To many, Causse Marines is an enigma. Why do they have clown noses on their labels? Why have do you literally know NONE of the grapes they work with? Why do they hate badgers?
Well, let's start off by answering the badger question. Badger translates to blaireau in French, which is slang for, well, an asshole. France also has this rather ridiculous, and very obligatory law that forces every bottle of alcohol to sport a barred out pregnant woman in an effort to instruct them to not drink during those nine months.
With no accompanying text and often less than half an inch in size (proving the pregnant stomach very hard to spot), there is a long running joke amongst vignerons that the logo basically looks like the government telling us that women are not allowed to drink. Highlighting this absurdity, Maisons Brûlées recently spoofed this with their Dernier Née cuvée, making the barred out pregnant woman the actual label.
Virginie Maignien and Patrice Lescarret, proprietors of Causse Marines, don't like assholes or the stupid barred pregnant lady logo, so they created their own logo: a barred blaireau, aka badger, aka asshole.
Sorry assholes: this wine's not for you...
Anyhow, if you want the details on the history of the estate, I recommend reading Causse Marines' profile and Virginie's in-depth interview. In this recap we'll be focusing on the vines. And dog pics.
On a hot July day, we set off to visit the entirety of Causse Marine's holdings.
Today, the vines are all within walking distance of the house. But when Patrice bought the farm in 1993, he had 10h spread all over the place.
"For years, I was playing monopoly, buying pieces of land I didn't want to later exchange with ones I did."
The first parcel we visited is a mix of Mauzac planted in 1928 and Muscadelle planted in 1932.
A large part of this plot is being torn out to replant Mauzac in massale.
Further down, we spotted some Mauzac from the 50's as well as old Prunelard.
Right around here, Patrice recently replanted some Verdanel, yet another indigenous grape no one has ever heard of.
"Before re-planting, Plageoles was the only one to have any!"
Causse Marine's soils are all clay and limestone, though different parts vary in their amount of limestone and rock, which at times can get very chunky.
We visited a lot of vineyards along the way, some of which weren't photographed. Amongst them, old vine Duras that produces Rasdu or Du rat des Paquerettes, Petit Manseng planted in 98, Chenin Blanc planted from Mark Angeli and Huet's massale trimmings (specifically from the Le Bourg parcel), an isolated clos of low yielding Muscadelle that are great for noble rot and, last but not least:
At 0.8 h of Ondenc, you are now laying eyes on the biggest Ondenc parcel IN THE WORLD. If you've never heard of Ondenc, and who can blame you, check out all the synonyms for the grape: Austenq, Béquin, Bergeracois, Blanc de Gaillac, Blanc Select, Blanc Selection Carrière, Blanquette, Blanquette Sucrée, Chaloche, Chalosse, Cu de Brecherou, Doudant Blanc, Doundent, Dourec, Dourech, Fronsadais, Gaillac, Irvine's White, Mauzac, Œil de Tour, Ondain, Ondainc, Ondent, Ondin, Oundenc, Oundenq, Oustenc, Oustenq, Oustenque, Piquepout de Moissac, Plant de Gaillac, Prendiou, Prentiou, Primai, Primaic, Primard, Printiou, Riverain, Sable Blanc, Semis Blanc, Sencit Blanc, Sensit Blanc, and Sercial.
Ok, time for some cellar talk!
From listening to Patrice and Virginie in the cellar, their never-ending goal seems to be the quest for freshness. Both acknowledge that they live in a hot place, and that picking earlier for whites and extracting less for reds have, after years of trial and error, yielded increasingly satisfying results. The cellar remains as experimental as ever, as we tasted skin macerated Mauzac, single varietal vinifications of Duras, Ondenc an absolutely delicious Syrah based Causse Toujours.
After all that tasting, it was time to relax on the hammoc with Tito the dog and Virginie and Patrice's adorable son Abel.
Everything was going great, but a slight disagreement with Abel about the French dubbing of Kung Fu Panda 2 quickly turned ugly:
While I was rushed to the hospital, Kevin and Denyse got to try some old dessert wines from the Causse:
Kevin also got to spend some quality time with Tito.
This visit with Julie Balagny took place in August, 2015.
Words and photos by Jules Dresssner.
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THE BLOG IS LIVE AGAIN!!!!
If you've been following Louis/Dressner Selections for a while then you know we're kind of obsessed with dogs. It all started from the pooch pictured above, Buster. Buster was the best, so much so that rare, revered one off cuvées are named after him!
"The Many Dogs of LDM Travels" will be an off and on series, and is basically an excuse for me to streamline content so that Denyse Louis and our office manager Sheila don't have to skip though all the vineyard pictures and boring terroir talk of my blog posts to get straight to the good stuff: DOGS!
Here is Andrea Zafei of Cerreto Libri's dog Porcupine. She enjoys long runs through the vines and homemade lasagna.
Elena Pantaleoni's magnificent dog Rocco was once shot by a local for trespassing. How many dogs do you know with such a high CUTE to GOT SHOT ratio? You can even see the gunshot wound on his chest!
Baxter over here lives at a lovely bed and breakfast somewhere in Emilia-Romagna. If you don't feed him at the breakfast table, he makes this face:
This sneaky lil' fella was abandoned before the Bera family found him and his twin sister in a shoe box. Those people are assholes!
This is my neighbor Megan's dog Reilly. She is pint sized and very hard to capture photographically cause she's always moving a mile a minute. But I snapped a good one of her!
Stay tuned. So many more dog pics...
Someway somehow, I'd never visited Alain and Fernand Girard. I'm not really sure why; we've been working with them so long that they definitely fall into the "We are going to drag 5 year old Jules and 3 year old Alyce all around France and bore them to death by visiting vignerons for two weeks straight." era of Louis/Dressner Selections. You see, there was a time when Joe and Denyse would spend their entire summers in France visiting growers. And because we were too young to stay at the house by ourselves, that meant we were obligatorily included in these insanely boring road trips. Plus French TV in the summer only played reruns of MacGyver and Knight Rider (aka K-2000)!
So yeah, I wasn't the biggest fan of summer vacation growing up...
But I'm not here to bore you with the past. I'm here to write about WINE STUFF.
Before heading to the vines, Alain Girard gave us a quick introduction to the estate. He took over from his father Fernand about 20 years ago, and is the fifth generation working his land. Here's a great picture from that era:
14 hectares of vines are spread over five communes with three distinct terroirs: gravely soils, flint and heavy clay.
We began the visit checking out the flint soils of Saint-Satur:
This next picture isn't really necessary, but I like how it highlights my R698 EVO's:
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Alain explained that these soils have much later maturities than the others, bringing roundness and tension to the final blend.
Next up, the caillottes, or gravely soils:
The caillottes were formed millions of years ago when the land the vines grow on was an ocean. This terroir brings fruit to the blend.
Last but not least, we visited the beautiful coteaux of Verdigny to check the grosses terres, or heavy clay:
Back in the nineties, the village of Verdigny decided to completely redo this hillside in order to make larger, more regular plots with better drainage. This was done to avoid flooding of the town on the bottom of the hillside (which you can spot in the pics). Prior to this change, many owners had micro-parcels all over the hillsides like in Burgundy. But in order to make this restructuring work, vignerons had to exchange parcels so that their land was more coherent.
After a lovely tour of the vineyards, we got to check out the cellar. As it is so happened, a shipment was on its way to our NY/NJ/PA distributor David Bowler wines!
We began by tasting from many pre-blended 2014 tanks. Alain co-vinifies parcels with similar characteristics in stainless steel vats:
That's right: Alain owns a parcel called "piss pot".
2014 was a tough year due to a very rainy summer. Fortunately, an Indian summer in the fall saved the crop, and the wines have proven very satisfactory.
While tasting these distinct, unblended terroirs, I asked Alain's father Fernand if he'd ever considered making single vineyard or terroir driven cuvées.
- Why not?
- The blend is nice.
-But you never felt some parcels could make a great single vineyard wine?
- I like the blend.
- Have you ever been to the US?
- Have you ever wanted to visit?
Fernand Girard: a man of conviction. A man of few words.
We also got to do a fun flight of Sancerre from the last decade:
As well as this special treat:
Before leaving, we had to pet Alain's girlfriend's dog Gypsy.
CHECK THE AGNANUM PROFILE OVER HERE!
There's an old Italian expression that goes: "Vedi Napoli e poi muori", or "See Naples and Die". I can't really explain why, but any city where traffic is this fucking insane at any random street corner will always have a special place in my heart.
It's worth watching until the end. So many close calls... So few helmets...
Best. Outfit. Ever.
