Lazenay, Reuilly (Loire)
Reuilly is one of these little-known Loire appellations gravitating in the orbit of of their more famous neighbor, Sancerre. Reuilly is probably the least-known among these tiny wine regions, the other being Pouilly-Fumé,
Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Coteaux du Giennois (this latter one is maybe even
more obscure to most consumers). If you want to know more about this AOC, I strongly recommend that you read Richard Kelley's Reuilly page where you'll find the most extensive information you can dream of about the region. The surface of the planted vineyards in Reuilly is small, about 185 hectares, but the total potential surface (the one that can qualify for appellation plantings) is 600 hectares, and looking around, you see indeed more other crops than vines on the light slopes of the area compared with other wine regions. The Reuilly area sits on two départements, the Indre (#36 on license plates) and the Cher (#18), with the Arnon flowing in between, this quiet river flowing into the Cher river north from here near Vierzon. The AOC was created in 1937 but the region has been making wine since the Middle Ages, from Sauvignon and Gamay from what I understand.
While Reuilly is a small sleepy town with yet some commercial activity (picture on left), Lazenay is a quiet village 3 kilometers from there (pic on right) on the eastern side of the Arnon. The region is known as having a more continental type of weather, which includes drier summers, and riding on my motorbike from the region of Saint-Aignan (further west) that weekend, I noticed that the drought endured in 2012 all over France was here more severe than in Touraine, the grass looking completely dry as if we were in southern France.
The varieties grown in Reuilly today are Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. The rosé wine (or gris) made from Pinot Gris is what makes Reuilly stand out, particularly when it's made by Jacques Vincent who for years has been a reference for it in-and-outside Reuilly, his rosé being repeatedly listed in the Guide Hachette and medalled in other wine institutions.
Saint Aubin, Côte de Beaune (Burgundy)
In spite of a vineyard surface of about 5 hectares, which is small even by Burgundy standards, Dominique Derain's wines have shined well beyond the quiet village of Saint Aubin,
in the Côte de Beaune. Like I noticed after tasting his wines at a Bourgogne-wines tasting in Paris a couple years ago [5th picture on this story], Dominique Derain is a joyful man who doesn't take himself seriously, and his wines were particularly exciting and enjoyable. Here is a father of 5 (with 3 wives) whose career has been bumpy until he settled in his own winery and produced uncorrected wines with little or no sulfur that made him known by demanding wine amateurs scattered throughout the world. His rebelness in his highschool years made him hop from school to school in Dijon (Saint Jo, Saint François, Saint Bénigne), and he ended up joining the work force early to enrol at a local cooperage (Meyer) which has closed down since. He then worked for 10 years in different wineries in Puligny, in Meursault (Ropiteau), in Alsace and also at Domaine Laroche in Chablis. He then created this estate with his then-wife Catherine whom he met at the wine school in Beaune. They separated 6 years ago but they still share the facility. When they worked together she was more on the vineyard-management side and he was dealing with the chai and cellar side. The estate's surface began with a mere 12 ares in 1988, then they planted some Saint-Aubin Village white, then purchased 1,3 hectare of Saint-Aubin (red and white), which made a total of 2,8 hectares. after that they planted 70 ares of Remilly. They also sold some of the surface at times because the banks didn't follow up : they were thinking their yields would be 40 or 50 hectilter/hectare like it's usual around here but they never reached these yields and the banks got tired. But they managed to sell these plots to friendly third-parties to whom they would rent the parcels, thus keeping working on them.
Jeremy Quastana checking the sediments on his sparkling rosé
Fresnes, Sologne (Loire)
Jeremy Quastana is a young vigneron who has set up his small artisan winery in the Loire two years ago only. When you taste the wines of his 2nd vintage it's hard to believe that he just started making wine,
these wines are just delicious. The first time I had the opportunity
to taste them was at the open-doors tasting event held earlier this spring at Olivier Lemasson's Les Vins Contés. Here was a new guy coming out of the blue with wines of a surprising quality
Jeremy had initially enrolled in Historical Studies in a French university and he just happened to work occasionally for Olivier Lemasson whose farm is a handful of kilometers away in this corner of Sologne in the Loire. Don't ever venture into giving a hand to an artisan vintner when you're supposed to pursue a doctorate degree in History, there's a good chance you'll never graduate or become a history professor... I suspect that Olivier Lemasson diverts promising sophomores from Academia's lecture halls by just pouring them a few glasses of his wines when the joyous crowd of pickers have their lunch or dinner together. I guess that when it's time to go back to the University benches after living through such a harvest season, you feel like you're leaving the real life for a disembodied world of virtual achievements. Jeremy Quastana worked with Olivier Lemasson on several occasions, sometimes several weeks in a row, learning in the way the hand picking, the chai & cellar jobs and the winemaking.
