Back in January we did a tour of the South with Jean Paul Brun, Eric Texier, Arianna Occhipinti, Luca Roagna and Sebastiano De Bartoli. One of the biggest highlights was the tasting event at Green Goddess. Small groups started at Jean Paul's table, then navigated their way through the twists and turns of the tiny restaurant's crazy layout, visiting growers one by one. Throughout the tasting, the wait staff was offering up mini versions of chef Chris DeBarr's signature dishes, and when it was all over everyone got a full plate of suckling pig and collard greens (with a complimentary glass of Terres Dorées of course). I have to tip my hat to these guys because it was just a straight up party!
Chris is the owner, chef and wine buyer for the Green Goddess. One look at the menu and you know you're in for something special. The list is massive (keep scrolling it never ends): the restaurant barely seats 25 people and there are over two hundred wines! The focus is almost exclusively on small production, independent growers who work well. But the list is unique for more than its sheer size, with categories like "Killing me Softly" and "Wine Dungeon Treasures", as well as Chris' incredible notes for each wine, which actually manage to objectively teach you about the bottle you're drinking.
I like Chris and I like the Green Goddess, so I decided to interview him about the restaurant. The world needs more Chris DeBarrs. So many quotables...
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm a self-taught chef, Southern boy, storytellin' poet, and funky New Orleans has been home for nearly 20 years. I love my city so much, to the point that, as with wine, it's is the psychic terroir of my life. Everything begins & ends with New Orleans with me, so even though I am an adventurous, globe-trotting, and thirsty-to-learn person, I come at life with strong Nola filters. Which means I like to bring da party with me, have a good time, share what's in my heart & learn from my friends how they live & dream. Essentially, I am sympathetic with all committed terroir-istes who strongly represent their beautiful home on Earth as a singular experience, a love affair with the holy ground of terroir.
The federal levee failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina shook us all up. I lived through it my way, and was back cooking in New Orleans at The Delachaise before Halloween, 2005 (although I did take off that Halloween for a beautiful, wrenching, hard-won first little victory in a hard road back). My life since then has been epic, like some deranged soap opera, but I think my food is getting better and I love having my utterly awesome krewe at Green Goddess. They are young, hungry to excel, and we love bringing our swagger to the table!
Tell us a little bit about Green Goddess. The restaurant's history, its unique layout, the food you make,etc...
We have been here 3 years now. I signed the lease right around Mardi Gras, we opened a couple weeks after Jazzfest on May 19, 2009, heading into the teeth of a long, hot Nola summer and that year's fierce recession. At first, we didn't even have our liquor license until July...right before Tales of the Cocktail...and we never looked back!
The place is super dinky, all-electric kitchen that curls around a stairwell and elevator system for the apartments above. We are tiny, with barely 24 seats inside, but in good weather down here we use the enclosed sidewalk, which is a pedestrian-only alley where we live at 307 Exchange Place, New Orleans, zip: 70130. Basically, I have seen taco trucks with better kitchens than us, but we are bomb ass scientists who aim to destroy the perceptions of our severe kitchen limitations with relentless precision.
So far, it's working out pretty swell.
I have never been a fan of categorizing my food. I don't even like putting appetizers or main courses on my menu. It's all my cuisine, and we just want each plate to be both as focused and as bombastically delicious as can be. If pressed, or when feeling frisky, I will say I make psychedelic soul food with comfort in mind. We come from lots of global angles, but with a Crescent City flair.
We joke around a lot that we are pirates at Green Goddess. We are a real tight krewe, and we like to push ourselves to daring acts to make the food, the cocktails, and to support the wines we keep around. Philosophically speaking, being a pirate/chef means I like to fence the culinary contraband of pleasure & exotic ingredients to my guests. It amuses me that as one of the smallest restaurants, we nevertheless insist on mind-blowing, rare ingredients & pull it off.
For a tiny restaurant, you have a HUGE (and great) wine list. Can you explain your decision to feature so many wines from all over the world?
It's a love affair. I strongly believe that great food & great wine are, essentially, the meaning of life. But life has an amazing diversity, right? We are driven by the idea of site specific, artisanal, heritage ingredients & wines. We love defending unusual grapes that could be on the edge of extinction, or, as with the red grape Refosco, may only now be entering the global stage. I am so lucky to have enjoyed Giorgio Clai's "Crni" Refosco from Istria, Croatia from Louis/Dressner as my first Refosco! That is my "stranded on a desert isle" wine, and given my druthers and enough Clai Refosco, don't be in a hurry to find me....
We only buy wines we are passionate about, and luckily for all y'all, I am a man of gargantuan appetites!
From a business point of view, our commitment to this big list of natural winemakers shows an investment to the natural world, to celebrate our fellow band of small farms, small businesses, intimate connections to the world at large one handshake at a time. Our list is a bet that a greener future is the only way out to find sustainability and balance, but always the obvious fact remains: we buy great wines that go magically well with our food. Then with your palate as a guest, we dig trying to present that perfect wine for your tastes & experiences that pushes you forward in your love affair with wine!
For me, taking it next level is continued storytelling about wine in an ongoing video diary to discuss our food & our vast list of wines. I can see our wine encounters at initial tasting as a useful tool sometimes, but I really want to delve more into scripted territory based on the already notorious way I have written the wine list. For those who haven't heard my voice in the little asides, tales, & intrepid sleuthing on display in the 3 or 4 line prose haiku I write about every single wine on our epic list, check it out on the pdf from our website:
I have been one writing little son-of-a-gun, but we are working on some symbols and visual puns & memory aids that convey info hierographically. A few people remember my visual "sushi" cheese list from my Delachaise years, which had funny symbols so drunk people at a noisy bar could figure out what cheeses they wanted without reading, and then when I brought the platter out, I'd go over each cheese's salient qualities. I want to do something similar for our wine list, like incorporating my infamous sliding scale for white wines. I always say people usually will opt for "lean & crispy" whites, which is the low 1-4 side of the scale. I don't really believe that, as people enjoy richer whites which I call "Freddie Mercury's Fat-Bottomed Girls" and include varietals like Tocai Friulano, most Malvasia variations, Viognier, Gewürz, Grillo, Godello or Pinot Blanc, etc. I love the plush, dense aromatics of those big whites and the way they caress food, and so disarming people by getting a laugh from "Fat-Bottomed Girls" often results in piqued curiosity and a new wine, wherever you are leaning on the Freddie Mercury scale.
In the end, the vibe of New Orleans is one of opulence, carefully selected decadence, and a sense that nothing is forbidden. Our big ol' list sets Green Goddess apart as warriors for the truly serious pleasures of the table, and it elevates the perception of our our food from casual alfresco cafe to a dining destination by being able "to show & prove" that we can get all this wine & run our crazy little restaurant successfully.
You are a chef so obviously you love food, and you have a great wine list so you obviously love wine. This seems like a natural combination, but it always suprises me just how many chefs and restaurant owners don't care about wine at all. Can you explain why YOU care, and if you have any insight as to why some don't? Can a restaurant be great without great wine?
It depends on the joint. I'm a catholic drinker, meaning I can get behind great beers or hand-crafted cocktails on any night depending on the vibe, the company I'm keeping, or where & what we're eating. I don't usually drink much at lunch, unless it's a sprawling New Orleans party that starts early, and while I could think about great wines I might like with my favorite soul food, Vietnamese fare, great Chinese dishes, or old school poor boy, I'm not that dedicated to miss it when it's not there. Obviously, those meals are still GREAT.
One thing I think wine appreciation does for a chef is to bring a sense of balance to your cuisine. It's the interplay of contrasting tastes that give a dish complexity, and drinking wine with your own food will show you that dance of contrasts. A flabby, one note, or too aggressively seasoned dish will wear out its welcome with a great wine; the quiet conversation that wine & food always have going on between the plate and the glass raised to the lips will waver & falter if the food isn't pitched upon balanced flavors that let the Chef's ingredients shine. Great wine just doesn't lie, so when a chef hits a stride having great wine is the cook's best friend because when that dance of contrasts & balanced flavors gets going, everybody relaxes and the real pleasures of the table show up to let the good times roll.
Finally, as I said above in my paean to New Orleans and the links I feel with the terroir behind my beautiful city, there really isn't anything more sacred than caring for your special place on Earth, and to dig deep in the dirt to protect old vines has to be among the most meaningful enterprises we do as humans. Wine is a holy thing-- period! I think some people get so caught up in the game of profits, of restaurant real estate, of thinking about selling at the correct margins, that they lose that holy connection, or maybe they just haven't experienced truly great wine when it wasn't a commodity to be bought & sold.
I cannot imagine a great meal at Green Goddess without great wine but, unfortunately, that happens every night. I'm really only disappointed with water drinkers, but as long as you're enjoying the meal, I'm cool. I just hope that as people see what our list is now, which currently might seem like an audacious statement, they realize our pride & pleasure to be serious wine sleuths who adore unique, ballin', site specific wines made by real artists who are intimately tied to the Earth as good stewards for greatness. And someday soon, our list of natural treasures might become just a nice high standard for a basic, green, thoughtful wine list. After all, if I can get these wines, so can you. Unless you live in Pennsylvania or some other sad wine police state with stupid laws!
How do you feel about the state of real/natural/terroir/whatever the hell you want to call it wines in New Orleans?
It's probably behind the curve nationally, but because the city of New Orleans has such a strong sense of authenticity that we won't ever fall all over ourselves to be politically correct to market these wines as "organic" & "natural" as some righteous act. We like to drink a lot in New Orleans, so the wines have to compete somewhat in pricing, but the fact that so many of these winemakers do, in fact, make the best juice on the Planet will eventually bring New Orleanians to their knees. Repeated exposure to greatness always wins people over to the real thang.
What have you been drinking these days?
Actually I have been on a massive Beaujolais kick! As a chef, Beaujolais s such a friendly wine to share at the table with all kinds of food, and I find that my friends and guests @GG are truly shocked by the profound pleasures that great Beaujolais brings. For me, when we found some epic half bottles of 2001 Domaine du Granit Moulin-a-Vent, it ignited a burning flame for greatness from Beaujolais. We love young Damien Coquelet & revere the tasty diversity of wines from Jean-Paul Brun. I have some older Stephane Aviron, especially my favorite Morgon Côtes du Py & even stashed some Patrick Brunet Fleurie in NYC for an upcoming trip, from his old 1930 vines in the micro-terroir in Fleurie known as "Champagne." I love seeing the revival of beautiful Beaujolais; it warms the cockles of my proletariat heart. It's greater than you think, always affordable, and gives such pretty depth of flavor in any and all situations.
I also have been digging exotic bubbly, whether Nerello Mascalese from Mt. Etna in Sicily, bombastic Hungarian sparkling from Kiralyudvar (owned by Domaine Huet), Zweigelt Rosé from Austria, or Sparkling Moschofilero from Greece, exotic bubbly is so exciting & fun! I am actually waiting impatiently for the arrival of Jean-Paul Brun's terrific sparkling Beaujolais from you guys, so I can come full circle & enjoy both my obsessions in the same bottle! Yes...
The Green Goddess
307 Exchange Place
New Orleans, LA
Open for Lunch & Brunch every day, except Tuesday,from 11am – 3:30pm. No Lunch Service on Tuesday. Dinner is only on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday: 6:00pm – 11pm. Last Dinner Seating at 11pm. We won't give you the stinkeye if you come at 11pm. Honest!
The other day I updated the site with a new label from Luca Roagna called "Unione Nero di Wongraven", and posted a song from Sigurd Wongraven's band Satyricon. I know we live in a world where it's perfectly normal, if not expected, for wines to be named after celebrities; in fact, I just had a bottle of the 99 Wayne Gretzky Cabernet/Merlot blend from 2008 and it was superb. Still, it's not everyday that traditional Barolo producers collaborate with emblematic death-metal superstars, so here's the backstory straight from Roagna's official website:
"The Wongraven project is the result of a meeting between two mutual passions; between a musician with great enthusiasm for the world of wine and our family's passion for music. Sigurd Wongraven, the prominent frontman of Satyricon, is one of the worlds greatest leaders in Black Metal. He is also a wine lover, having his own wine blog in a Norwegian newspaper, in addition to a weekly wine column.
He is currently taking an International diploma in enology and has visited vineyards and farmers in Italy, France, Germany and Lebanon. At the same time he is writing a book on traditional Piemontese wines and winemakers. Together we have spent hours in the vineyard, in the cellar and at concerts. Throughout the summer and autumn of 2010 we worked hard to give life to two unique wines called Wongraven. Unione Nero di Wongraven is Sigurd's selection from the Roagna vineyard Barolo Pira."
Studying enology and writing a book? I must say I'm impressed with Sigurd! Plus he obviously has great taste! Stay tuned for our next installment in this series:
Luca Roagna: Unplugged.
Sunday was our "optional" visit to Closel that everyone was forced to attend. The snow from the last few days had settled, and our walk took us from the chateau to the vines and through the village. Savennières is a truly charming place, and I really wish I had pictures from that day because it was one of those visits meant more to capture a sense of place rather than absorbing factoids to write for the blog. One cool thing I did retain was Evelyne talking to the group about their future experiments with (less) sulfur use. The inspiration came from her fellow vignerons in Savennières (Evelyne is the president of the A.O.C), a majority of which work organically or biodynamically in the vines and with native yeasts/low sulfur in the cellar. After tasting many of these low sulfur wines and seeing that they don't fall apart and can age well, Evelyne is reevaluating the doses she uses, and plans to run a number of experiments to figure out how to use the least amount possible in her wine. At lunch, Denyse pointed out that since Evelyne took over in 2000, their has been a formidable change in the work both in the vines and in the winery; she is the one who pushed for organic certification and biodynamic practices (though the work had always more or less organic in the past), and that sulfur levels have been drastically reduced in the last decade. It's great to know Evelyne is committed to an evolution in her cellar practices and I hope the experiments turn out well!