But Napoli isn't just panic-inducing traffic, insane all-night street parties, incredible architecture, delicious pizza and fashionable children. If you head to the Western edge of the city, you find yourself in Campi Flegrei, a unique area on the edge of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Geologically, Campi Flegrei is marked by many large volcanic craters. Combine this with the sea's constant winds and you have a fascinating terroir.
While still within the city limits, much of the area feels desolate and forgotten. However, if you follow the twisty, unkempt roads to the crater of Agnano, there is plenty of beauty to experience at Raffaele Moccia's 4 hectare estate, Agnanum.
All of Raffaele's vines are located on a single, steep hillside overlooking the mainland in all its postindustrial glory.
Here is Agnano's lovely hippodrome:
Fortunately, once you turn away from the urban panoramic, you are treated to an absolutely stunning vineyard site.
The soils here are sand and volcanic ash, with the vines planted on terraces that make mechanization impossible. Terraces have been the traditional way of planting in this area for centuries, but in an all too familiar tale, most growers are abandoning them because it's too much work. Speaking of too much work, Rafaelle has to be very careful with his soils.
"If you don't till, the rain goes right through (the soil) and messes everything up."
To avoid this, he lets grass grow wild to absorb water that would otherwise overfeed the vines. The grass also helps create a layer of moisture that helps cool down the vines.
"I didn't come up with this system. It is very old!"
Rafaelle's land is considered a historical vineyard: the youngest vines are 60 years old and the oldest are "at least" 200. Because his soils are so sandy, everything is planted in franc de pied.
"We're drinking the wines the Romans were drinking. Well, with the help of a more modern cellar!"
2.8 hectares of the native Falanghina are planted for white and 1.2 hectares of Piedirosso for red. The vines are some of the most strangely shaped I've ever witnessed.
Rafaelle described the training system as pergola, yet it doesn't resemble what one usually associates with the term.
At one point, a distinct whiff of sulfur overtook the group. That's because there are nearby sulfur eruptions all the time.
See that smoke in the middle? Sulfur cloud.
As we continued our walk through the vines, Rafaelle explained that there are 4 layers to his soil: sandy volcanic, humus, fine sand from basalt and finally basalt subsoils. It is very compact, and in such the roots of the vines feed from all 4 layers.
"Though the younger vines only reach the first 3."
By "younger", I'm pretty sure he meant the 60 year old vines.
Another particularity of these soils is that they auto-restrict yields, which was surprising since the vines are so huge.
Look, it's an old lady working her land alone in the horizon!
I spotted hoses in the vines, and asked Rafaelle about them.
"These are not for irrigation, but rather to have water handy when doing treatments. It's much easier to start from the top of the vines and having pitstops on the way down than having to go all the way back down each time."
At the very top of the hill, some young vines have been planted in massale and franc de pied. They are 15. To help them grow and develop, Rafaelle has planted fava beans in the rows and fertilizes the land with rabbit shit.
I found rabbit shit to be an oddly specific animal for this task, but it turns out that Rafaelle has a side-buisness of raising rabbits, so that makes sense. Speaking of which:
Our tasting/lunch took place in this medieval dungeon type space that was a stark contrast to the beautiful vines.
Rafaelle's son, who is currently in culinary school, made us a banging lunch from this amazing wood fire oven.
Of course, we had to eat some rabbit!
We also tasted some wine. In the cellar, slow native yeast fermentations take place in stainless steel tanks. Malolactic has never occurred since Rafaelle took over the winemaking.
For the white wine, 10mg of sulfur is added at the beginning of fermentation and nothing after. A light filtration also takes place. The red is unfiltered and un-fined.
Rafaelle's great, great grandfather used to sell the wine in vrac to to restaurants in Naples. He would load barrels up in a horse wagon and bring them to town.
"The wine became so popular that my father had to start a lottery system. The wine would go to the winners."
Rafaelle is the first generation to bottle the wine with the 2002 vintage. 4 wines are produced: a Campi Flegrei Bianco that is 100% Falanghina, a IGT white that's 50% Falanghina and 50% grapes I've never heard of. He also makes two reds from Piedirosso: Per e Palumm and Vigne del Volpe, a selection from the oldest vines. They are all delicious.
After leaving, we got a little lost on the way to our next appointment and, after pulling over, met a really ugly dog with a heart of gold.
Due to his underbite, we nicknamed him Teeth. I wanted to keep him forever.
Apologies for the lack of recent updates. All the craziness leading up to our annual portfolio tasting (which was a huge success!) and a trip to DC has set me back on posting new stuff on the blog, but rest assured that there will soon be a FLURRY of new content, including new interviews, producer visits, and of course our annual HARVEST REPORTS, which have usually already been published at this point.
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On a lovely afternoon, Julien Pineau and I accompany Didier to Domaine de la Méchinière, an estate run by Valérie Forgues. Didier chose to wear this sweet T-Shirt, purchased in NYC during a trip in 1998.
Founded in 1999, Méchinière spans 14 hectares in Mareuil-sur-Cher, is planted in the 6 grapes of the Touraine AOC and is in its second year of converting the vines to organic viticulture. Didier met Valérie because she is dating his brother, and for the last few years has been helping her out in the cellar.
"She's gone through a lot of setbacks and I think she deserves the help. She's a fast learner and I think that she will be able to do everything on her own very soon."
Here is her awesome dog Drago, Crusher of Souls.
The reason for our visit was to scope out the damage from the what would turn out to be the hot topic on everyone's mind: the drosophila suzukii. Originally from Japan, these flies have been fucking shit up in the US since 2008, and were first spotted in France sometime in 2010. They look like fruit flies (which are a common occurrence around fruits, so no one really worried at first), and feed themselves by stinging soft summer fruits and sucking out the sugars. They also lay their eggs between the skin and the pulp, and in both cases the berries start turning to vinegar. Normally these bugs die after summer, but the strange climactic conditions of 2014 kept them around too long. As far as anyone knows, this is the first time they've actively targeted grapes in France.
Here's what the damage looks like:
"It's crazy. Here we are a few days after our Pineau D'Aunis harvest, and you can easily spot the damaged grapes. When we were picking ours, you could barely see the stings and the only way to know was smelling the bunches to see if they stunk of vinegar. Good luck explaining that to the harvesters!"
Valérie was one of the last people in the area to harvest her Pineau D' Aunis, so this was a rare opportunity to see what the grapes look like after about a week after being stung. The worst is reports of suzukii bites began only TWO WEEKS before harvest, which many believed was going to be an abundant year after the very challenging 2012 and 2013 (I've heard some growers have lost up to 50% of their harvest because of this).
Still, not all hope was lost:
"The grapes that haven't been stung are ripe and in good shape. This is salvageable, but only if you hit the tank with sulfur immediately after cuvaison. Otherwise the vinegar yeasts, which are in full force, will take over."
Stories like this are stark reminders that the work of a vigneron is one of constant adaptation, and that dogmatic extremism -I'm specifically referring to sulfur use here- can only work in ideal conditions or states of complete mastery (Overnoy, Dard & Ribo and Massa Vecchia immediately come to mind). Many vignerons who traditionally do not sulfur during vinification felt obliged to do so this year, and I do not fault them for it: if they hadn't I can't imagine what the juices would have ended up as. For Valérie, whose Pineau D' Aunis rosé is a big seller, you can understand why she'd be losing sleep at night over this.
On a brighter note, we then visited Valérie's 80+ year old Chenins, which were in tip-top shape and ready to make some bubbles.
After a walk through the vines, we went to taste the juices in the cellar, which had a shockingly over-powering odor of reduction.
"It's intense right?"
These crazy concrete tanks that looked like submarines captured my imagination.
We tasted Sauvignon from an organic parcel, and Sauvignon Rose from one in conversion. We also tried some Gamay.
Outside, I admitted to Julien that tasting juice is really hard, and that I found it almost impossible to tell what was going on.
"Me too. But it's still fun to do!"
When I wake up on my third day at CRB, the sun has already risen. Today Didier, Julien Pineau and I are going to do a remontage!
Just as I step out to catch some fresh morning air, Julien pulls up ready to work.
Who is Julien Pineau?
photo copyright Jim Budd.
Julien is originally from Tours, where for many years he worked as a geological analyst for a real estate contractor. His job mainly involved analyzing the geological compositions of pre-built or build-able land in order to advise on how to proceed with construction on the most sound foundations possible.
"You'd be surprised how much stuff was built anywhere in the 70's. So much has to be done to make sure these don't crumble to the ground."
Though he found the geological aspect of his job fascinating, the corporate environment was not really his jam so he decided to quit and try something new. Along with a few friends, he had gotten increasingly into natural wine and wondered if there was a place for him working in the vines. After some research he landed at an estate in Provence for 2 years, followed by a year stint as Noella Morantin's employee.
