Not a typo, this is about testing, not only tasting
France and Paris may look late on the craft-beer issue compared to the United States but some people are discreetly working on it, and there has been here in the recent years actually a burgeoning number of new artisan breweries all over the country, which could help us rub elbows with older members of the club on the continent, like Germany and Belgium
(still way ahead for sure).
France had actually in the past a strong local-beer sector but I guess that the same ill-fated economic choices that dismantled our Mittelstand industry after WW2 also threw out the small breweries with the bathwater, leaving us in the 1970s' and 1980s' with only a handful of industrial breweries, which paved the way later for Heineken's inroad in this desertified beer landscape.
When you intend to create a beer, the flavor-testing stage is very important, it usually involves peers and associates or friends who are called for advice and opinions. I'm new to it and it looks like tasting but it is more like testing because you'll be finetuning the aromatic edge and other parameters that will make your beer stand out through a unique recipe.
Pierre Guigui who is the Wine Man at Gault & Millau and heads the Concours Amphore (an international competition for organic wines) is currently in the process of making a beer of his own. This is still the experimental stage of the project and Pierre and his wife Laurence wanted us to taste 5 versions of their beer.
Charline, the cheesemaker, showing her Tomme cheese
WineTerroirs isn't converting to cheese but wines are asleep in winter...
Saint Leger Vauban, Burgundy
The Abbaye de la Pierre Qui Vire is a Benedictine monastery nestled in a corner of the thickly-wooded Morvan hills in central Burgundy. It was founded in 1850 in a beautifully- remote area with lots of forests and pastures. The abbey itself is opened to visitors year around except
january, and some people use the accommodation wing
of the monastery for a retreat.
In 1938 a neighboring farm was purchased by the abbey in order to provide work and revenues to the monks. In 1950 the farm worked closely with the INRA, the then-recently-created French research body dealing with agro sciences. This collaboration led to massive use of chemical fertilizers to compensate with the poor local soils of the area, and in 1969 the monks overlooking the farming decided to stop working with the INRA and turn the farm organic, which was not common or trendy at the time. Starting in 1980 the farm specialized into cheese, using the farm's cows for the milk and later in 1994 added a goat cheese wing, also sourcing the milk from the goats of the farm. The name of this abbey has thus been now associated with their raw-milk cheese, which is very different in its texture and qualities from the époisses, it doesn't run for example and stays firm. This cheese is not an AOC but it has a similar status in the mind of cheese lovers, it is a registered brand and holds quality standards that can largely compete with AOCs.
The road to the abbey, while much more comfortable than when this monastery was built in the mid 19th century, has still this feel of remoteness and forest immersion that was probably dear to the founders.
Pic on left : Philippe de L'Escalier
An organic winegrower dragged to the court february 24th for refusing to spray his parcels
Emmanuel Giboulot, a biodynamic winegrower in Burgundy made the headlines (here Decanter) in the wine media a few weeks ago after he was notified by the French administration for refusing to use insecticides preventively to treat his vineyard against the cicadelle (scaphoideus titanus), an insect which is the vector of the flavescence dorée, a dangerous vine disease. I called Emmannuel on january 8th to have his last news and feelings about the issue.
He says that there was no documented case of flavescence dorée on his vineyard or in any vineyard in the vicinity but the administration had given orders (décrets) to the growers to spray their vineyards, and this in two contiguous départements, the Saône et Loire and the Côte d'Or.
The authorities, who visited 41 wineries in the Côte d'Or in mid-2013 found only one winery without proof of purchase of the insecticide, it was Emmannuel Giboulot's. He could have done like a few winegrowers, buy the product, keep the receipt and not use it in his vineyard and he wouldn't have had then any problem with the law enforcement, but he chose to be frank and show his colors, and when the administration guys showed up he said he didn't want to spray this insecticide. Even if certain products are organic-farming compliant, their use was also harmful to a whole range of beneficent organisms. He was initially summoned to the court in november, but couldn't come, then he was summoned again to present himself at the court on december 24th but his case was postponed until february 24. He risks a fine of 30 000 € and
a 6-month jail term for his refusal, which he justifies by the fact that the spraying is unnecessary (there was not a single case of flavescence dorée in the Côte D'Or in the spring of 2013) and would weaken the ecosystem of his vineyard without reason as no case of flavescence dorés has been observed in or near his parcels. The closest known case of flavescence dorée happened in Plottes (départyement of Saône-et-Loire) which is located 77 km from Beaune. Plus this is completely alien to the official posturing of the authorities to encourage a diminution of the insecticide sprayings. Emmannuel Giboulot received support in his ordeal from different groups like Biodivin, Renaissance des Appellations, Biodynamic farmers groups, but the issue is touchy because some groups reveive subsidies from the state or the regional administration and they had to be careful in their support.
