PART 5: MONTESECONDO
Continuing our Tuscan takeover, we rolled through to Campi di Fonterenza. The twins' wines keep getting better and better, so I was very excited to finally visit what Kevin Mckenna once described as "incredible terroir".
The sisters' main vineyard is in the outskirts of Montalcino; it consists of almost 4 hectares of land, which produce the Rosso di Montalcino and part of the Petit Rosso.
The youngest vines were planted in 2005 in albarello.
As you can see from the photos above, this area has a heavy presence of schist, and as a result:
"This is the area that suffers the most from dryness."
In the oldest vines (a little further), the clay gets a lot heavier.
These were planted in 1999. Part of the vineyard have the Châteauneuf like gallets, which are locally referred to as gallestro. One bit is a mix of gallestro and clay.
The lesson, my friends, is that within these 4 h, there are 4 distinct soil compositions. Throw in the fact that the entire vineyard is exposed full South/Southwest at 420 m elevation and what do you get?
SOME PRETTY INCREDIBLE TERROIR!
Francesca also filled us in on some big news: all of the Cabernet Sauvignon has been re-grafted with massale Sangiovese!
The other main vineyard site is a short walk away.
This 1.6 h of land produces the Brunello, As you can see from the pictures, the vines are completely surrounded by woods, with absolutely no neighbors.
"It's such a pleasure working here. You are all alone."
Someone made a "working naked" joke. It was pretty funny.
After our time in the vines, we drove back to the Fonterenza house and cellar to taste.
We started with this year's 2nd bottling of Petit Rosso. 2/3 of the fruit for this wine are sourced from the first vineyard we visited, as well as a .7 hectare parcel that they rent. Skin contact is very short and everything is done in stainless steel. Yields average at 35 to 40 hl/h. It was everything I've come to love about this easy drinker.
The Biancospino white was showing really well. It's a blend of Malvasia, Trebbiano and Procanico, an indigenous grape that Francesca describes as "a more tannic Trebbiano." The wine macerated 2 weeks on the skins. We also tried the Rosso and Brunello 11, as well as the 09 Brunello, which was fantastic.
Our last stop in Tuscany will mark our triumphant return to Sanguineto! Dora Forsoni fans rejoice!
PART 3: COTAR
NEW FABBRICA DI SAN MARTINO PROFILE!!!!! GO READ IT!!!
If you follow the long, twisty road through the uphill backroads of Lucca's city limits, you'll eventually come across a discrete sign pointing you in the direction of Fabbrica di San Martino. The 20 hectare property dates back to 1735, and as you can see from this picture of me striking a philosophical pose, the house overlooks Lucca and the area's surrounding mountains.
We arrived in the late afternoon, but still had enough sunlight to spend some quality time outdoors. While waiting for Giuseppe, we casually strolled around the outsides of the house.
After a short wait, we were joined by non other than Giuseppe Ferrua!
That's his son next to him. Before visiting the vines, we got a quick tour some of the house.
As you can see, it is quite nice in there. As a stupid aside, I kept feeling like I was in an episode of MTV Cribs. As an aside to the aside, visiting the San Martino house was a much less materialistic experience.
We then set off the the vines, which are just outside of the house. Of the property's 20 h, they only represent 2.2 h for a total of 1200 plants. We started at the Fabbrica's original vineyard.
The wine produced from this parcel inspired Giuseppe to give up his restaurants to work at the farm full time.
"These vines are a treasure. They needed to be maintained."
15 Tuscan varietals are co-planted here, which produce the Arcipressi bottling. Everything is older massale, and the vines have always been grafted into place.
I know you should never judge a book by its cover (the wine is delicious, so there!), but there's something about this label that I really, really love.
The whole vineyard is exposed South-East to South-West, so the sun does an east to west half-circle over the vines. We got there towards the end of the day, and Maya's pictures show how the sun set's to the right side of the vineyard.
Giuseppe explained how in this hot region, this exposition is much more beneficial to the vines then if they were full South, keeping alcohol down and acidity/minerality up.
The soils here are composed of clay and stone, but the amount and density of stone rock "varies greatly".
See that olive tree in the middle of the picture below?
It's 500 years old! That's old!
Moving on. Below the original Arcipressi parcel, Giuseppe decided to plant Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo in 1999.
The Fabbrica rosso comes from here.
As far as day to to day maintenance, Giuseppe never plows the vineyards, and only uses plant compost. Biodynamic tea preparations are also a big part of the vineyard work.
"We never enter with tractors, we prune by hand, we mulch and make compost outside."
After a good amount of time in the vines, we got to visit the cows!
Look at that little brown baby one!
"The cows have 10h of forest to live in. They are important, because they regulate the land. They bring more insects, birds and create incredible biodiversity."
Sorry vegetarians: these guys are destined to become meat. In fact, Giuseppe is about to to sell two of them to Elisabetta Foradori!
No visit to any estate would be complete without a trip to the cantina, which is where we headed next.
We started with the 2012 Fabbrica Bianco, a co-ferment of Vermentino, Malvasia and Trebianno. The wine is made in large oak casks with no temperature control. It will be bottled next summer, and sold next year. We also sipped on some Arcipressi 12, which was juicy and delicious. A sample of the 2012 Sangiovese that will ultimately end up in the Fabbrica Rosso was reduced and not showing well, but Giuseppe pointed out that this is an extremely transitional point in the year (we were there in late April), and that the unfinished wines aren't always showing best.
During our cellar tasting, we got to meet Ortalina.
Ortalina is 20 years old! That's old! Her name loosely translates to garden girl; Giuseppe found her on the property two decades ago in the Fabbrica's fields. She grew attached to the family and never left, but has never entered the house and in the 20 years she's been there, they've never fed her once!
Night time was upon on, so we went back to the house to have a very, very good home cooked meal with Giuseppe, Giovanna and two of their children.
It was very, very good and I had thirds of lasagna.
Up next, more Tuscan action with Montesecondo!
PART 2: CLAI BIJELE ZEMLJE
NOTE: I am a stickler with accents, but for some reason, whenever I use them for Čotar, they automatically show up in a different font on the site (as you can see right there!). So I've ommited them for your viewing pleasure and nothing else!
Three countries in two days is a pretty impressive feat. But to be fair, we didn't stray too far from Italian/Croation/Slovenian borders...
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It still meant adding new stamps to my passport, which is always a good look.
After the hour drive from Clai, we were greeted by Vasja Cotar in his native village of Komen!
Branko joined us soon afterwards, and we stepped into the family's beautiful, elaborate cellar.
The first room we visited houses the little barrels pictured above, and serves as the aging room for the family's brandy. Unlike the vast majority of winemaking countries, you are allowed to distill your own products in Slovenia, so Vasja and Branko fully take advantage of this. The vinification and distillation takes place upstairs, with aging in the first of many underground chambers.
On the same level, old barrels of various shapes and sizes contain back vintages of the white wines.
Yes, those are sausages hanging from the ceiling in the first picture. We ate one and it was delicious. Also, I don't know who drew this amazing barrel art, but unlike Zélige-Caravant's, I'm pretty sure it was Vasja's children and not the actual winemakers...
Delving deeper into the underground, a second level is entirely dedicated to aging the reds. Most of the barrels are Burgundian, but there are also some bigger vessels.
While this initially struck me as a huge cellar, Kevin reminded me that the Cotar's current release is 2007, and that holding all those vintages takes up a lot of room! The red room is another story down. To to build it, the father & son team had to completely dig through this extremely rough rock.
Someway/somehow, a bottle from an older vintage found itself imbedded in the wall.
On the ground level, vinification, bottling and bottle aging take place. Two very old hand presses take care of all the crushing.
There are also some stainless steel tanks up there, but these are only used to hold the wine before bottling.
After checking out the cellar, we set off to visit some vineyards. On the drive over, Branko broke down the origins of the estate. As mentioned in the Cotar profile, Branko and his wife found great success by opening two of the area's most reputable eateries in the early 70's. The food was always local, fresh and chemical free (the area has never been affected by industrialized agriculture), and through his restaurant work, Branko found the process of wine pairings to be fascinating. The wine's link and expression to local land quickly became an obsession, so he decided he had to make some himself. He planted his first vines in 1974, and hasn't looked back since.
Branko also pointed out to the various old ladies picking through bushes to harvest the seasonal wild asparagus.
"If you know what you're doing, you can harvest 1 kg in 15 minutes!"
The first vineyard we visited is 1000 m from the mountains, but also in close proximity to the sea. Both highly affect the climate of the area.
The vineyard is located next to a church.
Just a short walk away, this parcel awaited us.
The story of this particular vineyard is fascinating:
"This whole area is entirely stone. Wherever we could find soil, we used it, brought it here! 1500 trucks worth!"
Even though vines should theoretically not be planted here, Branko saw a huge micro-climactic potential. Through sheer ingenuity, he managed to gather large quantities of soil from nearby dolinas (little valleys) to layer over the rocky, solid limestone; every row planted had to be to formed with with a bulldozer before adding soil. Once the vines have been successfully planted, the roots are able to slink through the rocks and sink into the porous limestone subsoils. So by intentionally placing a superficial layer of soil on these rocks (all from local hills that were not impacted in a harmful, negligent fashion), Branko effectively managed to create a unique terroir!
This is what the ground looks like on its own:
After this first stop, we drove to an isolated area and walked through another major plot of land.
All in all, the Cotar own 10 different parcels spread over 7 h, all within 2 km of the cantina. They have planted 100% of these, all in massale. With the exception of the two sites we visited, all their other vines are 500 m from the cellar.
We then got to taste current and future releases, all while eating sausage. Some good factoids gathered here: grapes are systematically de-stemmed before press, frozen passito must is used to make the sparklings, Vitovska has lower alcohol and higher acidity than Malvasia, they just ripped out their Sauvignon vines but Branko loves it so much they might actually replant...
We also got to taste some stuff that doesn't make it stateside. The B.B, which stands for Branko and Branka (Branko's wife), is 50/50 Malvasia and Vitosvka. The Terra Rossa -a blend of 40% Merlot, 40% Teran and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon- showed a lot of power, but remained elegant.
Once we'd finished tasting, we got an opportunity to eat where it all started!
For many years, the restaurant has been closed. But due to popular demand, Branko and Branka reopened it on the weekends. Lucky for us it was a Friday! Or Saturday. I can't remember...
Dinner proved to be very entertaining and educational. We got to drink a 1980 "house wine" that used to be made for the restaurant. It was a blend of all the grapes grown at the time, and while still alive and drinkable, was not particularly captivating. The 97 Sauvignon Blanc, 97 Cabernet Sauvignon and 99 Terra Rossa Riserva, however, were flavor explosions of awesomeness.
Alex Miranda started asking Branko about their decision to work with skin contact on the whites, to which he replied:
"Because we were part of the iron curtain, the area was always completely void of any outside influence. The wine was always made this way. No one even knew what sulfur was up until 15 years ago."
Oh, did I mention all of the Cotar wines are un-sulphured? Now you know!
Ok, next on deck, we've got our super swell visit with our BRAND SPANKING NEW producer, Fabbrica di San Martino! Expect a new profile, some great Maya Pedersen pictures and a lovely retelling of our late afternoon and evening with Giussepe Ferrua and his family!
PART 1: RADIKON IN OSLAVIA
Before we get into the visit, why don't you go read up on Clai Bijele Zemlje's BRAND SPANKING NEW PROFILE!