During that time he met Didier, and the two hit it off during Julien's benevolent help in the CRB cellar. He is currently interning with Didier for a year, and will be one of the partners taking over the CRB land in coming vintages (more on that in a future post).
Anyhow, back to wine stuff. For Didier, the two first days after harvest are the most important when making red wine.
"The first two days, you extract the best colors and tannins. After this initial period, it gets much less interesting."
In order to extract said color and tannin, it was time for me to do my first of many remontages! A remontage, which translates to "bringing back up", consists of pumping the juice trapped at the bottom of the tank back onto the grape bunches so they can interact with each other. It is important to remember that at this point the grapes are macerating and haven't been pressed yet. The pumped juice will precipitate the berries that haven't "popped" yet to do so, and the contact with the skins and stems help with extraction of color and tannin.
"What do you have in there (the tank)? Juice at the bottom and grapes at the top. If we don't do a remontage, there is no exchange between the two."
The remontage is done with the help of this pump:
In the photo below, you can see how a tube from the bottom gets pumped through the pump and pumped back onto the grapes:
Before pumps like the one used existed, this process was done bucket by bucket, and would take twice and much manpower and time!
Speaking of buckets, there's always a little juice left in the pumps so we made sure to catch it and not let it go to waste.
"The white foam shows the beginnings of yeasts fermenting and eating away at the sugars."
After Julien took care of the Gamays, Didier asked me to do a "special, one time above oxygen level" remontage. You see, in the very early stages of fermentation, yeasts need oxygen to multiply. Yet the very act of fermentation emits carbonic gas, which smothers oxygen. Didier proved this with the "lighter trick":
The point when the lighter goes out is when their is no more oxygen in the tank.
"You have to be very careful with this. It's the number one cause of fatal accidents in this line of work. The body reacts extremely poorly to a lack of oxygen."
The idea of the "special one time only above air" remontage is to pump the juice where it is exposed to oxygen (where the flame stays lit), which will kickstart and invigorate the active, native yeasts that will then continue to work on the sugars. I was a little freaked out at the prospect of instant death, but got up there and did it anyway. It's hard to see, but this is what the grape bunches look like:
Up until press, a remontage is done each day. After it is done, Didier measures the density of liquid in the tank.
When it gets to 1000, this means there is very little sugar left and it is time to press. Today it was the Gamay was at 1074.
I have no idea how this is read.
On the way back to the cellar, my bud Jack the Rooster was just hanging out.
Back in the cellar, we tasted the juices again. The Sauvignon had just started fermenting.
"You can feel that bite on the edge of your tongue."
The wine was also more cloudy.
"That's totally normal. It means the yeasts are getting to work."
The Sauvignon in wood, however, had not started fermenting.
"That's because of the wood. Unlike stainless steel, which adapts to its environment, wood stays colder in the initial stages of fermentations. However, because fermentation emits heat, the wood will stay hotter than stainless steel at that point. This is ok with small volumes but becomes much more challenging otherwise."
The Pineau D'Aunis Rosé was fermenting a little bit as well, but will really kick start the next day according to Didier. The color this year is surprising, and will be darker than usual.
On our first day in Sicily, we got a day off to hang out in the incredibly photogenic town of Trapani.
While walking around, I kept noticing locals hanging outside burning huge candles. At first I thought little of it; after all I'm not from there and maybe that's how people hang. But then I started hearing marching band music!
And along with the marching band, a huge group of people where following a statue of this guy!
Our group was a bit stumped as to what this ritual pertained to, but with some googling we were able to figure out it was a celebration for Santo Padre, who, amongst other accolades, was the 2nd Pope. Ever!
As an aside, the best painting of all time was on proud display at the restaurant we ate at that night:
The following morning we drove over to Marsala to see the de Bartoli family. Their hamlet still looks like a cross of Miami Vice and a Spaghetti Western.
Here is their adorable dog Picasso, who many felt was the cutest canine of the trip:
Here I am angering Picasso by trying to do "extreme" maneuvers on a tiny, tiny skateboard not much bigger than my foot:
This video truly gives you all an inside glimpse in the sheer professionalism we here at Louis/Dressner profess with every visit.
Right on the outskirts of the de Bartoli cellar, a limestone quarry provides a good look into what the soils/subsoils of the area look like.
Interestingly, the limestone from Western Sicily is not only great for growing white grapes, but also for building houses.
"Half of Sicily was built from our area's stones."
I couldn't help but notice this everywhere we went for our remainder of the time on the island.
To the side of the quarry, 9 hectares are planted in Grillo.
These 9 hectares produce all of the de Bartoli Grillo based cuvées: Vigna Verde, Grappoli di Grillo, Integer Grillo and of course the beautiful line-up of Marsalas the estate is famous for. The Cataratto that produces Lucido are a short 4 kilometers away and the Pignatello that produces Rosso di Marco are 10km away.
From the vines, we set off to the de Bartolis' beautiful and elaborate cellar. Before I jump into the technical stuff, I highly recommend re-reading my visit re-cap from two years ago. There will certainly be some overlap (as well as a past Miami Vice reference), but many of the details I delve into below will complement the information from our past visit that I didn't catch the first time around.
The Marsala process begins in the ground level part of the cellar:
To understand how the solera process works, the first concept to grasp is that alcohol molecules are bigger than water molecules, and therefore water molecules disappear first with evaporation, leaving a more concentrated alcoholic liquid to be topped off with new wine each year.
The top floor cellar is where the Solera process takes place, going from top to bottom barrel, which if you scroll up will notice go from smallest at the top to biggest at the bottom. The new wine added each vintage is vinified like the Integer Grillo: barrel fermentation and aging without any added sulfur. Every year, Marsala is bottled from the small aging barrels in the underground cellar (we'll get to that shortly), and wine from the huge bottom barrels is racked back into the small barrels, where they will continue aging until they are bottled. In practice, this is a never-ending process that can continue endlessly:
"Marsala can age for hundreds of years."
The average mix in a big bottom barrel is 20 vintages.
From the ground level cellar, we walked two flights down into the aging cellar.
As explained earlier, these little barrels are where the wine that has already gone through the solera process age. It is at this point that the wine is either left to age on its own before bottling or fortified with mistella to produce the Superiore line.
"Traditional Marsala was never fortified, but my father wanted to look forward while also honoring tradition, and this is how the Superiore line came to be. Still, it is the territory, the grape and oxygenation that makes a Marsala, not fortification."
At the end of the cellar visit, Sebastiano drew this very helpful diagram to understand the whole process of making a de Bartoli Marsala.
It all seems so simple when you add a cute drawing!
It was time to taste, which is always a lot of fun since the family produces so many different wines from the same vines and land.
We also got to taste the Zibibbo based passitos from the island of Pantelleria, a project started in 1984. As a fun treat, Sebastiano pulled out a few bunches of the dried grapes that make the wine for us to taste.
BEST. RAISINS. EVER.
We ended our visit with a tour of the late Marco's prized car cellar, which is full of rare automobiles from the 60's, 70's and 80's.
The funnest part was seeing his favorite sports car, this red Alpha-Romeo that served as the inspiration for the Rosso di Marco label!
Cascina Degli Ulivi will always hold a special place in my heart. You see, when I was 19 years old, I felt a need to distance myself from my social scene (Montreal), and after an initial plan to "move to Vancouver", Joe proposed I go work in vineyards somewhere. I'd never been to Italy, and Joe, knowing that Stefano Bellotti runs a poly-cultural farm and there would be plenty for me to do there, proposed Ulivi. After a quick chat with Stefano, it was agreed I would get room at board at the Cascina in exchange for manual labor. I could (and probably should) write an entire entry on the 5 months I lived and worked there, but this is neither the time nor place. Suffice to say, my time there was -whether I was aware of it or not at the time- the catalyst in finding a personal connection with the traditions of peasantry and wine. Also, working in the fields gave em the only legit tan I've ever had in my life. But I digress...
After landing in Milan, we drove straight to the town of Novi Ligure, where Ulivi is located.
Though Novi Ligure is actually a modestly sized town (28,500) with a bustling urban core, the Ulivi farm is about ten minutes out, completely surrounded by woods and only accessible via a small road. Chickens, ducks and geese are just hanging around everywhere.
Love was definitely in the air.
Because of all the animal fornication going on around us, we assumed it was mating season. Later, Stefano confirmed we were wrong:
"It's like this all the time. They never stop."
As I mentioned earlier, the farm is completely self-sufficient. For example: 23 cows!
These are almost exclusively used for dairy: fresh milk, delicious homemade cheeses, and yogurts/panna cotta,etc... On average, only 2 male cows are slaughtered a year for meat, which is served exclusively at the restaurant/agriturismo within the farm grounds. That's right people: two cows last an entire year!