After the visit we hung out at this terrible place called "Le Pub" in Angers and had dinner at Autour d'un Cep, a fabulous restaurant ran by Jo Landron's son. When we got there, guess who was eating there? Jo Landron! Duh! François Cazin was also there. They sat our group of 16 in "the annex". "The annex" is the unused storefront next to the restaurant; they'd asked the owner if they could use it as a pop up with a prix-fixe for Renaissance/Dive and Salons des Vins de Loire. We were basically eating in bare room that was still getting remodeled: their were power tools everywhere, a boombox (this song played at one point) and the waiters had to bring the food from the kitchen through the back yard in the cold winter night. It was a lot of fun.
The next morning we were ready for the Salons des Vins de la Loire. Because many of the vignerons we work with prefer doing Renaissance, the Dive or Millésime Bio (which took place two weeks earlier in Montpellier), over the years the Salon has become less and less of a focal point for us. Still, it's a great time to catch up with a lot of our growers we can't see anywhere else.
Our first stop was at Thomas-Labaille. The 2010's are serious! Jean-Paul describes it as a great vintage you can drink young, but that will truly benefit from cellar time. The 2011 tank samples were rounder and richer, with less acidity and more fruit showing. Different vintage, different style. From then on, we broke into small groups so that we could cover more ground. I was assigned the kid's group (meaning late 20's/early 30's).
Our first stop was at François Pinon. The 2010's were showing great. One big piece of news: as of 2010 the cuvée you know and love as Tradition is now Trois Argiles. This translates to "the three clays" (the grapes come from three different parcels composed of, you guessed it...) and this has always been the name in France.
Our next stop was at Domaine Olga Raffault. Eric told us about their 2011, which echoed the story we'd heard over and over in France. He only had a few 2011 samples to taste, which all seemed well on their way. The 2010 current releases were fresh and vibrant, quite playful and fruity but still very "Chinon" aka peppery and tannic. A few months in bottle will do them good.
After that we spent some time with Bernard and Matthieu Baudry. It's starting to sound redundant, but the 2010's were incredible; they were universally recognized by the group as some of the best wines we'd tasted the whole trip. Besides Les Granges which is already available, these were all bottled the Friday before the show and will be hitting the U.S very soon. Rejoice! 2011 was also very promising: a little more on the fruit... The 2011 rosé is super good.
At this point it was lunch time, and after some pork and butter sandwiches, we decided to refuel with the ultimate palate cleanser: a coffee and beer. This strategy was taught to me by the very wise Jake Halper during last year's trip, and just like P.Diddy and Proactiv, Jake knew the secret way before any of us young ones. It totally works by the way. During our break, someone stumbled on a wine called OVERDOSE in the official pamphlet. The description said: "the secret of its vinification leads to an overdose in pleasure." Everyone got really into it: some wanted to go try it then make believe they were having a drug overdose on it (in poor taste I know), while others like myself were perplexed about the "secret of its vinification". We all agreed the we had to check it out. This proved to be the single worst idea on the trip.
We got to the stand and asked if we could try the "O" cuvée. Before even tasting it, I asked what the secret of its vinification was. I didn't ask if it would lead to an overdose of pleasure.
"Ah, yes! The secret is that we age the wine in new American oak barrels for two years! And just like in old times, we bury the barrel deep underground in the soil."
At this point, I asked if by "old times" she meant with amphora, since there is no history of burying oak barrels underground for aging EVER. She seemed a little confused by the question, but answered with an enthusiastic yes! When I told Evelyne de Jessey and Eric Nicolas about it, she asked what the purpose of doing this was. Nicolas exclaimed:
"More work. First you have to bury it. Then you have to unbury it!"
The wine was the color of shitty American beer, tasted like an oak barrel and was marked by the other vinification secrets she failed to mention, namely the commercial yeasts and INSANE quantities of sulfur. By the time we'd walked over to Bellivière to taste, we had gotten what we'd asked for, and were all overdosing. Ken and I started having hot flashes, John Connelly got the spins and Jamie thought he was going to faint. Everyone was feeling it hard, and it took between 15 and 30 minutes for each of us to feel better.
A big part of how we bounced back from our malaise was by tasting with Christine and Eric Nicolas of Bellivière. The 2011's are all bone dry this year, which is exceptionally rare for them (read Eric's harvest report here). While I love the RS on Bellivière and felt that these were a completely different style of wine, they are definitely really cool. Also, the Rouge Gorge was my favorite red wine of the trip.
Our last stop was Fredrick Filliatreau. Once again the 2010's were showing really well and the 2011 tank samples offered something to look forward to. The really exciting discovery this year was Fredrick's first ever attempt at making Pétillant Naturel. That's right, everyone's making a Pétillant Naturel these days, and I couldn't be happier. Long live Pet' Nat'! The yet to be named cuvée is Cabernet Franc from young Chateau Fouquet vines, and man oh man is it delicious. Fresh, fruity, light, easy... Everything you'd want for an aperitif. This will definitely be making it's way Stateside, so keep an eye out.
That was our trip. That night we had dinner at Une Île in Angers and Gérard made the best Beurre Blanc sauce ever. We went to Paris the next night and John Connelly bought cheeseburger chips, which taste EXACTLY like Mcdonalds cheeseburgers. We had another great dinner at Jeu de Quilles. It was a snowy, beautiful (albeit freezing) night, and we finished strong on this trashy bar strip right by the hotel full of weird, tourist trap, gimmick bars. The one we chose was a Rolling Stones themed bar. Josefa got really into this one track (forgot the name) and some dude actually came up to and seriously asked her who was singing the song. It was one of their lesser known tracks, but come on dude! We then had a mini showdown for who could do the best Mick Jagger dance.
Before I start this post, I must address a very serious issue. It was brought to my attention that there's been a a huge spike in demand for the Clos Roche Blanche Pineau D'Aunis Rosé since my blog post about our recent visit, and how there would be more than last year. Our distributors' phones have been ringing off the hook with people trying to get palettes on pre-sale. But the unfortunate truth: their isn't that much to go around. As much as I'd like to tell you all that it was some genius marketing ploy (after all, I am LDM's Director of Viral Marketing (D.V.M)) and this was the best viral ad campaign since Bros Icing Bros, the truth is I was only objectively making a general statement as to the quantity, and not the availability, of the wine. Yes, there is more rose in 2011 than in 2010, and more means more for everybody: more for the US, more for France, more for Belgium, more for Germany and more for Japan. In other words, you might get a case more than last year.
Muscadet-a-thon is a Louis/Dressner institution. Going 15 years strong, this annual visit to Marc Ollivier's abode has brought joy to those participating since its inception. The concept is simple: visit the vines, taste the current vintage, then eat a ton of oysters and home-made Pâté while doing a flight of Pépière Muscadet dating back to Marc's first vintage (1983). If you guys don't know the back story, Joe and Denyse met Marc in 1989, and the first vintage they brought in was 91; it was their first Loire wine. Joe adored Marc and adored Muscadet (seriously, our cellar in France is 50% old Pépière and Luneau-Papin), a wine that he felt was often overlooked for how well it can age. Marc had an old collection of wine dating back to his grandfather, so the idea of trying back vintages to prove Muscadet ages gracefully was a no-brainer. Muscadet-a-thon was born.
Our visit started in the vines. We began in the Clisson parcels, where Marc talked about his viticultural practices. It's taken a long time, but the entire 33 hectares are finally eligible for organic certification; the soils are worked superficially and everything is hand-harvested. Muscadet is one of the only regions in France (along with the Beaujolais) where the vines are trained in Guyot, but with only one palissage line per row. Typically, there are two, which permits the plant's vegetation to grow more, resulting in spaced out bunches. Doing this leads to greater aeration of the grapes, which in turn leads to greater concentration. Marc is one of few vignerons who intentionally chooses to use two palissage lines for these very reasons. Every time he acquires a new parcel, he tears out each rows' posts to reinstall new ones; it's a lot of effort, but he feels it's an essential factor in the quality of the vine work.
Marc also intentionally limits the number of flowering buds each year to three or four per vine. This technique results in much lower yields, which means fewer grapes but more concentration and optimal maturity. Marc walked one row over to his neighbor's to count out how many buds were left on his: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8!
"I get about 40hl/l from these vines. My neighbor here, whose vines are the same age and on an identical terroir, produces about 70."
After Clisson, it was time to check out the Chateau-Thébaud vines. These were acquired in late 2010, when Marc joined forces with his (relatively) new partner, Rémi Branger. Rémi is 26 years old, and has been working for Marc since 2006; prior to that he'd worked with his dad. In Rémi's own words:
"My father was a passionate vigneron. He loved the work in the vines, but had no desire to deal with the commercial element of bottling and selling independently. Therefore everything was sourced out to négociants. When he retired in 2010, I was already working for Marc and really admired what he was doing (making single parcel cuvées, highlighting specific terroirs...), so when he asked me if I wanted to be partners, I didn't hesitate."
The two are currently renting the vines from Rémi's father, with the possibility to buy at some point. Most of the vines were planted in the 70' by Mr. Branger Senior, and the oldest are about 60 years old. A new cuvée, the Chateau-Thébaud, was produced in 2010 and is about to be released.
Our last stop was in the plot of Gras Moutons. Marc and Rémi agree that these are their "grand cru" vines: they're exposed full South on a coteaux (that ends by the Maine river) and the site is marked by a particular micro-climate where a North to South wind constantly sweeps through the vines. This leads to greater concentration, which manifests itself through longer periods of maturation, both in the vineyard and cellar. As Rémi explained:
"The wind is great for aerating the vines, and you always get great complexity with these grapes. But they take a long time to reach their full potential. Even with my father, we would always harvest the grapes from here last. And though we didn't make parcel specific cuvées, we would still vinify each day of the harvest separately -which essentially meant vinifying by individual or identical parcels- before blending it all together. The Gras Mouton juice always needed more time."
Marc interjected that "more time" can sometimes be up to two or three years of aging in the cellar and then even longer in bottling!
After the vines, it was time to taste the 2011's. For those who didn't read it yet, check out Eben Lillie's Pépière harvest reports and pictures. To briefly reiterate, Muscadet, like most of France, had a very strange vintage weather wise: an extremely dry winter and spring led vignerons to believe they would be harvesting the most precocious vintage of the last century, but a wet and cold summer slowed vegetation/ maturation down. On average most people started harvesting a week earlier than usual, though many were initially planning to start up to three weeks early!
For most, nature more or less balanced itself out, and teams of harvesters picked their hearts away in warm, sunny weather. Muscadet was not so lucky... A lot of rain and cold right before harvest led to a tremendous amount of gray rot this year. Marc estimates that, depending on the parcel, 75%% to 25% of the grapes were unusable; about 30% of their total production was lost. The parcels that were struck the hardest were the Briords vines; it sucks to say it, but there will be VERY LITTLE Briords in 2011.
Marc used 2011 as a perfect example why hand harvesting is so important:
"I literally had my team splitting hairs with the bunches. If some of the clusters were partly rotten but the rest was usable, be it a half or one fifth, they meticulously salvaged the quality grapes. I cringe at imagining what a machine harvested Muscadet will taste like in 2011; if they had as much rot as me -and I know a lot did!- it all went into the production..."
The good news is that the grapes that DID make to the cellar were of excellent quality, and have produced a balanced and elegant vintage. As Marc pointed out, the wine's brine quality, notably absent in 2010, is back in full force. Alcohol is low, acidity is balanced and minerality is king. The first bottling of the base Pépière' will be bottled and available very soon.
It was then the moment we'd all been waiting for: oysters, pâté and old Muscadet! Much to my delight, there was NO pork at this meal. In fact there was even an abundance of vegetables (John Ritchie did a vegetarian victory dance)! But who cares about local, organic fresh produce? Let's talk about the meat! The oysters were from Brittany and delicious. There were three pâtés to choose from, all hunted, butchered and made by Marc himself: pheasant, rabbit and woodcock! They were all delicious, but the woodcock once again reigned supreme. The secret? About 25% foie gras blended in. Genius!
Funny anecdote about the Woodcock pâté. Last year, Jason from Marlow and Sons was on the trip. When John Connelly, who was on the trip this year, asked him about it, about all the sights he'd seen, the wines he'd tasted, the people he'd met, all Jason could talk about was the woodcock pâté.
"He didn't mention anything else about the trip, not even the flight of back vintages that day. He was obsessed with that pâté months after coming back."
It was also John's favorite, and after a year of anticipation I'm glad it lived up to his expectations. We also had a wild boar Shepard's pie which was off the chain. It continued the new awesome trend of me eating wild board hunted by vignerons: the night before Pierre-Marie Luneau served us a terrine made from a boar he'd hunted and who could forget the Chingali stew prepared by Dora Forsoni last November! Obélix would be proud...
Note to anglophone vignerons who read this blog: I'm a fan of this trend and hope to keep it going.
Let's talk about the back vintages. We tasted pretty much straight through 1985, and not one bottle was tired. Some, for example 95, were so fresh, vibrant and full of acidity that they tasted like a current release, while others, like 97, darkened in color and gained a richer texture. In some cases the minerality still ran the show, while others started expressing the fruit we all knew was buried somewhere in there. I insisted we open an 86 (my birth year), and Marc pretty much said: "Meh. It wasn't a great vintage..."
But he found one and did it anyway. We all agreed that it wasn't the most interesting wine of the flight, but it was still in great shape. I think the best part of the 1986 vintage was that it featured an amazing "Serve Fresh" label which inspired a lot of bad 80's hip-hop jokes:
If I was more tech savvy I would have made an animated gif. out of that. Closel, Salons des Vins de Loire and the conclusion of the trip on the next update.
After spending four days in the Touraine, it was off to Bourgueil to visit Xavier Courrant at Domaine de L'Oubliée. If you haven't already, check out his interview.
Before touring the vines, Xavier explained the short history of his estate. Domaine de L'Oubliée consists of 6 hectares, spread through multiple parcels on three different sites (each with distinct soil types) in the commune of Saint Patrice. He also owns a 0.74h parcel of Chenin Blanc. Xavier's only criteria when starting was to work with his beloved Cabernet Franc, and after some shopping around in Chinon and Bourgueil, he found what he was looking for.
