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.
Montreuil (next to Paris)
It's been barely a year that two young craft brewers opened shop at the door of Paris in former industrial workshops that have been renovated for startup companies, and their beers are already selling fine in Paris. Craft beer is slowing taking off in France, if of course still far
behind hot markets like the one in the United States.
To rewind back to when it all started,
Thomas Deck who is originally from Alsace was studying at Sciences-Po in Strasbourg and he had at that time an opportunity to do a student exchange with an American university. He thus spent a year in Washington D.C. and one of his roommates there in Georgetown (or rather from the next room) was Mike Donohue and the two became friends. Mike at the time had already made beer at home and they both dug into the beer field, doing tastings and so on. This was in 2002-2003 and the craft-beer scene was aready active including in D.C.
After a year they began to think that they could do something together in beer, and in 2005 Mike took a brewer job in San Francisco at 21st Amendment, an artisanal brewery named in reference to the 21st amendment of the U.S. constitution which in 1933 repealed the prohibition. Mike who had enlisted in foreign languages (Spanish & Japanese) and also in environmental studies had taken thus another direction and he learned more on beermaking in San Francisco for a year, doing the basic job at the brewery. Thomas who had come back to France then, visited him occasionally and he himself became a trainee in a small artisanal brewery in Alsace, Uberach, which began to operate in 1999 using the pure water of the northern Vosges mountains for unfiltered and unpasteurized beers.
At one point Mike moved to Japan where he lived for a while and back in the U.S. he worked for 5 years at Flying Fish near Philadelphia PA. (from where he's originally), another award-winning craft brewery. Thomas on his side was keeping brewing at home in Paris, and it's been 1 year 1/2 or 2 years now that they decided to work full time on a common project to set up an artisanal brewery together here in Paris.
Mr Atsuhide Kat (CEO of Born brewery) pouring to Kei Miyagawa
This took place a few weeks ago in Paris, the Unesco had an event organized around sake which is a central part of the Japanese culture and also around the traditional Japanese cups used to drink sake : the guinomi.
There were three heroes of the evening, first the Japanese departing Ambassador at the Unesco, Mr Kenjiro Monji
(pictured on left with special sommelière from Daishichi), who was to be appointed soon as the Japan Ambassador to Canada, in this context this
restricted-access event was meant to be festive as well as cultural, like some sort of farewell party to Paris, diplomatic colleagues and friends.
The other hero was the Japanese artist Mrs Junko Kiritani, a Tokyo-based ceramist who had designed a few dozens guinomis just for this event. In Japan there's a deep-rooted relation with food/drink, tableware and other traditional vessels, we are now familiar in the West with the delicate and fragile-lookig cups and ceramics that keep been created in Japan in a tight connection between modernity and tradition.
The third hero was the group of sake exhibitors to this event, several having come specially from Japan :
Born (Katoukichibee Shoten, Born CEO pictured above), Daishichi, Kenbishi, Dassai (Asahi shuzo), Kamoshibito Kuheiji, Chiyomusubi Bihappo, Dewazakura Aiyama, Azumaichi, Kinoene Kyuko, Yamahida (Kawashiri shuzo), Kinmon Akita, Kokuryu, Miyasaka, Nakao, Ninki, Nishida, Sohomare, Sudohonke, Tatenokawa, Yucho shuzo.
The event took place at the Unesco bar in an upper story of the Unesco building in the 7th arrondissement.
Köln / Cologne (Germany)
The first-ever natural-wine fair in Germany took place in Kôln recently, as a sign that the movement which is still nascent in this country is slowing taking pace. The naturbelassene Weine like these wines are also called here (which we could translate as wines made naturally) are going out of the dark and have their national event, to which even German producers take part.
A handful of importers have been bringing these unconventional wines from abroad (mostly from France) to the German public for a few years and they have now a sizeable following here if yet quite small compared to other similar European markets like Scandinavia for
This wine fair was named Wein Salon Natürel which looks like a nice blend between German & French, everybody being able I guess to understand the meaning although for the Germans the usual nom-de-rigueur is Naturwein.
While this all is certainly the result of a team work (kudos to all the staff who helped all through the weekend including for the dinner), the person behind this whole adventure is still foremost an indefatigable woman who has made a lot to bring the natural wines above the radar in Germany : Surk-ki Schrade . Surk-ki is a wine importer based in Cologne and she also runs a shop named La Vincaillerie, you can stumble on her on prominent wine fairs and tastings in France, I mean the ones featuring real wines made the old way. Even her two sons were there that weekend to help among the staff.
