Joyous group in an ordinary bar (estimated year 1958)
Here is another chapter of the series with anonymous wine scenes in France, I started this thing as a one-of-its-kind and with pictures keeping popping up at me in the brocantes and street flea markets here and there, I keep stocking new pictures (which may occasionally feature other, undetermined beverages), so here we go for another voyage back in time to capture the elusive moments of liquid respite in what was certainly a busy life.
These scenes carry a life of their own and allow us to melt into the simple togetherness of that time. Back then these pictures were often low key, people didn't think much about it, they weren't narcissic, frantically-shot selfies but just a souvenir of an ordinary good time (I suspect they had many such good times then though). The other positive aspect of these pictures is to scale down the grandiloquent way we write and speak about wine. Just sit together, open a bottle and have fun, the rest is little more than noise...
I found all these pictures except the last 4 in street flea markets in France, they're glimpses into the families and friends of someone who probably passed away without any surviving close relatives. The 4 pictures at the bottom come from a book with about 100 pictures shot by the great French photographer Robert Doisneau : The book of photos titled La Vie de Famille shows as its name suggests the family life, they were shot in working-class neigborhoods in Paris and nearby between 1950 and 1960.
As usual, when a date and location was written on the back of the picture, I write it down, otherwise I just put the estimated year of the scene (could be off the mark more than once).
I bought recently a bunch of old bottles of wines, using the popular classifieds website Le Bon Coin, where you can find anything in France, from your car to your house. You first choose the region where you're staying and then you type the item you look for, there's no fee for the
seller and you can pay on the spot when you go in person check the thing. Whatever, I found out that the prices weren't always very high and I tried my chance on a couple of old vintages that we just had the pleasure to drink with B. and a few friends gathered at her atelier in
the Paris suburb. This was a total surprise and a total success.
First, I bought 3 bottles including a Jasnières 1969, a Muscadet 1989 (old vines, hand-picked, Famille Luneau - undrinkable, awfully corked) and an Alsace Riesling 1997 (Dopff & Irion - ok, nice pleasant drink, lots of SO2 maybe), the Jasnières was my target, in spite of the fact that there seemed to miss a bit of wine in the bottle. The woman wanted 30 € for the whole and ended making me an offer for 20 €. Done deal.
The other bottle I stumbled on was a Brouilly 1969 by a négoce named La Croisade du Bon Vin, located in La Chapelle de Guinchay, a village where the family of Jules Chauvet happened to own several vineyards back then (scroll down on this story for details). I hadn't read the fine print when I decided to buy the bottle, I just considered that back then Beaujolais was pretty clean in terms of vineyard management and winemaking work, and that I coult take the risk, especially that only maybe a centimeter of wine has evaporated through the cork in this bottle.
I'm not knowledgeable in terms of old vintages although I think that it is captivating to experience bottles that travelled this long way to our table. There's a very experienced person in France on the matter, François Audouze, he writes and posts pictures on his blog about his picks and experience drinking old vintages, enjoying the rare bottles in special dinners. One of the good places to find bargains is the auctions in Paris, you get batches of old bottles which can be very affordable if they're not from a reknown domaine.
I wasn't into the investment thing, this was just for the fun and excitement, and the reward was there, beyond the dusty glass of these two bottles, a great, double experience with the vintage 1969...
La Bellevilloise, Paris 20th arrondissement
This is a story about a young tasting event (the first edition was last year) which is already attended by large crowds. You may notice in these few pictures that the average age of the visitors here is also much younger than for many similar artisan-wine tastings in Paris, hinting that uncorrected wine is beginning to widen its follower base and may reconnect the youth with the enjoyment of wine (we've been told for years that young people were forsaking wine in favor of beer and mixed spirits).
The artisan of this successful tasting event is Antonin Iommi-Amunategui (pictured on right), a young journalist who runs a wine blog at Rue89 named No Wine is Innocent. Rue89 is an information website
created in 2002 by former journalists of Libération
(a major left-wing newspaper in France). Rue89 retains some of the journalistic style of Liberation, with maybe more with a tabloid approach in addition to its political stance and the usual play on words in article titles, the latter being a trademark fixture of Libération.