The vines were formerly a part of Christophe Chasle's 18 hectare estate. Because his means were and still are limited, Xavier -who does 100% of the vine work himself- decided to start small; 6 hectares initially seemed like too much to handle, but he quickly realized that the opportunity was too good to pass up. As mentioned earlier, that all 6 hectares were in the same commune while simultaneously offering three unique soil types (sandy gravel, calcareous clay, flinty clay) was the clincher. The chenin parcel was also a perk.
Another huge advantage for Xavier is that he has very few neighbors, so most of his vines are completely isolated. Most parcels coexist with woods, wild grass, flowers, plants and animals, and Xavier plans on taking full advantage of his land's biodiversity to create self sustained eco-systems. The vines are in their third year of conversion to organic viticulture (with a long term goal of working biodynamically), and Xavier will be certified as of the 2012 vintage.
We started our visit to the vines with a tour of the parcels that go into Notre Histoire. The soils consist of calcareous clay and the entire site borders the village cemetery. Only one row is shared with a neighbor, who is apparently "very nice". Walking from parcel to parcel in the snow, Xavier began explaining how vines used to dominate the agricultural landscape of Bourgueil before World War 2. In the aftermath, a lot of vines were destroyed and instead or replanting, people favored plain agriculture (cereal, corn, sunflowers, etc...); anything that could provide a productive crop farmers could turn over and see quick returns on. Pointing to the woods surrounding us, he described how these used to be densely planted (about 50/50 Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc) but now trees have been growing wild since the early 50's.
Moving along, we walked by an empty parcel; right before Xavier took over this plot, Chasles had torn out some very old vines. Xavier's plan is to grow plants and vegetables (as well as wild grass) for three years to help the soil "detox", then replant selection massales. He's still on the fence on whether to planted Grolleau or Chenin Blanc.
Speaking of Chenin, the next part of the tour was a short car ride away; after getting off one of the village's main roads, we were whisked in the woods where the parcel is located. The 0.74 hectares are completely surrounded by trees and shrubs, and with the exception of a few vignerons who have replanted Chenin in the last year or two, it's the only white grapes being grown in the area. Xavier uses a fence to protect the vines from wild animals hungry for ripe grapes.
Because Xavier and his wife Stephanie are awesome, they actually hired their buddy who owns a woodfire pizza truck to prepare us fresh flat-breads to spread our rillettes and cheese on. A homemade soup was very much appreciated as well. The 2010's were tasting great, as were the 2011's. The real suprise was an '09 petillant naturel from Cabernet Franc. It tasted like rose champagne! I'm very happy about everybody making a petillant naturel these days; they are so easy to drink and almost always cheaper than other bubbles.
After another meal consisting 90% of pork products, cheese and bread, it was time to visit the Luneau's! Our car's built in GPS got us super lost (if you rent an Audi while in France and use its GPS, you will hate every moment of your car ride because of its absurd design and complete lack of functionality), which ended up being ok because we took a really scenic route full of inspiring winter sights. Ken was sitting in the backseat with me, and we got to talking about it being his first time to France. He felt funny because he'd been working mostly with French wine his entire career, and it was really great for him to put a place and a context to the wines he's been enjoying for so long.
Our visit at Luneau-Papin was quite epic. Our first stop was at the incredible Butte de La Roche plot. The vines are all on coteaux with South-West exposition and the view from the top of the hill is magnificent. You can see all of Muscadet from up there, and Pierre-Marie had fun by pointing out where other vignerons live:
"Just past that river is Marc Ollivier's. And Jo Landron lives by that water tower!"
The one incredible particularity of the Butte de La Roche is its soil. The site is actually a geological landmark because it is the only place in the world where deep, deep serpentine subsoil has erupted to to the surface after a series of underground earthquakes. Huge chunks of serpentine can be found throughout the vineyard site and the soil is very tough to work because of how rocky it is. This type of serpentine is a subsoil that no root could normally reach, and gives the Terre de Pierre cuvée a richness and minerality unique to the site.
The cellar visit was a lot of fun; we tasted the soon to be released 2010's (you're in for a treat) and 2011's from a range of different cuvées, and Pierre pulled out the huge batons used to stir the lees. We were then offered to taste a range of back vintages with dinner. The oldest vintages were 95's and the father-son team proved what everyone needs to realize immediately: good Muscadet ages really well. Anyone will tell you otherwise, but when you're working with lees (in the Luneau's case two or three years at a time for certain cuvées), it gives the wine a richer texture that lets it evolve in bottle.
After another great dinner, it was time to say goodbye. Hands were shook, glasses were cheered, embraces were exchanged: everything was set and we were ready to go. Or so we thought...
We had just gotten in the Maya Mobile, aka Brown Betty, when the car in front us drove head first into the large ditch on the side of the road (to save them from the embarrassment, the driver will remain anonymous)! The front tires weren't touching ground and the car was at a 45% angle. We tried lifting it out manually while the driver backed up, but the car was too heavy for us. Pierre then decided to get the forklift and, you guessed it, attempt to FORKLIFT the car to level ground. This initial strategy proved impossible because of the angle of the car, and things only got worst when the very forklift that was supposed to salvage the vehicle from the fiery depths of the ditch got its wheels stuck in the ice! So now we had two stranded vehicles in the cold Muscadet night! David Mcduff insisted we call a tow-truck, but Pierre-Marie refused:
"This happens all the time! I'll go get the truck."
5 minutes later he was back with the truck. Pierre attached a strap to the axle of the trapped car, and we all got ready to push our hearts out in a classic push-pull-pump the accelerator in reverse scenario. This was it, our last ditch effort (get it? Ditch!). I was convinced this was going to be a terrible failure, that the truck was going to rip the back axle straight off. But after counting to 1, 2, 3... everyone played their part and we were able to get the car out! David Sink, in one of the most hilarious hilarious moments in the trip, yelled "We did it! By the power of Excelsior! Excelsior!" For those of you who don't get it:
We did drink a bunch of it that night...
We were able to drive the car to the hotel but the heater was completely destroyed so it had to be returned the next day. That's what insurance is for, kiddos!
Next update: Muscadet-a-thon at Marc Ollivier's, a visit at Closel and "overdosing" at the Salons des Vins de Loire!
Just got back to the United States after a wonderful 12 day trip. I'll be finishing up this series into the weekend and you can expect a dozen interviews on the site through February.
After five days of tasting events, we were ready to visit some of our vignerons. Our first stop was François Cazin.
We started the visit with a quick tour of the vines by the house and cellar. François explained that he is the fifth generation to farm his family's land, but the first to work only the vines; up until very recently, the farm had always been in polyculture (mostly livestock and vines), but François chose to focus only on wine while his brother decided to work with the lambs and chickens. Catherine Roussel has expressed many times that Cazin chickens are among some of the best in France, and after consuming one this summer I can confirm.
The first parcel we visited consisted of Pinot Noir planted in the 70's. The second was the OLDEST parcel of Romorantin in all of Cour-Cheverny, planted in 1928 by François' grandfather. François had a lot to say about this relatively unknown grape.
It is believed to originate from Burgundy as the ancestor of Pinot Noir, and has always been very low yielding. From a production standpoint, what I found the most interesting was the following statement:
"50% of making a good Romorantin depends on when you harvest it."
This is far from an exact science, and every year is different. Romorantin (or Romo, for those who absolutely feel the need to abbreviate the name of every grape varietal), is a tricky grape to work with: it's naturally very high in acidity and has very thin skins, so if it is harvested too early it shows no fruit or minerality (think of sucking on a lemon) and if it it harvested too late, the pulp of the berry becomes mushy ("It's like jam instead of grapes"), the skins tend to burst and it becomes very susceptible to gray rot. This means one must harvest during a very specific window to make anything worthwhile. Like Goldie Lock's porridge, it has to be be juuust right.
François also explained why you'll only find this grape grown in the 80 or so hectares of the Cour-Cheverny appellation. Like many other forgotten varieties, Romorantin was way more widespread in the Loire valley up until very recently. With the increasing popularity of Sancerre in the 70's, 80's and 90's, the demand for Loire Sauvignon Blanc skyrocketed. Sauvignon has always been planted in Cheverny (which at the time was still a AOVDQS), and most growers decided to tear out their low yielding Romorantin vines in order to replant the more productive and popular Sauvignon. But a small number of vignerons decided to keep their Romorantin vines, which is why it is still around today.
When it was time to create the Cheverny A.O.C in 1993, these same vignerons (including François and Hervé Villemade's fathers) fought hard so that Romorantin -which they felt could produce great wine on its own- not be a prerequisite in a Cheverny White blend (which currently consists of Sauvignon and Chardonnay). This led to multiple disputes, and the only solution the panel could find was to dedicate a unique A.O.C dedicated exclusively to Romorantin, which led to the creation of Cour-Cheverny in 1997.
We then did a flight of Cour- Cheverny and Cuvée Renaissance from 2010 to 1990 (skipping a few vintages) and let me tell you, Romorantin ages beautifully. Certain vintages remain crisp and fresh while others take on a Riesling-like petrol quality on the nose and a rich, honeyed mouth feel. Two things recurred in each bottle: striking acidity and seemingly never ending finishes. I know they taste great young, but you all need to start aging them now!
Lunch was pretty crazy, simply because Claudie started us off with a ten pound bowl of rillettes (I'm not kidding, pictures coming very soon) and a pork terrine bigger than my head. Even though we barely dented either dish, people were on a feeding frenzy; I warned them to slow down because more food was coming, but they did not heed my warning. As a follow up, we had delicious wild boar in a mushroom sauce. As scrumptulenscent as it was, it many people the itis.
After lunch, we went to check out the legendary Clos-Roche Blanche. While touring the vines, Didier pointed out the 117 year old Côt vines, as well as which vines Noella Morantin rents. Speaking of Noella, we did a quick visit to her cellars to taste the 2011's; it was her first year with no major problems and after three vintages, Noella is definitely getting a firm grasp of her land. On top of the six hectares she rents from CRB, she has just acquired 4 hectares of vines from Bois Lucas (where she previously worked, and which in itself used to be Clos Roche Blanche vines before Catherine and Didier sold them), so as of 2012 she is officially a vigneronne!
The vineyards were stunning as always, and the cellar visit proved to be very educational, as Didier elaborated on his work in the vines and soil (much of which he touches on in great detail in his LDM interview). We got to taste the 2011's which are great. The one big scoop is that there will be no Pineau D'Aunis red this year; while this is very sad, everyone knows that no red can mean only one thing…
More Pineau D'Aunis rose in 2011!
Our visit ended with Catherine pulling out a 1964 Romorantin (made illegal to use in the Touraine A.O.C once Cheverny became a AOVDQS in the 70's), which used to grow on CRB soils. It was a little tired, but still vibrant and alive. What a treat.
If that wasn't good enough, Catherine reappeared with an unlabeled bottle and started pouring a deep brown liquid into our glasses. Everyone eagerly asked what it was, and we were in for a surprise: a 1911 Pinot Gris grown by Catherine's grandfather! Didier exclaimed: "It's not disgusting!", and most agreed. The color was a golden, dark caramel and I enjoyed it very much.
We then went to another big dinner where everyone over ate and over drank. Fortunately, we were all overeating dishes rich in the goat cheeses made right there on the farm and over-drinking back vintages of Clos Roche Blanche! Stay tuned for the the next installment, featuring our visits to Domaine de L'Oubliée and Luneau Papin! Guaranteed hilarious anecdotes!
After a day off, it was right to work. We began our trip at Renaissance des Appellations, an event that brings an eclectic group of biodynamic vignerons from all over Europe under the same roof. The association was created by Nicholas Joly, but Mark Angeli of Domaine de la Sansonnière organizes the January tasting in Angers each year. They're actually about to take the show to the to U.S for the first time and will be in New York in February; you should check that out if you can. I wore a Steiner sweater to show my biodynamic pride.
Pumped from the last night's karaoke and heavy consumption of Desperados (a tequila infused beer that John from Marlow & Sons thought was blended with Sprite), we were ready to taste some wine! Highlights included the de Moor 2010's, a Gamay pétillant naturel from Les Maisons Brûlées and a Mauzac sous-voile (a la Vin Jaune of the Jura) from Causse Marines.
Dinner was at Les Canons, a wine-centric restaurant in the heart of Saumur. Average American Consumer (A.A.C) Joe Dougherty ended up ordering three bottles of Ganevat, because Joe Dougherty loves Ganevat. The Chicagans (is that how you call them?) wanted a foozball rematch, but for some reason the bar was closed at 10:30 on a Saturday night (we stayed till 2 on Friday). We settled for hanging out in the hotel and drinking two bottles of Vergano Chinato. Strangely enough, when Dan of Cordon Selections decided to go on his morning run at 7 am the next morning, the bar was open... Stange hours to say the least, and unfortunately no one was enthusiastic enough to drink Desperados and play table soccer before a full day of tasting.
Instead, we all agreed it was best to head over to the Chateau de Brézé for the 13th annual Dive Bouteille. The Dive takes place in the depths of the chateau, which makes for a spectacular backdrop for a tasting. But as anyone who has ever been knows, a chateau is not a great edifice for containing heat on frigid winter days, and the last three years had been insanely cold. I'm talking frostbite on your fingers and nose cold, and the idea of tasting red wine at 0ºC was waning on everyone. We warned our group to dress as heavily as possible: two pairs of socks, long johns, glove and hats as a bare minimum!
Much to our surprise (and delight), the organizers had done a great job with the heating this year, choosing to add a heater behind each vigneron. To top it all off, it was a mild winter day, so it was actually quite warm in there! This meant that layers had to be peeled off, and that we the wines could actually be tasted at a normal temperature. It ended up being a great tasting!
A ton of highlights, including Vincent Thomas' 2010 carbonic Pinot Noir, Yannick Pelletier's soon to be bottled 2010's, Luca Roagna showing up only four hours late, Pascal Potaire's Menu Pineau/Chenin pétillant naturel (keep your eyes peeled for that one), a Sauvignon from Olivier Lemasson rich in RS, an Alexandre Bain VdF Gamay and the Georges Descombes 2011's.
One producer I'd like to talk about in a little more detail is Louis-Antoine Luyt, who makes wine in Chile. Some of you may remember us bringing in his Clos Ouvert wines a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, the 2010 earthquake completely destroyed most of the wine already bottled, as well as his vines. In the aftermath, his partners decided to bail out on the Clos Ouvert project, but Louis-Antoine has decided to continue, for the time being with rented parcels from all over Chile wine country. He is also making and bottling wine under his name as a separate entity.