Giorgio Clai's enthusiastic: "Welcome to Paradise!" set the tone for a breathtakingly beautiful and informative visit. Nestled in the Alpine foothills of Croatian Istria, The Clai household is completely surrounded by nature.
The first vines we visited just a few feet from the house.
These 90 year old vines are a historical vineyard in the area. Giorgio acquired them when previous owner died 3 years ago. The North-East exposition is great for keeping alcohol down.
The parcel is co-planted with many olive trees.
"It was traditional to plant rows this way: three vines, an olive tree, three vines, an olive tree..."
Nearby willow tree branches are used to tie down the vines.
The Plavina grape is grown here, which Giorgio uses for his sparkling. It is co-planted with Moscato.
From these old vines, we walked for about 10 minutes to the next site. On the way over, I was able to ask Giorgio some Clai factoids. The estate consists of 7 hectares of vines and 3h of olives spread over three different sites. The first two are walking distance from the house, and the third -the lieu-dit Sveti Jakov- is a 4 km drive. His first labeled vintage was 2001.
The second plot we visited is home to 16 year old vines of Pinot Grigio and Refosco. It is exposed full South.
There is a lot of late budding this year, partly due to a lot of rain. Lasted year, Giorgio added organic minerals and ground-up stone from the Dolomites in hope of lowering PH levels a bit.
"There is so much limestone here it really raises acidity levels."
For many years, Giorgio felt it was necessary to get organic certification, but he's recently had a change of heart. He feels that it's the work that matters, not the perception. Just for everyone's organic peace of mind, here is a picture of Giorgio's vines:
And these are his next door neighbor's:
Oh, the magic of Round-Up...
The soils here are mainly composed of clay, but Giorgio adamantly pointed out that in just 20m the compositions vary from sand, sand and clay and richer clay. Here is a picture of the latter.
Also within walking distance (this time a bit further), the second major site is host to Merlot, as well as some Moscato reserved for a sweet wine.
Everything here is exposed West. The climate is very different from the first site, with a constant wind that keeps it cooler. The soil is dark, rich clay. After noticing that the sites we'd visited so far were fairly isolated, Giorgio confirmed that most of his vines have no neighbors.
After a good 45 minutes of hiking around, we drove 4 km to Sveti Jakov.
Sveti Jakov is one of the most beautiful vineyards I've ever seen. Unlike the other sites we'd visited, Giorgio does not have a monopole here, and shares the vineyard with an unspecified amount of neighbors. His vines are 34 years old, and they are the only one that he didn't plant himself. When he took over, everything was in Pergola, which he chopped down to re-train in the more quality-oriented guillot.
They vines were also "chemically dead", and had to be converted back to organics.
The two sites we'd visited earlier see their microclimates influenced by the mountains, but Sveti Jakov is much more affected by the winds of the sea, resulting in a constant wind that is essential at combating oidium and mildew. On a normal year, Giorgio only applies 3 copper treatments to Sveti Jakov (5 in the others).
"It would be impossible to work organically here without these winds."
The soils are much rockier here.
There are also many olive trees planted throughout the vineyard.
After visiting the vines, Giorgio was excited to show us the new cellar he is working on.
The current cellar is microscopic, and this will permit him to separate vinification, aging and storage into different rooms. He's also very excited to start working with gravity.
By having this system put in place, it will avoid extra rackings and transportations, all while keeping the grapes optimally fresh.
In the cellar, we got to taste through a variety of whites and red from barrel.
In 2012, the Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Sauvignon for the Ottocento white were cofermented. The wine macerates 8-12 days on its skin, depending on the vintage. Only half of the malo was done, but the results are very promising.
Giorgio explained that despite the over-abundance of sun and drought in 2012 (not a drop of rain all summer!!!), acidities are still really good.
"If the vines are not confused by chemicals, they know when to grow or not. They shut themselves down when necessary. This is how we retained our acidity in 2012."
We then tasted some 2012 Malvasia that had fermented and macerated on the skins for 25 days. It will be used to balance out either Sveti Jakov or the Ottocento. The 2012 Refosco will be blended, but the 2011 is so good it might become it's own wine. The Sveti Jakov 2012 white sees 4 months of skin maceration, and it's delicious.
Here is an adorable picture of the Clai dog that has absolutely no context in this recap whatsoever.
After tasting in the cellar, we had an incredible home-cooked meal and tasted the 2011's, which are top-notch. The wines are so elegant and balanced that I always forget how high in alcohol they are. I gotta admit I was a little tipsy by the end of the meal...
Our next visit brings us to yet another country, Slovenia! Stay tuned for our play-by-play of our visit with Branko and Vasja Cotar!
Three weeks ago, a small group of us set off to Italy for a two week trip. After spending a day in Venice (where, according to Maya's step-calculator thingy, we walked 7.5 miles!!!), we drove to Oslavia to hang with Stanko and Saša Radikon.
The family's main parcel is located right under the Stanko and Suzanna's house.
Standing next to the Merlot vines, Saša explained that finding large vineyards in this area is very hard, and that a parcel of this size (3 h) is uncommon. Along with the Merlot, Ribolla Gialla and Pinot Grigio are planted on the lower slopes of this hill, which is 190m in altitude and exposed full South.
Everything had to be replanted in 1997 after a devastating mudslide in 1994. Besides horse manure, the only thing added to the vines are copper and sulfur treatments, which Saša is trying to reduce by incorporating propolis, a bee based product effective against mildew.
The training is similar to Albarello. Three cuts, two buds per cane, 4 to 6 clusters per vine.
Prior to the 97 replanting, everything was trained in double guyot. Only a few rows at the bottom of the hill survived.
As you can see in the photo below, they had recently plowed every other row, effectively letting the other have "the year off".
The soils consist of heavy clay with a strong presence of shale.
The subsoils here absorb the region's large amount of annual rainfall, and this natural water reserve is instrumental in conserving minerality and acidity in the grapes.
Oslavia is host to a handful of famous winemakers, and from the Radikons' vineyards, you can spot -among others- some of Gravner's vines.
After visiting the vines, we walked back to the house to taste in the cellar. Before we could make it, Stanko distracted us with this big fish.
It had been caught that morning, and would serve as our main course for lunch.
Cooling off from the hot sun, we ventured into the cellar.
The winemaking at Radikon has been covered extensively in the past, but it never hurts to reiterate. There is no temperature control for fermentations, with punchdowns in the first 48 hours to get fermentations going. Along with their old school, hand-held "punchdown stick", their is a one-of-a-kind mechanic one designed by Stanko himself!
The grapes are de-stemmed. The juice then ferments and macerates on its skins -which amount to 20 to 30% of a full tank- for 2.5 to 4 months. After a racking of the skins and gross lees, the wine is aged in large barriques for up to 36 months. The first big attempts with skin contact took place in 1995, with Stanko producing half of the Ribolla Gialla this way.
"Ribolla has very thick skins. My father realized that the skin contact with Merlot made the wine better, so why not try it with Ribolla? It brought more structure and complexity."
Prior to this decision, the wines were fermented in stainless steel and aged in barrique. In the early years, maceration times were much shorter.
"This was a big inspiration for the S line. It has permitted me to understand what my father was doing in the early days."
For those unfamiliar with the S line, S stands for Saša; the wines see 2 to 3 weeks on the skins, are aged in barrel only one year and are immediately released.
Fun cellar factoid: the cellar's walls are the subsoils of the vines we'd just visited, and because of all the water they constantly hold, they sweat out this cold, wet mineral slime.
We tasted a bunch of 09's. They were really good.
To celebrate our successful tasting, Stanko popped open a bottle of 2010 Ribolla Gialla PET' NAT!
That's right, both François Pinon and the Radikons have produced petillant naturel: get with the times people! This experiment started because Suzanna Radikon, who loves bubbles, complained there was never enough in the house. 2010 was a bit of a disaster; there was way too much sugar left, and over half of them exploded during the re-fermentation. But what's left of it is delicious!
Lunch was as good an opportunity as any to taste the recently bottled 07's Radikons and the 10' S wines, as well as some back vintages.
One of those was a 99 Ribolla Gialla, labeled as a DOC Collio. In 2000, Stanko asked that the DOC modify its rules for color so it could allow skin contact wines in the Collio DOC. They declined, so he intentionally declassified everything in 2001.
Another unexpected treat was to taste a pre-skin contact, 1993 Pinot Grigio!
It was bright and mineral, but not exactly memorable. Whatever sulfur was used at the time had completely blown off.
After finishing up lunch with Suzanna's "Best Apple Strudel Ever Made" (Denyse Louis quote), Stanko had to run to an orange wine festival taking place in Croatia. After saying our goodbyes, Sasa drove us to a newly acquired parcel just across the Slovenian border.
This vineyard was planted in 2004 in selection massale, with Ribolla on top, Pignollo in the middle and Tokaj on bottom.
"We always get good wind here from the proximity to the sea."
We ended our visit by climbing up this funky watch tower, getting a bird's eye view of the local surroundings.
That night, we ate at La Subida, which many consider one of the best restaurants in Italy. The all local/organic food and wine program follows seasonal menus, so we got to eat a lot of dishes based on spring herbs and wild asparagus, accompanied by an all-star cast of Friulian and Slovenian wines.
Next up, our visit to Croatia with Clai Bijele Zemlje! These wines have been shrouded in mystery forever, but a full profile and visit recap will finally shed some light (and appropriate shine) on Giorgio Clai's incredible estate!
PART 6: CLOS ROUGEARD
Ahhh, the Loire wine fairs... The wonderful moment where every wine professional in France -not to mention us pesky importers- cram themselves into tight spaces in order amiably chit-chat with vignerons and taste their current offerings. What started as a one-stop affair over three days at the Salons des Vins de Loire has become a multifaceted, venue hopping taste-a-thon: if I'm not mistaken, there were 7 "off's" (unofficial satellite events) this year. We went to 5 of them.
Well, 6 if you include Viti-Valaire International, our annual private tasting at L'Herbe Rouge. Since 2007, we've been hijacking Cécille Argondico's incredible restaurant (which just got a shout-out in Le Fooding), and showcase Louis/Dressner growers from outside the Loire Valley.
This year, Franck Peillot, Olivier Horiot, Francis Boulard, Loïc Roure, Michel Tête, Jean Manciat, Jean-Paul Brun, Alain Coudert, Eric Texier, Xavier Courrant, René-Jean Dard, Dominique Hauvette, Tom Lubbe, Virginie Maignien, Luc and Marie Michel, Patrice Lescarret, Clemens Busch, Mattias Knebel, Gernot Kollman, Elena Pantaleoni, Elisabetta Foradori, Silvio Messana, Nadia Verrua, Alessandra Berra, Sonia Torreta, Fernando Garcìa and Joāo Roseira showed their wines over two days of tasting. Talk about an all-star lineup!
The whole thing is catered by Cécille, who is an incredible cook. Just when the palate starts to get tired, BOOM! SWEETBREADS IN MUSHROOM SAUCE!
Look how happy Guilhem Dardé looked eating that chicken at last year's festivities!
We got to taste some 2012's and a bunch of interesting surprises, including this late harvest Altesse from Franck Peillot.
Dubbed QV à Louis, the wine was in a riper, richer style than the normal Altesse, but still remains skillfully balanced and complex. Yum.
Speaking of Franck, here he is wearing a rasta hat with fake attached dreadlocks.