Antonin's blog displays the same corrosive and politically-oriented style in his blog, the world of wine today having all the ingredients for heated discussions and opinions. He gives natural wine a good coverage, adding a fun and provocative edge that brought him a big readership in just maybe 2 or 3 years. After his blog took off, Antonin proposed to Pierre Haski (founder of Rue89) to try set up a tasting event with the participative style found at the news website, that is, with some debates to pepper it (this time for example they had a debate between Emmanuel Giboulot and Jonathan Nossiter). When the project took shape, the contacted winemakers were OK for the adventure, especially that thanks to the partnership between Rue89 and La Bellevilloise (the group managing this cultural/events building), the fee for the participating winegrowers was largely lower than the one asked elsewhere in Paris. The vignerons could also sell their wine to the visitors, so they could have an instant return on their investment and make ties with the young public at the same time. The motto for the tasting event was Sous les Pavés la Vigne (under the cobblestones, the vineyard), mirroring the 1968 slogan painted on the walls during the riots and cobblestone barricades of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, Sous les pavés, la PLage (under the cobblestones, the beach).
On the first such event last year, Rue89 helped bring the visitors in, using the news website, but this year the salon also got coverage on Le Monde and Telerama, which helped increase its popularity.
The salon invited for free in 2014 Edouard Fortin who lost much of his wine as the result of an arson at his chai.
Pouillé, Touraine (Loire)
The well-known domaine des Maisons Brûlées which is located on the southern bank of the Cher river near Saint-Aignan has changed hands, Michel & Béatrice Augé having sold the wine farm to retire nearby. Michel Augé has been doing a great job for years in his
wine farm, gathering around him growers who wanted to learn the biodynamic way and organizing special sessions in the farm where all would make the preparations together. The domaine is almost contiguous to Clos Roche Blanche and Noella Morantin on the slope overlooking the Cher river. The lieu-dit
name (maisons brûlées means burnt houses) comes from a group of houses that was destroyed by a fire long time ago in the vicinity.
Paul Gillet worked a year or two with Michel Augé to know the domaine and the vineyards, and he now lives in the wine farm along with his wife Corinne and their 3 children. Michel Augé's 12-year-old Praline (the white horse on the right) is still enjoying the farm for now, and by the way this mare had a foal with Olivier Cousin's horse Romeo last year, it was born in june 2013 and it now lives since last april at Olivier Cousin's wine farm in Anjou. Praline is now recovering from her post-foaling effort and nursing. Michel used her mostly to collect the boxes of grapes at harvest, but this farm has always had a wide range of farm animals, making it a real living farm in the sense meant by Rudolf-Steiner. These animals stand along a lightly-sloped vineyard next to the wine farm, it is a very peaceful setting.
Paul and Corinne Gillet were originally cavistes in Alsace (Mulhouse), then they lived abroad a few years, managing a restaurant in Argentina between 2007 and 2011, where they looked for a winery, but this was not so easy to start something there, so they came back in France. Paul followed a wine school in France, then he was a trainee at Bruno Schueller whom he already knew at the time he had a wine shop (he used to sell his wines). Paul & Corinne search for a wine farm led them to this corner of Touraine, where the environment and living conditions were fitting with what they were looking for.
Paris 11th arrondissement
This was recently the 30th anniversary of a discreet but influential wine magazine named Le Rouge et le Blanc, and to mark the occasion on a festive note, the people behind this insightful wine magazine had decided to organize a tasting with precisely 30 vignerons (here is the list of winegrowers). This took place
again in the nice setting of La Cartonnerie in the middle of the 11th arrondissement in
Paris. La Cartonnerie is a venue that suits so well to artisan wine that I've been visiting the place many times.
When I got word of this event I thought that I couldn't miss this one-of-its-kind event, especially that I could count on the wise choice of the R&B writers for the participating vintners, all artisan winegrowers selected for their patient work.
Le Rouge & Le Blanc stands clearly apart among the French wine monthly publications (first, it's actually published every 3 months). Compared to the mainstream and glossy wine magazines like La Revue des Vins de France, Gault & Millau and Terre de Vins, le Rouge & Le Blanc is foremost completely independant in the sense that it hasn't any of these ads financed by the deep-pocketed wine industry. The magazine was created in 1983 and it is managed to this day by the writers and the founders who write and report on the wines and winemakers they love, without being hampered by any commercial pressure or lobbying. The magazine which uses minimalist black & white photography for its illustrations is solely financed by the subscriptions of its readers. The writers keep a day job on the side and the magazine is really a project focused on uncompromising reporting and not really for profit.
François Morel, pictured on left (wearing glasses) with Maxime Magnon is the editor in chief of the publication, you may see him in the worthy tasting events in Paris, he also wrote several books including a book titled Vallée de la Loire with many profiles of winemakers working there (and with a few pictures of mine).
François Morel is also the one who organised this one-time tasting event, gathering these winemakers and setting up the logistics for all the details and the catering for the winemakers.
I had an invitation for this event but otherwise the entry fee was 5 € only, a good deal when you consider the wines you could taste there. I think we're very lucky in Paris in this regard, we hardly pay anything to taste interesting wines.