Everything is dry farmed (the vast majority of South American wine is irrigated) and it's cool stuff: a Pais (local grape originally brought over by Spanish conquistadors) from 350 year old vines really impressed me, as well as his Carignan and Cinsault from 80 year old vines (Louis-Antoine explained that these varieties were planted because the area has a nearly identical climate to Corbières) . I've yet to taste South American wines as elegant, feminine and full of depth and minerality (not to mention the lighter alcohol...) We're starting fresh with Louis-Antoine, and look forward to getting these in the U.S as soon as possible.
Stay tuned for more updates!
It's that time of the year again. Louis/Dressner and twenty or so of our best customers are running amok in France, ready to taste, chat and laugh our way through two weeks of events, estate visits and, as it's shaping up, wacky hi-jinks.
The entire LDM staff, with the exception of Josefa Concannon, took a flight over from New York City, where I decided to to pass the time by watching Cowboys & Aliens, one of the worst movies I've ever seen in my life. I have this thing where I watch really bad movies on the airplane, because I feel that it's the only time I can justify subjecting myself to cinematic gold like this:
It was then a three hour drive from Paris to Saumur, where Josefa and I introduced some of our greener group members to the wonders of chicken chips. They were universally well received and revered as quite delicious, albeit a bit artificial. It's our goal to try the cheeseburger chips before the trip ends.
In Saumur, people visited the town while I slept through the afternoon (and evening). I was woken up by the hotel phone ringing; it was one of those weird times when you have no idea where you are and what's happening because of intensive travel/jet lag, but Kevin's "Dinner time" reminder rebooted my mind and I was ready to eat at L'Alchimiste. The meal was great, especially for vegetarian John Ritchie (of Chambers Street Wines), who ate a whole lot of bread. The French are not the most accommodating towards non carnivores, and we'll see just how much (or little) John gets to eat on the trip. Fortunately, the bread was delicious, and will probably continue to be...
We then went to a Pool hall where it was karaoke night. As we walked in, three girls were butchering Bad Romance by hometown hero Lady Gaga (444 million views! Damn!). This inspired Eben Lillie and I to rock the house down, which we promptly did with a stirring rendition of GhostBusters by Ray Parker Jr.
Someone filmed it, and I'll post it at some point. We finished the night with an intense New York vs. Chicago foozball tournament (John from Marlow & Sons and I versus Jeremy from Telegraph and Jamie from Rootstock)where New York reigned supreme (for now...). We weren't allowed to play right away because of an extremely competitive pool tournament that was going down, but after Les Pheonix reigned supreme, they removed their (home brought) pool cues from the table and we were able to play.
Today, we begin actually working by visiting the Grenier St-Jean in Angers for Renaissance des Appellations. Stay tuned!
On our recent trip to Atlanta, Georgia (full recap coming soon), our National Parcel Sourcing Manager (N.P.S.M) Josefa Concannon spotted a prime piece of land while on her morning run.
Jean Paul Brun, who was also on the trip, immediately jumped on the opportunity to finally make St. Amour.
"Georgian wine is where it all started. It's an honor to finally be able to combine the origins of wine with my passion for Beaujolais. Expect amphora gamay's in 2012!
Let us talk now of Savagnin, the grape that expresses Jurassian viticulture with excellence and produces the extraordinary Vin Jaune.
Its berries are round, robust, fine and delicate, with heavy skins. They take on a golden bronze in the spring, on small and tight clusters. Its leaves are medium sized, slightly lobed, dark green on top and pale on its back, which is coated with a light downy.
In the soil, it prefers the blue marl or gray slate of the Triassic and Liassic eras, with a lighter, warmer surface to "interpret" the sunlight it needs to reach perfect maturity.
Always late, the harvest sometimes occurs up until All Saints day. Yields barely exceed 35hl/h.
Its vinification is absolutely particular. Once fermentation has been achieved, the wine is racked to old oak barrels, then aged without soutirage or ouillage for at least six years and three months (to conform to use and regulation). In due time, the liquid evaporates to about a third of the barrel and a a veil of yeast that preserve the wine from oxidation, which slowly transforms it into Vin Jaune.
Its color becomes bright yellow with an amber hue. The nose is surprisingly amplified and the palate acquires a nutty quality followed by an exceptionally persistent finish. The wine can easily age 50 or even 100 years! With a unique wine comes a unique bottle: it is presented in the famous clavelin.
Unlike all other whites, yellow wine is best served at room temperature, between 14° and 16°. It would be wise to open it two hours before consumption. It pairs perfectly with foie gras and escargots but its best pairing is with Comté and dried fruit.
It also makes incredible sauces.
PHOTO BY GUILHAUME GERARD.
The name of this grape originates from the local word plousse or prunelle (sloe), which usually has the same color and shape. It is indigenous to the Jura, notably in Arbois and even more in Pupillin.
Its oval berries are juicy, light and aromatic with thin, purple skins. Clusters are often quite beautiful and never too compact. Its leaves are large and dark green, with long sloes. It grows best in Triassic and Liassic soils.
Ploussard does not fare well in the case of late frosts, and high heat tends to shrivel up the plant, resulting in grapes falling off before harvest. In such the consistency of the wine wine varies heavily vintage to vintage.
After its been aged in oak for a while, its juice produces a wine that varies in color but is always light red when young. It's always delicate on the nose, fruity or deep on the palate depending on how old it is and the finish lingers. It peaks between 4 and 8 years of age, but can be aged longer.
This wine should be served rather cool, between 10° et 12°, to appreciate its finesse. It pairs well with all entrées, red meat, chicken and most cheeses.
Ploussard is the perfect adaptation of a varietal to its' terroir, and owes its originality to the vineyards of the Jura, even if the area produces mostly whites. Pupillin is its capitol.
Did you ever wonder what Pierre Overnoy thinks about the grapes grown at the estate that carries his namesake and the wines made with them? Probably not, but now you can find out! Part one of our exciting 3 part series begins with...
This white grape is the most widely spread in French viticulture. Its berries are rather small and golden yellow. They are juicy, very sweet, with light but resistant skins and medium, tights clusters. Its leaves are quite large, bright green and form solid tendrils. It isn't too hard to grow in any particular soil, but it excels on jurassic soils of light limestone or siliceous coteaux. However, Chardonnay is a marvelous alchemist and knows how to extract different colors, aromas and flavors from any unique terroir.
Its precocious nature exposes it to spring frosts, and its hasty blooming is favored by good weather. In rainy or colder vintages, it often falls victim to sagging and millerandage. When this occurs, quantity and quality is often variable.
Its juice produces a wine that is pale yellow, becoming blonder as it ages. When young, its bouquet reminds me of blooming grapes. With some age, it acquires a prolonged taste of flint specific to the Jura. It shows best after 8 to 12 years in bottle and can be aged for over two decades.
One should drink these slightly chilled, between 10° et 12°, to discover all of its subtlety. It works great with hors-d'œuvre, fish, fondue and any dish containing Comté.
P.S: I'm sure Emmanuel agrees.
by Eddie Wrinkerman
"We should drink more and speak less!" -Arianna Occhipinti
It's the phenomenon that's sweeping the nation. People are drinking large quantities of delicious wine and they can't stop. Back in early November, I'd reported on the Tennessean Beaujolais Craze, but it's happening everywhere: New York, California, Michigan, Wisconsin…
"It's just so good!" exclaims Jody Witchencron, a Kalamazoo, Michigan native. "Every sip makes me want another!"
"It's such a sheer pleasure to drink that I don't have time to read how many points anyone gave it!" mused Don Hickleberry of Houston, Texas.
"It's more than just drinking. It's a lifestyle." said some bearded hipster.
All across the nation, it seems that a new generation of wine consumers are quickly taking rise. These are men and women who actually enjoy drinking wine because it tastes good, because it pairs well with food, because they can drink a lot of it and not be completely hungover the next morning.
Glou-Glou, the evocative term on everyone's tongue, is simply the culmination of these qualities in wine. Roughly translated, Glou-Glou means "glug-glug", the sound your throat makes while rapidly consuming a liquid beverage. The implication, of course, is that the wine is so good that one cannot help but drinking it. In France, they are referred to as Vin de Soif, or wines of thirst. More often than not, these wines tend to be lighter in alcohol, tannins (for reds) and body, but still have pronounced acidity, minerality and a real sense of terroir. Heavy , and especially new oak, are arguably deal breakers.
The geographical origins of the term are still somewhat unclear, but expert Gulpologists like Thierry Puzelat and Olivier Lemasson invariably trace it back to wines of the Beaujolais:
"I visit Ville-Morgon every year the way some go to Lourdes; there aren't any miracles, but there's certainly joy for me!"- Thierry Puzelat
"I love the Beaujolais. My formative years in winemaking were at Marcel Lapierre's, and this whole vin de soif thing stems from the Beaujolais style. Even though his Morgon was very complex, beautiful wine, it was also very easy to drink!"- Olivier Lemasson
By most accounts, the Loire has comfortably become the second Glou-Glou capitol of France, where cooler northern climates produce light, crisp and easy wines that are incredibly versatile with food but are just as easy to enjoy on their own.
"...the wines that really made me start to believe I could make wine in this style were Thierry Puzelat's. Marcel (Lapierre)'s wines were the spark, but he lived 450 kilometers away from me and was working with very different terroirs; having a neighbor pull it off right next door was the inspiration and motivation to follow in his footsteps."-Hervé Villemade, based out of Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny.
This light, fruity style has spread like wildfire in the natural winemaking world, and it is now possible to find whole-cluster, semi carbonic -aka "Beaujolais Style"- , or even fully carbonic macerated wines from all over the world. In many ways, carbonic maceration has come to define the Glou-Glou style, but many feel that fixating on how wine should taste or is made would be missing the larger point. A recent excerpt from Stefano Belloti's interview on the recently relaunched louisdressner.com website sums up what many believe the movement to be about:
"The vocation of my vines has always been, in my mind, to make wines that can be aged for a long time. Serious wine...
So I decided, instead of making serious wine, I just wanted to make wine. Wine to drink. I make a red and a white. It worked out really well because instead of making wines that you have to intellectualize, I've also produced ones that just win you over, a wine you don't think about, that you take great pleasure in drinking. You don't need to worry what about the region or the varietal or the nose or whatever. When you do this you are intellectualizing wine, and wine doesn't give a shit about being intellectual. So it's "Simply" red or white: you bring them to the table and you don't think about it, you just drink it. That's it."
Some worry that by broadening the term to any wine that is easy to drink, you run the risk of the consumer confusing "easy to drink" with "simple" or "one dimensional". Gulpologist Lemasson elaborates:
"When I say vin de soif, I'm not claiming these wines are simple; they can be complex in their own right. What I mean by that is they are easy to drink on their own."
Though the movement is still relatively young, one thing is certain: people are celebrating life by drinking good wine and eating good food with good people. Bottoms up!
We'd like to congratulate Chris Brockway and his 2010 Cabernet Franc for being awarded the first ever California Glou-Glou (C.G.G) award!
Chris is no stranger to receiving fictional awards over here at Louis/Dressner, (about two years ago, my father honored him with the first ever Tendie award for best California winemaker who lived in the Tenderloin) and we're proud to keep the tradition alive.
I first tasted the wine in early September, kegged into my glass at the Boxing Room in San Francisco. It instantly won me over, not only as a light, easy red, but as a distinct expression of a varietal and terroir. Soon Terroir had it, and Selection Massale was spreading a very limited quantity of the joyful beverage across the nation. It was official: the Broc Cellars Cabernet Franc was a hit.
Some notes on the wine from Chris:
"This is the first vintage of Cabernet Franc, sourced from the slightly warmer edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. The soils are mostly serpentine, with a high magnesium content. The wine was fermented 100% whole cluster in a large 3 ton oak fermenter. As always, the wine was fermented with indigenous yeasts.
The vineyard was originally planted in 2001 and received full CCOF organic certification. Unfortunately the vineyard has switched from organic to sustainable farming. The 2011 vintage of Cabernet Franc will be sourced from a biodynamic vineyard located near Los Alamos, CA."
The results are a light, 11.9% red that, while much fruitier and juicy than most French Cabernet Franc, still retains the varietal's typical vegetal character on the finish. I think the serpentine also has something to do with it… Good old fashioned American soils!
This stuff, at least for the time being, is very hard to find outside of the Bay Area. When I was in New York last I asked someone at Chambers Street Wines if they had any. Though they carry some of Brockway's wines, they'd never even heard of it!
And like any good award or article promoting something, we're a little late on telling you about it. Only 101 cases were produced, and almost all of it has been hastily consumed. 2011 should be a larger production though, so keep your eyes peeled.
If you've been following our updates of the 2011 harvest reports, then you know it was a strange vintage. The trend seems to be that climactic conditions were wacky and completely abnormal, yet nature ended up balancing itself out (more or less) to produce what is looking to be a vintage of good wines. While simply observing this trend is indeed quite interesting, it is important that we stop for a moment to really ask ourselves how this will affect viticulture in the future.
Today I've added an article written by Olivier de Moor in the Our Peasants sub-section of Special Features. Olivier wrote this in mid August, well before the harvest. The article explores the climactic shift of the past few years in Chablis, how this has affected the vines, his work as a vigneron, and what this means for the future if these trends continue.
It's an extremely interesting read, which you can check out here.
It' s been a week since I got back from Italy, and I think I know why I was having a hard time writing this until today. Recapping each day as it happened helped capture our experience, but when sitting back to write my global impression of the trip, I needed a week for everything to sink in. I needed to think about it.
This trip featured two types of distinct experiences for me: the first being when you're in the thick of things and everything is in the moment. I believe I've captured this in all 9 parts of The Italy Chronicles. The other is invariably attached to the former, but extends past the moment to shape your present and future perceptions; these are the observations (and that's all they are) I hope to deliver in this epilogue.