Franck decided it would be funny to put on a show where he would imitate Jean Paul Brun. It involved fake 100 dollar bills, a huge prop joint and the rasta hat. If I understood correctly, the reasoning was this: Brun translates to brown in English, so Jean Paul Brown sounds like James Brown, and James Brown somehow relates to Rastafarianism. Also, the fake money represents the mattresses of cash Jean Paul sleeps on at night (check comment #14). A bit of a stretch by any means, but the end result had the entire room rolling. Moving on...
Renaissance des Apellations! Biodynamic wine! New, late harvest Aligoté from Alice and Olivier Demoor!
It's already sold out...
Les Penitentes! The Puzelats, Mosse, Villemade and Gaubicher shindig took place in the beautiful Chateau D'Angers this year.
The biggest highlight for me was the Probilière, a new gamay from Puzelat-Bonhomme from an organic parcel of 100 year old vines. It was also fun getting the stink eye from the girl preparing cheese after asking her to give me a piece of each one (she forced me to pay for two plates...).
After that, it was time for the Dive Bouteille in the lovely Chateau de Brézé.
Highlights included being really cold, tasting 2012 Beaujolais at 0℃, getting smushed by a sea of Parisian hipsters, drinking a lot of Loirette, Luca Roagna being punctual and behaving (his girlfriend was there), a Chamonard 1988 Morgon that was OFF THE CHAIN and the Le Coste, Noella Morantin and Yannick Pelletier 2011's. Also, re-tasting 2012 Beaujolais later in the day and finding out it was actually delicious (albeit in short supply) was a huge relief.
That night, the Super Bowl was on. Just like every year, a contingent of our group wanted to watch it, so we got all fratty and bought a 40 pack of Kronenbourg (aka the slightly less shitty Budweiser of France).
We iced those babies down along with some whites and watched Beyonce kill the half-time show.
We also briefly swung by the Salons des Vins de Loire. At this point, we see pretty much everyone else we work with at offs, but it was still a great time to catch up with François Cazin, Frédrik Filliatreau, Evelyne de Jessey and taste 1976 Luneau-Papin.
That night, we ate at Une Île, where first-timers got to experience the single best Beurre-Blanc sauce in the entire world.
For reasons I'd rather not explicitly state, I always found it very amusing that they have black toilet paper there.
It's official: the blog has officially sunken to a new low...
That's it for the Loire-Fest series, but don't fret: the coming weeks will be host to a new series of visit-recaps from our recent excursion in Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. Great pics and info from Radikon, Clai, Cotar, Montesecondo, Fonterenza, Sanguineto, Panevino and Giovanni Montischi. Plus, two new estates will be unveiled! Stay tuned.
Louis/Dressner Selections: We've Got Internet Content!™
PART 5: BREAKING BAD WITH BERNARD BAUDRY
I was out of commission for the Rougeard visit (bummer, I know), so today's visit recap was typed up by Average American Consumer Joe Dougherty! Joe is a wine lover who lives in New York. In his remaining free time, he is an investment banker working to fund biotechnology companies. Before jumping the rails to Wall Street, he was a scientist for 20 years, with a few degrees in chemistry. He finds that his scientific training adds an interesting perspective on the wines that he drinks for pleasure, not just analysis.
Let's all thank Joe for for letting me share this with you! Thanks Joe! Ok, ok, here goes...
JOE DOUGHERTY'S BE-ALL END-ALL RECAP OF CLOS ROUGEARD:
I had my first visit to Clos Rougeard in several years. Getting in there always feels a bit like getting an audience with the Pope. In addition to our group of folks from Seattle, Portland, SF, Chicago, Florida, NYC, etc., etc., there was a sommelier from some Michelin 3-star and some others who came and went in the ancient cellar.
If you ask me, Nady overdoes it a bit with the spray-on cellar mold, but of course tastes vary in interior décor. After all the introductions, Nady said, "Salvador Dali had it wrong. He said the center of the universe is the train station at Perpignan, but clearly it is rather here in Chacé." Tentative chuckles all around.
He lost a lot of grapes in 2012 in Poyeux and the Clos to hail, but had less damage to the Bourg and the white. Yields were already down from the same poor flowering that affected most everyone. This estate shouldn't need an introduction to this crowd, but I'd mention that the Bourg gets 100% NFO, the Poyeux gets barrels that have seen one wine (mostly the Bourg, but for 2 years), and the Clos barrels that have seen one or two wines. He feels the essential thing in barrels is to leave the wood out in the weather for at least 4-5 years before use, and that various commercial efforts to accelerate that interval generally give a poor product. He has his barrels made locally to his spec. The production here in a typical vintage is "0-30,000 bottles." Zero being 1991. 2012 is presumably on the smaller end of that range. He didn't show us any 2012s.
I mentioned elsewhere that these guys don't have bad vintages, only different ones, and I believe it. I can think of two wines in the last decade from them that I really didn't love, and even those you could drink.
He described 2011 as rainy and cool, with a good September. Definitely lighter than 2009 and 2010. The Poyeux has a barky CF nose, refreshing acidity, medium length, medium-light body, and fine tannins. Totally successful light vintage. The Bourg has sweet oak on the nose (though that usually moderates with another year of élevage), good fruit, medium weight, and a longer finish. These vines are roughly 70 years old.
The 2010s were bottled on the day of our visit, but they showed well. He assembles 3 months ahead of bottling. The Clos includes anything he doesn't bottle as Bourg or Poyeux. 2010 is a bigger and more structured vintage, with higher acidity. The tannins have softened a bit, but the wine is quite classic. He will sell the '10s after another year in bottle. The Poyeux is more complex, with deeper fruit, and is perhaps a bit softer. The Poyeux has more sand than the Bourg's classic clay, but they share similar white tuffeau underneath. He feels the wines have similar longevity, that the Poyeux is more elegant, but thinks they just have different styles. But this Poyeux is classic. The 2010 Bourg is less open on the nose, but you can taste the hidden depth. Bigger in the mouth, much more tannic, with a long savory finish, this is memorable stuff. It's pretty, but finishes with real grip.
The 2009s are less typique, with more gras. Riper wines overall. The Poyeux is starting to have some bottle flavors appear, but it is much more plush than 2010, bigger, softer more round. Nady notes that 2009 and 2010 actually have similar acidities, but the fruit hides this to some extent on the '09s. The Bourg is darker but not opaque, with sandalwood, bark, and black fruit on the nose. It's big and rich on the palate (in this context), and the fruit cushions significant tannin on the long finish. I think this needs quite a bit of time.
The 2008 Poyeux is much leaner and more structured. Not friendly now, but IMO fun in 10 years. Nice of him to open one—it saves me trying any of mine for a good while. The 2008 Bourg is in step, with a very limestone feel to the tannins; it's lean but clean. Put it away. Nady comments that 2008 had similarities to 2010 for them, though the summer was cooler. Frost in spring cut yields, but they had good harvest conditions.
The 2006 Bourg is starting to get going—NF feels that the tannins are rounding out, that you could start to drink it if you carafe it. I would be inclined to wait a few more years, personally. He mentions that the older the bottle the less he likes to decant—he'd prefer to pour slowly. The carafe is too much of a shock for old wines. I wish I had some of his wines that were old enough that I would worry about this.
He spares me another infanticide by opening 2005 Bourg for us. Quite dark and primary, but clean and fruity. Powerful but balanced, excellent acidity, the tannins are ripeish but plentiful; this is remarkable stuff. Glad to have some. But it's not for anytime soon.
The 2010 Brézé (dry Saumur blanc) had been in bottle for a month. The barrels were 20% new, as he does a 5 year rotation for the white. The wine is leesy, rich, has some wood on the nose, but wow, faboo. Great acidity, tastes dry, an endless finish, a classic version of this somewhat eccentric wine. The 2009 is 14%. NF feels it's a bit disjointed now, and I accept that. It shows a bit of heat, and it's a bit odd. This site has more clay than the Bourg, it's a cooler soil, he feels that chenin likes that. The 2006 Brézé is still showing wood, but Nady thinks it is coming into drinking now. Remarkable stuff despite the wood. I would note parenthetically that I opened a 1997 Brézé recently and it was still very leesy. I felt it could still use more time. I don't have enough experience with these whites to insist on what to do with them.
He opened 1997 Coteaux for us. 6 hl/ha, SGN, 190 g rs, 8.7 ta (!), 11.5%. 3 barrels, 3 years in NFO. Bow your heads.
Thanks again, Joe! Next up, a recap of all the wine fairs and wacky hijinks. Expect Dive Bouteille, Renaissance, Salons des Vins de Loire, etc... coverage.
This blog post is Clos Rougeard Approved.
PART 4: FUNKY FRESH AT FRANÇOIS PINON
After a healthy helping of Chenin, we set off to Chinon to visit Matthieu and Bernard Baudry. The whole family was happy to see us, and even with our late arrival and the rainy weather, we managed to have an extremely pleasant and informative visit.
Because it had been raining on and off all day, our vineyard time was limited. We started by visiting Les Granges, the lieu-dit which produces the Baudry's entry level cuvée.
Located on the right bank of Chinon, the Baudry's own 8 h of land here. The vines are 25 years old, the soils are sand and gravel and yields average 45/hl. The entire estate has been certified organic since 2006, but Bernard has always worked the soil and used native yeasts.
On these vineyards, Matthieu and Bernard feel the need to use homemade compost, as the soils are very poor: not nourishing them would significantly lower yields. While this is of course a process many of our growers thrive for in order to obtain higher concentration in their grapes, in the case of Les Granges, the Baudry's feel that lower yields lead to harsh, undesirable tannins. They also perform a superficial work of the soil to rid it of competing grass.
"Working the soil is very important to bring out minerality, even in lesser terroirs. Cabernet Franc can be planted anywhere. Good wine tastes like terroir."
That, my friends, is a man who looks like he knows what he's talking about.
Many of the hillsides surrounding the area are forested. These used to be widely planted in vineyards, but have not been replanted since the end of World War 2. In a statement similar to Xavier Courrant's last year, Matthieu explained that many of these sites had been destroyed during combat, and that when it was time to replant, many favored the more fertile, easier to work plains, as well as faster growing crops such as corn and cereals.
After checking out Les Granges, we drove over to the enigmatic Croix Boisée site. On our way over, Matthieu pointed out the aforementioned homemade compost.
That's a hefty heap of compost! A few minutes later we were at the Croix Boisée, which is located on the top of a pretty hill.
Okay, so there is a lot going on at this site, which represents about 2 h of land.
Chinon is very similar to Burgundy in that the richness of the soils vary on the top, middle and the bottom of the hill. On the top of the vineyard, Matthieu showed us a bank where you could easily see the chalky limestone that dominates the top half.
The top of the hill is the richest in limestone, which is less favorable for Cabernet Franc and really good for Chenin, so they planted some. This is what produces the Croix Boisée Blanc. Walking down the rows, it is easy to spot how the limestone becomes less and less prominent.
The middle becomes heavier in clay, while the bottom of the hill is a mix of clay and sand, which "brings ripeness".
After visiting the vines, we drove back to the estate and visited the vinification cellars. As of 2005, the vast majority of the Baudry wines are fermented in large concrete tanks. Granges and Domaine are fermented and aged in concrete, Guillot and Grézeaux are fermented in concrete and aged in barrel a year and Croix Boissé is fermented and aged in barrel. Matthieu explained that concrete gives them the ability to let the wine spend extended time in an vessel that avoids the need for constant rackings, sulfuring and manipulation.