Fresnes is a small village in the Sologne in the Loire, in an area on the edge of Touraine, at mid-distance between Blois along the Loire river, and Saint-Aignan along the Cher.
La Roquebrussanne, Var (Provence)
Jean-Christophe Comor has set up by himself in 2003/2004 a small winery named Domaine Les Terres Promises in the back country of Provence at an altitude of 400 meters. The facility was at the origin a small cabin at the foot of the Massif de la Sainte Baume in the Provencal wilderness, a place deprived of any chai or amenities, a couple of kilometers
from the charming village of La
Roquebrussanne (pictures on left and right). His professional career didn't point to becoming a vigneron : in his former life he was working in political circles in Paris, organizing groups or think tanks to create a new dynamic in the relation between citizens and the political elite. The man doesn't like to be always reminded about this experience and in a politically-clanic society like France's it might be better so. Let's just say that he wrote a book about the disconnect between political parties and real people. Anyway that was really his previous life and his wine venture turned into one very good surprise for wine lovers, his wines selling now in many top wine bars and wine shops of the country, and after you drink a few of them you understand that this success has nothing to do with well-connected relations. His rebirth in the winemaking world proves also that with the right farming choices and vinification techniques (or the lackthereof), you can make wonders in Provence without having any family history in the wine trade. His wines really stand out compared with much of what has been made around here for years.
The winery sits at some distance of the charming village of La Roquebrussanne, a typical inner Provence village with its own old-style coop and quiet streets and square shadowed by plane trees. i tried to visit him last year but he was not around the winery when I tried to reach him through a friend who had met him a couple of times.
Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhone (tiny blue patch in the center of this map)
The Coopérative of Vacqueyas in the Côtes du Rhône was built in 1956/1957 by a well-named architect, Mr Henri Enjouvin (sounds like Anjou Vin in French), Mr Enjouvin having also taken part in the planning and construction of many other coops in southern
France and Provence before and after WW2. Named initially Coopérative Vinicole les Vins du Troubadour, it was renamed
in a more modern way a few years ago as Vignerons de Caractère and it has also gone through a major growth and modernization. This report is coincidently again about the Vacqueyras appellation but I was actually invited there for a press tour by another communication agency, Pain Vin & Company, along with 5 other journalists. I thought it was interesting to report on what looks like a dynamic coopérative with a commercial edge, something very different from the old-style coops where I like to buy wine in bulk in summer.
Today, this coop vinifies the grapes from a 1000-hectare surface, making it a major producer of the area. 80 growers are behind the coop, all giving 100 % of their grapes except 2 of them. To be precise, 20 producers make more than half of the volume, the rest of the growers having smaller surfaces, some even having another job somewhere and tending their vineyard in their free time. This story shows that the coopératives are very diverse, some being a long way from the familiar village coop of grandpa.
Sylvain Decoster who is the environmental quality manager at the coop showed us around during this visit.
Cannes, French Riviera
Light summer story, let's enjoy time coming to a standstill for a couple of weeks...
Paninis and drinks (boissons), this neon sign on the side of this beach shack (we say cabane de plage here) says it all about its purpose : having a relaxed sandwich with a drink after your beach time. This one is named Coté Sud (southern side), it's one among dozens such cabanes that you find along the bay of Cannes up to Mandelieu, and probably along many French
busy beaches as well. the people who manage these places work like crazy between say, may and september and then it's the quiet season during which they're usually closed. Beachgoers know they can count on them when they're short on cold drinks and homemade sandwiches. And there's nothing better than relaxing a last time in the evening before driving home after everybody else has left. Some of these place are open till midnight, and swimming at dark with the light of the town in the far is probably one of the best swimming experiences you can have, although there's always for me the unsettling thought that some big fish come closer to the shore after sunset (we'll not utter the "S" word, but there are a few in this part of the Mediterranean, although from supposedly harmless sub-species...
The cabane de plage or snack de plage is a minor gastronomy venue, a world ignored until now by the restaurant-wise people but this is a real place with its own rush hours and regulars. This is the type of place that can reconcile you with a boring coastal town like Cannes, which is a rather conformist and consumerist place favored by a same-minded bourgeoisie. The beach shack is usually class-blind and democratic, and although there's still way to go to fill the gap __French people don't let themselves go very easily__ it makes me think to this beach shack in downtown Tel Aviv where people from all walks of life would dance together on the most improvised manner (video on left).