First of all, everyone we work with in Italy loves French wine. Angiolino Maule has three rows of Chenin Blanc planted somewhere in his vineyard, and when his son Francesco told me that they had sold three palettes to France this year, he felt it was "an honor.". I must have drank Francis Boulard at least 5 times as an aperitif. Elisabetta Foradori claims that drinking Beaujolais influenced her to make softer, less tannic wines herself. Gian Marco Antunuzi of Le Coste spent almost a decade working with French vignerons and more or less said: "Almost all Italian wine sucks.".
Does Italian wine suck? Is French wine better? The answer to both these questions is obviously no, but in the context of natural winemaking in Italy, it makes sense that so many of our growers are looking and finding inspiration in France. This inspiration is multi-layered, but essentially boils down to this: effectively mastering your terroir to best express it.
Does France have better terroir? Do the French take terroir more seriously? Again no, but we must remember that French wine having a sense of place has existed longer than in Italy, at least in the post phylloxera landscape of European viticulture. Unlike Italy, where every day I discover five new grape varieties, France -who used to have thousands- began planting noble grapes... Less grapes meant wines have to distinguish themselves by terroir rather than varietal. The A.O.C system was put in place in 1925 while D.O.C's first appeared in 1963. All this to say that Italy's potential for quality is exactly the same, but the cultural approach to making wine isn't as focused on sense of place. Yet.
This is also NOT to say that Italians are trying to make French wine. Quite the contrary; in our visit to her cellar, Elisabetta told us how she tried making a semi-carbonic Teroldego last year that was "undrinkable" and "disgusting". It was a fun experiment, but it ruined the wine's territorial qualities by tasting forced and unnatural. To make Teroldego from alluvial soils in the Dolomites, she had to find her own way to work harmoniously with nature. This means going further than not using chemicals in the vineyards and in the cellar, but to humbly acknowledge that nature will always be more powerful than you are, and that uniforming it will never work. Unlike France, for almost everyone we work with in Italy, this is the first generation who has philosophically decided they want to work this way. So it makes sense that they'd turn to a more experienced France for help. And it also makes sense that this generation would be a more forward thinking bunch than their Northern neighbors...
It's a sign of the times. While many vignerons still lean on tradition, experience and quality in France, their has been a recent reversal in trends, where a majority of the country's third (and VERY young) generation of natural winemakers are so focused on how their wine is made that they are forgetting to care about how it tastes. Native yeasts, organic agriculture with no additives or sulfur is great as long as the wine doesn't taste like volatile acidity, brett, unintentional oxidation and referementation.
The big trick to avoid or cover up these flaws is to make every wine carbonic; so you are either left with glou-glou wines that could be made from anywhere and from any grape or you have wines that all have the same flaws. These wines may all be natural, but they also all taste the same (which is often fucked up). This is not what we are looking for as importers; to me it's just as bad as the spoof that Joe, Denyse and Kevin have dedicated the last two decades sifting through to find the wines we now all know and love.
All this natural stuff: it's great for the environment, it's healthier for consumption and it takes a very strong stand against agricultural industrialization. But let's not forget that the good ones taste great! They taste great because they are unique, and they are unique because of where they come from. You're not tasting organic agriculture and native yeast fermentation when you drink; those are means to and end, a work ethic that best expresses where a wine comes from. These are wines of terroir! And Italy does not take its' terroir for granted.
My impression was that Italy's approach to these wines is just as rooted in tradition as France, but with a more progressive attitude towards smarter, better work. This is not to knock the French: things guys like Eric Texier and Didier Barrouillet are doing with science, what Alexandre Bain is doing with biodynamics or what Michel Augé is doing with(out) sulfur is great, great stuff that confirms why France remains the "capitol" of natural wine.
And just like France, where vignerons started making natural wine in the early 80's to maintain a tradition that they believed best expressed their terroir (thanks to generations of know how), and give a big fuck you to industrialization, this first generation of Italians have stopped and asked themselves "Why has it always been done this way?" and "Why does it make the wines taste better?". But unlike France where, in some cases -and mostly from this current generation- people tend take their terroir for granted, the Italians we visited seem to be all asking themselves: "This is great terroir. What can I do to make it even better?"
Most of our growers are learning as they go along, by using methods linked to a rich past of tradition and know-how, but also by constantly reevaluating their work through personal and scientific experimentation and research; they respect tradition but don't fear moving forward by creating new ones, as long as the work is natural and the wine is good. Vigniaoli working this way are fewer than in France, but their dedication and passion to working as naturally as possible, both in an environmental and qualitative context, is very impressive.
Changing to better suited vine-tending methods (Maule, Foradori, Montescondo, Le Coste), associations like Vinnatur who fund soil research in hopes of ridding it of mildew and oidium, harvesting at optimal maturity (i.e earlier), experimenting with various methods of fermentation and aging in the cellar, vinifying and blending different grapes in ways they never have been, not using any sulfur: none of this is very traditional, but all of this leading to clean, natural and unique wines of terroir that wouldn't exist if these efforts weren't made.
For example, for years Elisabetta Foradori wanted to make a lighter, brighter wine from Teroldego, a typically fuller and more tannic grape. She tried a semi-carbonic maceration, but that didn't work. She easily could have harvested earlier (lower % potential), macerated the wines less or even have added water. Instead, she began using clay amphora. Yes, one could argue that amphora wine is the original and most traditional way of making wine, but this predates it being made in Elisabetta's region. So instead of using oak (which can only draw out more tannic structure from the wood) or settle with the neutrality of concrete, she decided to try amphora, which adds freshness, brightness and lightens the wine's body. It's why so those wines taste so good, and it's why she has decided to make all her whites in amphora as of 2011.
Maybe in 100 years, this will be the traditional way of vinifying in the Dolomites. Maybe in 50 years, that "old vine" Sangiovese planted in Albarello by Silvio Messana will yield the best fruit in Chianti. Maybe in 10 years Vinnatur will have discovered what causes mildew and eliminated it, thus rendering copper and sulfur treatments in the vines obsolete. Maybe next year, one of our completely sulfur free producers will have mastered it.
I don't know if any of that will happen, but I do know that none of it could happen at all if it wasn't for the people we visited, not just this trip but those we have been working with for the last 23 years. So much has happened with European wine in the last 30 years, but 30 years is nothing! It took 30 years for chemical viticulture and the complete industrialization of winemaking to turn it's back on a millenia of work and tradition. It also took 30 years for people to take a stand against this, a stand we are proudly committed to. We are at a point in time where more and more people also taking this stand by making these wines, as is the consumer by drinking it. It's in everyone's best interest that we keep this going.
We must always respect nature. If nature has proved us one thing, one "tradition", it's that you work with it and not the other way around. Every time man goes against nature, he loses.
But nature isn't trying to be man's enemy. It's not trying to hide anything from us or play games: it's all right there, in our faces everyday. If you respect it, work with it, understand it and love it, nature will give you everything you need.
And some pretty fucking good wine too.
On Sunday we managed to escape Giglio just in time to visit Gian Marco Antonuzi and Clémentine Bouveron at one of our newest estates, Le Coste.
Many of you probably aren't familiar with these wines; they only recently made an appearance in the States on a very small scale (limited to New York City). But if you do know them, you're thinking: "Yeah the cheap liter bottles with two guys chugging wine!"
The visit began at La Ripetta, a great restaurant in the town of Gradoli that actually overlooks the young couple's vineyard. Gian Marco's 80 year old aunt is the head of the kitchen and made us our meal. On the menu: eggs and white truffles (that Clémentine went into the kitchen to make herself), anchovies, a delicious spaghetti dish and for the main course, a mumbo-jumbo of veal lung, liver and all types of parts of the animal that tend to gross people out. Every dish was a local specialty, because:
"Food has as much terroir as wine!"
Lunch naturally lasted over 3 hours, so I had plenty of time getting to know Clémentine and Gian Marco.
Clémentine is from Lyon. She went to school for viticulture and oenology in Alsace, where she met Gian Marco in 2001. From the beginning, she felt uncomfortable with what she was being taught in school, leading her to two conclusions: that she would never work with chemicals and modern oenology, and that to do so she would need to manage and own her estate independently. In 2005, Gian Marco asked her if she'd be interested in helping him plant some young vines on his newly acquired land. Clémentine had never done this kind of work, and was interested. She came to help out and the two, who were just friendly acquaintances at the time, fell in love. She never moved back to France.
Gian Marco is from Rome, but his grandfather is from Gradoli (back then all the grapes were sold to the cooperative). He worked as a lawyer for 8 months before quickly realizing it wasn't his line of work. He quit to move to France and pursue a career in food and wine journalism. This was more or less working out, but he wasn't getting the satisfaction he needed:
"I've always been the type who prefers making something more than writing about it."
The man has an impressive track record: he started apprenticing in Alsace, then at Léon Barral. After that, he worked in the Beaujolais with Jean-Paul Thévenet, then Dard & Ribo, and finally Phillipe Pacalet. You can taste his French sensibilities; Gian Marco is all for wines that need time to age and develop, but with the exception of a 3 month skin macerated white, he makes "vin de soif".
This means "wine for when you're thirsty.", and is also increasingly being called Glou-Glou by young Directors of Social Media and Viral Marketing (D.S.M.V.M) in the wine importing industry. You're SUPPOSED to knock a couple bottles back with some good company, not banish them to the cellar.
This isn't to say these wines are simple! Even the potentially very heavy 09's we had at lunch managed to stay fresh and lighter bodied, pairing well with the food. The good work in the vines, the terroir; it's all there, and it's telling you:
"Drink me now. Then drink more of me!"
He started Le Coste in 2005. Every day is a learning experience, and every year the couple apply what they've learned to their present work:
"We live our terroir every day so it's easy. The work is never finished. There is always something to learn, to discover. This is why I fell in love with my work."
Because of the geographic nature of the region, intensive agriculture and the use of machinery has always been impossible. It was therefore, and I love this sentence: "Too expensive to make economic wine." There soils have never been exposed to chemical entrants: this means the region was never touched by copper for the first half of the 20th century or with the advent of herbicide, pesticide, chemical fertilizers, conservatives, etc…
When he purchased the estate, it was completely abandoned. It is spread out over 22 parcels at 600m in altitude. Ten of those are young vines planted by the couple: the first in '05, then in '09 and '10. The other 12 are old vines between 40 and 60 years old, and most of these are rented. The estate totals 10 hectares, and its' "heart" is the lieu-dit Le Coste, a clos overlooking Lake Bolsena. It's comprised of 8 parcels, all with different heigh, exposition and soil.
Half of the estate was planted by hand in massale, and the other half is franc de pied. Everything is trained in Albarello.
In an argument you almost never hear, Gian Marco plans to tear out all of his old vines bit by bit. He told us us that their only real use will be providing him with selection massales when he replants.
My initial reaction was shock! Tear out 60 year old vines? What about the vineyard's heritage, its history? How can you want to eradicate a franc de pied's 6 decade journey, its roots digging deeper and deeper into the soil, unlocking the secrets of its terroir?
Gian Marco wasn't having any it:
"Everyone always talks about the importance of old vines. Old vines are great, but one thing people never do is stop and ask themselves "How were these old vines planted?" I'm all for old vines being old and well planted. But the 99% of 'old vines' in Europe were planted post phylloxera: this was a time when guys were nervous about everything. The vines planted were those that resisted best to hardship; the quality of the grapes produced was a secondary concern. It was also a time where vignaolis were trying all types of crazy shit to keep the bugs away, stuff we now know was completely useless at best and often times harmful to the soil and vines. In many cases this led to the vines sprouting wild and unproductive roots.
When I replant my young vines, with my selection massales, on my land and with my hands, I will know that conditions were optimal. I will know their history and their origin, so no matter how old they are I know they are the best vines!"
It's definitely a compelling argument.
The farm and vineyards are worked biodynamically, with zero animal compost. They never work the soil, preferring to let wild grass grow freely and working in polyculture to promote a natural, balanced ecosystem.
"We leave the vines alone unless they tell us they need something."
Le Coste is as unique a terroir as you are going to find anywhere, due to its infinitely complex soil composition and micro-climactic variations.
The soil can be summarized as volcanic, but this would be underselling it: Gian Marco explained that when the volcanic eruptions that shaped his soils occurred, they spread an innumerable amount of different stones far and wide into the landscape. The one you find the most of is Basaltic, but even then, he was able to show us three separate and completely different types of it: one was very dense and heavy while another was much lighter, with visible air holes ("These were baked like a loaf of bread."). Some were solid and other would break apart when smashed. There is also a heavy presence of Lapillo, which are volcanic cinders. You also find limestone and a tiny bit of clay on the surface. And because the result of these volcanic eruptions placed everything randomly, effectively every single parcel has different soil composition. Check out these pics of three different hillsides:
As far as micro-climates go, you'd think you were in Burgundy.
As mentioned earlier, the 8 parcels in the Le Coste vineyard all have different soils, expositions and height. The vineyard follows the edge of the lake, taking the shape of South-East to South-West arc; so when the sun rises the parcels furthest to the East bask in sunshine while the rest of the vineyard waits for its time in the sun. This also means that it's never the same temperature at any time, in any parcel:
"The terroir IS the lake! You can be in this parcel, which is exposed South East and closer to the lake, and be freezing cold at 2pm. But if you walk over to to one that's full south, it's T-shirt weather."
Gian Marco continued the tour by showing us where he keeps his vegetal compost. Digging his hands deep inside the pile, he pulled out two big handfuls, stuck it in my face and said:
I was a little freaked out since my mind associates compost with cow shit, something I don't want stuck in my face… I politely took a big whiff and to my relief the poopy odor I dreaded turned out to be the smell of grass and dirt. It smelled like nature. After having smelt the compost's pleasant odor, I was less grossed out when we he exclaimed:
"It's still fermenting! It's warm! Feel it!".
He wasn't kidding: the compost had the heat and texture of freshly baked brownies.
Let me help you stop thinking of dung brownies with this gratuitous dog picture I couldn't use anywhere else.
It was getting dark so we started wrapping up our vineyard time.
Before leaving, Gian Marco showed us the little enclaves dug into the hillside of one of his parcels, which used to hold animals. He keeps his biodynamic preparations in the old pigsty because the temperature is perfect. And in the old stable he makes beer with INDIGENOUS white grape yeasts.