"When you don't add yeasts or filter, you need to bottle as late as possible."
We then walked over to the aging cellar, another beautiful cave carved in tuffeau limestone.
Much to my surprise, we ended up tasting all of the 2012's. Though the Croix Boisée was still very young and green, I couldn't believe how well the wines were showing at such an early stage. Matthieu shared my sentiments, and explained that they are usually in a much tougher place at this point of the year. The 2012 rosé had finished fermenting, but was still gassy. This one will be available soon and will not disappoint.
We ended the visit in the Baudry's tasting room. The big attraction was the famed "Terroir Display".
A true labor of love, Matthieu and Bernard dug into their subsoils and reconstituted them into glass containers so that their customers could see exactly what was going on down there. Not too shabby...
We then re-tasted the 2011's and 2010's, (they're great) drank a 99 Croix Boisée, 03 Franc de Pied and had a typically Loire lunch.
Next up, our final installment of Loire-Fest at Clos Rougeard! In an BREATHTAKINGLY UNPRECEDENTED MOVE, this will be our FIRST EVER OFFICIAL guest-blog post! Super secret special guest, tune in to find out!!!
PART 3: FROLICKING FREELY AT FERME DE LA SANSONNIÈRE
Places like Vallée de Cousse, the village where François Pinon resides, make me question if spending the majority of my time in a New York is really the way to go. I mean, look at this place!
Can anyone argue this DOESN'T resemble something out of a fairy-tale?
We arrived to François' house in the early afternoon, where the group was introduced to Emmanuel, the young man who has been working at the estate for a few years now. The guy is full of passion and enthusiasm, and it was nice to get to know him better.
It had rained heavily the night before, so the vines were soaked. Under the overcast skies, we drove up a nearby hill to visit a vineyard that goes into the Silex Noir cuvée.
This parcel was originally planted in 1944. François' grandfather must have been quite the optimist, planting a vineyard before the end of the war and all. Vouvray wasn't exactly out of the line of fire either, confirmed by the fact that an American jetplane gunned down in Montlouis crashed directly into this vineyard that same year.
"It happens less and less, but for many years, it was totally normal to find bits of wreckage while working the soil."
Silex Noir translates to Black Flint, and if you look closely, you can spot bits and pieces in the soil.
Kevin also found a piece of (not black) flint to show the group.
Though the vineyard was planted in 1944, the vast majority of the vines producing grapes today were replanted in massale in 1981.
"There is not a single clonal selection in this entire estate."
Our next stop was a clay heavy parcel that goes into 3 Argiles (formerly known in the US as Cuvée Tradition). It was really, really wet, so we couldn't venture too deep into the vines.
You could take a bath in there! The oldest vines here were planted in 1948, and none of them survived last winter's frost.
The rough winter led to a conversation about the ever increasing amount of dying vines due to esca.
Interestingly, according to Emmanuel and François, the fungal illness might not be the issue at all: there is mounting worry that the vines were already dying before anyone could tell, and the esca mushrooms snuck in later. Because esca does not effect every grape variety in France, very little research has been done up to this point. François half-jokingly pointed out that:
"If it's not affecting Champagne, then no research is going to be done."
François' theory is that the problem lies with omega grafting, since these mass deaths have been occurring in the 15-20 years since this technique has become the norm. Emmanuel elaborated that with a poorly executed omega vine, the graft is the equivalent of a clogged or corroded artery: the sap is still flowing, but not the way it should. Furthermore, the grafts might not be healing properly, permitting esca to sneak in and finish the job.
After visiting the vines, we drove back to the vinification cellar.
2012 was a very tough year for François, and he just didn't feel the quality was there to make a Silex or 3 Argiles. In such, 90% of the 2012 production will be produced as sparkling, the rest being a small amount of still Vouvray reserved for his French customers.
We tasted the base of what will be the 2012 bubbles (from grapes that are always used to make sparkling). The alcohol was just 10,5%, but François explained that this is an ideal level for sparkling production.
We then tasted from a parcel that would have gone into Silex Noir . I thought it was very good, but François insisted it was lacking depth and complexity. Ahhh, le perfectionnisme...
We then walked back to the storage/aging cellar, which is adjacent to François' house. Like many estates in the Loire, the cellar is built into the region's famous tuffeau limestone. Here, you can easily spot the many large chunks of black flint, which is unique to this particular area of Vouvray.
Kevin aptly pointed out is the exact subsoil of the first parcel we visited, since François' cellar is directly underneath it.
Everyone got to check out some old bottles of bubbles.
We then returned to the main tasting room, where François broke it down with a geological lesson on the region's soil composition.
As you could see in the pictures above, the tuffeau limestone in Pinon's area contain layers of black flint. Just like limestone, flint is a sedimentary rock left by ancient seabeds. Millions of shells and other organisms made up deep layers of limestone (or chalk), while more complicated chemical interactions between silica (contained in seawater) and organisms such as sponges created nodules of hard flint, which embedded itself into the chalk.
In Vallée de Cousse, these flint stones vary from very dark brown to black. The Silex Noir cuvée comes from vineyards where erosion has crumbled the softer limestone, leaving the harder stones on the surface. Some of Pinon's other soils contain flint, but the layer of clay (i.e decomposed chalk) is too heavy, so they remain in the subsoil.
After our informative lesson, it was time to taste currently bottled wines. François had them all decanting outside for us.
Before tasting, Emmanuel made sure we had rillettes to munch on.
We tasted all of the 2010's and 2011's, which were unsurprisingly great. What WAS surprising was a 2011 PET' NAT' attempt!!! That's right, you heard it here first! Emmanuel convinced François to give it a shot for fun; this, the fact that we saw Mr. Pinon at the Dive Bouteille and that he has the best collection of ascots in France = François giving Williamsburg's finest a run for their money!
The PET NAT itself was pretty austere, and they both agree they let the sugars go too far into fermentation. They might add a little moelleux to even out this current batch, and will try again in the future.
We then did a flight of Tradition, which for many years was the only dry wine François produced. 1997 was rich and honied nose, with a candied finish. 93 tasted "older", but still had a fresh nose and great acidity. At just 11,5%, it was holding up very well, and had a bit of botrytised grapes in it. A 93 Moelleux was delish.
We ended with a 1953 Moelleux made by François' father that was lip-smacking jolly good. Average American Consumer Joe Dougherty was able to correctly guess the vintage before it was announced.
Our next stop brings us to Chinon for a classy visit with Matthieu and Bernard Baudry! Don't miss it!
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!!!
PART 1: MUSCADET-A-THON AT DOMAINE DE LA PÉPIÈRE
Muscadet-a-thon is a tough event to follow up, but the Luneau family did a great job of keeping us enthralled by the wonders of Melon de Bourgogne. If I'm remembering correctly, this was the only bright, sunny morning of the whole trip, and we started our visit with an invigorating hike up the Butte de la Roche.
The vines from this lieu-dit produce the Terre de Pierre cuvée. On our way to the top of the hill, Pierre-Marie pointed out a 2.5 h plot of abandoned vineyards the family is planning to purchase. From the top, you can see all the separate communes of the Muscadet.
If you look very closely, you can actually see Marc Ollivier's house! Ok, not really...
Butte de la Roche is unique as terroir gets. The hill is surrounded by wetlands that fill up with water in the fall and winter; in the summer, the water clears out and the surrounding area turns into a large, grassy marsh. Pierre-Marie explained that this unique setting creates incredible bio-diversity in the vineyards. The Luneau's vines here are exposed South-West.
Even more interesting: Butte de la Roche's soil composition. To quote myself from last year:
"The site is actually a geological landmark because it is the only place in the world where 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."
Kevin found a chunk of serpentine to show you guys:
I found a hunk of basalt:
After listing all these factoids, you might be surprised finding out that only 2 of the 14 vignerons who cultivate vines on Butte de La Roche produce a site specific cuvée from the Butte. The rest blend them indiscriminately with the rest of their terroirs to produce base Muscadets.
Next, we checked out the Le L D'Or parcel.
This site consists of 2.5 h on granite soil; the first 30 cm are decomposed granite, with 500 m of pure granite subsoil directly underneath it. The vines are 31 years old.
Walking through the vines, Pierre-Marie explained how the various little rivers -for example the Sêvre and the Maine- cross and divide all of Muscadet's vineyards, deeply affecting micro-climates.
"We harvested a week and half earlier than Clisson or Gorges here. It is obvious that the Muscadet has a multitude of very different micro-climates, but these are very rarely highlighted individually."
Once we'd wrapped up our tour of the vines, we headed to the cellar to taste some 2012's and other soon to be released bottlings.
In the picture above, you can see the large stainless steel tanks the wines ferment in. You can also spot the Luneau's large pneumatic press on the upper right. After the wines have fermented, they are racked on the lees into these underground vats lined with glass tiles.
These vats were originally designed by an Italian, but have become synonymous with Nantes wineries. They hold 150hl. Muscadet's claim to fame is that it is aged on the lees, which consist of 4.5% of the tank. Battonages are done instinctively to bring balance to the wine.
Like many areas of the Loire valley, 2012 was a tough vintage for Luneau-Papin. Normally yields average 55 hl/h, and this year they were at about 25. The Luneau's didn't have any frost or hail this year, but rather a lot of flowering problems. In the end, there will not be a lot of wine, but the final result is positive: the vintage is bright, rich and full of personality.
In the corner of her eye, Susie Curnutte of Cordon Selections spotted this little guy.
That, my friends is a micro-batch of sulfur free Muscadet. It's just an experiment, and we didn't taste it, but Pierre-Marie wanted to see what would happen. We'll keep you posted.
Once we'd tasted from the cellar, it was time to enjoy a meal alongside many older vintages at the master table.
Once again, a wild board terrine hunted by Pierre-Marie was served. Also, this impressive cheese plate wooed the masses.
Mike from Natural Wine Company loved this selection so much that he overdid it a little when serving himself.
The most interesting conversation of the meal revolved around Pierre-Marie hoping that the Excelsior cuvée will be bottled under a new cru called Goulaine in coming vintages. As mentioned in the Pépière post, these new Muscadet crus are going to start popping up in the next few years, and the Luneau's are just as enthusiastic as Marc about this.
Our next stop? Mark Angéli at Ferme de la Sansonnière!
Our annual Loire Valley winter trip kicked off in the Muscadet this year. After a flight from JFK to Amsterdam, a quick connection got us into Nantes. We grabbed our luggage, hopped into our official LDM tour vehicles (sponsored by Jean Paul Brun's Drink Beaujolais! ad campaign) and drove to our first destination, the beautiful, peaceful town of Clisson.
This sleepy town of 6,000 is split by the Sèvre river. Every summer, 115 000 people invade it to celebrate...
Kiss, ZZ Top, Def Leppard and many others are headlining this year. The pizzeria we ate at had Twisted Sister poster autographed by the whole band, and I can't tell you how much of an honor it was eating in the same place as Dee Scheider.
Our first night in town, Marc and Geneviève Ollivier joined us at La Bonne Auberge, which was in many's top 3 meals of the trip. The restaurant is adorned with beautiful cat art.
The following morning, we drove to Pépière for the 16th annual Muscadet-a-thon, aka the culmination of all that is good in this world. Look at Marc's beautfiful house!