A lot of fresh fruits and vegetables are also planted throughout.
Look, a goat family!
As you can see, there are all types of animals at Cascina degli Ulivi! But Stefano's favorite, of course, is his Maremma sheepdog Guantanamobai.
You may recognize this big guy from the Filagnotti labels:
Well, that's not actually the same dog; Stefano has loved this breed for as long as he can remember, and owned many since his early 20's.
But beyond farming, restaurants and animals, the real bread and butter of Cascina Degli Ulivi is, you guessed it, WINE!
We started our tour by checking out Stefano's brand new experimental vineyard.
Planted last June, these 3 hectares are all planted in franc de pied aka un-grafted roots. Stefano explained that these 4 varieties were historically considered "shit", but that have also been historically proven to resist mildew and odium over the long term.
Stefano's discovery of these "shit" varieties stems from research dating back to 1910. A pépinièriste (whose job involves growing young vines in a nursery for future use) in Südtirol based his life work on this, and was able to find 25 hybrid grapes that resist the two of the most damaging fungal illnesses in viticulture. Stefano picked the ones that made the most sense for his soils and micro-climates, but also the flavors he liked.
"I didn't want anything aromatic."
Interestingly the soils here are not sand (where the phylloxera bug cannot survive) but heavy clay.
"They are already very alive."
Next, we headed over to the beautiful Filagnotti vineyard, which produces the aforementioned bottling of the same name.
The village you can spot in the background is Tassarolo.
In this vineyard, Cortese is planted on very acidic red clay that is rich in iron. Stefano has been working this vineyard since 1984, which coincides with his first year practicing biodynamics.
Looking in the distance, then back at the budding vines, Stefano proclaimed:
"This is my favorite time of the year. I love looking at individual buds and thinking: This will soon be a glass of wine!"
As with most of Piemonte, a lot of Stefano's vines have been dying for from Flavescence Dorée (read more about this lesser known disease here).
"The best way to fight this is franc de pied, but this directly confronts you with the problem of phylloxera. Still, I believe fighting a bug is easier than fighting a disease."
"The problem is that all funded research is geared towards "fixing" these problems through chemical treatments. Any alternative means always falls on our backs, through our own independent experiments. In the end, their is not one magic solution. It will be a combination of many factors that will lead us to an answer."
Speaking of individual experimentation, Stefano has planted an entire portion of Filagnotti in Franc de Pied.
He feels that these much younger vines already have much more vigor and life than their grafted siblings.
Last but not least, we visited Cascina degli Ulivi's most prized vineyard, Montemarino.
Holy shit that's beautiful!
The soils here are clay and limestone. Standing in Montemarino, the difference in micro-climate between Filagnotti was clear: a constant wind sweeping through the vineyards (as opposed to Filagnotti's much dryer nature) creates a cooler, more elegant wine.
Though the vast majority of Montemarino is planted in Cortese, the oldest vines in the estate are planted here (94 years old, planted in 1920), and consist of Nibio, the local name for the region's indigenous strand of Dolcetto.
Stefano acquired the vast majority of this lieu-dit, which consists of 6 hectares, in 2000. To do so, he had to purchase individual plots from 39 different owners!!! Montemarino is exposed full South, at 310 meters of elevation.
After walking through the vines, it was time for Stefano's self-admitted "schtick I do every time": The Shovel Experiment™
"Of all my vineyards, Montemarino is the only one were I have a neighbor. And of course, he works more chemically than anyone I know!"
The Shovel Experiment™ consists of shoveling a hunk of land from Montemarino as well as his neighbor's to compare and contrast the amount of life in both. Here's a side by side pick to give you an idea of what a vineyard heavily treated with herbicide where one doesn't work the soils looks like versus that of a biodynamic pioneer.
Keep in mind those are less than 50 meters apart!
At the top of Montemarino, Stefano's vinification cellar hosts all his future releases. He works almost exclusively with large wood vessels.
"I like using wood because it keeps the wine alive. This is because it is constantly dancing with oxygen. But it not's oxygenation I look for; it's so that the wine is in constant contact with something alive (air)."
We tasted through a range of 2013 wines, which were a solid vintage for Ulivi. By the time we were done tasting through the current releases, jet lag had started seriously kicking in so we sat down for an early dinner at the agriturismo which naturally consisted of all the meats, vegetables, dairy and fruit of the farm.
It was good to know that 8 years after my time there, Cascina degli Ulivi is still as magical as ever.
6 months later, here is the final post from last summer! After that, expect recaps from Luciano Saetti, Cantina Giardino, Perrini Organic, Natalino Del Prete and Cristiano Guttarolo, as well as some interviews and other stuff.
Louis/Dressner: We've Got Internet Content™
We began by visiting the parcel of Chenin Blanc that produces the Kharaktêr cuvée.
The soils here are composed of limestone and flint.
Recently, Natalie had to rip out some old vines that were in bad shape and dangerous to work with the tractor.
"If I replant, we will definitely make it parallel to the slope like the rest of the vines."
With those old timers gone, the vines now average 45 years old.
Just a little further up, we drove up to an unassuming path that is actually the geographical divide between Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir. On the CdL side, three 3 parcels of Pineau d'Aunis grow on the same limestone and flint soils as Kharaktêr. The vines here are 35, total .75 ha and interestingly were much taller and developed than the Chenin we'd just seen.
I didn't take any pictures of these for some reason, so you'll just have to take my word for it.
From there, we jumped back into the LDM Mobile to visit the lieu-dit Le Briseau, the site the estate takes its name from.
This was the first piece of land Christian and Natalie purchased after moving from Vouvray. The land represents about 4 ha, with 1.36 ha planted in Chenin Blanc. Le Briseau roughly translates to "the shatterer", as the subsoil consists of a solid layer of flint that is near impossible to penetrate.
"Tractors and teals always break here."
The superficial soils consist of heavy clay mixed with very rocky chunks of flint.
The oldest vines are 60+ years old and produce an insanely low 8hl/h. In really good years this produces the Briseau Blanc, otherwise, as was the case in 2012, the wine is called Patapon Blanc.
Le Briseau is a clos, and this peaceful atmosphere was where our late friend Christian Chaussard liked working the most. In bittersweet fashion, it was here that he had his fatal tractor accident last year. His ashes are buried at the foot of this shelter, just a few feet from the vines.
It's comforting (and admittedly poetic) that Christian would be one with the very soils he loved so much.
Heading back from Le Briseau, we drove back to Natalie's home to taste some currently bottled stuff. I could tell you all about how good everything tasted, but I'd much rather show you PICTURES OF NATALIE'S ADORABLE DOG GROVER!!!
Our final vineyard visit was a quick walk to Le Briseau's other major lieu-dit, Les Mortiers.
The soils here are heavy clay.
Les Mortiers roughly translates to "wet cement", because if it rains, the clay soils become impenetrable after drying up. A lot of impenetrable soils around these parts...
In total, 4 hectares of Pineau d'Aunis are planted here.
We ended our tasting in Natalie's cellar, where we got to taste some stuff, including Kharaktêr 09, 11 and 12, as well as Les Mortiers 11.
Before leaving, Grover made sure to mark his territory on the LDM mobile so other vigneron dogs wouldn't get it twisted.
For this coming round of Italian visits, I am very happy that Eben Lillie of Chambers Street Wines was around to take so many great pictures. Thanks Eben!
For our annual fall tour of Italy, we got things started by visiting Carlo Venturini and Alessandra Zantedeschi of Monte dall' Ora!
They have a pretty sweet backyard.
Yes, that's their mail box. They also have an awesome dog named Vladimir who loves playing with this old soccer ball.
Before setting off to see a newly acquired vineyard, these stacks on stacks on stacks of drying Amarone grapes caught everyone's attention.
These are left in open without temperature control. Carlo does have a big fan constantly blowing on them though, so maybe that counts as temperature control. You tell me.
Carlo was really excited to show us his newly acquired land just above the mountain commune of San Giorgio, which is located on the Northern-most edge of Valpolicella.
The vineyard is completely enclosed by woods, with no neighbors. It is mostly planted in Guyot. The soils consist of limestone rich in iron. Throw in a complimentary full South exposition, and you have all the factors for great terroir.
The vines are 7 years old and planted in Corvina, Corvinone, and Teroldego. Unbeknownst to the group, Teroldego is permitted in Valpolicella vineyards, up to 15%. The vines were being worked chemically and Carlo is converting them to biodynamics. In total this represents 2 hectares.
He is not sure where the grapes from this land will end up for the time being, as this will require experimentation. The eventual goal, once the vines are older, is to make a site specific bottling from this terroir.
