Could be anywhere in France (and elsewhere)
Some pictures speak by themselves indeed, I could almost post this one without further comment, but I'll indulge in a couple of ones.
I shot this picture a few weeks ago while walking with a vigneron along one of his parcels (I leave you guess which one was his own on the picture, given the type of domaines I visit). He didn't point to this visual difference with this other parcel (which was obviously worked differently), he was entirely focused on explaining his work and challenges in the last vintage. But for me this contrasted landscape in the far popped up as being richly informative, I saw this as an ideal photographic illustration of what is going on behind the scene in the wine world.
I strongly recommend to visit the wine regions in april or may, before the foliage of the vines has come out in force. I'll not be more specific on the issue but you'll see what many wineries would prefer to remain in the dark. Be it in Bordeaux, the Beaujolais, Chablis or the Loire, you could even check the parcels you like first and then try to find the winegrowers behind them, it'll spare you laborious research and other vain random tastings. I have a few similar interesting pictures (see at mid-scroll) showing how the Beaujolais vineyards can look when the business-minded winegrowers take shortcuts in their parcels.
Oh, and I have another guess for you : you'll find such contrasted vicinity typically across France and very often one of the parcels gets its AOC label right away while the other may face hurdles (to say the least) at the agreement commission, guess which ?!?...;-)
Cravant-les-Coteaux (Chinon, Loire)
Domaine Bernard Baudry is today symbolic of quality and hard work for the Chinon wines. Chinon, apart from its beautiful Chateau (pic on right) and for being the home of the legendary bon-vivant [and wine lover] François Rabelais, has been known for its Cabernet Franc wines, but the
region has often
been associated with cab franc that was excessively herbaceous and harsh, the characteritics of the variety if the grapes are not properly ripe when picked, if yields are excessive and the élevage too short. Things have changed over the years and in great part because some growers didn't follow the mainstream ways of their time.
The domaine Bernard Baudry (to repeat what I wrote in an earlier story) is a living proof that you can manage a fairly good-size winery with almost 30 hectares of vineyards and still have an organic management and a vinification without the efficient enological tricks and additives that most wineries use in order to have a squarely-secure production in time, and without taking any risk.
When Bernard Baudry started his winery in 1975 it was with a mere 2,5 hectares and he was kind of looked upon by the established wineries of the region, viewed as an "original" (if not a fool) because from the start he worked his soils ans didn't use extensively the chemicals and the fertlizers. This was a time when there were few competitors apart Italy and Spain, and the French were drinking more wine that today.
Didier pouring a bottle from long before Clos Roche Blanche (pinot gris 1953)
Mareuil, Touraine (Loire)
You may know this by now, but Clos Roche Blanche will close its doors this year, as Didier Barrouillet and Catherine Roussel are retiring to enjoy a well-deserved free time. They had been thinking about the issue for several years and they decided that 2014 would be their last vintage. They're still managing the vineyard this year but the fruit that will be picked next
september will not be theirs, as
Julien Pineau and Laurent Saillard are buying up the whole vineyard of the domaine, to of course continue making wine from it with a similar winemaking philosophy and organic farming. You can see here a story featuring Julien and Laurent together, although it's about lacto-fermentation instead of vinification, for a change. Julien Pineau was a couple years ago working at the Terres Promises in Provence (Excellent artisan domaine in the backcountry of the Var département).
So, wine will keep being made from these now-familiar parcels but you know, Clos Roche Blanche is Clos Roche Blanche and the familiar labels will not show up next year, so it makes you something even if we'll still see Catherine and Didier on the premises where they'll still live. I'm sure they'll have occasionally a wine lover not yet aware of the change who will drop at the house to buy a couple of cases...
I happened to visit the domain a couple of weeks ago, there was almost a festive atmosphere, like, something is happening with a new, totally open perspective around the corner, without the urge to be around the vineyard every day.
The rumor has been around for a while in the wine spheres of course and wine lovers abroad in particular were dismayed that their favorite and long-time artisan wine wouldn't be around any more, or at least that some wine would be made from the same vineyard but not by the same people.
Les Montils, Touraine (Loire)
Each time I visit the Puzelats south of the Loire river near Blois I feel like being so well received in spite of their busy schedule : here are people who are taking care of countless parcels (and organic farming needs lot of work), managing an import business to help other artisan producers from abroad distribute their wines in Europe, setting up special tasting events open to other
winegrowers and so many more things including
taking care of their family, and still keep some room for annoying outsiders like us.
