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.
A few lines from Gargantua et Pantagruel, a book written in 1534...
We French all remember having read some of the gorgeous writings of François Rabelais (1494-1553) in school, namely Gargantua et Pantagruel, although maybe not in the early classes because his prose was
often full of booze, sex and gore. Rabelais, a native from
Chinon (Loire) and a Franciscan monk, is considered an illustrious case of scatological talent and joyous rebellness, and in his work you'll find drunkards, monks, blasphemers and unrepentant gluttons with no respect for the politically-correct clergy of that time __which it seems was much more tolerant than our contemporary secular clergy (to paraphrase Régis Debray), because if some one wrote a modern equivalent of Gargantua he'd be sure thrown on the pyre by the hygienists and all the victimization lobbies looking for a witch who dares raise her broom above the correct line of thinking. Reading Rabelais's vivid and colorful prose is akin to taking part to fiery pagan parties and you almost feel you're splashed with wine and meat sauce. There's even an adjective in French, gargantuesque, to express the wild, happy gluttony and unrestrained drinking practiced in a spirit of humorous debauchery.
I happen to have found during lunch break in Saint Mandé the other day a "translation" (from old French to modern French) of Gargantua et Pantagruel which Rabelais wrote in 1534. This 1936 "translation" makes it more easy to understand the language than the original which is demanding in terms of attention and going aroung strange disused words.
The book was lying among many other books (often less interesting) on a table in this weekly old-books street market, it was only 2 €, so I bought it for the fun of it. As I leafed randomly through the volume I was stunned at the vividness of these scenes and exchanges, it's so bewildering to think that this was written so many centuries ago, it's so free-wheeling and wild, some would say with a Tarantino touch in the gore side of certain scenes along with something of Charles Bukowski's excesses albeit with a more light-hearted tone.
I did a bit of research and found an English translation online, which made me decide to post two excerpts, the first being about an improvised conversation between drinkers, and the other recounting in a visually-expressive form (almost like in an action movie) how a single monk defeated an army of invaders who had been pillaging, stealing and killing in Seville and then went to this abbey and proceeded to loot the vineyard and cut the grapes, thus jeopardizing the future wine of the monks. All the monks chose to just stay indoors, pray and make litanies in hope everythings gets fine, but one monk decided to take the matters in his own hands...quite violently. Nothing related to any contemporary situation or events here, of course...
Chapter 1.V. — The Discourse of the Drinkers
Then did they fall upon the chat of victuals and some belly furniture to be snatched at in the very same place. Which purpose was no sooner mentioned, but forthwith began flagons to go, gammons to trot, goblets to fly, great bowls to ting, glasses to ring.
Draw, reach, fill, mix, give it me without water.
bring me hither some claret, a full weeping glass till it run over.
A cessation and truce with thirst.
Ha, thou false fever, wilt thou not be gone?
I attended this monday a tasting event in Paris/11th featuring 29 artisan wineries from the Jura (Vignerons Bio du Jura). I could barely taste a few of the wineries there as I came after work, but thanks to my friend and sommelier Alain Segelle who was finishing his turn, I could discover a few gems, and one of them is Claude Buchot from Maynal, Jura who with his father turned his domaine organic in 1974, a very early time for that viticulture, there were maybe 3 organic growers in the Jura then.
__ I first tasted a Côtes du Jura Chardonnay 2009 Terroir du Bry, a non topped-up wine, Savagnin style. 30 months without topping up made about 30 liters disappear. Malolactic made in vats before going into the casks Nice color, green reflections. Nice mouth feel with a bright, neat expression. Costs 8 € tax included at the winery. 5000 bottles (total production at his winery : 25 000 bottles).
__ Côtes du Jura, Cuvée Charles Baudelaire 2009 Savagnin-Chardonnay blend. Same vinification, non topped-up in barrels for 30 months. Color : even greener. On the nose, more intensity. Mouth more intensity and length, with again this typical oxidative mouthfeel. Costs 9 € tax included at the domaine. Claude Buchot says that he adds 3 grams of SO2 at the press, then nothing after that. He filters the wine.
__ Poulsard 2011, no added sulfites here, but it is filtrated. Claude Buchot says that he is working on stopping adding sulfites but he is a supporter of filtration for different reasons, including because he considers that filtration makes more refined wines. Because of the filtration he has very long élevage in bottles so that the wine recovers properly (this one got a 15-month-élevage in bottles). Claude says that this small parcel of Poulsard (50 ares) is plowed with a draft horse (not his but the one of a friend). The poulsard grapes were cooled down for a few days before letting the fermentation start with indigenous yeasts. The wine, which is carafed, has a vivid and bright color, very pleasant and lively. I can't but imagine the same wine in its unfiltered version though, it's already nice here but I'd expect more with the full version.