Part of the acquisition included a tiny parcel of whites planted in Pergola.
Cortese, Garganega, Chardonnay and a mystery grape are planted here.
"I'll try making a little white this year. I've only tried this once before, and it was the worst thing ever!"
As we were contemplating the beautiful view, a strange sound started galloping towards us. Everyone got freaked out, but we were quickly relieved to know that it was just a horse running freely through the mountain.
I then unsuccessfully tried to convince the group that this was all staged and that we at Louis/Dressner intentionally set up beautiful acts of nature to impress our customers.
Because it was on our way down, Carlo had us stop by San Giorgo, which was built in Roman-Pagan times. Here's the village's beautiful Church.
And here's a beautiful mountain sunset.
The sun was setting fast, but we still had a bit of time to rush over to the Camporenzo vineyard, which produces the Valpolicella cuvée of the same name.
Camporenzo totals 3 hectares and faces east. Everything is grown in Pergola, which is normal for the region. It's also right next to Brad Pitt and Angolina Jolie's villa, a converted old monastery. No word yet if they plan to produce a Valpolicella after the huge success of their first wine, Miraval Rosé.
The soils here are sand with a loose clay subsoil.
By the time we were done with Camporenzo it was pitch black outside, so the natural transition was to head to the cellar.
We started by tasting the base for the 2013 Sasetti (local dialect for "little rock"), but with the late harvest it was so young (we were there in mid-November) that it was hard to taste much more than fresh grape juice.
The Superiore, which macerates in the wood vats you can see above, needs to be foot-trodden once a day. Since we all happened to be there, Carlo figured he'd give us a demonstration.
"Right now the grapes are very soft. With the Amarone, the grapes are much harder and it's much less fun.".
Speaking of the Amarone, drying time is variable. Carlo waits at least until the 1st of January of the next year, and will be February for this year's harvest. It usually takes 10 to 15 days to start the fermentation. In the first few days, Carlo does very little foot treading. After that, he does 3 treadings a day (about 5 hours apart) for 10 days. In the vats, you have approximately 70% skins and 30% juice, which was the opposite of what he was stomping on with the Superiore in the video. The wine then ages 3 years in barrel and one year in bottle before release.
Dinner WAS INSANE, and featured never-ending polenta with anchovies, Valpolicella ravioli (the pasta was made with wine), pork stuffed with pork and Italian Cronuts. It was also a good time to hear Carlo talk of his early experiences in the area. When he first took over what would become Monte dall' Ora, he made a point to chat up all the old timers and ask them how they used to work. The thing that resonated most with him was that:
"When everything was still done by hand, there were way less treatments simply because it meant so much more work (spraying row by row with a heavy backpack). That's also why people started building bigger barrels. 1000 hl at a time is the way to do it!".
PREVIOUS ENTRY: FRANÇOIS CAZIN IN CHEVERNY
Puzelat time! After a quick hello with Thierry and Jean-Marie, we headed straight to the Clos du Tue-Boeuf, the lieu-dit the estate is named after. The first part of the clos we visited were the three parcels that go into the Gravotte cuvée.
The three plots total 1h, and Thierry blends them together because of similarities in their soil composition. Gravotte is a small coteau of eroded clay and flint with shallow, chalky limestone, all planted in Pinot Noir.
The vines are 36 years old, and Thierry has recently ripped out a bunch of very old Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in the same area to replant Pinot Noir (all from massale, sourced from Caillière, Gravotte, Hervé Villemade's Ardilles parcel and Prieuré-Roch).
This will effectively double Gravotte's production in coming years.
Just a little further, the plots that produce Caillière (also planted exclusively in Pinot Noir) awaited us.
The soils here are composed of red, sandy clay.
As you can see from the pictures above and below, they are much less absorbent than Gravotte.
Still marching onwards, we crossed this little path to check out some Sauvignon Gris.
When I pointed out that the whole area felt extremely closed off, Thierry explained:
"The land costs nothing here so we bought everything around us to keep the trees and ensure nothing would ever get cut down. We didn't want to lose the biodiversity."
The Sauvignon Rose here was planted in 1998, when René Mosse used to work at the estate. It used to be woods, which Thierry's team cut down before planting the following Spring.
Some older Gamay used to be planted here as well, but Thierry recently ripped them out.
"They were shitty clones from the 70's. They had poor vegetal matter and were always sick."
Gamay will be re-planted here in massale.
From the Sauvignon, we took a quick drive upwards, which eventually led us to Frileuse.
If you haven't noticed yet, many of the Tue-Boeuf cuvées are made from micro lieu-dits within the lieu-dit of Clos du Tue-Boeuf. Also, this is the visit recap where the term lieu-dit has been used the most. So there.
Frileuse roughly translates to "the little cold one", and unsurprisingly, it's the parcel that gets the coldest, so frost is often an issue here. The soils are clay and flint, and less compact than Gravotte. The site is 2h: one in Sauvignon, the other in Chardonnay.
We then drove around for a while, passing by the Buisson Pouilleux, some of Pierre-O's recently purchased Touraine vines, the Guerrerie parcel and Brin de Chèvre, a plot of old vine Menu Pineau planted in 1934.
"I work the very old parcels by horse due to their fragility. A tractor easily rips them out of the ground or breaks them."
Still talking about Brin de Chèvre, Thierry explained that the windy climate and solid clay mean that (due to Menu Pineau being a late harvest grape), this is usually where they harvest last.
"This grape is super resistant. Esca has never been a problem and it resists mildew. The three really local varieties -Menu Pineau, Romorantin and Pineau D'Aunis- are always the most resistant to illness. Gamay and Sauvignon have only been planted here for 100 years, and they are always sick. This is why we've started replanting only these old varieties."
Still driving around, we passed a Gamay parcel where Olivier Lemasson was working. It would have been rude not to say hello, so we did.
This parcel planted on a very similar terroir to Frileuse.
After an extensive tour of the vines, it was time to taste, which didn't take very long since their is so little wine in 2012. Here's a picture of the TOTAL production of Frileuse.
That's right, 3 barrels. It tasted good. Additionally, there is only one barrel of Buisson Pouilleux, which also tasted good.
An exceptional rosé was produced in 12:
"We decided to make rosé because many parcels were hailed on. The tannins would have made the wine too harsh for a red."
Also, the little bit of Guerrerie Gamay harvested was consolidated into La Butte.
After ALL that tasting, we headed to the famed L'Herbe Rouge with Thierry, Jean=Marie, Pierre-O Bonhomme and Olivier Lemasson for lunch. This happened:
We also ate some good food, but that's inconsequential. Points of conversation included:
-A lot of growers working conventionally are slowly going out of business, as evidenced by Olivier Lemasson being able to buy old vine Côt, Gamay and Grolleaux from guys who have quit over the last 10 years.
-The Puzelat-Bonhomme négoce will change to Domaine Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme as of the 2013 vintage. This has been years in the making: Jean-Marie is a few years away from retiring, and Thierry, who will now be alone at Tue-Boeuf, has decided to focus his energy entirely on his family estate (on top of his importing business and running a successful wine bar in Orléans). Pierre-O made many of the 2011 wines and all of the 2012 wines on his own, and both parties feel that he is ready to step up to the plate. Fan favorites like Le Telquel, Rouge est Mis and Tesnière Pineau d'Aunis will still be in full effect.
-As of early 2013, Pineau D'Aunis is officially de-classified from use in the Touraine AOC.
"If you start a new plantation in Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, you get a 10,000 euro subsidy from the minister of agriculture. If you plant Pineau d'Aunis, you get nothing."
We also talked about the late Chistian Chaussaurd and Thierry's time as professors at the viticultural school of Ambroise. Cho-Cho was there for 5 years, Thierry for 3.
"On our own we were bad enough, but the combination of the two of us is what got us fired!"
Apparently, telling people to use less sulfur and native yeasts didn't go over too well...
Here are some completely unrelated pictures of Thierry's new puppy Horatio.
After lunch, Pierre-O drove us over to the really, really cool, 100+ year old Probilière parcel.
The soils here are composed of very fine clay and flint.
Some of the vines here are Gamay Teinturier, one of the only red pulped grapes in the world.
Some marcottage was going on.
The prior owner was pumping tons of chemicals into the vines, and was getting up to 100 hl/h yields off of 12 canes!!! Pierre-O has converted the parcel to organics, reduced the amounts of canes to 6 and had 40 hl/h yields in 2011.
Next up, we're heading way up North to Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir to visit Eric and Christine Nicholas at Domaine de Bellivière!
