
Here among the vignerons on this picture above, only one was here to present his wines : Jean Foillard in the middle, and both Marcel Richaud (southern Rhone) and Pierre Breton (Bourgueil, Loire) were just unrepentant visitors having dropped here to enjoy a few glasses among friends.
These free sidewalk tastings at Caves Augé are always a pleasure, they're at the same time serious in the sense that it's always about good wine but there's nothing ostentatious in the event and people, including the participating vintners and the visiting sommeliers, obviously have a good time. Plus, Marc Sibard (pictured right) the caviste who runs the shop, often opens a couple of unscheduled bottles that come as a surprise when you happen to be around the small group with whom he shares it...
This was at the tasting day of Les Toqués des Dentelles, a group of wineries from the southern Rhone doing a good work. This took place in a restaurant in Paris and I managed to go there after work. All these vintners work without additives, from what I know. The tasting was free but for professionals, and I spotted a few acquaintances among the attendees, including Agnès (on the left), the caviste behind Le Nouveau Nez (second picture on this story) and Mark Williamson (on the right),
the founder of the oldest Paris wine bar, Willi's Wine Bar.
Christian Vache is the man
behind an iconic winery in the southern Rhone region of Vacqueyras : la Monardière.
__ La Monardière, Vin de Pays 2011 (red). Grenache. Nice acidity & balance, with an animal side and reduction, which is not worrying for me.
__ La Monardière Vacqueyras les Calades 2011 (red). Very, very nice freshness, the mouth is splendidly bright. Balanced.
__ La Monardière Vacqueyras les 2 Monardes 2011 (red). Straight from the vat (not bottled yet, is was to be bottled in november). Surprising acidity on the tongue. Rather elegant and nice chew with somme astringency on the sides of the mouth. 70 % Grenache vinified in vats and 30 % Syrah vinified in casks, the whole being later blended in 1/2 muids where it spent a while. Unfiltered (no wine is filtered here). Very nice, this cuvée makes a volume of 250 hectoliters, that's the biggest cuvée in the estate. The vines are older than 50.
__ La Monardière Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2010. 60 % Grenache (80 years old), 20 % Syrah (40 years) and 20 % Mourvèdre (20 years), each vinified separately. The mouth here is just outstanding by its freshness and the quality of its tannins. Here again, a beautiful balance which is so hard to achieve in the Rhone.
Marçon, Coteaux du Loir (Loire)
The picking of the Pineau d'Aunis took less time than "usual", the difficult weather conditions of 2012 (particularly in the Loire region) having resulted in much smaller volume of grapes. The 40+ vintners who had come in person with their bucket and shears to help Nathalie Chaussard gathered outside the chai in the early afternoon. They first helped prepare the press, load the grapes and plan for the following stages. It was decided to make a rosé of it and not a red, because of the not-perfect conditions of the grapes.
Nathalie had here around her the best experts she could dream of, all being seasoned vintners
in the Art of natual winemaking. They cleaned the crates and let the place spotless before joining the tables and popping up bottles. I had here such good wines, both white and red, it was crazy, and as these bottles and magnums were coming straight from the respective cellars, they often didn't have an identification label, so I just remain with the pleasure to drink these unidentified wines... The word was that Nathalie wouldn't have anything to do, so they had brought terrines, saucissons and other delicacies. They were all here together for Nathalie and Christian Chaussard and this day would be as warmful and joyful as when Chau-Chau was still around. In the vineyard, they were all scattered between the rows but here all these artisan vintners, who would individually attract crowds in any tasting event, were grouped and it was a strange feeling to pass them and listen as they were chatting and joking themselves without outside interference. This was a private event and to some extent, I could understand that day how close they are from each other.
There was also a small froup of young freewheeling pickers who were beaming a feeling of freedom and fun, here were other "surfers" like the ones I met in this Burgundy harvest recently. There seems to be lots of young people like these, enjoying the seasonal ritual of picking together across the country. One of them told me he was doing this type of harvest picking, plus fruit picking, and he worked during the ski season in restaurants in the Alps. This left him with lots of time to travel the rest of the year.
Pic on left : Nathalie at the press, Didier Chaffardon in the background.
Marçon, Loir Valley (Loire)
I've been used to come across what looks like a genuine brotherhood mindset among the vintners I'm usually covering with my
stories, they're often helping each other, they share their
individual experience in their winemaking ways and occasionally do some hard work for each other. But when I heard about this initiative organized to help and support Nathalie, I was moved by the idea of all these wine people leaving their daily tasks and converging toward Marçon in the little-known Loir wine region (a sub region of the Loire known for its Chenin and Pineau d'Aunis) for this solidarity harvest.
After the passing away of her husband Christian Chaussard in a tractor accident recently, Nathalie had to face the sudden charge of running overnight the family winery in addition to this heavy loss, and even though she's a trained enologist herself, her friends felt they could help and make her feel she was not alone. On this bright sunny day of october, all these friends walked together to the Pineau-d'Aunis plot cherished by Christian Chaussard, a couple-hundred meters behind the winery. They did the job for Chau-Chau (as Christian Chaussard was nicknamed by his tribe) and Nathalie, bringing their own bucket and shears. The grapes had suffered from the unusual combination of problems that occured in 2012, there were rotten grapes here and there and lots of sorting to do, but we all know that difficult circumstances yields often nice results.
