Preignac, Sauternes (Bordeaux)
We're here in one of the most iconic Appellation of Bordeaux, the Sauternes, less than an hour drive south of Bordeaux on the left bank of the Garonne (map).
The Domaine Rousset-Peyraguey is unique in many views (notice we have a Domaine here,
and not Château...) this estate has deep roots in the area, with Alain Dejean's ancestors owning land in the area
for 7 generations.
The total surface of the AOC is 2000 hectares with 160 producers, 1100 hectares being Premiers Crus 750 of which owned by 6 financial institutions or companies like LVMH (Louis Vuitton). With about 14 hectares the Domaine stands firmly on the map, especially that it is not only farmed organically and along biodynamics but almost as important, its wines aren't getting additives and technology input in the cellar, not even SO2, the lack of which being deemed an insurmountable obstacle for mainstream wineries dealing with these sweet wines, including the most prestigious here, Château d'Yquem which stands about 5 hundreds meters from the family winery (on the picture on the right you can see the Château building on the upper right).
Given the often-humid climate, conventional wineries rely heavily on harmful chemicals which incidently find their way into the wine as measurable residues, and the region made the headlines for having a rocketing cancer rate especially among its children (5 times the national norm), which should add another drop to the awareness push regarding these profit-oriented practices in the vineyard. But this story isn't about health issues, it's foremost about great wines made along age-old agricultural practices and eschewing the lesser-known shortcuts that wineries use in the cellar to produce square, formatted wines with the mutually-agreed color (which we'll learn is in now way natural).
Baslieux-sous-Châtillon, Marne valley (Champagne)
Franck Pascal's father was one of the growers of the village when he set up a small coopérative to help the local growers have more weight in negociating the price of their work to the négoce. This village is very close from Chatillon sur Marne, it's part of the Marne basin.
Franck started to work on the domaine in 1994 from the 3,5-hectare surface of his parents in Baslieux-sous-Châtillon, south-west of Reims and west of Epernay and Ay. We're here north of the Marne river where Franck and Isabelle are now managing a 7,5-hectare domaine. At the start Franck began to implement organic farming, around 1997-1998, to which he added
biodynamy in 2002 and at last in 2005 what we may call energy-fields management, each step having
brought a clear result for them on the wines. From 2014 to 2015 they jumped from 4 hectares to 7 hectares and they're 7 people working on the domaine including himself and his wife.
Franck spent his Army time in military engineering and he says that's where he learnt about the interaction of chemical agents and living bodies, while being trained on the effects of chemical warfare. When he came back and began to invest himself in the farm, he followed a viticulture training and there he clearly saw similarities in the way the vines and soil get overwhelmed by chemicals that change everything durably for the worse.
This visit which I owe to Marise who discovered this domaine a few weeks ago was utterly interesting in the sense that Franck knows tons of things about the interactions of everything in the soils and the vines and with his engineering training and methodology he applied this science of life to successfully pull his vineyards away from the death kiss of the conventional farming. It's heartening to see people like him and his wife Isabelle because they're the proof that if the mainstream growers were willing to, they too could veer from a destructive viticulture management and make in the process Champagne wines that stand out, but this would be at the cost of short-term profits (and yields), which is something few producers in Champagne are willing to do alas.
Lye, Touraine (Loire)
This is a good time of the year to taste wines, especially when the winemaker keeps parcel batches separated and they haven't been blended yet or racked. For that you need to have many containers and vats of different sizes, and be open to experimenting and listening to what each parcel can yield in terms of expression, which is the case at André Fouassier in Touraine. I suddenly remembered that and paid him a visit to taste casually a few of his wines while these different batches are still maturing in their separate vats, coming out
slowly from their relative winter
sleep. I tasted great wines at this stage on a similar visits, I remember a lovely Côt for example with a divinely light color and an almost silky throat feel. See by yourself (almost at the bottom of the page) on this wine-news story published june 2015 (the actual tasting of this Côt was probably in march or april) with the color of this Côt being a proof by itself. What I like at his place is that he's keeping such a high number of batches fermenting on their side. André's wine farm is the typical surface facility which you find when there's no underground cellar nearby, the vats are spread out in several rooms and barns with thick walls which are doing a good job to soften to a certain extent the temperature swings.