It wasn't finished fermenting, but it was delicious.
We then got to check out the cellar, which is in the middle of the village.
The cellar is 400 years old, and for Gian Marco it's a dream come true. He only uses it for vinification, and the first room contains the stainless steel tanks and open chestnut vats for longer fermentations.
Further along, you reach a narrow hallway full with little grottos on the side (he plans to use these to cellar bottles in the future).
This leads you to the oak barrel room.
We tasted a gazillion things, ranging from an 09 orange wine to still fermenting 2011's, but the highlight for me was tasting a red aged in cherry tree oak. It smelled like eau de vie (in a good way), and tastes like nothing I've ever had before.
About the vast number of cuvées, Gian Marco makes a good point:
"It goes right back to the terroir. I really try not to blend my different parcels, and I also like vinifying and bottling single parcel cuvées. You've seen them: it would be a shame otherwise."
Expect to taste a lot of these in the near future because Kevin ordered a bunch.
After a 6 hour visit, we thanked Gian Marco and Clémentine. Their 1 year old Camille was sad to see us go.
We drove to Rome, ate dinner, fell asleep and took our planes home the following morning.
Tune in tomorrow for the epilogue!
After our quick visit to Massa Vecchia, we were off to Isola Del Giglio to visit Francesco Carfagna of Altura. The only way to get to the island is by ferry, and Francesco had warned us that the Tyrrhenian Sea would be rough today. Kevin McKenna, our Italian Portfolio Relationship Manager (I.P.R.M), made a quick judgment call and decided we'd brave the sea and go anyway.
Francesco wasn't kidding: the boat was going up and down like a huge seesaw the entire trip and I got very, very sea sick. Kevin and Josefa were totally fine, and don't quote me on this since my head was in a garbage can 75% of the ride over, but they seemed slightly amused by my misfortune. You might remember me getting car sick for the first time in my life in yesterday's post, and Kevin was observant enough to call my nausea "two for one day." Later Alex would go on to say:
"Today really took it out of you. Literally!"
Finally, we got to the island! Once a military stronghold for the Roman Empire, today it is little more than a tourist destination. It's incredibly packed during the summer, but almost abandoned otherwise: 600 people spread over three main villages live there year round.
A big part of what Francesco -who is the ONLY person making and bottling Giglio wine independently- is trying to do with Altura is:
"To take strong action against environmental and social decay by preserving an outstanding wine heritage. This means joining together to foster pride in the island's inhabitants, to create a future that is lively and well lived, not an inhuman shell dried up by a tourist village economy."
Francesco cares about Giglio: originally from Rome, he would vacation here with his father and he fell in love with the island when he was 8. As a young man, he became a high school teacher in his hometown, but quickly grew to hate it. In 1985, he decided to quit (and in the process lose his pension) to move to the island. Without a lira to his name, he found ways to manage and eventually opened Arcobalena, a small restaurant and wine bar, in 1987.
He then met and fell in love with a young woman named Gabriella, who came for a summer vacation and never left. They ran the restaurant together until 1999, when an opportunity to buy an old house with abandoned vineyards on the south side of the island presented itself.
"When I showed up to the appointment, the owner said: 'Let me show you the house.' I told him I wanted to see the vineyards! He was shocked, and told me I was the first person who'd ever asked him that! It wasn't too hard to seal the deal…"
Francesco, who refers to himself as a "fat old man.", is now 60 and a staple in Giglio. He's got a happy go lucky personality, speaks good English and has a lively sense of humor. He's also a talented singer and musician, and every year to celebrate harvest he and his family (who all play instruments) perform a concert at the foot of the vineyard. He lives in Castello, the island's main town.
At 550 meters of elevation, it's Giglio's main (non beach) attraction because of the incredible remains of its' castle town.
The town is still inhabited, and Arcobalena is located in the center of it.
Walking through the narrow alleys and up winding and twisting staircases, I couldn't help but feel that I'd been here before. A past life perhaps?
Then it hit me! I'd never been here before but I'd seen it in film! This castle town could be non other than the setting for one of the climactic final scenes of the 1985 classic Gymkata!
For those of you not familiar with the plot of Gymkata, please brush up on the film's surprisingly detailed wikipedia page. The final test of "The Game" is to go through the "Village of the Crazies", where after a valiant gymnastics infused martial arts display against the villagers, John Cabot is finally surrounded. Fortunately, there just so happens to be a rock in the middle of the village that looks and functions exactly like a Pommel Horse, which Johnny uses to his advantage by pommel-horse-karate-kicking his enemies into submission before escaping.
Though I'd convinced myself otherwise, it turns out that after some extensive research the film was actually shot in Yugoslavia. Oops.
Francesco had brought us here for an aperitif at Arcobalena. This year was his first at Vini di Vigniaoli and this led to the subject of the natural wine movement in Italy. Francesco isn't comfortable with the term, preferring to use "Alive Wine." He isn't jumping on the bandwagon either; to prove it he pointed to the original 1987 Arcobalena sign:
For those too lazy to use Google Translate, the sign says: "Alive Wine and Kitchen".
After the aperitif, it was off to check out Francesco's cellar.
It's located directly below where he lives, an old light house he reconverted with his wife Gabriella. You can see it all the way to the right of the picture below.
It was at this point that I declared: "this shit is crazy."
Just two days earlier the Dolomites' beauty had captivated me, but this was more than just pretty scenery: it suddenly hit me that I was about to taste wine made in a cellar under a lighthouse from grapes indigenous to a tiny island off of Tuscany. It made me wonder how so many "somms" only drink Burgundy and Southern Rhone because they're the "best wines in the world". It's a shame that wines like Altura's are too often overlooked by boring, close minded people because, as I was about to discover, they are as unique as the island itself.
In the cellar, Francesco let us taste the 2010 white and red, the latter still in barrel and quite delicious: fresh, mineral, bright fruit, lively acidity and serious drinkability.
The 2011's were also very promising, although the fermentations are very slow this year, particularly for the red.
The unexpected treat of the tasting was Arcobalena's house wine, a Sangiovese Francesco makes himself. This stuff is the definition of Glou-Glou, and as official Taste Maker for Current and Future Markets (T.M.C.F.M), I pleaded for him to bottle it for us! Francesco told us we weren't the first to ask, but unfortunately the low quantity and extra manual labor (the family bottles and labels everything themselves) wouldn't make it worthwhile. For now...
Francesco closed up shop and we were off to Arcobalena for dinner.
Francesco's son, Mattia, is the chef there, and his specialty are his cured anchovies. He's developed quite a reputation for them in Italy, and is hoping to expand his production so he can sell them to restaurants across the country. I sincerely hope so: in an incredibly quotable moment, Josefa said:
"These are the anchovies that converted me to liking anchovies."
And at our Montesecondo visit, Silvio said:
"Man, those are some of the best anchovies I've ever had in my life!"
Silvio LOVES anchovies and apparently gets antisocial when good ones are around because he can't focus on anything else.
It was a great meal full of fresh fish and complimented by an Altura vertical of the last three vintages. Alex went as far as saying that Altura is the best anchovy wine he's ever had and it was his favorite pairing of the trip so far. "They actually make each other taste better." We left well fed and ready to visit the vines in the morning.
When we woke up, it was official: though it had rained a little bit the day before, our good weather streak was over. The village was gray, windy and rainy, but Alex and I still wanted to explore the castle town a little bit.
Francesco then picked us up and it was off to the vines.
Before I go any further, I really need to stress that no pictures can aptly do this site justice. You just have to be there to understand how special it is: the terraces, the water channels, the view of sea... It's just something else.
Isolated on the south side of the island, the only way to access the vines is to take a small dirt road that can only be navigated with four wheel drive. The rain and wind was picking up but Alex was still able to get some great shots of the site.
When the Carfagna's took over the 4 hectares of vines, they were abandoned. This was great for the purity of the soil, but also meant a ton of work. The family rooted and ripped out all the weeds, and rebuilt thousands of meters of dry stone walls and water channels.
The oldest vines are 60 to 70 years and franc de pied, but since the land was abandoned, only a minority are still producing fruit today. Francesco re-grafted, and planted young vines 10 years ago on American rootstock. Everything is selection massale. They also began training the vines, some in Guyot but mostly in Albarello. The soil is granite.
There is no choice but to do everything by hand (not that Francesco would do it any other way), and the harvesters have to carry the grapes from the bottom to the top of the hill before loading them onto a four wheel drive truck.
Our ferry back to the mainland was at 10:30, so we hurried back to the Port. I made sure to buy some motion sickness medicine.
But when we got there, we were informed that the sea was even rougher than yesterday!
We were told that if the conditions are like this in the morning, they most likely won't get any better later in the day. We were marooned!
Francesco fell in love with the word and ended up using it at least 50 times during the rest of the day. He was also delighted because now we had no choice than to have lunch at the lighthouse. He pulled out the big guns with this local fish.
The aperitif consisted of Francis Boulard and Coste Piane, and marked the beginning of a 4 hour lunch.
Around 1 hour and 34 minutes into lunch, Francesco's buddy Pietro swung by for a glass.
Pietro is an important guy on the island and you have him to thank if you've ever drank a bottle of Altura anywhere other than Giglio: he's the guy that ships all exports and imports to and from the island.
Gabriella also showed me this AWESOME ad she'd just received in the mail for graphically designed stainless steel tanks.
Looking good, Marilyn!
2 hours after lunch we returned to Arcobalena for dinner. We somehow managed to eat all five courses (although Kevin and Josefa had half portions of everything).
The plan was to grab the 6:30 am ferry because at this time the sea is at its' calmest. Kevin tried to gracefully bow out from the table, but we weren't allowed to leave before Francesco could sing us a little tune on the piano. The instrument was out of tune but it didn't really matter, since he stole the show with his singing; that guy can wail!
All of a sudden one of his friends got on the drums, then some other guy was playing guitar and they had a full band going! Francesco kept impressing us with his serious tuneage, and Gabriella broke out into an interpretive dance. It was a great way to be cast off, and after many thanks we finally got back to our rooms for a little shut eye.
We woke up to a cold, windy morning, but nothing as bad as the eve. We gathered our stuff, drove to the port and I took a Dimenidrinato. We pulled up to the ferry for the woman at the ticket booth to tell us the last thing we wanted to hear: the sea was still too rough! We'd have to wait and see if we could take the 9:30.
After three hours semi passed out in the car, I woke up to a mob of people storming the ticket booth! The ferry was leaving, and people wanted out. After all there was a two day back-up of people trying to leave! Kevin fended off an angry German family and made sure we got our tickets. A rainbow light the sky and we were on our way!
Tune in tomorrow for the grand finale of The Italy Chronicles, detailing our 6 hour visit to Le Coste and my epilogue!
Sorry once again for the lapse in posts. For reasons you'll discover in part 8, I haven't been able to have any real internet access until today. Fortunately for you guys, I'm back in the U.S of A where the internet flows freely from everywhere.
After our visit at Cerreto Libri, it was off to visit the lovely ladies over at Sanguineto for an overnight stay and a tour of the farm and cellar in the morning.
Dora Forsoni runs the farm alone with her life and business partner Patrizia Castiglioni. This is not an exaggeration; Dora takes care of 100% of the vine maintenance, meaning she works the soil, prunes and ties every vine of her 3.5 hectare estate by herself; the only time someone else ever steps foot in the vines is during harvest when a small team of friends helps out.
As you could imagine, Dora is one tough cookie.
For starters she is a renown hunter: the season just started and she's already nabbed four 70 kilo deer. In her own words:
"4 deer, 4 bullets. I shot each one straight in the heart! Only males, because they make the best trophies."
Please don't read into that as some kind of feminist thing: Dora showed us the heads (trophies), which she simply explained make better mantle pieces because of the antlers. Obviously she eats every last bit of each animal, and butchers them herself.
She's been working the family farm her entire life, and learned everything she knows about agriculture, viticulture and vinification from her father; her work in the vineyards therefore leans less on philosophy and more on tradition; a tradition that results in much purer, honest wine than 99% of her neighbors.
She can't weigh more than 110 pounds (and I'm being generous).
When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by Ali, the dog pictured above. His specialty is catching rabbits, and they can't let him loose on the farm, otherwise the free roaming chickens and geese would be in for it.
Dora let us in and told us she was glad we were here. In the kitchen she was roasting freshly picked chestnuts and preparing a wild board stew (from meat she'd hunted a few days earlier) with polenta.
I've always had a thing for wild boar because of the french comic strip Astérix, where the Gauls are constantly seen eating sanglier.
It was one of the best dishes I've ever had. Josefa had thirds.
Right after we got in, someone called Dora on her cellphone and she said she couldn't talk because she was with her importer Kevin. The person didn't seem to understand, because unlike France where Kevin (pronounced Keveen) and Steeve (pronounced Steeeeve) have become popular names in the last decade, a name like Kevin sounds unfamiliar to the Italian ear. Dora explained:
"Kevin! Kevin! Like Kevin Costner! Haven't you seen Balla coi Lupi?"
This caught on at dinner, and for the rest of the meal, Mr. McKenna was referred to as:
"Kevin Costner: Balla coi Lupi".
Besides the food and hilarious 90's movies references, Dora keyed us in on some interesting aspects of her work and that of her neighbors. First of all, I've never met a grower who so passionately expresses how much they love their wine.
With every bottle opened, Dora exclaimed how "fantasic" and "beautiful" and "delicious" it was without a shred of pomp or attitude. In the context of our meal, it was hard to disagree.
I really think my father was on to something when he wrote that a to truly understand a wine, you need to understand the person who made its personality.
Dora is as much part of her terroir as the indigenous grapes that grow from her sandy clay soils: she emanates a sense of place and local tradition, and you can taste her passion in each bottle.
A poignant example would be her choice to vinify and bottle a Toscana Bianco. At dinner, she explained that traditionally Nobile would be blended with up to 10% white grapes to lighten the color and alcohol. But she loves her grapes so much (both the whites and the reds), that she refuses to blend them so that they can better express themselves on their own. She pointed to her glass of white and said:
"This is MY Nobile!".