Couffy, Touraine (Loire)
There are grape varieties for which I have tenderness, like the Pineau d'Aunis or the Menu Pineau for example; these varieties that had well adapted to the Loire climate and terroirs over the course of several centuries but they were suddenly written off by the wine administration a few decades ago in their push to develop "noble" varieties like Sauvignon or Chardonnay, this, in order to "compete" with other more prestigious wine regions of the Loire. For this reason, the cultivated surface of these varieties has dwindled and a few parcels remain here and there.
When I called
Christophe Foucher the other day he told me he was about to do some routine work in his parcels,
beginning with his menu pineau, and I told him I'd love to see his parcel and what kind of spring work he'd do there.
I had written a story on La Lunotte a few years ago, where Christophe Foucher is managing a small wine farm with about 5 hectares of vineyards on the southern bank of the Cher river, near Couffy, a village east of Saint-Aignan in the Loir et Cher département. I often meet Christophe on the market place in Saint Aignan when I'm in the region for weekends (I also stumble on Catherine of Clos Roche Blanche as well as on Noella Morantin there....) and it's always a pleasure to chat about how things are going. Christophe is focused on doing the right thing on the vineyard management, which is entirely organic, and his cellar work is very simple in the sense that there is almost none except waiting.
Asked about when menu pineau was still easy to find around here, Christophe says that 30 years ago probably it was still a variety easy to find along the Cher river, then the winegrowers were encouraged by the conseillers viticoles and the Chambre d'Agriculture to uproot these low-yields old vineyards of menu pineau and plant sauvignon (high-yield) clones for the négoce and bulk-wine market, because at the time most of the wine here went this way. These clones were short lived because much more prone to diseases and, take the high fertilizers use and the rest, these sauvignon were often ripe for uprooting after a mere 30 years of intensive work. The odd thing, Christophe says, is that the winegrowers were encouraged to uproot well-adapted old vines and plant in their place high-yield clones that don't stand the test of time, and it is sad because the varieties written off by these wine authorities were also the Gascon, the Grolleau, possibly even some Romorantin although he is not sure this variety was common on this side of the Cher river, but whatever, these varieties had their own, recognized qualities.
The other day we opened a rare bottle, a Trevallon 2001 that B. had bought at the wine farm when we visited back in 2004. I had stopped short of buying one myself because already then it was beyond my means, but B. had walked the line and bought a bottle. She decided to open it recently when we visited her parents in Burgundy as her brother and sister were there too (she keeps a cellar there in Burgundy), thinking that, well, 2014 was maybe the right time to drink this wine.
This was a feast of refinement and balance, roasted aromas, dust, a slight bitterness, the type of wine you enjoy while drinking it and after swallowing. B. felt blackcurrant, cinnamon and pepper. The wine was telling you silent stories, it was all in restraint and tannins that were present but civilized, very beautiful.
And it was also an occasion to think about these early top-quality wines going
modestly under a table wine label, because Trevallon may be one of the first among these demanding artisan vintners scrapping the AOC cover (forced or by choice) and opting for the vulgar table-wine (or vin-de-pays) anonymity instead. From what I remember and recovered from my own writing, this wine was granted for a while the VDQS Coteaux d'Aix en Provence in the early 1980s', VDQS being a pre-AOC type of appellation then, meaning Vin de Qualité Supérieure. But one day, when the AOC Baux de Provence replaced the VDQS for his area, and because Cabernet Sauvignon wasn't allowed in the Appellation over a limited percentage, the AOC authorities asked Eloi Dürrbach either to comply and take the Cabernet Sauvignon percentage down, or have this wine downgraded as "Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhone". He took the vin-de-pays label instead of complying and his usual customers (who foremost were buying the bottles for what was inside) remained loyal, with retail prices at the winery already much higher than most AOCs of the area (read this page to see by yourself how much may cost his vins de pays). ELoi Dürrbach was particulaly upset in the sense that cabernet sauvignon had been very common in the area before the phylosera and in spite of the long history of cabernet here, the AOC rulers decided to minimize this variety in the "allowed" list. Most winegrowers who still had cabernet decided to comply with the rules then but Eloi Dürrbach chose to resist and stay in the cold (without the reassuring cover of the VDQS or AOC) and he sure made the right choice, his wine is here to prove it.
Paris, Porte des Lilas (20th arrondissement)
Beautiful photography, shaky camera, dogs playing around and captivating interviews : Jonathan Nossiter is back with another documentary about wine and winegrowers : Natural Resistance.
The Paris avant-première took place at Porte des Lilas in a recently-built multiplex theater along the périphérique which was expectedly packed,
with both press invites and paying spectators, especially that in addition to the new movie you could listen
to Nossiter and to several of the Italian heroes of this documentary and ask questions.