Asked about the 2015 if he had lower yields than usual, André says that his yields were relatively low like usual, he made 1000 hectoliters total from his overall 25-hectare surface, which makes 40 hectoliters/hectare, some parcels giving more and some less. His parcels are spread between two villages, Chabris and Lye, the terroirs being either under the Valençay AOC or Touraine. I read somewhere that the maximum yields for Valençay reds is 65 ho/ha and for whites 68 ho/ha.
Pouillé sur Cher, Touraine (Loire)
There has been a growing number of new names popping up on the artisan winery scene along the last few years and it has become very difficult for reporters to keep up the pace in reporting on them. It's very heartening to see these new arrivals because it gives a chance for stagnating wine regions to make exciting wines again, bring work (even if on the artisan scale) and help meet the growing national and international demand for real wines.
Ben Nerot, who was a musician for a living, is one of these new names, he has been a fan of these wines for years while he lived in Nantes, and, being a native from the Cher valley, he had come back regularly in the region to put his hand where his mouth was, like taking part to the harvest at Noella Morantin beginning in 2010. The story was to become even nicier as his future sweetheat Emily also planned to go pick for Noëlla.
This wine made our day a couple weeks ago (actually even two days as we made it last over the course of two diners...), we had opened this bottle of Emmanuel Giboulot, this is a wine made from parcels that were already farmed with biodynamy, and there's no doubt it's related with the exquisite qualities of this wine, so pure and neat, and with this living feel. The wine ferments in old barrels and is aged on its lees for a year. 11 years after it was vinified, it's still a marvel. B. had kept this bottle in a cellar since she bought it during our visit there in 2006, and this wasn't even a very cool cellar at her atelier, means these wines are very stable, they have a life of their own. Sometimes you taste an old vintage and people say, Oh, it hasn't changed, it's well preserved, but it's often because it has been dead-frozen by heavy so2 addings.
Thésée, Touraine (Loire)
We're here on the north bank of the Cher river, in an area thick with artisan-minded vignerons on both sides, like Bruno Allion and Vincent Ricard on this side in the same village, or Les Maisons Brülées, Noëlla Morantin, Laurent Saillard and others on the gg
other side of the river. Joël Courtault's father was in his time a grower who brought his grape to the nearby Coopérative of Oisly-Thésée, vinifying only a small share of his grape. On the vineyard side he was farming almost organic without boasting about it, taking care of the soil, eschewing herbicides and insecticides, and keeping in check the weeds through plowing instead. He wasn't rewarded by the Coop for that, his grapes being vinified together with the other, conventional loads.
Joël's father was for a long time the only grower at the Coop to bring such organic grapes, then came Michel Augé (who was also selling his grapes there) who made a conversion to organic farming, and much later Bruno Allion. There was also Alain Courtault in Thésée (not his direct family) who has started a conversion to organic at the time, the overall number of organic growers was far below what it has reached today with the new arrivals.
When Joël began to follow suit in 1999 he decided to officialize this organic farming and the conversion was much easier for the vineyard. Before that his father had used occasionally some chemicals against mildew but no insecticides, for example he didn't spray against grape worms (he had tried once but felt it wasn't worth it). At the time when he started there was a small group of vignerons around Michel Augé and through them he learnt about biodynamy, visiting growers experienced in this farming. This was very new to him and he began to apply these methods with the help of these contacts.
On the vinification side Joël vinifies without winemaking additives, relying on wild yeast only for the fermentation, and there's no added sulfites in his wines.
