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).
Touraine, Loire This was during a weekend in the Loire recently, I was visiting an elderly lady in a village to buy her vegetables and eggs and I saw this huge pile of recently-uprooted vines, obviously old vines that were still looking very healthy and fit for grape bearing. The woman in question although
totally outside the hype of organic farming is growing all her stuff naturally, she also has a few sheep plus a couple dozen hens and that's always a pleasure to visit her and buy her stuff, this time I was looking for buying 10 kg of her wonderful potatoes, plus eggs and beetroot. The potatoes taste so good, they don't get chemical sprayings and the only fertilizers they get is sheep manure, and they're a steal at 1 € a kg...
These vines were given to her by a grower, it is pretty common in the French countryside to use uprooted vines as heating wood and for this lady with meager means this was pretty useful as she heats her house with a cook woodstove. Her son was going to cut this wood so that she could use it proprely.
What spiked my interest is first that the vines still had all their root system, and this was very interesting to watch the spread of roots in old vines that were intially farmed correctly with regular plowing and no herbicides/fertilizers. The woman told me that according to the grower they were 60 years old, that is, they were planted well before the time when easy conventional farming brought drastic changes in the root architecture and ultimately in the yields and quality of the grapes. Even if this vineyard was later sprayed with weedkillers and boosted with fertlizers, it still retained it's original web of major roots which was a useful indicator for me.
Ottorink is the oldest Weinbar in Berlin, in a city where wine-considered-for-itself made a recent entry : Just a mere three years ago according to several wine-wise Berliners we met, if you wanted to indulge in some well-chosen wines you had to walk into high-end restaurants like the one at the Hotel Adlon, and you had to order a regular meal to go with, because wine was not something you would order alone.
In Germany beer (and they're so good here)
can be had for itself while for the wine there's a whole culture to build, something Ottorink and several others have already managed to do.
The wine bar is located in the now-sought-after Kreuzberg neighborhood, an area which during the Berlin-wall years was somehow cornered and remote, facing the DDR south of the Spree river and west of the canal at Görlitzer Ufer. This area where you could also find factory buildings was favored by Turkish immigrants and also bohemians and artists who settled there in cheap rentals and developped an alternative lifestyle, turning Kreuzberg along the years into a magnet for the youth around the world. It's what the German call a Multikulti Bezirk, but from close it's a much softer area than many no-go zones around Paris (called euphemistically zones de non-droit or quartiers sensibles there), plus there's a growing gentrification going on in Kreuzberg, as was testified by an artist we visited on Maybachufer along the canal and who settled 35 years ago in a former factory workshop on what was then a dead end street running into the wall. This German artist saw appartment buildings along the canal being renovated and purchased to wealthy investors or Berliners, and same for some former factories although the building structures were very spartan. Although I'm fond of other Berlin neighborhoods like Friedrichshain or Prenzlauer Berg (both situated in the former DDR) because they have more a feel of the old Berlin, Kreuzberg remains an area to visit, beginning for its artist and small venues, and there is a wide choice of Turkish or Asian restaurants. The Dresdener Straße on which the wine bar is located is a quiet street between the Spree and the canal, near Oranien Platz (by the way, a tip : the easiest way to reach this street is to enter it from Oranien Platz rather than from its Kottbusser-Tor end).
Here is another of these very recent wine bars of Berlin (It's one year old to the day !), it is located on Gormannstraße, a quiet street also opportunely situated in the vicinity of the aptly-named U-Bahn station Weinmeister. Gormann straße is a quiet side street in Mitte, in what was a few decades ago east Berlin. This is a quiet area with a mix of new and older buildings.
On the wine bar website you can read in French
under the bar's name Bar à Vins Libres (libres __free in French__ for freedom and liveness I guess) which hints rightly that this wine bar is centered on natural wines. Further it explains that the wines here are made exclusively by small producers and winegrowers.
Maxime Boillat is from Switzerland (the French-speaking part) and he has been living in Berlin for 15 years now. But he had several lives before embarking on this wine thing, he took part to archeological excavations in Petra (Jordan) in 1997, he's also been a DJ in a techno club (Münzsalon), then he worked in various restaurants including, before opening Maxim, when he was running the restaurant HBC near Alexander PLatz. Maxime opened his place just a year ago with the intention to welcome wine lovers who just want to enjoy wine, and wines that are made naturally without correction or lab yeast.Although wine comes first here, if you want to eat there is a chef and a kitchen with 3 staff to prepare dishes that have been thought to go with a particular wine. I think that Maxim is the only wine bar in Berlin serving exclusively Naturweinen, wines that made from aus biologischem Anbau , that are made ohne Zusätze [I'll give you this one : without additives], ohne aufwändige Kellertechnik and that are unfiltriert gefüllt and often ungeschwefelt (I'm sure you already understand German thanks to your vinous culture...
For those of you who want who have German basics and wish to better their natural-wine lexicon, read the Naturwein page of Wikipedia. The history part of Naturwein is interesting because in Germany it started in the early 20th century in response to the correction techniques instituted by Ludwig Gall, a former proto-Marxist revolutionnary turned wine chemist (see story here).