We're really spoiled, there was another treat after the screening, everyone could mix in the theater hall and have a glass of several of these Italian wines central to the story. Not that I want to make you salivate but this was love on first sight for me for the three wines I had a glass of that evening.
This time, thanks to Nossiter, we head for Italy where we follow artisan winemakers showing their vineyards and speaking casually of many different things, from why has Tuscany become a Disneyland for the rich to why these artisans love working the way they do and how they find their energy to face the administration or AOC hassles. There's a late-summer feel in these outdoor shootings that will certainly make you want to wander along these old family houses and experience the dust of the grass roads, because you'll be mostly where these people live, and it's simple and eerily quiet.
This avant-première screening was the conclusion of a two-day tasting event named Salon Rue89, which was organized in Paris for the second year by Antonin Iommi-Amunategui who is behind the wine blog No Wine is Innocent. Antonin whose blog has been hosted by Rue89 (a left-wing Internet-only news network created by former Liberation journalists in 2007) had the idea to organize a wine event centered on natural wines in partnership with Rue89. This two-day tasting event which took place in the 20th arrondissement in Paris was a success from the first year (in 2013) and attracted crowds of young urbanites.
Winegrowers from the Forez, Auvergne, Saint-Pourçain and Côte Roannaise
Paris, 11th arrondissement
I went to a wine tasting event named Ici Commence la Loire some time ago (check the participating domaines on the linked Pdf). This was a few weeks ago but I was busy until now and delayed the story, it was taking place at La Cartonnerie in the 11th, a nice place to organize a professional tasting event, a no-fuss place, not too big and with several connecting rooms (this is a well-preserved set of former workshops). I went to quite a few artisan-wine tastings in this venue. The event was organized the wine communication agency Clair de Lune.
The wines featured there were coming exclusively from the eastern wing of the Loire region, namely from 4 small wine
regions, the Côtes d'Auvergne, the Côtes du Forez, the Saint-Pourçain and the Côte Roannaise, an area that seems to sit closer to the city of Lyons than the Loire valley proper, but which is still part of the extended family of the Loire wines. The name of the event (Ici Commence la Loire) means "Here Begins the Loire", reminding that the Loire-wine-region's eastern lands start here, and also that the river Loire has its source in these eastern mountains.
Mouse this Loire-region map down to its far right/lower corner and you'll spot the 4 colored patches of these tiny wine regions that stand clearly apart from each other, 2 of them (Côte Roannaise & Cotes du Forez) being next to the Rhone (69) département.
There were almost 40 domaines taking part, and while many of the wines (especially the reds) were a bit rough for me and still very conventional, I discovered a few nice wines. I went there after work and only managed to sample a few wineries. This far-east area of the Loire is completely under the radar, and while the main reason (I think) is that many of the wines there are not very exciting, it's a region with a good potential for change, so I try not to miss an occasion to visit the rare tasting events exclusively devoted to this region. The other positive aspect of these little-known Loire regions is that the wines are pretty cheap.
As I was tasting at a table I heard that the winegrowers were called for a group picture and I jumped on the opportunity to take a shot of these cheerful vintners. Small wine regions have the advantages of easy-going relations and you could feel that clearly that day.
What follows is a very quick and partial overview of the wines found at this event, hoping this will nonetheless make you want to discover the wines of this area.
I read recently an captivating essay by Kevin Goldberg on Lars Carlberg's Mosel Wine website, it was on a little-known aspect of the struggle between partisans of non-interventionist winemaking (call it natural) and additives-enhanced winemaking
(call it industrial).
His piece was utterly interesting because
while we know about Chaptal who fathered the chaptalization bettering technique, what Kevin reports on happened also long time ago in the mid-19th century, but it happened in Germany, not a country we usually associate with natural-wine struggles or with an historical role in the massive correction of wines (I mean we know that the mainstream wines there have been routinely corrected but we somehow missed the scientist/initiator behind these corrections). I thus discovered an unknown part of the history behind the "modern" wine and its skilled techniques to improve our wines.
This article offers also indirectly an interesting insight into the particular mindset behind the man who devised a way to correct and shape the wines of the Mosel region (and then of Germany at large) through the wonders of science and the human intelligence. We feel that at that time the mood was like, in some way, a better future was at an easy reach, thanks to a few drops here and there....
We usually associate corrective winemaking with industry-driven interests, that's why we like to target the big companies who manufacture the additives (nothing better than a Monsanto-like scapegoat to use as a strawman), but a closer look at several of the initiators for corrective winemaking seems to show that these individuals were often on the progressive side of the society, sharing optimist ideals featuring social change (sometimes scarily bordering revolutionary ideals) and the substitution of tradition by science to cure all human ills.