The final noteworthy comment was about this year's harvest. Most of Italy had a very hot 2011 harvest, and Montelpulciano was no exception. Dora had to start her harvest early in late August. By the time she was halfway done, her neighbors were just starting.
"I harvested at optimal maturity and my alcoholic potential this year got close to 15%! Either my neighbors will be blending their juice with a lot of water or they won't be making any wine this vintage."
Bets are in for what's most likely to happen...
In the morning, we checked out the vines.
Most of the vines on the estate were planted in 1963 by Dora's father.
"He taught me that you make good wine by working well in the vineyard. To work in harmony with the vines, to listen to them to take care of them. To make a good broth, you need a good chicken!"
The vines are all selection massale and franc de pied due to a technique that Dora learned from her father where she allows a shoot to come off from the base of the vine, which eventually caps off the old stump and lets the new shoot take over as the producing vine.
Her next door neighbors have just torn out their vines for the third time since Dora's were planted in order to make way for another generation of uber-productive clones pumped full of fertilizer.
The ground is worked twice a year, and Dora lumps soil around the bottom of of each vine during the winter (buttage) to better resist the cold. She undoes this (debuttage) in the spring.
After our tour of the vines it was cellar time.
As far as vinification goes: maceration on the skins and alcoholic and malolactic fermentation occur in large concrete tanks. You could hear the 2011's still fermenting. Dora exclaimed: "They are singing to me and to each other!". The song went something like this:
"Bloop. Bloop. Bloop Bloop. Bloop."
The wine is then then racked to large oak vats (30 hl) and aged for a minimum of two years, then bottled. Dora's father bottled his wine independently and his last vintage was in 1978 (Dora says they are still delicious to this day). For reasons unclear, Dora sold her grapes to the cooperative until 1997 when she bottled her first vintage herself.
The red wine is always a blend of Canaiolo, Prugnolo Gentile (a type of Sangiovese characterized by big, juicy berries) and Mammolo. The blend varies each year but is the same for each cuvée, which are bottled according to years aged in wood.
One exception is the I.G.T Rosso Toscano. This wine is made with a strain of 40 year old Sangiovese called Nero Toscano, sees 6 months on average for alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in concrete, and is then aged two years in oak.
We tasted a few 2010's, but more importantly the 09's which are about to be bottled. Though the fruit is young and the tannins are strong, there is already a great balance on the palate with pronounced minerality and sharp acidity. It's definitely drinkable now, but should start showing its' full potential in 5 years.
Much to Ali's regret, after our tasting we had to jet over to Massa Vecchia.
There is no highway to get there, and since the estate is in the mountains, one must navigate the most twisty-turny route any of us have ever experienced to accomplish this.
Because we were late, Alex and Kevin were driving like mad men, taking those turns like Formula 1 racers. Mind you that I hadn't eaten breakfast because, although it is customary to eat insanely large dinners at Sanguineto, apparently breakfast is out of the question. When I woke up nothing was set on the table and all Dora offered me was coffee.
The combination of an empty stomach, having just tasted a large amount of tannic and acidic red wines, twisty roads and Kevin's Michael Schumacher impersonation was too much. For the first time in my life, I got violently car sick. Luckily, Alex noticed something was wrong when I stuck my head out of the window and promptly pulled over. I rushed out in the nick of time and luckily, things didn't get messy.
Our Massa Veccia visit was to be a quick one and we were late. Kevin looked around and made some phone calls but Francesca was nowhere to be found. I took advantage of this to eat some white chocolate with macadamia nuts, the only thing I could find in the car.
Alas it was looking like we'd missed our chance and the most we were going to get out of the visit was my nausea and this picture Alex took of a donkey.
Kevin wrote a note on the two pack Dora had given us for Francesca and we hopped in the car. Alex turned on the engine and was about to pull out when we heard a van driving up the road. It was none other than Francesca Sfrondrini!
After letting us into the cellar, Francesca gave us the lowdown on 2011. It was a difficult vintage, and she joked that right around harvest they were worried that they would be stuck with "1000 kilos of Passito!". They started in late August, and a few days of rain, along with some much needed cool nights, saved the day. In the end it will be a great vintage for the whites and for Sangiovese in higher elevations (which they possess).
If necessary, a small pied de cuve is made in this concrete tank.
Everything is then fermented in open chestnut vats, with the exception of the Rosato which is made in stainless.
Francesca explained that they prefer working with big, neutral barrels.
The Querciola, made from 72 year old vines planted by Francesca's great-grandfather, is aged in the old, larger Rinaldi barrel you can see to my left.
Francesca also has some small cherry and chestnut barrels reserved for making their Sangiovese Vin Santo.
Side Note: Francesca has the coolest pony tail I've ever seen.
As of this year, a new law passed that the wine has to be pressed before Christmas to be given the Vin Santo title. Francesca explained, however, that for the Sangiovese style, traditionally one does not press until late January, which is what she did. When Kevin asked why this law was passed the answer was simple:
"It benefits big companies who mass produce Passito."
In such, they will be obliged to label the wine as Passito, which is technically false because unlike other straw wine, Vin Santo is made by hanging hand picked grapes to dry from rafters as opposed to laying them out to dry. Another distinction is that they are then fermented and aged in small cherry, chestnut or pear tree barrels and aged for much longer than the average Passito (up to ten years). Whenever she ends up bottling it, Francesca plans to explain on the back label that the wine was made traditionally but that the law forces them to label it incorrectly.
The visit was ending when I noticed a box that said: "Etichette McKenna."
Kevin wants you to know that, as official Verifier of Winery Import Label Management (V.W.I.L.M), everything at Massa Veccia is in order.
Tune in tomorrow (I promise! It's already written!) for our crazy adventures visiting Altura on the Isola del Giglio!
Two rectifications from yesterday's post. The soils where Elisabetta Foradori grows her Nosiola and Manzoni Bianco is actually LIMESTONE and not clay and the method primarily used to make frizzante in Emilia-Romagna is CHARMAT and not Champenoise. Both these errors have been rectified in the original post.
We began our visit at Montesecondo (check out the dead toad we found that looks exactly like the estate's logo!) by visiting Silvio's cantina.
I swear he was more excited to see us than he looks in the picture. Silvio had a very challenging 2011 harvest but after some initial worries the wine is turning out to be just fine. We tasted a tank sample of the 2011 young vine Sangiovese which spent a lot of time on the lees that had very good acidity and lively fruit. The old vine Sangiovese was darker in color and more concentrated in fruit and minerality.
We then tasted some old vine Sangiovese that had been fermented in amphora. Silvio got his inspiration from tasting Foradori amphora wines, and he uses the same ones as Elisabetta. The juicy quality of the fruit and lighter body of the wine reminded me of Beaujolais.
Before heading to the cellar, Silvio offered to let us taste a vat of 100% Colorino yet to be blended into this year's Chianti Classico. Colorino is an indigenous varietal traditionally blended with Sangiovese and Canaiolo to make Chianti; it used to be way more prominent but the D.O.C's aspirations to emulate Bordeaux in the last 30 years have seen it all but disappear, and instead it has been replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
We then made a quick trip to the cellar where Silvio blended a sample from three barrels of what will be the Chianti Classico 2010. Put your orders in early: It's fresh, lively, delicious, and will be bottled in January.
Here's Kevin's "Wine Spectator Editorial" pic.
It was then time to take a tour of the vines.
All of Silvio's vines surround his house, and are composed of three separate and distinct soil types: the vineyards closest to the village are sandy soils, the lower blocks are clay and and the top of the hill is composed of heavy clay and Galestro (heavy alluvial rocks similar to the galets ronds in Chateauneuf).
First we checked out some clusters of Trebbiano and Malvasia still hanging out and waiting to be harvested to make Passito.
After a tour of the Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino vines, Silvio filled us in on an innovative experiment of his which seemingly will shape the look and style of the vineyard in the future.
Guyot is the typical vine-tending system in Chianti, but Silvio feels that he's had a great deal of frustration dealing with an excess in leaves, which he feels smothers the vines. In such - and continuing the pattern of our vignaiolis questioning and changing their vine-tending to better suit their work- Silvio has begun planting and re-grafting many vines in the Albarello (goblet) style.
He feels that this way the grapes can hang loose, not be bunched up and benefit from more air. Furthermore, he is planting them on attached poles with each vine quite separated from the next in order to avoid having to use wires in the future but also to give each vine enough space and soil for it excel.
As far as he knows, he is the only person doing this in Chianti.
After a "light" lunch at Silvio's house, we were off to visit Rufina and Fattoria Cerreto Libri.
The 80 hectare farm is headed by Andrea Zanfei and is run biodynamically.
Andrea explained that the farm dates back to the 19th century around the time of Leopold the 2nd. It used to be organized by separate houses: many small houses were spread across the land for shape croppers, one house was for workers and animals (usually filled with two families or one big family of as many as 20 people), another was reserved for the land manager, and finally the main residence belonged to the owner, who naturally had servants. All in all about 50 people lived on and actively worked the land.
The vines had never been a priority up until the last ten years, and Andrea jokingly explained that the parcels are spread across the farm like "leopard spots".
Before entering the cellar, Andrea showed us his de-stemmer, which Kevin thinks is probably one of the earliest models ever made.
He also showed us a huge pile of gross lees.
Then it was off to the cellar.
Everything is fermented in these beautiful concrete tanks.
Andrea only fills them up to about 75% and never presses the grapes. The fermentation is therefore a pseudo semi-carbonic maceration but with with numerous remontages and in concrete. No new oak is ever used for aging. Sulfur is never used during vinification or at bottling.
From concrete we tasted a tank of 2011, and a 2007 Chianti Rufi re-racked from barrel which Andrea plans to bottle in a month or two. It was light and easy with bright fruit and the wood wasn't overbearing but rather well integrated.
We also tasted some 2010 in tank without wood, some Canaiolo 09 in barrel and a standout Sangiovese 09 in barrel that had ripe, young fruit and strong vibrant acidity. Looks like it'll be a keeper.
Here's my "Wine Spectator Editorial" pic.
Tune in tomorrow for the Tuscan Takeover: Part 2!
I know, I know. While this post was written yesterday, it could only be posted today due to lack of time and internet access. The rhythm of the trip has picked up, and while I promise to write a post recapping each day, I can't guarantee I'll be able to update as regularly as I have been (though I'll try my best).
After tasting at Monte dall' Ora, we hopped in the car and an hour and a half later we were eating dinner on top of an 800 meter mountain in Elisabetta Foradori's house.
This is my first time in the Dolomites, and it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in my life. As the photos prove, everything is a landscape, and it's no surprise Elisabetta's wines come from such an inspiring area.
After breakfast we headed back down to Trentino to visit Elisabetta's main site where she works the 15 hectares she owns. In an experience that paralleled our Angiolino Maule visit, the traditional method of vine tending in Trentino is Pergola but Elisabetta has progressively replanted all 15 hectares in Guyot from a selection massale of her best Pergola vines (a few rows remain untouched and go into the Granato).
Elisabetta confirmed Francesco's point about Pergola's high yields: her Guyot vines yield about 40hl/h while her neighbors' average 150.
We also bore witness to neighboring vines already pruned and green harvested in early November! Essentially the vignaiolis are tricking the vines into thinking its' a different season (winter) so they shut down and hibernate early. In the Spring they kick start them back up with fertilizers which ultimately leads to, you guessed it, much higher yields. Elisabetta considers this a shame and a tragedy.
In the cellar, we got to taste some 2011 samples of whites and reds that had been fermented in tank and in amphora.
The amphoras that Elisabetta use are not the traditional Greek or Georgian kind and do not have any bees wax on the inside.
Only one Spanish producer makes a limited amount of these each year, and they are hard to come by.
Elisabetta has accumulated a serious collection, and they bring an unparalleled freshness to what could easily be much heavier wines.
After an extensive cellar tour, we went to check out the 3 hectares of vines Elisabetta rents.
This is where she grows her Manzoni Bianco and the Nosiola that goes into the Fontanasanta. Fontanasanta is a lieu-dit which means holy fountain. Low and behold, there is it!
This is a very unique terroir for the grapes: limestone with a pink hue due to a very strong presence of iron.
Our next stop was in Emilia-Romagna to visit Camillo Donati.
We checked out his new cellar which overlooks his vines. After tasting some 2011 tank samples Camillo kindly explained his vinification process.
Everything begins in an old concrete tank from 1968 that originally belonged to Camillo's mentor Ovidio (the "Ovidio" cuvée, made with Corvina grapes, is named after him).
The tank has only ever been washed with hot water, and has accumulated over 40 years of tartaric deposits, which is one of the secrets of Camillo's process (the Baudry's do the same thing with their concrete tanks).
In this tank he makes a pied de cuve for each varietal. The juice remains in this tank for a maximum of 3 days for the whites and 7 days for the reds.
The rest of the grapes are then harvested, destemmed, pressed and placed in stainless steel vats on the skins. After fermentation he racks off the gross lees but keeps the fine lees, which are essential for the wines to referment in bottle. If the residual sugar is where he wants it to be (12-18 g per l), he leaves the wines as is, but since he lets them reach their maximum alcoholic fermentation, the wines are often dry so he blends it with his Malvasia Dolce.
This is the traditional way to make Emilia-Romagna Frizzante, but almost all producers in the area now use charmat method, which for Camillo completely defies the purpose of making this style of wine in the first place:
"Those who have settled for Methode Charmat are missing out on the beauty of life and have settled for monotony."
We then checked out the vines, which have all been planted by Camillo in -you guessed it- Guyot on heavy clay soils.
So far all of the vineyards we've visited have been beautiful, and Camillo's were no exception.
We ended the visit by tasting the 2010's, which took longer than usual to referment and have just been released (they should just be getting to the States). We tasted the only way one should when drinking Donati: alongside local panchetta and aged Parmesan (a 24 month, a five year and a 10 year). The 2010's are spot on, particularly the Malvasia Rosa (with 5% Barbera) and the very lively and fresh Lambrusco.
Stay tuned for part six with visits to Montesecondo and Cerreto Libri (profile coming soon)!
I apologize to any insomniac readers eagerly anticipating a 4:30 am post.