PREVIOUS ENTRY: HERVÉ VILLEMADE IN CELLETTES
RE-READ A RECAP OF OUR VISIT IN JANUARY, 2012. FULL OF FASCINATING INFORMATION!!!!!
It's kind of nuts when you think about about it, but we've been working with François Cazin for over 20 years! That's two decades of Romo for the American people, and François's discovery is a pretty funny story.
According to David Lillie of Chambers Street Wines (then working as Loire kingpin at Garnet Wine and Spirits), he and my father were at the Salons des Vins de Loire in the early 90's, looking for a Cheverny producer. They were so jazzed about finding a new vigneron that after word got around, the department of the Loir-et Cher decided to start an annual festival in hopes of attracting more American importers.
It just so happened that the Cheverny AOC had its own section (a rectangular stand of producers that still exists today), and in a completely improvised maneuver, David and Joe tasted alone, starting in opposite directions, trying all 15 producers before comparing notes. Without saying who it was, both agreed that only one truly stuck out of the pack. It was none other than Thierry Puzelat!
Just kidding, it was totally François.
Speaking of François (who after all is the subject of this post), look at some pictures of his nice house!
His cat Boinko didn't trust us, choosing to stay high in the trees.
The first parcel we visited .7h of young Romorantin planted in 2003.
François planted these in the fall, which is unusual since vines are usually planted in the early summer, because you don't want them to be in their infancy going into the winter. But due to the exceptionally hot 2003 vintage, it ended up working in his favor. Winning!
François has just started working the soils on these youngin's.
2013 is shaping to be another challenging year due to too much grass, in itself due to too much rain. Like everyone else, François is fearing hail, especially after their devastating 2012.
A little further on the same site are some older Romorantin vines from 1958.
Past the 1958 Romo, Sauvignon Rose is planted in sand soils, along with more young Romo that will go into production this year.
ROMO FACTOID 1: You can easily spot a Romorantin vine by its red canes.
ROMO FACTOID 2: Romorantin vines are highly affected by winds, because the (red) canes are very soft and could easily snap off. To counteract this, François has started using polyester lines instead of barb wire because they are more flexible, thus offering better grip.
The third parcel we drove to consists of Pinot Noir and Romorantin.
This was one of the first plots François rented when he started in 1980. He now owns it, and has replanted Pinot where Sauvignon used to be. The soils are composed of limestone and sandy clay.
The buds here were just starting to flower.
We then drove to a parcel of Chardonnay on heavy clay soils planted in 1976. A team of two guys on the tractor were doing a décavaillonage, the process of removing soil formed around the base of a vine, thus permitting aeration in warmer months.
"You have to do it with 2 people, because with this much grass, it's impossible to see what you're doing from the driver's seat."
The last parcel we visited was right by the Cazin's house, 85 year old Romorantin planted in in 1928.
"These are as old as my dad! They were planted by grandfather the year he was born."
These are apparently the oldest vines of Romorantin in Cheverny, and therefore THE WORLD. Everything has to be done manually here, because of solid coat of limestone directly underneath the superficial soil.
It goes without saying that these are 100% in massale, and François swears that these are in better shape than the vast majority of his other vines.
"The clonal selection on the other side of the house is much younger, but there is way more mortality."
We ended the visit by tasting, and everything is delicious. The only real thing to take note of (besides their being next to no wine) is that the Cheverny Blanc is 95% Sauvignon in 2012 because François lost almost all of his Chardonnay.
Here are pictures of Priscilla the cat.
Next up, we continue our Cheverny takeover with the legendary Puzelat brothers of Clos du Tue-Boeuf!
PART 4: FABBRICA DI SAN MARTINO
RE-READ THE 2011 MONTESECONDO VISIT RECAP!
A lot of new, exciting stuff happening at Montesecondo! But before we get into that, here are a bunch of pictures from the vines you can read all about in the 2011 re-cap. Now you get to know what they look like in fall AND spring!
Silvio's albarello training is going well.
All the albarello re-plantings are in massale. As an experiment, he's also planted two rows in franc de pied, as well as re-grafting a lot of Merlot with Sangiovese.
On top of that, Silvio also plans to plant an additional 1.5 hectares of vines on the Montesecondo property.
There's some new additions to the Messana family: Fluffy and and Scruffy!
Silvio lets them run free and do whatever they want most of the time.
The big, exciting news is that Silvio just started renting 6h of Sangiovese vines on very different, non Montesecondo terroirs! At 18km away from the farm, it's about a 30 minute drive. The land is owned by two sisters, and because of the distance, Silvio has hired a full time employee to manage the site. Silvio is currently working the equivalent of 8h on Montesecondo, so 6 extra hectares is quite a boost in work/production. He didn't originally plan taking on so much land, but decided that the opportunity was too good to pass up after visiting the vines.
The vines here are between 17 and 30 years old, growing at 450m elevation, which is very high for this part of Tuscany. They are being converted to organics this year, and biodynamic the year after next.
Silvio's son Taddeo and Lucy the dog joined us on the visit.
For now, he plans to make more IGT Rosso with these grapes, but is open to the idea of bottling a new cuvée once he's familiarized himself with the terroir.
Lucy was very satisfied with our walk.
Once we'de visited the vineyards, Silvio brought us to one of the owner sisters' nearby property.
She was very nice and offered us water and juice. She also loves cats, and has about 20 of them.
You know what else she has? Turtles!
Next visit: Francesca and Margarita Padovani of Campi di Fonterenza! Twin sister party time!
PART 2: LOUNGING LEISURELY AT LUNEAU-PAPIN
After our fantastic visit to Luneau-Papin, we set off in our official LDM tour vehicles to Bonnezeaux to visit the legendary Mark Angéli of Ferme de la Sansonnière. A former stone-mason, Mark has been at the forefront of biodynamic viticulture since founding his estate in 1990.
Once the entire group had arrived, we walked over to the nearby vines. The first site we visited was Fouchardes, the 0.5 h parcel that produces the cuvée bearing the same name.
On our way over, Mark filled us in on his plans to plant 5 rows in franc de pied at the edge of this parcel. Phylloxera has a much harder time propagating itself in very poor soils, and by planting in the sandiest area he has, Mark hopes the vines will have a fighting chance. Last time he attempted this experiment, it was in a different plot, and the vines lasted from 1994 to 2006.
With the group gathered around him, Mark began to explain the importance of the Fouchardes parcel in the evolution of his work philosophy.
"This field showed me how to remove the wires, but also that I should make dry wines."
All of Sansonnière's vines are unwired, which is basically unheard of in cooler, northern wine growing regions.
Mark feels that liberating each Chenin gobelet gives them more freedom and air, in turn leading to purer grapes and less rot. This discovery, coupled with the fact that producing sweet wines requires either a constant gamble with nature or manipulative techniques (sulfur additions, filtration...) inspired Mark to completely phase out his AOC Bonnezeaux production in order to favor production of dry/off-dry Anjou blancs.
Next, we talked about soil.
For Fouchardes, the first three rows are plowed and the rest are mowed or lightly worked on a superficial level. For Mark, having constant grass balances the vigor of the vines.
"50 years ago, average yields were 35hl/h. If you stick to those numbers in this area, you are assured quality."
To assure this, vines are tied together at the top to limit vegetative vigor, and he prunes very tightly to 6 bunches per vine (thanks to Joe D's excellent recap of the visit for that detail, which I missed).
One thing everyone noticed was the large amount of worm shit everywhere.
The PC term for worm poop is "castings", and Mark explained why they are such a fundamental part of healthy soils.
"This is a sanitary filter. If you see those (castings), you know their is no poison in the soil."
If you aren't offended by Wikipedia links, read up on vermicompost here.
One thing you won't find in vineyards that use heavy amounts of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides?
Or grass, for that matter.
As far as the soil's consistency (castings included):
"It must feel like couscous."
After a good amount of time in Fouchardes, we continued the tour by visiting by the vines producing the La Lune cuvée.
The vines here are 4 to 75 years old. The soils are primarily clay and limestone, but change consistency every 30 meters, in some cases drastically. This variety of age/soils adds notable depth to the blend.
At the top of the parcel, Mark's son Martial (who is now a partner in the estate) was there with an employee, burning various wood cuttings.
The group freaked out their dog Chicanita, who started nervously barking at us.
She's only a year old, and Martial explained she'd never seen such a large group of people all at once. I would be barking too if this group of note-taking hoodlums started lurking around my property:
Walking through the La Lune vines back to the house, Mark pointed out how free it feels to walk through vineyards without having to follow a single row.
Predictably, we ended our visit checking out the cellar and tasting wines.