I went to the Louvre recently for a change, and with a few friends we had a special tour centered on wine related scenes, sculptures and vessels. This is an exciting way to go through the museum, passing vertically across the centuries with wine and other fermented beverages being the civilizational thread uniting all these vibrant cultures. B. was the one that could explain us all the untold stories behind these works, which certainly helps because the small plaques wouldn't tell much more than the author, the date and where it came from. In the Louvre, you can look at ancien historic eras and civilizations, but you can also manage to have on the side an intuitive understanding of the History of wine, because paintings and artifacts speak by themselves if you open
yourself to them. Wine has made all these civilizations beautiful, and thinking to the troublemakers who are doing a lot of harm today around the world, I'll repeat the great words of Benjamin Franklin they'd be wise to emulate : Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance...
Wine is as old as known and defunct past civilizations,
it is even certainly older than Civilization itself, prehistoric humans had soon understood that Mother Nature had given them the possibility to transcend and elevate their mood and social sharing by indulging in a few drinks. Give a few grapes or berries left to rot in a corner and there would be after a while this sticky inebriating juice that was possibly consumed for religious or pagan perspectives in these early human groups (like in this 6000-year old winery found in an Armenia cave). It's hard for us to imagine how all this began, we tend to project our preconceived view of "civilized man" toward our savage ancestors and we may be wrong all along, they may have had then an internal eye which allowed them to see the world much better than we do, and use its tools and herbs with a visionary intuition [my Rudolf Steiner training speaks here...].
There are so many things to see in the Louvre, most people go straight to a few works that have acquired a cult status worldwide, even among people not particularly into arts, and the Mona Lisa painting (La Joconde in French) must be in that regard the queen of selfies and Instagram. The good side of mass tourism is that crowds more or less concentrate on a few rooms in the large museum, pay for the general costs of running a museum and otherwise leaves much of the collection rooms with reasonable attendance. Lately, the threat of renewed islamic terror has kind of diminished the crowds on major monuments in Paris, including in the Louvre, but you might not notice it easily at first glance, it's still crowded on certain days with foreign visitors including Chinese groups, so it's wise to go there at the opening hour and preferably on a week day if you look for quieter times.
A personnal 2/3-hour tour can be arranged on this wine thread at the Louvre (in French, English & Japanese) and with much more info including the untold story behind these works.
Better than the Internet !
Winery tools in 1958, 1955 and 1934
Although the company still exists today, the younger generation may ignore the name of Manufrance. This company was the first mail-order company in this country when it began working in 1885, its original name was Manufacture Française d'Armes et Cycles de St.Etienne as its prime products were guns
and cycles and it was based in the industrial town of Saint Etienne. I discovered that the company
was still around even though we don't hear much about it these days, it reached its peak certainly in the 1970s' before large supermarkets became ubiquitous even in the countryside. Manufrance sold primarily guns with their ammo (which remain their prime products from what I understand), bicycles, motorbikes (the latter disappeared in the 1950s', with the ill-fated government post-WW2 policies against small/medium businesses), but it had also been selling all along the 20th century all kind of tools including professional ones. Just leafing through a catalog a few decades old makes you imagine the wonder of the potential buyer with all these informative images about their products, at a time there was no Internet. You could become a beehiver, make cheese, buy all sort of music instruments, buy all sort of traps to poach or any imaginable agriculture tools including walk plows, everything, including you guess it, here I come, all you need to make wine...
I stumbled upon two such catalogs in Strasbourg some time ago (a friends kept them as collectibles), one was from 1934 and the other from 1955 and I found other views online of the 1958 issue. I focused of course on the winemaking and cellar tools, this was very exciting when you think to all the myriads of small backyard and family parcels that have certainly been uprooted since. One odd thing is there isn't that much differences (apart from the inflation in the prices) between the winery/viticulture tools when you compare the 1930s' and the 1950s', that's strange.
The pages reproduced here come from 3 Manufrance mail-order catalogs, 1934, 1955 and 1958 (screen shots). You can leaf through the 1958 catalog at the bottom of this page, the range of products is pretty weird and much of this stuff is professionnal, you could start a business with them, including start your domaine...
Speaking of the price conversion, according to this page a French Franc from 1958 was worth the equivalent of 0,01649 €.