Thierry was busy cleaning or fixing something in the open if I remember although this was a saturday, the weather was bright and sunny and we walked into the new warehouse which offers more stable and cool temperatures and with more room to turn around. Inside the chai and storage building there the usual pallets and wooden open-top fermenters and we saw also big-size bottles that were obviously a little bigger than "regular" magnums : these were 6-liter (see the different types of volume) Mathusalems, Asked about the wine here Thierry says thay had some Gravotte, some Petit Blanc, some Frileuse and a few other cuvées. This is a special order from Japan by a young whoman who did the harvest here 15 years ago and who opened a wine bar/restaurant in Fukuoka (Kyushu) named Coquines (you can find her Facebook page here). She had heard this French word often here while picking the grapes and she took the name for her wine bar.
I understand the Japanese have parties where such a large bottle can be had, just imagine, 6 liters, I already feel I'm daring when I buy a magnum.... This is a lot of work for the Puzelats because you don't have a bottling line for these mathusalems, you have to wax them properly, plus the empty bottle costs already 35 €.
In case you wonder if the village of Les Montils has a special atmosphere that could have brought us these inspired winegrowers, just look at the street names there, I begin to understand now...
Courgis, Chablis (Burgundy)
Here is story on a short visit we made at Alice & Olivier De Moor, this was earlier in april and Olivier was kind enough to give a bit of his time to let us get fresh news and tasting
impressions from this hilly corner of the Chablis area.
We managed to learn a lot, among other things on a new hope for esca, also on a scientist of the 19th century named Jules Guyot which I think we should, like Olivier, take time to read.
On the pic on left you can see a drawing reproduced by Olivier with the historical trellising in Chablis : the vine would grow horizontally on the ground with its branches spread (right, seen from above ground) and then at a distance (on left) the branches would grow vertically onto the trellis/posts. These are very important details we should know so as to relativize what we might think is traditional (same for the varieties we often think are immutably attached to a particular region).
Today the domaine Alice & Olivier De Moor has a total vineyard surface making a bit more than 7,5 hectares but they also buy grapes to other winegrowers to make some négoce wines under the name of Le Vendangeur Masqué (means masked picker), like for example this Chablis or this Bourgogne red named Le Rouge d'Etienne. This way, they can select interesting parcels including in other wine areas than Chablis and make wines from new terroirs. I guess the consumer will be happy to find their touch through these other wines.
The 4,5-hectare domaine Buronfosse is located in a quiet hamlet sitting along the Jura foothills south of Lons-le-Saulnier. Jura is a region which managed to
remain very authentic and true, and this is true on the human level too, I use to say that as I'm not
addicted to big cities, Arbois is a place I'd
consider settling in : nature not far away, gentle people, what else do you need ?
In the area of Rotalier, prairies, woods and vineyards are closely intertwined. The wine region is known for its iconic local grape varieties but even the cows are different as only certain Lycée Agricole breed can be used to make the local Comté cheese. Speaking of wine in the Jura there are probably less winegrowers than a century ago but the ones that remain are often good, even on the register of artisanship and natural work which many of us appreciate. The two other winegrowers established in this small hamlet of Jura are no other than Jean-François Ganevat and Julien Labet, no need to say that you could have worse colleagues next door.
Peggy and Jean-Pascal aren't from the region, Jean-Pascal is from Lyons and Peggy from Saint-Etienne and they both studied in different agriculture schools, Peggy at the Lycée Agricole de la Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel (training with horses and milk cows) and Jean-Pascal in Cibeins (agriculture mechanics).They met at the age of 20 but worked in different locations first, he worked in a training center in Jura from 1991, then from 1994 as agriculture technician, and Peggy had been working in the south of France.
In 1995 Jean-Pascal rented a small house in Rotalier, Peggy joined but it was difficult for her to find employment so she began to work in the vineyards of domaine Claude Joly, 2 years in a row, and that's when they decided to settle for good in the area, they bought this old winegrower house with stables and chai/cellars in the middle of this hamlet (it had all the amenities of a wine farm but last time it produced any was 1947). Jean-Pascal had his day job at the agriculture school in Lons-le-Saulnier but they began to look for parcels as Peggy was ready to start something, but finding parcels to rent was (and still is) difficult, local vineyard owners wouldn't trust someone from outside the region who never managed a vineyard before.
Villeneuve De Berg, Ardèche (Rhône)
The domaine les Deux Terres is a 13-hectare domaine (part in ownership, part rented) managed by two buddies, Vincent Fargier and Manu Cunin. Manu received us on a beautiful april day, Vincent was bust digging holes in the rock table in a new vineyard for the poles and wires. The domaine Les Deux Terres is in good company, with neighbors (just a handful of kilometers) like Le Mazel,
Andrea Calek, Gilles Azzoni and many others who share this same life philosophy
which is so obvious in their wines.
Manu and Vincent met each other in 1997, Manu (who is also from Ardèche but not this part of Ardèche) recounts that in 1997 he was in the south of France, not at all in the wine trade and happened to follow a training 5 kilometers from here with the intent to have vineyards but without clear perspective about which wines he'd do exactly. At the time, Vincent was managing the cellar/facility of this Centre de Formation, actually the Agriculture School of Aubenas at Mirabel (Aubenas is a mid-size town in Ardèche) which provides courses and trainings for adults. then Manu lefty for the south of France because he found a job in a domaine (Vallon dess Glauges) in the Alpilles, a sub-region of Provence.