Here is how the wines offered at this Wein Samon Natürel were presented in German on the wine-event's website :
Sie alle machen diese natural wines, vins naturels, naturbelassene Weine – oder wie auch immer man diese ungelabelten reinen vergorenen Traubensäfte auch nennen mag.
Alle arbeiten "biologisch" oder "biodynamisch" auf dem Weinberg. Alle Weine sind handgelesen, spontanvergoren, ungeschönt, ungeklärt, meist ungeschwefelt und wenn ist die Menge kaum erwähnenswert, die Winzer sprechen dennoch darüber. I'm sure your school Deutsch is already back after reading these few words and you don't need any translation.
Here is a story featuring food but also somehow tightly connected to the winemaking process and I found interesting that three winemakers were taking part to an age-old food preparation using a natural fermentation process. I witnessed a few years ago (story) how Russians in
the deep country keep preparing canned vegetables
using the same simple and healthy method, the lacto-fermentation, which allows them to keep vegetables with their vitamins and other properties through the long winter without preservatives or fridges. In Russia millions of people (and not only farmers) keep preparing their winter food through this simple process, and oddly, the soviet-era food shortages helped maintain this heathy tradition while in our western countries the modernism and prosperity led people away from these practices and pushed them in the supermarkets.
But lacto-fermentation is a good way for consumers who have patience and a piece of land to vote with their feet from mass-produced products.
I stumbled into this thing as I called Laurent before a weekend I was to spend in Touraine, when I heard that he was in the middle of a lacto-fermentation of vegetables with two other winemakers in the old farm house at Pouillé, I thought this might be interesting, you don't come across winemakers doing canned food everyday.
Yes, all right, I must admit that I suspected there would be at some point one or two very enjoyable wines popping up along the way, and that was already a strong motive to go there and see what was going on...
The Cheverny appellation area is located in a corner of Sologne south of Blois, on the western fringe of this woody region dotted with hundreds of ponds of all sizes and well known to the
French hunters. The area has a good
share of artisan vintners doing organic work in the vineyard and no work at all in the cellar, some say it has the highest percentage of organic vineyards, due in part to the small size of the appellation area.
The village lies along the Beuvron, one of these minor and gentle rivers of the Sologne (like also the Cosson) which eventually flow into the Loire. It is a beautiful village, quite well preserved from the upheavals of modernity in spite of the proximity of Blois.
I had certainly come across Christian's wines here and there but ever since I had what I remeber as being a terrific white of his at the solidarity gathering of vignerons for Nathalie a few years ago, I had this visit in mind. Christian has quite a long lineage of vignerons behind him, his forefathers were actually multi-crop farmers like it used to be in the past in the French wine regions, growing grapes being only one of the crops of the farm, and with the type of wines he's making he somehow pays tribute to their hard work, reviving a simple, non-interventionist winemaking.
Rodolphe Paquin standing, Aaron pouring a great Beaujolais white
Rue Amelot, Paris 11th arrondissement
I was supposed to come there for a glass, so said Aaron who was having a small party for his birthday (I'll let him tell how old he is now). I entered the Repaire de Cartouche from the
rue-Amelot side, this venue having two exits
or two entries if you prefer, one on the boulevard side and one in the back street, in short one for the restaurant and the other for the bistrot/wine bar. During this long evening we never set a foot in the restaurant side, there are two separate cultures here and the one of the Amelot side can be pretty wild like you will see by yourself. It's great to see that a venue that have attained for quite a long time a cult status among the table & wine amateurs has still the vibes and the energy, thanks to Rodolphe Paquin and Laurent too, the wine-wise guy who will bring you a few cherished bottles from the cellar.
The rue-Amelot side of Le Repaire de Cartouche has gone through some remodeling recently. If you remember from a past visit, the bar counter was at the bottom of this room (right-hand when you walked in, perpendicular from the street), it was short and not very convenient, being barely long enough for 2 or 3 people. Now like you see it runs parallel to the street with still enough room for quite a few tables (you can have dinner on this side too).