Emmanuel Giboulot says that the spraying against cicadelles, the vector insect of the disease aims to limit the movements of this vector, but 75 % of the success of the fight against Flavescence dorée lies in the identification of the affected vines and the removal of those vines; then if a treatment is decided it has to be in an area in the immediate proximity of this vineyard. In the present case, he says, the SRAL, a state administration dealing with agriculture and forestry seems to be pushing for heavy-handed approach without a deep understanding and distance for handling the problem. Last year they ordered three compulsory sprayings in the 3 village areas around Plottes and this year they asked to the whole Saône-et-Loire département and the whole Côte d'Or to spray, even though this latter départementhadn't a single documented rcase of flavescence dorée.
Another thing is that the spraying effect is very limited, there should be 3 to be sure if you really wanted to "do the job"; Then these sprayings are decimating the Typhlodromus specy (or predatory mites) for example, which are keeping the biological balance in the vineyard and preventing pests from expanding. Emmannuel Giboulot says that the disease has less room and opportunity to move in an environment with diversity and multiple life. He says that he knows about wineries that had used the compulsory insecticide and as a result, were obliged to add two anti-acaricide sprayings because the natural predators had been largely erased and opened the door to harmful pests.
Read also this article [in French] about the collateral casualties caused by this treatment on the typhlodromus population.
Here comes the New Year, a time of unrestrained excesses worldwide and I thought it might be well timed to have a visual reminder of the dangers we face when we raise our glass or grab a bottle. These posters remind us also of the Soviet Union's and Russia's long-running struggle with a national plague, the chronic drunkenness among a sizeable part of its male population. This fight took many forms along the 20th century including a total prohibition try during the Gorbatchev years, and state-employed artists provided dozens of images to move workers away from disastrous overdrinking habits.
This problem never really went away and a couple years ago, a new Russian law restricted the sales of alcohol after certain hours, thus closing off the access to the wine and vodka aisles in supermarkets. The St Petersburg government recently added amendments to widen the hours during which alcohol couldn't be purchased.
With the growing prosperity and travel capacity, airlines are also faced with an increasing number of unruly passengers getting into brawls during flights after excessive drinking, and the authorities consider forbidding in-flight booze sales. I noticed myself when I flew on Aeroflot earlier this year that the flight attendants didn't offer vodka anymore, you had to pay for it. Russia is not Russia anymore...
Fromagerie des Marronniers, Origny sur Seine, Chatillonnais (Burgundy)
Contrary to the commonly accepted thinking, the Epoisses cheese can be made outside the village of Epoisses, like here for the Fromagerie des Marronniers which is located in Origny, 50 km from its birth place. The namesake cheese was originally born thanks to Cistercian monks who designed the recipe in the 16th century, afterwards this washed rind cheese was made in
countless farms of this region, most of the time by women, the region being the area around Epoisses in northern Burgundy.
Before the revolution, it even became one of the favorite cheeses found at the court in Versailles. The Epoisses cheese had probably its apogy in the 19th century, even peaking in the early 20th before WW1. After then, as the women had to replace the fallen husbands and sons to work in the farm, they had less time to spend for cheese making. Later, another major blow was the setting up of compulsory norms for the cheese-making rooms and buildings.
The Chatillonnais region where this Epoisses cheese farm is located is a little-known part of Burgundy, it is divided between the plateau part with lots of agriculture and the valley side through which the still-very-small river Seine flows (pictured on right close to the cheese facility at Aisey-sur-Seine) and where you have lots of woods and pastures (video). Otherwise the Epoisses cheese appellation area covers 2/3 of the Côte d'Or département plus 3 cantons in the Yonne département and 2 in the Haute Marne. This means there could be more cheese farms or dairies making this cheese.