After a wild night at Boys Alternative Disco, it was off to visit Angiolino Maule. When we arrived, we were a little shocked to see one of his dogs hanging out on the roof.
Angiolino was off harvesting his olives, which he uses to make oil for personal consumption, so his son Francesco gave us a tour of the vines.
With the exception of a few rows, every vine of the estate has been planted by Angiolino over the years in Guyot as opposed to Italy's traditional Pergola. When I asked why, Francesco answered: "quality". While Pergola vine tending is used in hotter climates to protect the grapes from the sun, Francesco explained that in the case of Garganega, the principle variety used at the estate, the grape does not benefit in any way from this type of vine tending, and vigniaolis hide behind this excuse because Pergola vines are much more productive, which results in higher yields.
For those who don't know, Angiolino is the founder of Vinnatur, what I consider to be the most forward thinking and progressive association dedicated to natural wine. Vinnatur is more than a group of vignerons working the same way: it's an institution dedicated to exploration, research and analysis of what goes on in the vineyards -and most importantly in the soil- in order to find reliable and proven methods to work as naturally as possible. Francesco told us their ultimate goal is to eliminate mildew and oidium in order to stop using copper and sulphur treatments, which he and his father feel are the final step to producing 100% natural wines.
Francesco showed us a small plot of six rows that is funded by Vinnatur; in each row a different technique is used (he didn't elaborate further) in order to observe the results and report back to a laboratory in hopes of finding an answer. While they're still searching, one thing is certain: this answer lies in the soil.
Francesco explained that vines have only suffered chronic illness like mildew and oidium since the beginning of chemical warfare, the very same technology which ultimately led to the creation of all chemical products used in industrial agriculture today. In just 70 years the soils have completely shifted in their composition, and while Angiolino and Vinnatur hope to find out why and rectify this, he acknowledges that even if they do we have many generations of work ahead of us to bring the soil back to its' original state...
Francesco then showed us their new cellar at the very top of a beautiful hill surrounded by the family's vineyards. The installation is completely solar powered, and is much more spacious than the one currently used. They also plan to build a tasting room and a kitchen for parties, and maybe have the top floor converted to a bed and breakfast. 2012 will be the first vintage produced here.
Well, that's not entirely true, as the Maule's have begun using a specifically designed open air room to hang the grapes that will become this vintage's Recioto.
Francesco says that this room is much better than the one they were currently using because the elevation provides a more steady and constant wind which greatly benefits the drying of the grapes.
We ended our visit by tasting some 2011 barrel samples, currently bottled releases and a special treat no one knew existed:
Angiolino loves Chenin Blanc and planted 3 rows of it for fun. It was a very unique expression of the variety to say the least. Everything's tasting great, by the way.
45 minutes later we were being greeted by Carlo Venturini and Alessandra Zantedeschi at Monte dall' Ora.
After touring the beautiful vines and checking out the cellar, we tasted some 2011 tank samples. Carlo and Alessandra are both very satisfied with 2011 and expect great things. They promised me a bunch of pictures and videos of the harvest so expect that to be up on the site soon.
The visit ended with Carlo talking very passionately about biodymanic viticulure. More or less in his own (Italian) words:
"All organic agriculture is telling you to do is not to use any chemicals. For me biodynamic agriculture means you're always searching for something, always learning and always trying to move forward. It's a way to open my eyes every day and see something different, something new. It lets me face problems as they come along, to work with nature and to find a solution.
When we first started the estate in 1995, we knew that an environment where we had to use chemicals so harmful that masks were required was not a place we'd want to raise our children. We wanted to work traditionally, but we didn't know what that meant. Back then, the concept of organic and biodynamic agriculture wasn't common knowledge; I only discovered these practices in 2004.
Biodynamic work is a way for me to learn how to work traditionally; a link to how our ancestors did things before technology and philosophy took over. It's not about if the treatments work or not, or to be dogmatic about lunar cycles and root days. It's simply a way to look at the vineyards in a different way."
Hmmm. Seems like these guys are on to something...
Anyway I'm very tired and need to go to bed. A domani!
Who says Italians don't celebrate Halloween?!
We began yesterday by visiting Giovanni Campari's brewery just outside of Parma. Giovanni is a young, passionate brewmaster and wine geek, and as Kevin pointed out his beers share Louis/Dressner's wine sensibilities: delicacy, subtle complexity, drinkability and most importantly, balance.
Giovanni (on the far left of the photo below) was kind enough to explain his brew process step by step, which begins with carefully selected blends of malt from France, Belgium, Germany and Italy that end up aging in his impressive collection of old oak barrels (wine and whisky) from America, Italy and Sweden.
His take on beers I usually find offensive and overdone, particularly his Sally Brown Oatmeal Ale and Ultima Luna sour beer, were full of life and flavor (and low alcohol!), and proved to be real revelation. We have Alex Finberg to thank for making this visit happen.
We then returned to Fornovo for round 2 of Vini di Vignaioli. We missed a pulse -pounding conference on the use of sulphur in winemaking, which in the words of Francesco Maule, was "scandalous" and delivered by a man who had "lost his mind ten years ago."
From what I was able to gather from various sources, the speech was a great introduction to sulphur being harmful in winemaking if it had been presented the general public, but was pretty useless in a room full of people that not only know this but have been advocating and practicing low or sulphur free winemaking for years.
A few growers we tasted with out of curiosity still might have learned a lesson or two…
It was much calmer than on Sunday, which permitted us to get some good face time with a lot of our growers. I tasted the Cotar wines for the first time and was blown away.
We tasted a few other things new things from new people that we all loved but Josefa Concannon, our National Beverage Strategist (N.B.F) told me that I shouldn't write about them because our competitors might try and steel these prospects from us by bribing them with front row AC Milan tickets and lavish offers of premier placements in all of Las Vegas' coolest hotel restaurants.
Then it was a two hour drive to our hotel in San Bonifacio, which is conveniently located next to an "Alternative Disco", which didn't seem like much more than a strip club. We didn't go in though, so if anyone knows what truly goes on in "Alternative Discos" please let me know.
Finally it was dinner time at I TIGLI, the legendary pizzeria. This used to be Angiolino Maule's joint and its' where he built his reputation as a famous pizzaiolo. They use a mother yeast culture that they've been keeping alive since the 19th century that makes a pizza that pizza experts have called "bomb", "the shit" and "fucking delicious". That pizza expert was me, by the way.
Angiolino's cousin owns it now and its' still very much a family affair: Francesco Maule (who joined us for dinner with his girlfriend Erica) worked there for two years and his brother was in the kitchen making our dinner. The wine list was unsurprisingly great in quality and diversity.
Today we're off to visit Angiolino's Azienda, then Monte Dall' Ora's and finally we will be dining with Elisabetta Foradori at her house and visiting the vines in the morning.
Yesterday was day one of Vini di Vignaioli.
The event is organized by Christine Cogez Mariani, a French woman (with an Italian chef husband) who has certainly succeeded in bringing the best aspects of French and Italian wine culture together at this event.
The logo, which you can see on the photo above (yes I know it's vertical), is simple: people+grape=wine, so you get the idea of kind of wines were at this thing…
The event is open the public and it's basically a big party; Josefa and I were the only schnooks frantically writing anything on a notepad. But it's not all fun and games; all the vignerons bring wine to sell, and its' refreshing to see them ACTUALLY hand sell their wine after people have tasted it. I saw one guy leaving with a shopping cart full of Occhipinti.
We tasted a lot of great stuff. Some standout includes Arianna's Passo Nero, a Castex white from Banyuls and the Guttarolo amphora wines.
We were also able to meet consulting oenologist Marco Digiannovi who introduced us to Campo di Rovere (they work mostly with the best clones of Pinot Greej in Alto Adige). They felt we could truly develop their brand identity in the US, and as part of their marketing budget, they gave me this!
I think we're going to have a very fruitful relationship! It's looking like it's going to be a great trip!
See you tomorrow for part 3!
Reporting from Parma!
Leaving JFK was a nightmare. We experienced record breaking traffic that made Kevin, Josefa and I extremely late for our flights. It seemed like all hope was lost; neither Kevin or I had checked in (we were on different flights) and by the time we got to the airport our planes were leaving within the half hour.
Josefa, our National Beverage Strategist (N.B.F), had her boarding pass so they let her go through security, but things weren't looking so good for me. I had missed the check in cutoff by 40 minutes, and was going to have to find another way to get to Milan.
Meanwhile, Alex Finberg -our Key Account Specialist, Brand Manager and Market Maker for the Pacific Region (K.A.S.B.M.M.M.P.R) over at Farm Wines- was waiting for us at Gate 43. We were keeping him in the loop because for a minute there it seemed like he was going to be off to Milan by himself. In a fortunate twist of fate, he informed me that the catering crew for our flight was extremely late, and that this had also delayed the cleaning of the plane and boarding wasn't anywhere near happening. American Airlines representatives didn't believe me, telling me that there was no sign of the flight being delayed, although a quick call to gate 43 proved otherwise. I was in!
Because Josefa's job is to conquer the Untied States like a game of Beverage Risk, she travels a ton and gets a series of free flight upgrades each year. These are cumulative but you lose them at the end of the year, and since this will be her last international trip of 2011 (a 9 hour trip at that…) she decided to not only use her upgrade to Premier Business Class, but to offer me one! Alex, who has yet to prove himself to the company, was relegated to coach.
The most exciting part of Premier Business Class is that the wines selected for our flight are from non other than award winning sommelier Ken Chase.
Ken is originally from Toronto, but he does such a good job that American Airlines was able to forgive his nationality and hire him anyway.
Ken's worldly selections spanned from Oregon to New Zealand, but the real excitement came from "Chase's Choice", a special selection made just for that flight! I naturally inquired about it and was thrilled to find out it was a Pinotage from South Africa!
It paired incredibly well with my crudités.
Last night we went to a GREAT wine bar in Parma called Tabarro. Diego Sorba, the owner and a friend of Kevin's, has done an incredible job of putting together a diverse and exciting list of wines not only from Italy but France as well. It is very rare in wine countries like Italy to find a bar/merchant who works with wines other than the ones of his country; we Americans have it good in that respect.
Diego speaks incredibly articulate English, and was a gracious and hilarious host. We finished the night in Tabarro's cellar with Diego playing "stump Kevin Mckenna" and bringing us a bottle of (requested) Glou-Glou red from a producer we'd never heard of made with an indigenous grape we didn't know existed. It was delicious.
Today we kick off our Italian trip with the (apparently) very fun Vini dei Vignaioli in Fornovo. I'm looking forward to seeing some of my favorite people there: Arianna Occhipinti, Francesca Padovani, Mauro Vergano, Steffano Belloti and even a few Frenchies like Francis Boulard!
While it is always great to check up on our current growers, the real point of this trip is develop Relationships with new Consulting Oenologists and Brands (preferably with a strong Marketing Budget) to represent and develop in the U.S market!
Stay tuned for part 2!
Many of you may not know that Catherine Roussel loves picking mushrooms. She is fiercely competitive and keeps many of her prized picking locations secret. Because enquiring minds want to know, Catherine was nice enough to write us a 2011 mushroom picking report:
Crappy weather for the vines is a godsend for mushroom pickers like me! As early as August I was already finding Oronges- Orongue is a rare mushroom from the south that you barely see in our area, but we're finding more and more of them due to global warming. Another name for it is "Amanite des Césars" because Roman emperors were quite fond of it...
These days I'm picking a lot of "Trompettes de la Mort". I have to climb down deep into the rouères (a local word for ravines, for example the one that separates Clos Roche Blanche and la Boudinerie), because they only appear in the most humid areas. This also works to my advantage because lazier pickers won't go that far out of their way for mushrooms.
I try not to bring Pif with me because he has a lot of trouble coming back up the hills (some are very steep). I've also picked some "Girolles" and "Pieds de Mouton" but I won't tell you where!
Catherine's home cooking recommendations with mushrooms:
I don't really have any secret recipes. We eat them as is, or "brouillade" (with scrambled eggs) or omelets or ZE BEST: with a guinea hen from Pascal Cazin in Cheverny (editor's note: François Cazin's brother!) in a pressure cooker with chestnuts picked in the same woods. Miam!
by Eddie Wrinkerman
In Glou Glou news, people living in the the very hot state of Tennessee are being pegged by market analysts as being the USA's fastest growing consumer of real Beaujolais after this article by Robin Riddell was pubilshed in yesterday's Tennessean.
Analysts explain that the combination of the state's heat and Beaujolais' light, juicy, refreshing glou glou nature are a match made in heaven and expect to see Beaujolais replace beer as THE thing to drink during summer barbecues. Demand has been skyrocketing since yesterday's article and some retailers just can't keep up.
"We were swamped yesterday!" says Johnny Beauchamp, owner of Beauchamp wines in Nashville. "Everyone that came in only had three things on their mind: Roilette, Coquelet and Brun! We sold out in an hour and had requests all day! One guy even wanted us to special order a palette. We're thinking of instoring a one bottle per customer policy on our next arrival."
Eager to answer the public's high demand for real Beaujolais -already considered the next big marketing trend in the Southern wine industry-, two Tennessee importers, Gulp Gulp Imports and Jonas Clarke Selections, have decided to focus their portfolio entirely on hand-harvested, non-chaptalized, native yeast Beaujolais. Neither importer has found anyone to work with yet.
"We're having a tough time finding exciting new wineries and brands for our consumers." says Clarke "A lot of ground has already been covered in Beaujolais, but I'm confident we'll find something. Demand is as high as our ambition!"
A heated bidding war ended last night when Chuck Mczormik offered 600$ to private Louis/Dressner related T-Shirt collector Jules Dressner for graphic design genius Arnaud Erhart's "Fucking Puzelat" design.
Only ten of these shirts exist, having been printed in Puerto Rico prior to Arnaud's trip to France for Thierry Puzelat's wedding last June. When Dressner announced that the 3 XL T-shirt would be the only one available to the public, bids went from 5 to 600$ in a mere two hours.
Says Mczormik on winning the shirt: " I'm a slender medium so it's a tad baggy on me. But all the girls at my local natural wine bar Le Glou-Glou in Alameda are loving it. It was worth every penny."