We tasted all the 2011's: Fouchardes was nice but showing young (Mark admits this wine needs time to develop in bottle), La Lune was excellent and the rosé was bright, expressive and off-dry/veering to sweet. We also got to try a fun bottling of Grolleau Noir, which was an unexpected, easy drinking surprise. There are only a few hundred bottles of it, and I doubt any will ever make it stateside... We rounded out the lineup with a 97 La Lune and 97 Moelleux, both showing a similar evolution or richer, honied Chenin.
The visit ended with a big chat on natural volcanic sulfur. Sourced from Mount Etna (with a plan B from Japan), apparently you only need to use half as much as commercial sulfur because it does not oxidize. The stuff is loaded into this little contraption, which burns it and distributes it into the wine.
Even the sulfur is natural now! Bazoom!
Three other conversations of note during the visit:
Number 1: 14 estates are now working organically in Anjou, most of which were started by young, non-locals. As a Corsican, this new energy reminds Mark of his humble beginnings in the Loire, and it pleases him to see how much things have changed since the early 90's.
Number 2: Organics are sweeping the nation! This year alone, 4000 h of vines are getting converted to organics in Bordeaux! That number is certainly nothing to scoff at, and Mark believes this is the beginning of a fundamental shift in French viticultural practices.
Number 3: Mark's Madagascar based charity is doing great! They keep finding new sponsors, raising awareness and money, and he just signed an agreement with a french paper company to replant 150 h of forest this year. In the long-run, Mark hopes to to replant 1000 h a year!
Next up, we continue tasting Chenin from some of the best, this time with OG François Pinon!!!
Our two day visit with the Bera family involved A LOT of food. We arrived to Canelli in the evening and jumped right into this Bagna Càuda.
This local Piedmontese dish translates to "hot dip", and consists anchovies and garlic in heated oil that you dip raw vegetables into. It was a welcome change from the HUGE QUANTITIES of meat and pasta we had been (joyfully) eating over the last few days, and it all felt pretty light. Except at the end where Alessandra started cracking eggs in the hot oil, cooking them in the process and forcing us to scoop them out with bread. Not to mention the humongous cheese platter and the "broth of 11 o'clock", a bowl of beef broth that supposedly makes you digest. I'm pretty sure there was caffeine in it, because I was wiped out that day and it woke me right up.
To pair with dessert, we ended the meal with a magnum of Raymond Boulard, the estate Francis Boulard used to run with his siblings.
It was surprisingly aromatic, low in alcohol and high in sugar, which many of us believed was due to an unusually high dosage. But the joke was on us, as it was actually...
Those crazy Bera tricksters! Because of this flub, the Master Sommelier Committee immediately stripped us of our SOMM badges, and re-edited the blockbuster SMASH Somm to not feature any footage of us.
The next morning, we set out the the vines.
The Beras own 12 hectares of vines, and we started by visiting the 5 that surround the house. These Moscato vines are 25 years old, South facing and planted on fairly steep coteaux. No fertilizers are ever used, so the vines are low yielding and much less vigorous that what has become the norm in the area.
The soils here are calcareous. As you can see, there is a lot of grass in the vineyards. They do the fava bean and grass in one row, plow the other row thing: this is a technique many of our producers use, the idea being to give one row the "year off" to rest and fully replenish itself. The estate is certified organic.
The lovely Knights of Malta brought the Moscato grape from Greece to this part of Italy in the 13th Century. The Bera family actually bought land from the Knights themselves! Moscato d'Asti's unique style is due to two major influences: before filtration techniques were introduced to cellars, bubbles were a natural way of preserving wine. Throw in the fact that the taste of nobility was for sweet wines at the time, and there you have it!
Next, we visited a recently acquired plot located very close to the house.
Barbera, Moscato and Sauvignon Blanc are planted here. The vines were owned by an old farmer who recently retired, are on average 80 years old and have been always been worked organically. Buying more land hadn't been in the works, but the proximity to the house and the age/sanitary state of the vines made it a deal too good to pass up.
Their cat Piccolito decided to keep guard in case of intruders.
As we continued our walk, we came upon this statue of San Giovanni the Evangelist, which loomed over an ugly power plant.
After touring the vines, it was time to visit the cellar and have Gian-Luigi give us an official lesson on how to make Moscato. Get ready, this is complex stuff!
1. Harvest grapes in 20 k plastic holders.
2. Do a slow pneumatic press (3-5 hours)
3. Immediately rack the juice to stainless steel tanks.
4. The must is then clarified with a natural gelatin that dissolves in the juice and sinks to the bottom, nabbing all the dirty stuff along the way.
5. The clean wine is racked and separated from its lees. Must is then frozen and brought to a cold chamber, where it is kept for a later step. The risk in working this way is that the yeasts in the must (which are almost completely dormant, but not always), could potentially reactivate, thus wasting the must and natural refermentation.
6. At this point, Gian-Luigi filters ONLY if there are too many lees. In conventional Moscato making, a systematic and very strong filtering is done to get rid of live yeasts, then a "stimulant" commercial yeast is used to make the bubbles, as there is still a lot of sugar left in the wine at this point.
7. Wine is racked to a 5000 l thermal tank. Fermentation starts at 19 degrees. It's usually quite slow the first two days, but really picks up on the third. Normally, it takes no longer than a week for the wine to reach 5.5 alcohol.
8. When the desired amount of alcohol is reached, the tank is chilled down to block the fermentation. The wines stabilize for 10-15 days.
9. The wine is now softly filtered. This is not an easy task because the the wine is under pressure and still active. One tank takes a full day.
10. The wine is bottled, and you get to drink it!
Unsurprisingly, the old school way of making Moscato was way more primitive, and involved this contraption.
The wine was filtered through cloths (placed in those things that look like utters), then caught in a wool sack at the bottom. The fermentation would actually be blocked by the cold of the winter! 1973 was the last year it was used.
That night, we had a huge dinner with a ton of meat and a bomb risotto. Vittorio was very happy that our appetites were up to par.
Next up, our visits to Cascina Tavijn and Mauro Vergano's laboratory in Torino!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: OLD STUFF FROM THE CELLAR (PART 3)
Elie Renardat-Fâche is huge! If he was American, people would ask him if he plays in the NBA all the time. Fortunately, he lives in the tiny mountain village of Mérignat, population 100! Located in the heart of the Bugey, this relatively obscure region of France is known for its sparkling Cerdon. Universally referred to as "breakfast wine" by happy go lucky (and borderline alcholic?) fans of the style, Cerdon is the result of a méthode ancestrale fermentation, and is always light in alcohol, high in sugar and giving in fruit. But great Cerdon also packs the heavy minerality and acidity to really uplift the bottle.
Domaine Renardat-Fâche is widely considered to be one of, if not the best Cerdon currently produced, and the way we started working with them is a cool story: at a birthday dinner for my grandfather at the original Daniel (now Café Boulud), Daniel himself came out to wish Sam a happy birthday and to complement him on his son's accomplishments (my grandpa was very proud that day). This was around the time Daniel was prepping his second restaurant, and for the opening, he told Joe he wanted the Cerdon that legendary chef Alain Chapel was serving in Mionnay.
Joe and Denyse didn't want to call Alain Chapel's restaurant just to ask what their Cerdon was. So Joe, as a pioneer of the world wide web, found a link to an Australian restaurant in the Bugey called Le Boomerang (France's first and only Australian restaurant, which sadly closed a few years ago) and asked owner Rose-Marie Perkins if she had any leads. She told him that she worked with someone else, but that Chapel's Cerdon was from none other than, you guessed it, Alain Renardat-Fâche! Joe got in touch with him, and the rest is history.
SIDE NOTE: We actually ate at Le Boomerang once, and had ostrich steaks. I remember it being really good.
Our visit started in the Renardat-Fâche tasting room, which brought back vivid memories from my childhood.
At the time, my sister and I were obsessed with Cerdon because, well, it's SO DELICIOUS! We'd drink as much of it as our parents would allow (which was probably way above the average of NONE), at any chance we could get. Anyway, while scoping the room out and remembering my youth, I spotted this oddity:
Turns out they've been making a Chardonnay for years, but it's always been in tiny supply. It also turns out that 2006 was the last year they made it, so I guess that's that.
2012 factoids: Budding was very good but unfortunately, it's looking like a low yielding year for the Poulsard. The Gamay suffered from a lot of mirandage, a term that does not exist in the English language but means tiny berries as a result of difficult flowering. No hail, a bit of frost... And if you didn't know, after a six year conversion the estate is finally certified organic as of the 2011 vintage! Also, for the first time EVER, Elie is offering up MAGNUMS! He feels that you can actually age these a bit, which is rarely the case with 750's. Made to order, so contact us if you're interested.