Origny is a small village at some distance from the main road. When you arrive at the edge of the village there are a couple of nice medieval towers on the left, these are remains from a 14th-century castle (more pics on this page).
Passage des Panoramas, 2nd arrondissement (Paris)
Coinstot Vino is a resourceful venue located in the heart of the right bank. It has certainly become very fast since its opening in 2010 a reference on the wine scene here, making people forget that it's so young. This is also a wine shop with a large portfolio of uncorrected wines (if only with a bit of SO2).
There's something I like on the Grands Boulevards, especially the part between République and end of the Bd des Italiens. It may have to do with some reminiscence of the flamboyant Napoleon era when this area of Paris was so wildly feisty and sinful, with the emerging bourgeoisie discovering without restraint all the entertainment and consumering culture. This stretch of "the Boulevards" are certainly
today the ghost of what it has been then, but I don't know, you still feel I-don't-know-what behind the patina, an excitement for fun and going out which overflows on the neighboring streets.
There's something more in this part of Paris that you can't miss, the passages and galeries, actually covered passages that were probably along the first shopping arcades of the modern history, places where women of the 19th-century bourgeoisie could go spend their money, rain or shine, under the natural light, and in the evening under the lighting of sophisticated gas lamps. You can immerse yourself back in the passage des Panoramas in 1880 by reading an excerpt in English) from Emile Zola's Nana, a novel describing the rapid social ascension of an energetic young prostitute nicknamed Nana.
Most of the remaining passages (25 out of a hundred maybe, originally) happen to be located in this precise area of Paris, and they're among the hidden gems of Paris. Some walking tours offer to show them for a fee, but all you need, to locate them, is choose a passage from this list, paste the exact address of one extremity of a given passage in Google maps and print the map. Today, we'll go to Coinstot Vino at the last end of the Passage des Panoramas, and the door to this passage is 11 Bd Montmartre.
On the video on the left you'll follow more or less the walk from one of the exits of the Metro (Grands Boulevards station) to the end of the passage des Panoramas where you'll stumble on Coinstot Vino. Once inside the passage, you'll pass another reference in terms of wine restaurants, Racines.
A couple of weeks after visiting Brendan Tracey near Vendôme in the Loire, I kind of stumbled upon him in Paris as he was pouring his wines at the Cave des Papilles wine shop in the 14th arrondissement near Denfert Rochereau (OK, I had actually read the Cave's newsletter). I had missed alas Kenji and Mai who did the same thing here for their own wines
the week before, being myself in the Loire region at that time, but went to Brendan's tasting, especially that there was a couple of wines that I didn't taste during my visit.
The Cave des Papilles is a very resourceful wine shop where you find can artisan wines made with the best ethic, beginning with cuvées costing a mere 5 €. Paris has now a good number of such wine shops (I'd say a few dozens) selling mostly natural wines, these wines made without any additives or tricky correction, if only occasionally with homeopatic doses of SO2
Some of these shops have a pleasant soul that make a tasting there very pleasant, and this is the case with the Cave des Papilles. I'll try to go to other wine shops as well in the next few months to share these nice tasting experiences where you can meet the vigneron and relax sipping their wine.
The wine shop is located on rue Daguerre which has a pleasant pedestrian section (video on the left), an open-air commecial stretch where you can shop for meat, cheese, fish and other stuff or sit at a terrace. There are by the way a few other wine shops there, although not of the quality of the Papilles (but it's always good to check there are certainly good values, for the Papilles you need to walk to the non pedestrian section, you can't miss it it's the golden yellow shop at a corner.
Brendan has been selling his wines in this wine shop since 2011, it's the first Paris wine shop where he had his wines, thanks to Pascal Simonutti who also sold his wines here.
Summer in the shade, 1953 (probably in the Paris suburb)
Here is another serie of anonymous pictures which I found along the previous months on various flea markets in France, mostly in these ubiquitous sidewalk sales known in French as vide-greniers. When I come across one of these attic sales either in Paris or in the French provinces, I use now and then to forage through boxes of old pictures, it's very interesting both because the photographic quality of many of these small prints but also because of the sharp picture they provide on a gentle way of life and togetherness where simple pleasures were enough to have a good day with friends, colleagues or family.