I also loved his Vin de Paille 2008 made with 65 % Chardonnay and the rest in Poulsard & Savagnin. Claude Bruchot sells mostly in the region and also a bit in in Belgium.
A few images of the Percée du Vin Jaune 2008 of which Claude Buchot was the president.
I had just dropped, unplanned, for a few minutes and the intention to just say hello to Jean and Agnès Foillard on my way to visit France Gonzalvez.
It was lunch time and it happened
to be the last harvest day at Foillard. All the pickers plus the cellar staff were eating in the usual room, the place was packed and additional tables had been set up to seat everybody. When I walked in, I said hello to Agnès who was taking care of the kitchen with another woman, and I saluted Jean who was sitting among the pickers. I'm sorry for not having taken any picture, I somehow was shy and didn't want to disturb all these people who had worked hard in the morning. That's too bad because the scene with all these people enjoying their meal was very photogenic, there was even among the pickers a young woman with a hat made out leaves and foliage, she looked so nice like these autumn queens (Королева Осени or Koroleva oseni) in Russia who wear such headgear made of yellow and red leaves. I asked Jean if she was the queen of the harvest, he said that every year she'd sport a headgear like that.
Whatever, self-restraint made me miss great potential pictures on this last harvest lunch, but Jean told me to visit later the afternoon when I would be available and I came back to see what they were doing.
France Gonzalvez is a young vigneronne who set up her winery in 2008 with half an hectare and gradually grew to 5 hectares today. Her training with Xavier Benier gave her the will to make wines with passion. Since her first vintage she's been moving her facility, at the beginning working under the roof of other winegrowers, then after going through several places she
found this available facility for rent, it was neat
and well designed if not new, and that's where she makes her wines today. France is also the mother of two young children and as she has been increasing the vineyard surface of the winery, her husband decided to quit his job and join her.
I first met France Gonzalvez coincidently as she was pouring a glass to Mathieu Lapierre in a wine-tasting event in Paris last november (les Beaux Macs) devoted to the wines of the Maconnais and the Beaujolais. I had just arrived in the Salle des Miroirs where this tasting was taking place, I didn't know where to begin (a big challenge when you walk in every tasting event), and falling incidently on a scene with Mathieu Lapierre holding his glass for some of France's wine was just the clue that I needed to stop at a stand...
I was struck by the energy of this frail young woman who was beginning the arduous life of winegrower all the while raising two children and without finacial backings.
France Gonzalvez lives with her husband Olivier and two young children in Le Paragard, a small hamlet above Blacé, on slopes where you find vineyards and also a few horses (and crosses). She rents her current facility in Blacé (the large wooden door on the right).
This is the time of the year when you can taste the paradis in the winery, this French word meaning "paradise" or "heaven". The paradis is the freshly-pressed juice flowing from the press after a couple of weeks of carbonic maceration. This juice of gamay is
very different from what it would have been if it hadn't beforehand spent 15 days of forced seclusion within the
intact skins of the grapes, in a strong fermentation pressure kept in check by a natural production of CO2. It didn't get its name for nothing, and even for a non-expert juice taster, this is paradise on earth.
This paradis has a strong-enough evocative power to have inspired a few village celebrations throughout the Beaujolais, for example the Paradis et Artisanat day in Arnas, and the Fête du Paradis in Odenas. The grape juice will fill the glasses during these festive events, a juice which already has a small percentage of alcohol, maybe 3 or 4 % when you have it just at the press, a bit more later, and it makes you feel high in a very gentle way after a few refills, which are hard to resist.
The paradis is a close parent to the delicious bernache or vin nouveau, other names found elsewhere in France for the same sweet grape juice turning slowly into wine. I love to visit wineries at this time of the year and have a few glasses of this savoury fermenting juice, usually a beverage with a lightly more alcohol but still so beautifully sweet. But filling your glass under the press at Domaine Lapierre is not usual for me, and I enjoyed every sip, well aware of the importance of this moment. There was this glass sitting empty on the base of the press and I guess that Mathieu, Camille or one of the cellar guys would use it to check the juice and have a foretaste of the vintage, for this particular parcel at least.
Link to video on which Mathieu, then Guillaume taste routinely the press juice.