Here is a show by two comedians which is centered on wine, it is named Entre deux Verres (between two glasses in French), it's humoristic and it sharpens the mind and the tongue. On one side there is a man who likes the high-end wines with prestigious pedigree, on the other side a woman who buys the wines with medals in the supermarket nearby. She loves to drink, he loves to taste, and this hour-long show is like fireworks of words where all the facets of the wine experience in a couple and in the social relations are dissected and listed, this show is like a mirror of our contemporary culture of wine, as this culture has changed so much over the last 60 years. The way we speak and behave around wine today will certainly be looked upon as
very exotic and marked with the faults of our 20th/21st century. That's why it's quite delicious to go see this show, but you better be at least a bit fluent in French, because it's a lot of references and litterature intertwined
with the vinous beverage.
As we were sitting waiting for the start of the show,B. and I spotted a man a few rows in front of us, and we immediately recognized Bernard Pivot who was there alone, he is both a man of words and a man of wine. Foremost he is known for having run for many years in the 1970s and 1980s a popular literary program named Apostrophes (see some archives here) where he'd debate about books with writers. Then he also wrote a couple of books o wine, beginning with the have we have at home, le Dictionnaire Amoureux du Vin, it's a very humoristic and searched where you'll find many surprises and learn unexpected things about wine.
The comedians/artists Pascale Vander Zypen and Christian Dalimier are from Belgium, a tiny country where the love for good wines is inversely proportional to its size, and that's why I'm not surprised that this show was created there. They played this show a lot throughout Belgium (about 135 times), for corporate events, private parties and cultural centers. The show needs very little decor out of a couple of spotlights and their talent, they can do their show at a wine tasting or also at a winery for a special event. This show in Paris was a test run to meet the publmic and possibly companies or organizations interested of having their show.
I asked Pascale about the creation of this duo show, she said they wrote it in a way that it is easily enjoyed by both wine connoisseurs and newbies, some scenes being more entertaining and others, while samely entertaining, dig their roots in more elaborate vinous references. There are a few jokes about the vin bio (organic) and the vin naturel, and it's fully non-judgmental so that every body can love it. Actually, she says, she was having dinner at some friends' restaurant in Tournai (Belgium) where they served lots of natural wine (the restaurant which closed since, she says, was named Vins Par-ci Vins Par-là) when this idea popped up about this show. You'll find some of the vinous literature of Bernard Pivot plus lots of their own.
Mareuil-sur-Cher, Touraine (Loire)
Winter is pruning season, the vines are bare and the vineyards are an austere view as their life flowed back temporaily deep into the soil. That's when you'll spot isolated workers doing the essential task of pruning, something which will determine in some extent the yields of the next harvest. Roughly, the pruning takes place from
december to march, more or less depending
of the weather and the availability of the winegrower, this is a calm season for him and he can usually choose his days without being bothered by other tasks except maybe the one of replanting or taking part to wine events.
Pruning is not an easy job, as the weather in winter, while not extreme, is often humid, making the temperature feel colder than it actually is. I remember when I had Russian visitors once in november, it was a typical humid time in Paris and they really found the conditions very unpleasant (to the point that they caught cold) as in their continental latitudes the cold is dry and more bearable in spite of the largely subfreezing levels.
While on a weekend in the Loire a few weeks ago I dropped at Clos Roche Blanche to see Didier work in the vineyard. This was saturday, and while Catherine goes to the marketplace of the charming town of Saint-Aignan nearby in the morning (I often stumble on her when I go there myself), Didier occasionally works between the rows. I drove straight atop the hill on the plateau after a short passage through the woods, leaving the manor-like house of Clos-Roche-Blanche on my left. I first missed Didier as he was far from the main dirt road and found a freelance worker indeed who was also busy pruning a block. Then as I was cruising back on the dirt road I spotted him.
Getting underground in Paris to get good artisan products
You certainly know about the food trucks where you can find sometimes refined foods but I guess like me you weren't familiar with getting your artisan food in an underground parking, and this, only at certain days you're emailed about beforehand. That's what I was initiated recently in the 20th arrondissement after having been tipped through Gilles Manzoni about the initiative of Jean-Christophe Hanier (and himself). Jean-Christophe holds regularly open tables in this underground parking (in the 2nd basement to be precise) where people in-the-know can come and buy organic artisan food and vegetables sourced by himself in France and Italy. You can almost certain that you'll get a pour of artisan wine as a bonus, as Gilles has his reserve there (he now stopped working as a natural-wine distributor and he works at Caves Augé).