Patrick Bize who passed away recently told us when we visited him a couple years ago that "le vin, c'est fait pour être bu à table, avec des gens qu'on aime bien, avec une bonne bouffe", meaning wine is meant to be had with good food and shared with friends and people we like. There's not always food in these anonymous scenes but the rest is there, a good drink with friends and family.
Some of these pictures had some hand-written information on the back, and for the others I relied on my intuition to date the scene (est. meaning estimated year).
Caves Augé, Paris
This title sums it up so well, "Beaujolais Nouveau day is Thanksgiving for wine lovers", and for a further comparison with this story I'd say that Thanksgiving is so much better with an artisan, free-range turkey. The vinous equivalent being all these primeur wines which were advertised on the shop window as being unfiltered, unfined and without SO2 (pic on left).
The weather was particularly unwelcoming on this primeur day 2013 in Paris. Not that you expect a september weather in late november, but still, it was really bad, cold, humid and rainy, the type of Paris weather that even my Russian friends consider unpleasantly cold and which makes you wonder why you don't just set sail for fairer latitudes.
had planned to attend the primeur tasting at Caves Augé on Bd Haussmann
but when I saw the drizzle when I left my workplace in Saint-Mandé I wasn't looking very positively at the prospect of riding my motorbike through two thirds of Paris under these conditions. But the thing is, I had told Liz (just a former workmate, don't worry) to join me there and, well, on the other hand I assume that on Beaujolais-Nouveau day you have to be able to go beyond your comfort zone to enjoy the liquid treat.
I wouldn't say the ride was a happy one, Paris is quite a nightmare even for two-wheelers and the rain, dark and cold don't help, it was maybe 5 ° C out there and you feel that the Paris administration has been adding new red lights every other day. But I guess that Bacchus wanted his flock to suffer a bit that evening before reaching the many wine places where the primeur wine would flow without restraint.
I frankly think that people in Paris are spoiled and don't realize the chance they have in terms of access to free tastings and wine events which are either free or almost free. When I arrived at the spot near Saint-Augustin, I could see that there was a small crowd, but not as big as I expected for the guest vignerons who were there to pour their wines for free..
Ste Anne, Vendôme (Loire)
Brendan Tracey's home and winery buildings are sitting right next a cute old church, in the small village of Sainte Anne on the outskirts of Vendôme. I visited him by a rainy day, and when I stopped just outside the property, he was working around his press in the courtyard. If not for this execrable weather, the workplace view was particularly pastoral and peaceful. As an introduction, we looked at the funny caquetoire, a common fixture for churches of the region, a sort of roofed chatroom built outside the church (picture on left) so that parishioners could chat (cackle) after the mass (caqueter means cackle in French). Brendan says that's they hold traditional masses there (in Latin) and that he hears the songs from the courtyard, which are sometimes as nice as Gregorian chant (I found later that it's one of the 2 churches in the département 41 with old-style Latin masses)
Brendan didn't land in this corner of the Loire overnight, he is a New-Jersey native who spent most of his youth in San Francisco where his parents moved to in the 60s' to follow the hippie trail. When in San Francisco, Brendan lived through the cultural revolution embodied by this city, he soon developped a passion for music, going to concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium, listening to psychedelic bands and then much later to punk musicians. His mother being French, he travelled from time to time to France and eventually moved in Blois in 1971 at the age of 15, initially to better his French, staying with his aunt. He went to high school there and passed his baccalauréat in 1974, beginning all the while to love this country. His aunt Geneviève was a journalist at Le Figaro (a major newspaper) when he arrived in France, and Brendan remembers that one day she brought him to a restaurant and asked him what he wanted to drink, he looked at the drinks list and ordered a coke, in America it was unthinkable to order wine for a minor, and the waiter could have risked jail for letting him have some; his aunt was pretty upset of his choice, saying that this was France and he had to oder wine, and that's when he understood that there were big differences in the culture here, things that he didn't suspect and that he should try to learn. From then on he tried to understand better this alien culture and as it happened that his aunt was planning to leave Paris and journalism to set up an antiques business in Blois, and as she told him he could stay if he wanted to, he decided to remain.