After being greeted by Marc and Rémi, we were introduced to the newest member of the Pépière team, Guenaelle!
Gwen just started in January, and is full of enthusiasm to be working at the estate. After our introduction, we do what we always do at Muscadet-a-thon, which is head to the cellar to taste upcoming vintages.
If you've been reading these visit recaps regularly, you know what I'm about to say. Everything was great, the wines are delicious, buy them blah blah blah... One point of conversation that was particularly interesting, however, was about the new Muscadet A.O.C's going into effect over the next few years. Clisson, Gorges and Le Pallet now exist as Crus since the 2011 vintage, and 4 more will take effect in the next two years. Marc truly believes will change the perception of Muscadet for French wine drinkers, who for the most part associate the region with cheap, standardized and mass produced supermarket wine.
We then set off to the vines, starting with the site that produces the Clisson cuvée.
This year, Marc decided to switch things up and give us a lesson on how to prune!
Without getting overly technical, the process involves selecting one of the many canes that will produce the grapes in the coming vintage, as well as prepping one for the next vintage. A pruned vine looks like this:
So to reiterate, that cane tied down to the left will produce 2013 fruit, and the little guy you can spot towards the middle of the foot will be for 2014. Marc does this so quickly and instinctively that you would never guess he was making educated decisions affecting the next two years of his production.
After Marc's demonstration, the brave Nicholas Montigelli from Avant Partir gave it a shot.
Josefa also had a go at it. Let's just say they both need a little more practice.
Next up, we checked out Clos des Briords. It was muddy!
Here Marc talked about his viticultural practices, which I wrote about in detail last year.
After the vines, it was time to EAT OYSTERS AND HOMEMADE PÂTÉ AND DRINK BACK VINTAGES OF PÉPIÈRE GOING BACK TO 1983!
The woodcock and fois gras pâté was my favorite, with the wild boar a close second. Big news: this was the first wild board pâté Marc made with a boar he hunted himself! Not only does this continue the being served wild board on trips trend, but it inspired me to coin the term "slayed and made". Don't be surprised when that catches on.
Also, Geneviève is the best because she always makes sure there is an abundance of vegetables to eat.
Seriously, those were the only vegetables we ate the whole trip. Unless rilettes are technically considered a vegetable in France, but I'm pretty sure even they acknowledge that it's meat slow-cooked in its own fat.
Next up, a recap of our visit to the Luneau-Papin clan! Muscadet, Muscadet!
After saying goodbye to Antonio Perrino, we drove up to the village of Soldano, home of Danila Pisano! The single mountain road to get there was full of upward twist and turns, and the further along we went, the more remote it felt. We were trailing Kevin, and after losing him I couldn't help but feel like we were in the beginning of a horror movie.
Fortunately, we arrived unharmed and were greeted by a joyful Danila hanging out at the cafe with her long time boyfriend Tino.
Because it was later in the afternoon and the vines are a 20 minute drive out, we proposed that the couple hop into one our cars and show us the way. Tino laughed heartily and told us there was no way what we were driving could make it up there. He was not kidding! The drive in Danila's 4x4 was full of super sharp turns and one of the steepest I've ever experienced. There were points when we were on a 60% incline!
Danila and Tino parked the cars, and from there it was a short walk to one of the most peaceful vineyard sites I've ever experienced.
From the vineyards, you can spot the beginning of France.
The estate consists of 0.8 h of vines spread over three different sites in the Val Verbone valley, all in Rossese. The vines are actually from Tino's family, and were inherited when his father retired. Tino has always worked in highway maintenance, but decided with Danila to start cultivating the vines and making wine in 1996. They immediately converted the vines to organic viticulture. The parcel we visited is exposed Southwest, and though it felt much higher, at 250 meters elevation.
They are also beautifully terraced, which has always been the tradition around these parts.
The terraces were built in 1933. The soils consist of 40% sand, 40% clay and 20% limestone. All the vineyard work is done by hand, but they have a small tractor for transportation. The vines are all trained in albarello.
It's hard to tell from the pictures, but the rows are on very steep hill. I think this one with Denyse looking like a superhero (with Lee as her sidekick) gives you the best idea of the steepness.
After visiting the vines, we drove back to Soldano to taste the recently bottled 2011's. The were incredibly good. Both cuvées are vinified the same way: 8-15 days maceration in stainless, then racked and hard pressed. Fermentation usually takes 10-15 days, also in stainless steel. "Savoia" is a selection of the best grapes from their best site. It's the best!
With the 1978 Testalonga fresh on my mind, I asked if there were any back vintages to taste. At first Tino was hesitant, as he truly believes that the wines need to be consumed within two years. Nonetheless pulled out a 2006 for us to try. And you know what? He was right. The wine hadn't completely fallen apart, but had none of the vibrancy and brightness that I'd come to expect. Fortunately, the wines are so good young that they get drunk up promptly!
As we left, this painted sign on the road caught by eye.
I don't know, I just found it funny that the girl basically looks like a shovel.
After saying goodbye, we drove to Sanremo, gambled the night away, drove to Nice the next morning and flew back to our respective cities.
Over the course of our long drive from Piedmonte to Liguria, Lee, Tom and I listened to Mos Def, DJ Shadow, Robag Wruhme, Outkast and TLC. I'm not sure what was playing in Kevin, Denyse and Josefa's car, but based on their musical tastes I would guess it was an eclectic mix of Radiohead, Serge Gainsbourg and REM.
After all that driving and music, we were ready to taste some Rossese di Dolceacqua! If you're unfamiliar with the Rossese grape, don't worry because you are not alone. Grown by an ever decreasing amount of growers in and around Dolceacqua, it got my official vote of "most exciting Italian grape I'd never heard of" of 2012, and I must of discovered at least 214 of them last year! The wines are light in body but concentrated in fruit and minerality. They also have this lasting tobacco finish, which I almost didn't want to write because of how cliched of a tasting note that is. But it's true, okay!
Our first stop was a visit to the enigmatic and legendary Antonio Perrino of Testalonga. We had a little bit of time to kill, so naturally we took a stroll about town.
This unassuming little side street holds Antonio Perrino's cellar.
In the last few months, I'd seen a lot of tiny cellars (Zélige-Caravent, Laurent Barth, Bruno Duchêne), but this one might just take the cake.
7 barrels represents Antonio's TOTAL production! I found it rather humbling that a producer who consistently makes top 100 lists and has such a larger than life reputation could make fine wine in such a small, simple place. Then again, Antonio proved to be an extremely friendly, amiable guy and a gracious host. Also important to note, the quantities reflect the fact that Antonio owns less than an hectare of vines; as we'd find out later, the working conditions of Dolceacqua terraced vineyards are some of the most challenging in Europe, and owning more land would be quasi-impossible to manage, especially since Antonio is 66 and still does everything by himself!
2011 was Antonio's 50th vintage, and every bottle will be adorned with a 50th anniversary sticker. The Rossese was showing well, a little fuller bodied and darker than I was expecting, but it's possible that it needed time to settle in bottle. Antonio also makes a small quantity of Vermentino, and the 2011 was my favorite wine of the trip. Saying it had saline qualities wouldn't do it justice: it was salty to the point of being savory, and so different than the 2005 we'd drank at Tabarro just a few days earlier. Incredible.
We also got to try a 1978 Rossese:
It looked and smelled like an old wine, with an orangish color and elegant nose. The fruit was still there, though on the back of the palate, and I found the tobacco finish to be particularly pronounced.
Here's a funny picture of a cat on a car that has absolutely nothing to do with the visit.
After tasting, we went to eat lunch at this great place called A Viassa. This was our first meal eating primarily seafood, and was a culinary highlight of the trip for everyone. Highly recommended. Just like any other normal lunch, it was accompanied by a Jeroboam of 2007 Rossese:
During lunch, Antonio filled us in on some key Testalonga factoids. The oldest vines are about 100, but most are around 30 to 40 years old. The main vineyard site is called is called Arcagna, and the Rossese used to be labelled as such (you can see this on the jero picture above). Recently however, he changed it since a tiny bit of the final blend comes from other sites. As far as the indigenous grape Antonio has worked with his entire life:
"Rossese is disappearing. It's hard to work, and people want to plant higher yielding varieties they can sell."
The great sites, which are all on steep, borderline hazardous terraces, are all getting ripped up. And in the rare cases when growers decide to replant Rossese instead of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it is getting planted in shittier but easier to work sites.
I was very disappointed that Antonio didn't have time to show us the vines, which are about a 30 minute drive from Dolceacqua. He did however, have time to show us his friend's olive oil facility. On our way there, I spotted a horse just hanging out in a back alley.
I had never seen how olive oil is actually produced, and it was very entertaining experience.
Next up, end game with Danila Pisano!
Blame it on the Louis/Dressner obsession with rare, quirky varietals if you want, but I've always loved the Cascina Tavijn wines. The Grignolino and Ruché grapes are always so vibrant and fun in their youth, but are still capable of developing complexity with a few years of aging. The estate is also part of our Italian "Gang of Four" (don't sue us Kermit!), the first group of Italian growers we started importing (along with Vittorio Bera, Cascina Degli Ulivi and La Biancara).
Cascina Tavijn is headed by Nadia Verrua.
The first independently bottled vintage was in 2001. Nadia took over the estate from her father, who had always sold the grapes to the cave cooperative; at first she only handled the cellar work, but has progressively become completely hands on in the vines. The estate is of modest size, with 6h of vines and 4h of hazelnut trees planted at the bottom of hill.
We arrived in the early afternoon, and immediately set out to the vines. After a much steeper uphill climb than any of us expected, the damn paparazzi started trying to take pictures of us.
The fall colors were once again in full swing.
The first parcel we visited was Southwest facing Ruché planted in 2001, followed by Grignolino. Some of this land has been replanted in massale since 2001, which has proven to be a challenge since very few growers still have have old vines of these almost extinct varieties.
Young vine Grignolino was planted 2.5 years ago in massale.
Walking downhill was a lot easier, and our tasting was accompanied by a large basket of recently harvested hazelnuts (which I ate a lot of). Every year, Nadia does two bottlings of each cuvée, and we tried the second of Grignolino, Ruché and Barbera. All were showing well. We also got to check out the cellar.
We finished with the sulfur free bottlings of each grape. Nadia bottles these on a tiny scale, and it all ends up at her husband Pietro's restaurant Consorzio.
If you're ever in Torino for any reason whatsoever, you have no excuse not eating there. The food is incredible, and the wine list is an impressive who's who of great Italian and French natural wines. Plus it's the only place to drink sulfur free Grignolino by the glass!
We ate there on election night, and Pietro pulled out the big guns with this:
Drawn by a friend and local artist, this poster is a direct reference to Mauro Vergano's Americano. Speaking of Mauro:
Tucked away in a small alley street in the heart of Torino, you will find Mr. Vergano's magic laboratory.
Mauro has very little room to store the base wine, which stays in those stainless tanks. He drives over to each estate to grab the wine right before they bottle and to reiterate: the Chinato is produced from Giuseppe Cortese's Nebbiolo, the Luli from Vittorio Bera & Figli's Moscato, the Americano from Cascina Tavijn's Grigolino and the Vermouth from Cascina Degli Ulivi's Cortese and the Bera's Moscato.
These little guys hold Mauro's herb and spice concoctions.