It was moving to see all these vintners, who represent some of the best the Loire region can offer, share the picking work and chat all along. They kept giving tips to each other on different issues related to vineyard management and winemaking all the while picking and sorting on the spot the damaged or rotten grapes, 2012 was indeed an arduous year here in the Loire, and particularly for them who farm organic. These guys were still joyful and they looked sometimes unruly like teenagers.
I joined the picking for the day, it was a long road from Paris on motorbike, there was a thick fog most of the way early in the morning but it cleared when I reached the Loir-river valley. I was supposed to pick also but I thought I'd help more by picking (and sorting...) a few good pictures...
There were more than 40 vintners/pickers here, sorry for the ones I missed.
Mr Hideharu Ohta, pouring to sommelier Olivier Poussier
95 Rue du Cherche Midi, Paris 6th arrondisement
Issé, which is an important player in the import of quality sake in Paris,
organized recently a high-end sake tasting in the 6th arrondissement. For the anecdote, Izakaya Issé is located on rue de Richelieu, next door to the excellent Juvéniles wine bar managed by Tim Johnston. To make the things even more thrilling, the event which went by the name of
Les Becs Fins du Sake took place in the town house (hôtel particulier) of Gérard Depardieu in the 6th arrondisement. Toshiro Kuroda, the founder of Issé, was the maître de cérémonie of this sake weekend and he would present to the public several facets of this sake culture. Part of the event was about tasting sake and another interest of the organizers was to highlight the pairing capabilities of sake with different foods and dishes, so several chefs working in prestigious restaurants took part, among them Eric Briffard who works at Le V (The Five), the restaurant of the Four Seasons (George V). Several other chef were invited, like Christophe Pelé (la Bigarade) and Jean-Christophe Rizet (la Truffière).
If Japanese whiskies seem to have gotten a new fame in France (they're ubiquitous in Paris, almost every wine & spirits shop carries a few of them), sake has still way to go before the French feel at ease with them, even if the Ozeki one-cup sake can be found here and there. Speaking of bottling size, another challenge for the French or the European consumer would be to accept the original 1,8-liter bottle of sake, which is in Japan as common as our 75-centiliter bottle for our wines.
The whole event had an upscale touch, you could understand that getting initiate in the world of sake in France is still reserved to some sort of elite, the same way wine tastings in Moscow or Shanghai are the new trendy thing which carry an imagery of exclusiveness and luxury.
Credit for the picture on the left : Issé Paris
Julien Altaber looking at his Bourgogne rouge (maceration)
Saint Aubin, Burgundy
I'm more and more convinced that one of the best way to start a winery is to quietly put the pieces together while keeping a day job at another winery; this way, you'll not only preserve your financial independance by being less dependant on banks, but you'll also keep learning
from the vintner you're working with, considering you chose
one you're valuing the expertise of. Quite a number of the artisan vintners I visited these past years have started their career this way, and it took years for example for Thierry Allemand before he quit his day job and worked full time on his own vineyards and wines. Like for the making a good wine, patience is the key to setting up a winery, it seems...
I happened to taste my first Sextant wine as I was visiting Dominique Derain a few weeks ago, Dominique kindly pouring me one of Julien's wines among his own wines. I hadn't the opportunity to go to Angers for the Dive Bouteille or Renaissance des Appellations last january, otherwise like Aaron recounted on this story, I would have certainly tasted his wines to keep warm, Dominique Derain's table being swamped by tasters fighting for their pours...
Julien Altaber set up his négoce in 2007, making wine from grapes purchased here and there, and as he didn't have a facility of his own, he has been making the wines in a side cellar of Dominique Derain until he'd find a building to settle in (the French Customs usually don't like having two wineries under the same roof). So I visited him at Derain (picture on right) on my way back to Paris from Beaune. The weather was beautiful, the harvest season mostly over, and riding along the former N6 highway in the valley leading to Saint-Aubin was a biker's dream trip, with the swinging road alternating woods and vineyards.
Crushing the grapes (see the balonges with holes to carry them with a stick)
Sologne is a mostly wooded region located south of Orléans and Blois in the Loire, now home to a couple appellations like Cheverny, Cour-Cheverny and Orléans-Clery.
Because we always have a hard time figuring how everything was looking like in the past__even in the recent past__ it is always useful to get some visual reminders about how the wine culture has evolved and transformed itself along the last century. The knowledge on everything related to winemaking and vineyard management was entirely pragmatic back then at the turn of the 19th and the 20th century, which was both a good thing and a bad thing : a good thing because on the whole, vintners were doing honest wines by just following an inherited tradition, and a bad thing because as their knowledge was not deeply rooted in the arcanes of what makes a great wine, the following generations would eventually easily fall under the appeal of the promised miracles of chemical sprayings and massive winemaking corrections.
I found these reproductions of old postcards in a vide-grenier (a village attic-sale) in the Loire, there were only a few of them about the harvest and I bought a few others featuring other scenes of early 20th-century Sologne (plus several harvest ones that I found on the web) because they help get a better picture of the context. Among the non-wine pictures, note the coal man and his family, his job probably carried a heavy stigma, you almost feel it by looking at his daughters. I wonder if the bottle of wine (a liter, apparently) was there naturally or if the photographer had it placed there for more impact. The pictures speak volumes on how poor this region of the Loire was : much of Sologne was covered with wild expanses of woods and ponds and apart from vineyard growing here and there there was little agricultural riches. The wine was made for local consumption, like it was the case in most French regions, even the ones people wouldn't figure today wine has ever been made there. We also have to put in perspective here the fact that this was in the middle of the phylloxera turmoil, with lots of vineyards being destroyed and replanted (that may be why several of them look so low).