Vincent's father was a grower selling to the local coop and he was still years away from retirement, so Vincent wanted to try his luck in another region pending his taking the reins on his father's vineyard. Manu had him hired in the domaine where he had found a job. Vincent was hired as chef de culture (vineyard manager) and Manu was on the cellar side in this winery. They learned thus to work together complementarily in this domaine, and this lasted 4 years.
[pic on right : La Tour Cassée, a restaurant with a good wine list in Valvignères, a village nearby]
Montcuq (Cahors -- South-West)
Imagine a dream country made of small, winding roads going through an untouched landscape of medieval villages atop of hills, castles and fortified farms, this is the area of Cahors. Actually when driving from the Bordeaux region, you begin to enter this unspoiled territory from the Montbazillac area (maybe a little before) and going through the Cahors area this magic backcountry will last all the way to the Gaillac region after which
the country looks less enjoyable. It seems to me that the side roads between these two areas (and north of them) are
the most picturesque you can imagine. If you look for a great travel experience in almost-empty roads, lovely villages and well-preserved architecture, that's the place to go. Famous wine regions are not always the most beautiful or authentic ones, just think to the bland villages of the Champagne region where you see that in spite of the festive wine they make, the local villages don't reflect (through the architecture for example) the expected refinement and civilization you find so obvious in the Loire valley and in this corner of the south west (particularly the sub-regions of Périgord, Quercy and Rouergue). Montcuq itself is a very nice village, and very quiet (at least in april), and during the couple of hours we stayed at the terrace of the Café de France (pic on left) the previous evening, we saw only maybe 3 or 3 cars passing by. It is also a stopover on the pilgrimage road to Saint Jacques de Compostela. It seems from the people sitting at the terrace that evening that some Brits with good taste setlled in the area permanently.
The Cahors area is Malbec country, this grape variety yields a dark tannic wine sometimes difficult to drink when young (we'll see it's not the case here). Gilles Bley's Clos Siguier sits in the middle of the wine appellation, south of the beautifully-winding Lot river, and his wines really stand out, not only for its civilized tannins but for its low alcohol. You understand better why when visiting the vineyard and the family domaine, the wine is the result of a simple, very traditional cellar philosophy and of a gifted terroir.
The wine farm is pretty isolated and has been the family base for several generations, Gilles parents still live in the main farm building which was built in 1779.
Libourne (Saint Emilion - Bordeaux)
The domaine (Vignobles) Pueyo makes a bit more than 7 hectares in surface, the vineyards (10 parcels) are spread over roughly 4 different locations around Libourne,
and with the suburban sprawl that keeps gaining against
agricultural land in the region of Bordeaux, several parcels are now alas surrounded by new (and often bland) constructions. Bordeaux, like Avignon for example seems to have been badly overbuilt along the lasr decades and driving through the area puts a big distance between the romantic image of the region and the reality.
The furthest parcel is located near Chateau Figeac near Saint Emilion. The history of the domaine began with Christophe's grand-grand-father with a continuous ownership of the family. When his father Jacques and uncle Jean-Paul took over the domaine it had only 3 hectares, after which it grew progressively through opportunistic purchases to neighbors when a parcel was available.
All the parcels are in the AOC Saint-Emilion and they have also a small production in generic Bordeaux.
Saint Yzans de Medoc, Bordeaux
Didier Michaud is an artisan vigneron in the Medoc, working on a small vineyard surface of less than two hectares (1,7 hectare to be more accurate) and happy with it. We visited him on a sunny and warm day of april, it was really like summer down here in the Bordeaux region, with the outside temperature peaking at 31 ° C (88 °F) in the afternoon for a couple of days.
Saint-Yzans is a quiet village
located on the left bank of the Gironde, a handful of kilometers north of Saint-Estèphe and Pauillac. The village outlook is far from the fastuous Bordeaux imagery we all have in mind when thinking to this aristocratic wine region.
The best way to reach it when coming from the north is to take the ferry at Royan, the only alternative to this 20 minute ride is to drive 2 hours around further south through Bordeaux, a less pleasant experience because the highways through its endless overbuilt suburbs are often congested.
Like often when we deal of vignerons working thoughtfully in the vineyard and in an uninterventionist way in the cellar, Didier Michaud is an outsider in the region, he was born in Paris and began to work in the vineyard in the area in 1977 (for other growers) and set up this small domaine in 1981. Until 1997, he sold his grapes to the coop, he was just a grower and didn't make wine himself. His first vintage here was 1998. His small domaine is totally organic since 1998 and he took a certicication starting in 2002, actually, from the time he began to make wine here, it was totally organic.