Our next stop was to the cellar, where Alain and Elie broke down the incredibly technical nature of making Cerdon: everything starts at harvest, where they intentionally don't pick at optimum ripeness (10-11% potential). The grapes are destemmed, then fermented in temperature controlled, stainless steel tanks. After press, they add 40-50mg of sulfur and let the wine go through a slow, 3 week cold maceration. Elie has experimented not using sulfur this early on, but the length of maceration has always led to oxidation...
A spontaneous, semi carbonic fermentation occurs, which they stop at around 6% alcohol. After that, they lower the temperature of the tank between 0 and 20 degrees celsius. This helps block the fermentation without sulfur, a major innovation in methode ancestrale winemaking (Elie brings up not-so-found memories of his grandfather's extremely sulfury Cerdon in his interview). Alain and a few of the guys he went to school with were the first to use this technique in France.
At this point the yeasts are dormant, so they gently filter the wine before rebottling and letting it referment in bottle. In Champagne, a wine can be disgorged because it is dry, but since there is so much sugar left in a bottle of Cerdon, they always keep the storage cellar at 5 degrees; otherwise, the yeasts would become over-active, resulting in deviant wines and exploding bottles. Also unlike Champagne, bottles are stored standing up rather than on their side.
If they were laid down, the bubbles would become bigger, stronger and more violent and that would not be a good thing. Out of curiosity, I asked if it wouldn't be simpler for them to just have all of the wine in one big vat instead of bottle by bottle. Alain responded "of course", but that they don't do it for two reasons. The first is that historically, a French sparkling wine had to ferment in bottle. But more importantly, all the fruit aromatics of the Gamay would be lost.
They then empty each bottle by C02 and gently filter out the deposits left from the re-fermentation. This is done 8000 bottles at a time, with everything poured into a blending vat. The content in the vats represents a blend from 5 or 6 separately vinified parcels, bringing balance and elegance to the final wine. In the end, they make sure the final fermentation is never over 7,5% alcohol, because even at 8% you'd lose a lot of fruit. The blended wine is then rebottled and corked. Did you know that Champagne corks look like this before they are bottled:
Seeing what Alain and Elie are doing in the cellar makes it easy to understand why their wines qualitatively stand out of the pack. Few go to such lengths to produce this style of wine in the region; though it technically can't be labelled as Cerdon, the majority of regional sparkling, sweet, low alcohol wine is being produced with hefty doses of sulfur to halt fermentations and using the chermat method to add carbonation. These practices are is large part responsable for why the region has developed a bad reputation in France.
After our oenology lesson, we set off to our first vineyard site!
We began by visiting this 3 hectare parcel, which happen to be the first vines Alain bought when he was only 14 years old! It is steep!
Because they don't use herbicides, these inclines make soil-work decisions very important
"We're only 5 years into working organically, and it's still a learning process. We're the only ones to plow here, and maybe this year we should have done less…"
The vines are spread over 25 zones of the village, and range from 250 to 500 meters in altitude. Combined, the parcels face every type of exposition possible. Everything is hand harvested.
A big part of why Alain and Elie's Cerdon is so unique is that they are among a tiny percentage of vignerons who blend Poulsard into their Gamay. Other than the Jura, you won't find Poulsard anywhere else. Still, it only represents a tiny part of Bugey's vines: only 8 hectares are planted, and the Renardat own 3. Though it was traditionally planted in the region, Poulsard is fragile and low yielding so people ripped it out to favor the more productive Gamay.
We continued the visit with Elie wanting to show us an "experiment" they'd started in the Spring. It involves a trial with biodynamics on 10% of the estate: 4 parcels have been split 50/50 between organic and biodynamic viticulture to observe any differences.
Only a few months into the comparison, the major thing Elie has noticed is that on the biodynamic vines, the leaves seem to naturally spread out more and curve themselves inward to better absorb the sun.
Why? That's beyond them. Alain, who has always been a man of science, has been pleasantly surprised by the whole experience:
"I don't understand it, but I see the results and it makes me want to pursue things further."
Elie then pointed out:
"Human beings have lost the inherent instinct of being in sync with nature. An animal knows when a storm coming, where to find the food he needs... For some it's never left, but it's something most of have progressively lost. But I believe it's slowly coming back."
We finished the tour of the vines, then got to taste a bunch of pre-blended Cerdon before eating lunch. I was very excited, because Elie had promised me that we would taste the dry, still Gamay they make for personal consumption. I'd actually been thinking about it for over a year now (when he'd mentioned it in his interview). It did not disappoint: 11% alcohol, light and fruity but it still has a cool expression of terroir that differed from the Beaujolais. It was quite easy knocking back an entire magnum; Elie is actually considering bottling and selling small quantities of it in the future, and I certainly hope he does!
After lunch, Maya snapped some pics of the Renardat-Fâche's dogs Rapunzel and Guinevere:
Who's next on deck? Big man Franck Peillot, that's who! Stay tuned.
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: SYLVIE ESMONIN IN GEVREY-CHAMBERTIN
Burgundy is suffering in 2012: they've been hit with winter and spring frost, hail, and the constant rain since May has made mildew and oidium problems a huge issue. For Catherine and Claude Maréchal, it was an especially bad year to begin a 100% conversion to organic agriculture; the experience has left them demoralized and defeated, leaving them to question if they will give it another shot next year. What really stuck with me from our visit was a sobering reality, one where organics aren't always in one's best interest, where priorities change as a vintage progresses and choices have to be made. Though today's post will be decisively serious in tone and less cheerful/humorous than the last 13, my goal is obviously NOT to prematurely badmouth a region's vintage before the grapes have even been harvested or to critique the Maréchal, who for years have used no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides in their vineyards and who craft delicate, elegant wines with minimal intervention.
Quite the contrary: their decision to attempt organics was whole hearted, but after struggling in a losing battle against mildew, they finally caved in to systemic products to save their crop. I am not a vigneron, nor did I experience this extremely challenging vintage every day head on; in such I don't know what I would have done in their place, but after seeing the state of the vines, I can certainly understand their choice.
After a quick coffee and chat, we set off to visit some vines. It was a dark, overcast day, the sky shifting from partially sunny to menacing clouds that threatened to unleash rainy fury on us.
This is what an average day has looked like this summer in Burgundy. Our first stop was the Chorey vines, where Claude showed us some of the problems they were facing.
Before even getting into the mildew stuff, 9 of their 13 hectares were hit with hail. The damage is done:
Showing us the bunches, Claude told us that a classic, good harvest was 8 good bunches a vines. He has about an 8th of that this year. This does not mean, and I can't overstate this enough, that the grapes that ARE there will be of poor quality; in fact I'm sure they will be of excellent quality because they are being taken care of by a great vigneron. There will, however, be very little of them to harvest.
In the photo below, you can see the spots of mildew on the leaves.
In the early stages, you can spot little stains on the top of the leaf. On the bottom, little grey-ish spores form, which if left unkempt spread throughout the leaf, eventually killing it. At the time of our visit, the mildew Claude was showing us was the 18th recontamination this year! 18th!!! Some quotes about dealing with such a frustrating situation:
"We were spraying one treatment a week, every week for months! When you spray that much, can you call that organic?"
"It felt like going to war with a bow and arrow."
"There comes a time when mildew is so bad -50 spots on a single leaf-, that you have to use products if you want to save the vines."
To prove his point, Claude showed us some vines that belong to a neighbor who chose to stick it out organically this year. It wasn't pretty:
"I don't understand. They did all the pruning work, and now it will have been for nothing."
In that statement, Claude was bringing up a simple but important point: to keep making wine, you need to make money. He estimates needing to earn 600 000 euros a year just to stay in business. And when you're at the mercy of nature like in 2012, having no wine to sell could easily be the beginning of the end for your estate...
Though they got hit pretty bad by hail, the highlight of the visit in the vines were the beautiful Pommard parcels.
Even amongst all the bad news, it was really soothing to be at the top of this cotteau, simply enjoying the view. I decided to help out by de-rooting some pesky plants competing with the vines.
After the vineyard visit, it was time to hit the cellar to taste the 2011's.
No bad news here: all the wines were tasting splendid. Highlights: Chorey and Auxey-Duresses for white, Savigny and Volnay for reds.
After tasting, we sat down to do our interview with Claude and Catherine while drinking an insanely good 2010 Savigny-les-Beaunes.
Speaking of the interview, why don't you go over the the Maréchal profile and read it. Find out about Claude overcoming his flatlander roots to become a vigneron, how Jean Thévenet and Henri Jayer inspired him to make better wine, how the two dealt with 2012 and much more. Seriously, go read it or their pet cat Fluffy will be mad at you!
Next up, our lovely (and very technical) visit with Alain, Elie and Christelle Renardat-Fâche. BOOM!