Cave Historique des Hospices de Strasbourg (Alsace)
Strasbourg is certainly a special town, and I think it owes its uniqueness to the fact that it was for a long time part of a cluster of free towns (Freien Städten) along the Rhine valley, a region where free ideas and intellectual creativity as well as commerce could flow unabated. A free Imperial city in 1262, it probably gained from being out of reach of French kings and rulers, and I like to think that something remains of this positioning between the Germanic sphere and the French one.
Strasbourg was also among the towns where Rudolf
Steiner gave many lectures, had an understanding following here because of certain freedom of thought, and this is where he met Albert Schweizer, a prominent Alsatian of that time. In short, I'm proud of the city that I consider as my home town, and returning to the Heimat and visiting my friends there is always a pleasure.
But Strasbourg is also home to what is possibly the oldest wine on earth, not counting the ones still sleeping (in a probably diluted form) in the bottom of the seas in the remains of Roman-ships hulls. This old wine resting in a cellar in Strasbourg was made in the year 1472, a year which it is good to remind it was 20 years exactly before Christopher Columbus sailed to a still-unknown destination.
The treasure sits in an old cellar under the majestic Hospices de Strasbourg (hospital), this cellar being older than the building above it (pictured onthe right), as it has been built between 1393 and 1395...
There's a long history of friendship between the hospices and wine, the best known case being the Hospices de Beaune. Everybody was making wine at the time, including the religious orders, and wine as well as parcels was a commodity that helped pay for the expenses of the hospital, many patients having little coin money but lots of liquid one...
Hugh Johnson wrote in The History of Wine that in 15th-century Germany, the yearly consumption was 120 liters a year per inhabitant, and that doctors and patients alike were drinking 7 liters a day (maybe different wines from our modern ones)...
Olivier Cousin in front of the courthouse in Angers
Some bad-mouthed people in France keep pretending that our judges are soft on crime and only pursue cases that fit into their progressive political agenda. These people couldn't be more wrong, and the lawsuit against Olivier Cousin is a living proof of the
staunch fight of our judiciary to defend the
well-being of our fellow citizens against troublemakers... who dare say (and print) that their organic but vulgar table wine is made in a place, for the matter, Anjou.
Our tax money at work, here is an affair that is already 2 years old, and as we know that the French courts are chronically congested, this must be a very important matter to keep the Judicial administration this focused and determined. You can read the sum up of this appalling story by Jancis Robinson 2 years ago, she highlighted at the time the French silliness over AOC which led authorities to drag to court a Loire farmer for daringly and humoristically spelling the variety name and the word Anjou on his table-wine labels, a serious crime that warranted the judiciary wrath and possibly a fine of 40 000 €... Decanter also had a piece on this, another setback for the credibility of the AOC administration and the French judiciary.
Olivier Cousin farms organic and vinifies without additives, and he is known for using a draft horse to plow his vineyard and carry the harvest boxes. He is a vigneron who makes Anjou wines shine in France and abroad, but it is forbidden to display that his table wines are made in the region of Anjou, because the wine administration uses the table-wine status as a punishing limitation, some sort of modern untouchable status where you're denied to display the region origin and even sometimes the village name if it is associated with a quality wine (the wine administration in this case wants the winery to use only the Zip code). The word "Domaine" is samely banned on these labels...
André Durrmann is a winegrower who is making wine from his old family house in the middle of Andlau, a beautiful village nestled on the first slopes of the Vosges mountains south-west of Strasbourg. A mere half an hour drive from downtown Strabourg, this village provides an immersion experience into the quiet Alsatian countryside, and as it is
less tourist-oriented than the wine-route hot spots of Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr, you have a
more authentic feel there.
André Durrmann took over the family winery in 1979 following the steps of his father and after a few years he has been exploring new ways to farm his surface, not only converting to organic but also doing things (-or not doing, in this matter) on the edge of permaculture, that is, leaving the ground unplowed and with all its grass, and training some of his vineyards on lyre for a better balance between the fruit load, the vines and the grass. He is now working on a total surface of 7 hectares.
His facility is not big, and he's having some interior remodeling done these days on the 17th century building so that the space can be optimized. The village houses have no underground cellars here because there's lots of water beneath, so the vinification rooms and cellars are on the street level. They work in two adjacent houses plus one on the other side of the narrow street and they live upstairs. These houses where he and his family are working were already registred in a plan dating from 1736 as being farm houses located outside of the Abbey of Andlau which was founded in 880 and protected by thick walls against invaders. Because of this abbey, viticulture and winemaking have of course very deep roots here.