Mauro sources his herbs from 3 different suppliers, and the only ingredient he picks himself is chinotto, a bitter citrus rind. On average, he picks 20-30 k of the fruit at the end of September, then peels and cuts them himself. Chinotto is smaller than a clementine, and apparently doesn't taste very good.
In the moment we had all been waiting for, Mauro opened his closet of secret ingredients, many of which you can see in the following picture:
All of the herbs and spices are kept together. Many of these are very hard to obtain, because they are protected when grown in the wild.. But Mauro has a friend who knows all the guys who go to the mountain, and they get him everything he needs on the low-low.
We got to smell many different types of absinthe (or wormwood), which really burns your nose if you sniff it too hard. We also smelled cumin, sage, cloves, oregano, and bark from the bahamas! After out scratch-n-sniff tasting, Mauro surprised us with a new experiment: a Ruché Chinato! It was very sweet, and he joked it was a "Chinato for girls". In this case, he used a mix of the extract used for the Chinato and Luli.
Before leaving, we got a little history lesson. Mauro showed us the original Chinato recipe from a century ago, scribbled on an old piece of paper. You see, Mauro's uncle's father was a barman, and always had fun messing with recipes. After many years of tinkering around, he came up with the base for how all Chinato is made today. His name was Giulio Cocchi, a name you might recognize since it was trademarked many years ago, and is one of the biggest producers of Chinato and Vermouth in Italy.
"I have the original recipe! I don't thing the current owners even have it!".
Next up, the final chapter of the Italy Chronicles 2012, our visits with Antonio Perrino and Danila Pisano in Dolceacqua!
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: ZÉLIGE-CARAVENT IN CORCONNE
If you missed it the first time, a while back I posted Laurent's interview on his profile. It covers the history of the estate, the soils, Laurent's travels and a lot more. On to the recap!
Laurent Barth lives in the small village of Bennwihr, about 10 kilometers North of Colmar. Thought it has been around for centuries, the village was completely destroyed during the struggle for the Colmar Pocket in World War 2. Subsequently, it was rebuilt from the ground up (explaining why many houses look far more polished than most old villages in France). This included housing but also local economies.
The region has always been rich in vineyards, and a group of local vignerons -including Laurent's grandfather- formed a cave cooperative together in the late 40's in an effort to get things going again. The team effort proved a success: Bennwihr's cave developed a reputation for its high quality wines, and did very well in sales. Unfortunately, the growth of the cave coincided with the introduction and standardization of chemical viticulture and mechanization. Today, the wines being produced there are the same you'd find from any cave coop (aka industrial), something Laurent wanted to break out of by starting his own estate.
Laurent has 28 parcels spread over 4 communes, though 80% of his vines are in Bennwhir. The first one we visited was some Pinot Gris planted in 2001.
This was all planted in massale and in high concentration. This used to be the norm in the area, but was lost with mechanization.
"It creates more competition between the vines, so the roots have to go deeper to feed themselves."
You've probably noticed that the vineyards are very green with grass. Laurent started converting the estate to organics in 2004 (the first vintage bottled under his name), and for the last 6 years has been using biodynamic composts. He plans on incorporating 500 and 501 preparations over the next year.
We continued to visit by checking out Grand Cru Gewürztraminer planted in 1967 and 1968.
Unfortunately, the vines are suffering a lot of mortality problems from esca here. On that same hill, Laurent showed us some of his Pinot Noir (planted roughly around the same time).
We then drove back down to the village to visit some Riesling planted in 1945.
These are the oldest Riesling vines Laurent owns. Here on the plains, the soils are thinner and have more clay. Up in the hills, Riesling grows in soils with more limestone.
I spotted a vine that had recently died of esca, and for educational reasons decided to share it with you.
The last parcel we visited was a recently acquired 27 ares of Riesling from the Grand Cru Schlossberg, all replanted in 2009.
It's steep up there!
The visit ended with... TASTING! Laurent has a teeny-tiny cellar.
Highlights of the tasting were the Riesling 11's and the Pinot Noir M from barrel (20% whole cluster, darker, more structured). The Riesling VV was off to a very promising start, but still needed some time to age and develop before bottling. The Gewürztraminers, while obviously on the sweeter side of things, were still balanced by very bright acidity and minerality, making them thoroughly enjoyable.
Well, that's it for the Summer Logs! And it only took 5 months! Don't worry though, I've still got a Jean Thévenet interview (one of my personal favorites) and a bonus edition of Old Stuff From the Cellar: On the Road Edition left from our summer excursions. Also, expect a hand full of visit recaps from Italy over December, and many more 2012 Harvest Reports.
Louis/Dressner Selections: We've got internet content!™
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: MAS DES CHIMÈRES IN OCTON
Up until today's avalanche of information, Zélige-Caravent has been one of those mystery estates for most of our customers. But today, that all changes! Before jumping into the visit recap, please read the new Zélige-Caravent profile and in-depth interview with Luc and Marie Michel to get a firm grasp on who these people are. Moving along...
It's always great when you spend time with someone you barely know and end up getting along like old acquaintances. This was certainly the case during our two day visit with Luc and Marie Michel in Corconne. In the last year and half, we've crossed paths several times at Renaissance des Appellations and Vini di Vignaoli, and obviously spent enough time with them to work out bringing the wines to the United States, but this was our first time visiting the estate and I'm happy to say it was a great visit.
We arrived just around lunch time, and kicked things off by eating at this great, hidden gem of a restaurant called Sous le Chêne. After following an unassuming, unmarked path on the side of the road, you end up in an outdoor space with just a few tables, a makeshift kitchen and swimming pool. Everything is sourced locally/organically and they have good wines, but the most interesting thing about this place is their use of wild, seasonal plants and flowers in most of their dishes. Check out this link to see the summer offerings. Flowers taste good!
After lunch, it was time to check out what Luc has dubbed "the world's tiniest cellar". Before stepping in, I spotted an imminent shipment for PDX wine out in Portland!
The cellar is indeed tiny and in the middle of the village. Out front, there's a blue tree.
Inside, most of the concrete tanks were adorned with Marie's chalk art.
She explained that drawing on the tanks keeps her busy since: "doing a soutirage is long and boring". Before reaching said tanks, some of the grapes are put in this large container to macerate.
As you can see from this picture (that I didn't take), each bucket needs to be manually loaded up there (via ladder). The grapes are either whole cluster or not, and this depends on the state of each varietal, each vintage. Macerations typically last 4 weeks, and only light remontages are performed during this period. A wooden press is then used.
All in all, the Michel's work 12 hectares spread over 24 parcels. The biggest is only 1 hectare! Interestingly, the reason vines are so widely planted here is a bit of an accident. Up until the 50's, all vines were planted on extremely fertile ground, because the poor soils were reserved for olive trees. Then there was the great frost of 1956, which killed ALL the trees. This came as a huge surprise to the locals, since olive trees are notoriously resistant and live a very long time. And because replanting olives exclusively was too much of a long term plan, vines were replanted in the poor soils instead. And lo and behold, people started realizing these were good terroirs for wine!
Speaking of terroir, the soils here are locally called Gravette, which consist of deeply layered rocks in red sand.
Walking over to the vines, Luc pointed out a plot that he'd originally wanted to buy. Instead, the owner decided to rip them out and replant.
"I can't believe they ripped it out before harvesting."
It definitely seemed like a waste; Luc is guessing that Syrah will be replanted in rows here, an unfortunate trend he talks about in detail in his interview. A big reason Luc feels that goblets need to stay is that "Each goblet creates its own microclimate by covering and protecting the grapes".
Because there are so many parcels, I forgot which is which, but here are some pretty pictures.
They don't really do rognage, except for some very light touch ups on some goblets where you couldn't walk through otherwise. Vines tend to go quite high in their land.
Walking through La Sene, a parcel of Carignan and Cinsault, Luc mentioned the changes he'd noticed here over the years:
"This site proves that converted vineyards can benefit from biodynamics. Carignan is really sensitive to odium. When I bought them, the vines were sick: grapes were just falling to the ground. I have three separate Carignan parcels, purchased from 3 separate owners who were all having illness problems with them. Now, all 3 are in great shape."
The next day, we continued our tour of the vines.
On the way there, this guy gave me the stink-eye.
Later on, I found this rock with a leaf that had fossilized in it.
That night, we had a picnic dinner facing a parcel Luc and Marie relunctantly had to rip out.
Here, you can spot the old school method of local planting: one row of olive trees, 3 rows of vines.
"I think the olives trees contribute to the vines and vice versa. They weren't producing anything, and for years we kept saying we needed to rip them out. But when we did, it broke our hearts. We'll definitely be replanting in the future."
We ate simply but well, drank some good stuff and got devoured by mosquitoes. It was a fun night.
Next up, the FINAL CHAPTER of the Summer Logs (finally!!!), our visit to Laurent Barth in Bennwhir!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: YANNICK PELLETIER IN SAINT-NAZAIRE-DE-LADAREZ
NOTE: Post Sandy madness, a trip to Italy and reorganizing our portfolio tasting have slowed blog updates down over the last two weeks, but rest assured that we are now back to regularly scheduled programming.
Visiting the Dardés in Octon is always a pleasure. We've been working with them since Guilhem's first independently bottled vintage (1993), and over the years they have become great friends. This summer we were able to catch up on life, do an extensive tour of the vineyards and taste upcoming releases from 2010 and 2011.
After freshening up and unloading our bags, we walked to the center of Octon to try some recently bottled wines in the official Mas des Chimères Caveau.
Because of a strong tourist presence year round, on premises sales are a huge part of the Dardé's business. Guilhem really likes selling wine this way: tasting and explaining each cuvée directly to the consumer, seeing their immediate reactions and knowing they are walking out happy is a very rewarding process for him.
After finishing up with a particularly chatty couple, Guilhem locked the doors and we began tasting.
2010 is a lighter, less austere vintage than 09, and the 11 Oeillade we tasted was playful and fruity. The 2010 Caminarèm had a beautiful nose, nice fruit and my tasting note says it was "really cool". The 10 white has great acidity, and a late harvest Muscat Petits Grains (don't ask for some, they barely make any) was a nice suprise.
As with most wines from the south of France, it's not uncommon to find alcohol percentages reaching 15%, particularly with the reds. The secret is making sure that this alcohol is balanced with acidity, fruit and structure as to not overpower the wine. Or as Guilhem puts it:
"Having fresh wines at 14,5 is not an art, it's a mystery!"
Mystery or not, the wines are indeed quite fresh. But unlike some of his neighbors who might be using winemaking techniques like carbonic maceration to lighten the tannic structure and alcohol, Guilhem's goal is simply to produce wines that reflect his terroir:
"We're evolving a little bit but I'm still trying to stay Languedoc. I want to drink my wines in 10-15 years."
We also talked about the great joys of working with the unknown:
"I think it's great how little we know about how our soils work. The best part of working organically is that it forces you to be attentive."
Lunch consisted of cheese pizzas, an ongoing joke on Guilhem's part. You see, as a kid I was a very picky eater, and on our first visit I refused to eat anything Palma had prepared. In such, they were forced to go grab me a pizza. In the last 20 years, I don't think I HAVEN'T eaten a cheese pizza on a visit to Octon. Anyway, after a DELICIOUS lunch, it was time for a long walk through the vines.
The landscape around the Salagou is defined by intensely red sand and clay (from all the iron and oxide in them).
The first site we saw were Cinsault vines. In this parcel, Guilhem has progressively been replanting in selection massale with picks from the last three years.