It's been years that we've been enjoying home-cooked foie gras here and there, beginning with the one my mother cooks for Christmas, a delicate mi-cuit foie gras which retains all this beautiful taste. Cooking foie gras oneself is the door to an affordable culinary luxury, and it's been more and more easy over the years to buy raw duck- or goose liver, as if charcuterie shops were selling so much of foie gras that they didn't
even care about the competition of home cooking. In spite of the easy availability of the
raw material of late, it's only now that I jumped in the cold water and tried my talents on this cooking adventure.
I was helped a lot by the rock bottom prices for raw foie gras in Budapest. Among the many covered markets I've been to there, the Nagyvásárcsarnok or Great Market Hall in Hungarian is N° 1 for the choice and supply, and with prices generally at 5000 Forints a kilogram (16 € or 17,5 USD) or even below, I couldn't let this pass.The production of foie gras and the related breeding of geese and ducks is an important sector of the Hungarian agriculture, with some 30,000 Hungarian goose farmers being dependent on the foie gras industry. Much of these foies gras are exported to France where, through the intricate subtilities of the French and EU labelling laws, they can be labelled as being "Product of France" after being shortly processed there.
We're here in the same register as when the Maisons de Champagne of the Marne went shopping in the Aube for their grapes a century ago and got all the proceeds of the juicy business although the Aube growers did all the hard work for pennies. Because of the big difference in the production costs (you see what I paid for retail, just imagine the wholesale price...) I think that the share for Hungarian and Bulgarian raw material in the French final product is willfully underestimated by the CIFOG (French Union of producers of foie gras), especially for the canned foie gras. Their page about the French production doesn't say even a word about this supply source and about the fact that a duck or a goose born, raised and fed in Hungary can have its raw liver exported to France where it'll be processed and sold/re-exported as French Foie Gras. According to this decade-old document (in English), Hungary which is the 2nd world producer of foie gras exports eighty five percent of its foie gras to France.
Healthy foods and self-sufficiency at easy reach
This year was a very good vintage for quince [coing in French], not that I came through any bad year (except maybe 2014) since B.' parents gave me a baby cognassier (quince tree) to plant in the Loire in 2000. I never pruned the tree and it felt quickly at home, yielding lots of fruits year after year with its thin branches bending heavily on the load of fruits every september and october. Quince isn't an easy fruit to eat, you don't just grab one and crunch it like an apple, my improvised recipe for years to eat
them was to cut one or two in half as such with the skin and put them in the microwave for 2 to 4 minutes; once the temperature had
cooled you could eat them right away, with enough of natural sugar in it in spite of its reputation as lacking of it, and the unique texture made it a nice experience, B. would often use some for breakfast.
But this wonder tree gives us maybe 80 kg of fruit every year (possibly more, that's a rough estimation) and if you wait too much, unsprayed quince tends to rot at some point, so I usually gave some of the harvest load to B.'s parents if we were to go to Burgundy in those weeks, and also to a neighbors in Paris, with some would give us a couple of jelly jars in return.
This fall 2015 was so plentiful (pic on left, sorry it's the only one with full tree in 2016, was shot with my phone) that even though I gave away lots of it I was still faced with this big load of fruit, thinking I shouldn't rely entirely on other people to process it, so I decided to try my chance and make some quince jelly myself, B. not having the time to take care of it, plus she was in Japan in october/november anyway when it was becoming urgent to deal with the quince stack.
I also keep thinking for a while that Mother Nature had us receive these odd fruits for a reason, not just to upset us with frustration while looking on ways to make them edible. These fruits are given to us just before winter and they certainly contain precious components which we need to go through winter (after checking on the web, it's indeed full of health benefits). Quince has also a particular umami or texture feel which you don't find often in fruits, it almost reminds me lovely sticking mouth feel of cartilaginous meat like ox tail or pork feet, with a different taste of course. All these feelings and awareness pushed me to take the matter into my hands and do what our ancestors did, before we became spoiled by the laziness induced by our consumerist way of life where shopping is viewed as more attractive than doing things yourself.