Var département, Provence
This is summer, time to lower for a while your demanding requirements in terms of quality and drink lots of rosé. I never buy wine in the supermarket but I may do it in this season when I look for a cheap rosé to accommodate our appetite for cheap summer booze. This is an alternative to the bulk wine found in coops, which is also very convenient when you're in Provence, each village having its coop where rosé costs between 1,2 and 2 € a liter. In the local supermarket here in the heart of Provence in the Var département) (map), there were a few dozen rosé to choose from, most bottles costing between 3 € and 6 €, and the bottom price being 1,65 and 1,85 € if I checked well (I don't think these ones were worth trying). A quick look made me think that there could be tempting picks around the 3 € range and I bought a few bottles while visiting this supermarket. What you expect here is something reasonably drinkable, we all know we'll not have our wine of the year at that price range. But it's still hot outside at around 8 pm when you settle in a good spot under the trees for the apéritif, and as long as the wine is kept cool and is not a total crap, it'll make your party happy and contribute to a successful Provence evening. Plus, you may open a few bottles in this price bracket, it will not ruin you. I don't usually drink wine at lunch but it's hard for me not to drink chilled rosé or white in Provence in summer, so we had also some of these supermarket picks for lunch, and the result of this random check was not as bad as expected.
Chavagnes les Eaux, Anjou (Loire)
A few kilometers from Angers and from Faye D'Anjou, in this region (Anjou) with a high concentration of artisan vintners, there's a British expat going under the name of Toby Bainbridge who lives with his American wife and their two sons in a charming village named Chavagnes les Eaux. I had met Toby shortly a few years ago while visiting the estate of Agnès and René Mosse, where he worked then full time (I had made a short audio interview then and you can listen to it on the Mosse story). He had already got a small surface of vineyard of his own, one hectare if I remember, but he waited fort the right time to officially open shop, working in parallel on his own vines and on the ones of his employer (he has been working 3 days a week at René Mosse until recently). Starting his own estate for good is what he's doing right now in 2012, even though he has been already making wines of his own for a few years. It took him some time but somehow it was his British restraint which commanded patience, while his American wife Julie was in favor of bolder moves. Considering the wine farms he worked in before starting his own, I think he got a good training, both in the vineyards and in the cellar.
The D day is august 1st, he'll benefit from the Jeune Agriculteur loan program set up long time ago in France to help young farmers to kickstart their business.
Benoit Courault with Emmanuelle and their son Alphonse
Faye d'Anjou, Anjou (Loire)
Benoit Courault is a young vintner who has been on the Loire scene for a few years now, he's managing a handful of hectares by himself and literally lives in the middle of hiis small estate with his wife and son in this
spartan mobile home with direct view on the lined
rows and a few farm animals which ALL belong to the young Alphonse (he was quick to tell me about all his mates while I was chatting with Benoit and Emmanuelle). The village of Faye d'Anjou itself is not the nicest village I saw in Anjou, it's a bit too serious maybe, almost bland compared to other communities near there, but Benoit lives on its outskirts in a farmland settings with vines, woods, hedges and grass roads. The area is very close to Angers, a major town in this part of the Loire valley, and lots of people live in such villages and commute everyday to the city for work. Benoit has the chance to work a few steps from his bohemian home and eat with his family on the grass when the weather allows it. I arrived a bit early that day and they were all in the middle of their lunch, so they invited me to sit and share some wine with them (I had already lunched along the road). These wine people seem to all compete to make me want to drop the city life and take root in the deep country... The first time I came across Benoit Courault's wines was relatively recently, during a tasting with other outstanding artisan vintners a couple years ago in Paris (7th story on this page). I had put in a corner of my mind the project to visit him one day, and this day happened at last.
There's a stiff competition for regional wine promotions in Paris, you get all the time professional tastings devoted to this or that French region and to be frank, I don't go to many of them in spite of often being invited. But this particular one, which was organized around the wines of Cotes-du-Rhone Vacqueyras Appellation was too tempting for not making a try, and it was I think a success. Instead of the busy reception rooms of a fancy hotel, the organizers (the communication agency Claire de Lune) chose the settings of the gardens and pétanque grounds in a quiet neighborhood at 7 rue Becquerel in Paris, in the heights of Montmartre. From 3 pm to 10 pm you could enjoy free tasting with buffet, music and other entertainment and a dinner with all the Vacqueyras you needed of course. As this terraced garden is foremost a pétanque club, this all began with a serious pétanque after teams were set up. The very serious Confrérie des Maîtres Vignerons de Vacqueyras even awarded a medal to the best team, in the presence of the President of the République de Montmartre (the man in black on the right with his Toulouse-Lautrec-esque red scarf)..