Guilhem pointed out problems he's having with these wild grasses growing between vines.
If you don't take care of these the competition becomes too much, and they are a pain in the ass.
Next were some Carignan vines which are rented.
Though they are in rows, this parcel was originally trained in gobelet. Unfortunately, the guy who was renting them prior cut the arms of the vines off to get in there with his tractor. Even then, the work was too hard for him so he gave them up.
"He worked these vines just long enough to mess them up!"
We continued our stroll over to some Grenache plantings.
Guilhem is completely discouraged by this particular area because he is surrounded by neighbors who are going ham with excessive chemical use. Here is a picture from a neighboring vine:
And another from a new planting:
"I might sell it one day; I'm sick of being surrounded by chemists."
Besides the lack of even a single blade of grass, you might have also noticed the irrigation tubes in both above pictures. While Guilhem has never irrigated, it is now the norm in the area. This surprised me since I hadn't noticed irrigation systems once in the Roussillon, but Guilhem explained that the vineyard's proximity to the Salagou lake means that most vignerons are goin' ham with abusing all that available water. Many even irrigate the day before harvest!
"And if they had access to water like this in the Roussillon, they'd be doing it too!"
The final parcel we checked out were some Terret vines that had been worked chemically for years.
In the three years Guilhem's been converting them, this is the first time he's actually seen grass grow here.
After our long walk, we had a beer in Octon's center square. Zaggy was very tired from it all.
Later that night over dinner (no cheese pizzas!), the conversation was going strong. In a particularly quotable (and somewhat paraphrased) moment, Guilhem said something like:
"My son was 4 and had never been sick. His first year in elementary school, he was ill all the time. He was exposed to all types of germs and bacteria that he was never exposed to before. And if you're not full of antibiotics, you learn to adapt, to survive. Paul's been fine since. It's the same for the vines!"
Next up, our two day visit at Zélige-Caravent! Expect a full profile, visit recap and interview with Luc and Marie Michel!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: BRUNO DUCHÊNE IN BANYULS-SUR-MER
Bruno Duchêne was Maya "Mayhem" Pedersen's last stop with us. She did such a great job capturing our visits with her nice camera that I felt obliged to continue taking pictures for the rest of the trip, the first of which you get to enjoy in this post! All photographic-related constructive criticism can be sent to my assistant Eddie Wrinkerman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Moving along...
After meeting Yannick in front of his cellar, we stepped in to taste the unfinished 2011's. Nothing had been bottled or blended yet, but this should be happening soon to make room for the 2012 harvest. With the exception of a few old barrels and some fiberglass, the vast majority of Yannick's wine is vinified in large cement tanks.
We started by tasting some Terret Blanc and Terret Gris harvested in late October. The alcohol was surprisingly low, only 12.3%. Some of this is fermented in fiberglass, the rest in wood to add structure. It will be bottled as L'R de Rien, a crisp table wine that hasn't made it stateside yet (for quantity reasons).
Next we tasted Cinsault from different concrete tanks; Yannick believes these will all turn up in the 2011 Oiselet. The prominent characteristics were red fruit on the nose and palate, with a nice tannic structure and finish. We also tasted a fiberglass fermented Grenache that will probably end up in L'Engouvelement -it was showing darker and deeper fruit. We ended on some Grenache Gris from barrel: it had a smoked meat quality on the nose, was a little marked by the oak, but overall showed concentrated fruit and a tannic finish.
After tasting the 2011's, Yannick proposed we revisit 2010 with lunch at Cave Saint Martin, an excellent wine bar, retailer and restaurant in the neighboring town of Roquebrun.
This place is run by the infamous Raymond Lecoq, the guy who sells his charcuteries to all of our favorite restaurants in France. Also, our waitress was none other than Marcel Lapierre's daughter Camille! Lunch consisted of a lot of seasonal, local fish and various forms of pork and cheese. Yannick loves the fact that a place like this exists so close to his house.
"In the summer, I eat here almost everyday for lunch."
Denyse and I hadn't seen Yannick since the Dive Bouteille, so it was a good time to catch up. Fresh with memories of the Roussillon, I started describing the great energy I felt there: the ever increasing amount of estates starting up or converting to organic viticulture/minimal intervention winemaking, everyone getting along and helping each other out, the enthusiasm to break free of the region's bad reputation... Yannick -while happy to hear about this- informed us that the good vibes haven't really spread up North yet.
"We are maybe two or three here (Saint-Chinian) who have the same priorities."
Case in point: the Saint-Chinian A.O.C board recently declassified the 2010 Oiselet into a Vin de France. Why? Because Yannick used more Cinsault than is legally allowed in the blend...
This puts him in a tough position: though all his good customers still bought the wine, not having the AOC can have devastating effects on sales, particularly in France. Still, Yannick is considering intentionally declassifying all his cuvées in future vintages. It's a decision many of our growers have made in the past: it's a risk, but at least it gives them the freedom to make the wines they want to make. Either way, Yannick doesn't see his relationship with the INAO getting any better.
"I can feel that the AOC has a problem with me, and I don't want to fight to be accepted in an institution that doesn't want me around."
After lunch, it was vineyard time! First stop, Yannick's only Mourvèdre vines.
These are grown on very dry clay and limestone. The vines were acquired in 2009, and are 30 years old. The Mourvèdre ends up being blended into the Coccigrues. For the last year, Yannick has been experimenting with biodynamic techniques, and wants to start making the preparations himself.
Next, we visited a schist parcel, a mix of 60 year old Carignan and Grenache vines on the top and some much younger Syrah vines at the bottom.
In the case of these schist soils, the first 30 centimeters are very hard stone. But once you get past those, the schists are completely shattered, so this where the vines' roots truly take. The Carigan portion is particularly rocky.
Next was Yannick's baby, a parcel of Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris he completely planted himself.
These were planted last April on schist and clay. 63 ares total. The soils here had been resting for 15 years, which was a big factor in Yannick's purchase. The other? A very nice panoramic view!
The last site we saw was Grenache on dark clay. This parcel is in an isolated clos.
Next up, we swing by Lake du Salagou to say hi to Guilhem and Palma Dardé of Mas des Chimères! Stay tuned!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: TOM LUBBE/MATASSA IN CALCE
Bruno Duchêne is the the man. From the minute he greets you with his big smile and booming laugh (his deep HA HA HA sounds like Falkor from Never Ending Story), you just get good vibes from the guy. Anyone who knows him well will tell you the guy is pure energy. And as we discovered at lunch, Bruno doesn't just party: he is the party. But more on that later...
Before meeting up with Bruno, our top priority was to find a leash for Zaggy, which had been lost at some point during our Oratoire St-Martin visit. Cruising around Banyuls, we eventually found a pet shop that lured us in with its amazing wall art:
After finding a great red leash for Zag-Zag, we met up with Bruno on one of Banyuls' main strips. Banyuls-Sur-Mer is a beautiful and very touristic town on the edge of the Roussillon. It borders Catalonia (all the signs are in French and Catalan) and was built on the coast of the Mediterranean sea. As an A.O.C, the region is known for its fortified, off dry Grenache based wines. Bruno only makes dry wines however, and as a result they are labelled under the Collioure AOC (a neighboring commune whose grapes can also legally be used in Banyuls production).
His wines have quickly gathered cult status in the States for their pure expression of terroir and extreme gulpabilty. Moreover, as with most things culty, quantities are extremely limited and the wines are almost impossible to find outside of New York City (although some nice retailers who ship out of state will gladly provide you with some). While I would love to tell you that we do this only to boost demand and make these trophy wines, the truth is simply that Bruno is currently working on a tiny scale. His 4 hectares produce very low yields, and the barrels below represent his ENTIRE ANNUAL production.
The area you can see in that picture covers roughly half of Bruno's "cellar", which in reality is little more than a temperature controlled garage. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's by far the smallest place I've seen wine being professionally made in. But as the old adage goes, you make wines in the vines, not the cellar…
Speaking of the vines, Bruno owns 4 hectares spread over four parcels. They are all on schists, but each parcel has different altitudes, expositions and climates to keep things interesting. Originally from the Loire, Bruno arrived to Banyuls in 2000. Quickly realizing that he wanted to spend the rest of his life there, he quit his job as a wild mushroom distributor, bought some vines and produced his first vintage in 2002. Driving up to the vines, I asked him if it was hard for him to find land as an outsider.
"A good attitude goes a long way! It worked out perfectly."
That quote embodies Bruno's easy going nature perfectly. Never a worry in the world!
Anyhow, we only visited Bruno's biggest parcel (2.5 h), because he felt it would give us the best idea of the work he does.
"You're going to understand everything!"
As you can see in the picture below, all Collioure vineyards are planted on the steep, mountainous hills and face the Mediterranean.
Bruno produces three red wines: La Luna, Pascole and Anodine (Anodine is only available in magnum). Unlike most estates, the three cuvées come from the same terroirs, but Bruno bottles them separately to highlight different viticultural practices. For La Luna, he lets grass grow free.
Pascole is partially plowed by hand.
Finally, Anodine represents the areas that are impossible to work mechanically and where the soil work has to be done 100% by hand, except for a tiny plot where a horse has room to till and plow.
He also makes a white -Vall Pompo- from Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris. All his parcels are co-planted in red and white, and because of optimal weather conditions, he only performs 3 powdered sulfur treatments a year and never uses copper. The old vines are 80-100 years old, and Bruno has replanted the other half over the last decade.
Bruno replants everything by himself, which is pretty uncommon these days: it's a very tough and precise process, so usually a vigneron will hire a pépiniériste to do this work, or at the very least heavily assist in it. Everything is selection massale, and he does it the old school way: planting an american rootstock, then letting it grow for 3 o4 4 years before grafting the French foot.
"Only the elders still know how to do this, and they taught me how to do this. When you plant this way, the vines are here forever."
Sounds like those elders really appreciated Bruno's good attitude!
Another question I had for Bruno: how does wind affect your work?
"There is always air coming from the sea."
Winds from the water and/or the mountains are ever-present: over 200 days of the year are "extremely windy", with the Tramontana usually to blame.
Heading back into town, I noticed something that had stayed on my mind since George Descombes pointed it out in Brouilly: a clear difference in color between neighboring vines, apparently an easy way to tell if they are being treated chemically or not.
Basically, the darker green vines on the lower right are the result of repeated herbicide use, while the lighter, brighter ones on the top left are what healthy vines look like when left alone. Since I'm not a vigneron, I won't speculate any further, but I must say that the difference in color is undeniable...
Driving back into Banyuls, Bruno got very excited telling us about his upcoming project. Along with a dozen or so other partners, Bruno has spearheaded buying an old, soon to be disenfranchised building from the cave cooperative. It's in the heart of town, and will provide stocking rooms for a large number of vignerons, as well as 5 independent cellars (including Bruno's). We got to visit:
As you can see, it's huge. The partners plan on opening a bed and breakfast, as well as a restaurant/wine bar in the space.
"I was about to be debt free for the first time in almost twenty years. Not anymore! But you know what? An opportunity like this will never happen again, and I'm so glad I was able to find this many people to invest. The goal is to create a community spirit, a cave cooperative of independents!"
It's important to note that only 200 of Banyuls' 1800 h are farmed and vinified independently. And while Bruno understands that the little guys need to have each other's back, he's not doing this to spite or challenge the cave.
"These vineyards are extremely difficult to work. If it wasn't for the cave still being able to sell a lot of wine, I can't even begin to imagine how many of these vines would become abandoned overnight."
We went back to the cellar just before lunch to taste the 2010's. All the wines are sans souffre this vintage, and everything was tasting great, blah blah blah...
Lunch was at the great restaurant/natural wine bar El Xadic Del Mar. We ate like kings, and started with this:
But that was only the beginning. Bruno started ordering bottle after bottle. And since he knows everybody in town -warm greetings kept erupting from him every 10 minutes- it got to the point where he was pouring some our wine to them, they were pouring their wine to us. Look, there's even photographic evidence.
By the time cheese was done and Bruno ordered a bottle of Banyuls "for dessert", we were all wasted. We actually had to spend 3 hours drinking coffees and Badoit on the water before I felt comfortable enough to drive home. This was happening the whole time though, which was quite entertaining:
Next up, we start our Languedoc takeover with Yannick Pelletier!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: DOMAINE DE MAJAS IN CAUDIÈS-DE-FENOUILLÈDES
Every time I see Tom Lubbe, I play a game in my head counting how many times he'll say 'fuck'. My theory is that he spends so much time speaking French in the beautiful little village of Calce that whenever another anglophone -particularly one like myself- comes around, it's open season to let loose a repressed torrent of English expletives. The other thing I do every time I see Tom is laugh my ass off. I think this video -minus the overly dramatic, completely out of place classical music- aptly captures his great sense of humor:
Tom is also the only vigneron we work with who is 100% fluent in English and French: in this we share a bond, a secret hand-shake of sorts involving a very special brand of Franglais/Frenglish that only 'our kind' can really understand. And over the three days and nights we spent in his village this summer, I got the chance to know Tom a lot more. Beyond all the laughs and good times, Tom really is a very intelligent and opinionated man, making conversations with him a genuine pleasure.
A New Zealand native who grew up in South Africa, Tom's first visit to the Roussillon was in the late 90's. As he explains in his Louis/Dressner interview:
"Over 12 years ago I was working for a wonderful woman -Louise Hofmeyer- in South Africa who had the only estate (Welgemeend, which she has since had to sell) there and then using exclusively indigenous yeasts, working with lower yileds and little or no new wood. As I wanted to work with Mediterranean varieties, Louise recommended I do a stage at Domaine Gauby in Calce, which I did. Gerard Gauby invited me to come back for three more vintages as cellar helper during which time I met his sister with whom I am now married with two children."
When Tom and Natalie found out they were going to have their first child (who they called Jules, proving they have excellent taste in names), they decided to get married. Tom, who'd originally planned to take what he'd learned in the Roussillon back to South Africa, decided to stay in France. Still determined to have his own estate, he started Matassa in 2003. The first vintage was actually vinified and aged in Tom's living room!
"The kid, the wine...It was the first year of our marriage, and almost our last!"
Living room wine wasn't exactly sustainable, so the Gauby's donated their old cellar to Tom for 2004...
After our first night in Calce, we set off to visit Tom's vines. The first site we visited was a 1,5 h parcel of 80 year old Macabeau on schist soils.
The parcel is called La Jasse. In this area, Tom recently planted olive groves.
"That's my retirement plan 20 years from now."
As we walked through the vines, the famous Tramontane winds were soft but steady.
"The Tramontane is THE most defining part of this terroir. When it's soft, it's a good thing. But it can be very strong and blow for up to two weeks at a time."
This often leads to vines being broken. On average, 30% of the crop is lost to the Tramontane each year! Next up was a 120 year old parcel of Macabeau called Poux d'en Nougé.
After that, we drove to the parcel the Marguerite cuvée comes from.
This lieu-dit - Muscat de Max- is a monastery parcel, which means it was originally planted by monks over a thousand years ago. It's an old field blend of Muscat D'Alexendrie, Malvasia and Muscat Petit Grain, all on limestone soils. The vines are at least 90 years old. Also planted here, a kooky grape called Datier de Baruch:
"They look like little bananas or chili peppers. I have no idea where they originally come from, and my best explanation is that they were planted as a joke."
Moving along, we then drove to a 2,5 h parcel of Grenache Gris, Coum des Lloups (Valley of the wolves).
"But if that is a little too Costnerish, the vineyard itself is known as Tattaouine after the town in Marocco, not the planet in Star Wars."
P.S: I made the Star Wars reference, not Tom.
P.P.S: This is the second time a Kevin Costner Dances With Wolves joke was made by a vigneron and featured on this blog.
This is biggest parcel Tom owns. It's a field blend of mostly white grapes, but everything is co-fermented and vinified in white. 3/4 of the Matassa Blanc come from this site. The soils are schist with limestone subsoil.
The last parcel we visited, Romanissa, was the most visually stunning:
These 130 year old vines are on a super steep coteau, and barely produce 15 hl yields. Mechanical work is impossible, and the prior owner sold it to Tom for next to nothing. The Romanissa cuvée comes from here (DUHHH!), and is made with the Lledoner Pelut grape. This varietal is an old school Catalan strain of Grenache. People told Tom it was useless, but he knew better; the skins are very thick, so they are incredibly resilient against illness.
The visit ended with a trip to the cellar to taste some 2010's and 2011's.
After the grapes are brought into the cellar, Tom foot-trods them into the press. This way, he can pack it to maximum capacity and perform a very slow press. The cellar is not temperature controlled. Sulfur use varies vintage to vintage, but typically 10mg are added at press, with a possible additional 10 mg after malolactic fermentation. Tom rarely sulfurs at bottling.
My personal highlight was the "Blanc" (70% Grenache Gris, 30% Macabeu) which I found stunning: a crazy poppy seed nose and unique taste. Alexanria, a 100% Muscat Petit Grain cuvée was one of the craziest things I tasted the entire trip (that's a good thing), and the Rouge was excellent as well. As Maya "Mayhem" Pedersen aptly pointed out, the wines -due to Tom's intentionally low yields (15hl/h on average!)- have this incredible concentration that I've rarely experienced elsewhere. To me, these are some of the most iconoclastic wines in the portfolio.
Our next visit takes us to Banyuls to say what up to Bruno Duchêne! Stay tuned!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: DOMINIQUE HAUVETTE IN SAINT-RÉMY-DE PROVENCE
The three and half hour drive from Dominique Hauvette's to the incredibly named Caudiès-de-Fenouillèdes was beautiful. Long stretches of roads swerving through the Pyrenees, the sun setting in the distance, casting its orange-red glow on the mountain rock... It made me feel like a good old fashioned city slicker.
Well not really, but it was quite breathtaking.
Once in the village, we checked into our chambre d'Hôte. It's run by a Dutch couple, and the guy's name was Jan (pronounced Yan). On top of managing the chambre d'hôte, his main gig involves organizing Harley Davidson tours of the region. Tom Lubbe would later go on to say that he looked like a character from the movie Labyrinth, although I'm pretty sure (because of Jan's long, whitish-blond hair) he meant David Bowie.
We arrived around 10pm, and were worried nothing would be open to eat. Fortunately, the Roussillon functions on pseudo Spanish time, so people were just starting to have dinner. We ate pizzas at the local bar/cafe thing, which was playing 90's rock videos the whole time. Maya "Mayhem" Pedersen and I were very amused hearing the Smashing Pumpkins' Bullet with Butterfly Wings:
I always thought that song was called Rat in a Cage. Bullet With Butterfly Wings? What kind of a stupid, pretentious name is that? P.S: Next time you bump into me, ask me to tell you my friend's story about meeting Billy Corgan and him being a huge asshole.
We then rocked out to the infinitely better Stupid Girl by Garbage.
Returning to our rooms, Maya discovered that there was no soap in the bathrooms. Thinking they had forgotten, I asked Jan if he could bring me some the next morning. What follows is a paraphrased re-telling of the conversation.
-Hey, you forgot to give us soap in the bathrooms.
-Soap? What do you mean? You didn't bring any?
-But everyone brings their own soap to a chambre d'hôte.
-I've never stayed anywhere I had to pay for where I wasn't provided at least a little bar of soap.
-Normally, people bring their own soap.
-Can you get me some or not?
- Um, okay, wait a second...
He then went to his house and brought back some liquid hand soap. Not the best shower I've ever taken... Anyway, fast forward to breakfast, where weird and inappropriately loud electronic-ambient-nordic-chant-Enya ripoff music was playing, and Jan decided to show us a picture DVD of him on various Harley Davidson tours. The whole experience was completely surreal.
After breakfast, Tom Lubbe came to pick us up and it was time to finally meet Agnės and Alain Carrėre! After importing their last three vintages, it was about time! Alain is a very tall, dark skinned man of Spanish origin, born and raised in Caudiès. Agnès is originally from Paris, and unfortunately we barely got to see her since her sister -who she only sees twice a year- was visting. They both are very kind, grateful people, which is humbling considering all the tough times the estate has been through. What tough times, you ask? Read all about it on their newly updated profile.
Now that you know Majas' history, let's get on with the visit. The first parcel we visited consists mostly of Carignan on schist.
Caudiès-de-Fenouillèdes (man I love that name) is the limit of grape growing in this part of the Roussillon. After that, you have to travel 50km to Limoux. It's also the only vineyard site in the Roussillon classed as "mountainous." The highest site is the Clos Ségas at 420m, which produces a field blend that's "always a surprise". The vines are spread over 5 hectares and were planted by Alain's great-grandparents. They are between 120 and 130 years old!!!!
Looking around, I spotted a lot of abandoned vineyard sites on nearby slopes and hills. But here and there, you notice little patches of vines, and Alain says these have all been replanted in the last 15 years:
"Vines used to be on the hills, but people ripped them out to replant in the plains. Now they're back in the hills again!"
Next up, a 5 hectare parcel of 80-90 year old vines. Many grapes are grown in this area, mostly of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah.
Alain has no problems with his neighbors: either the vines are in isolated clos, or -seeing how well Alain's vines were doing- they started working organically themselves.
"It's incredible how much it's changed local viticulture in just a few years." pointed out Tom. Since Alain started working organically, over 70 neighboring hectares have been converted!
After our visit of the vines, it was cellar time. The highlight is this half circle of large concrete tanks in the far corner.
"The last owner basically gave me the cellar. Wine hadn't been made here since 1953."
We then tasted the 2011's out in the sun. The 11 Grappe Entiere -a 100% Rolle cuvée that stays on the skins for a month- really stood out, as did the Rouge 11 and the Clos Ségas 10 (11 is being bottled soon). The Ravin des Sieurs Syrah was also quite pleasant. These wines are all extremely affordable and currently available stateside. Conveniently, the tasting ended right around...LUNCH TIME!
Over a bottle of Majas rosé, Alain and Tom continued talking about the region's ongoing struggle. In a very quotable moment, Tom exclaimed:
-"It's not agriculture, it's agribusiness. Agriculture is the first word in the latin language, it's something sustainable we can pass from generation to generation. This is not what we have anymore."
-"Only three of us made wine independently in the village. Now we are two, and he's also (unsuccessfully) trying to sell his estate. It looks like I'm going to be the only independent here…"
"A monopole!" chimed Tom positively. They were making light of the situation, but it was obvious that Alain feels a bit like the odd man out, wishing there was more camaraderie in the village. Still, he is grateful to have turned things around and still be here.
"If we hadn't met Tom, we would probably have called it quits as well. Working organically saved the vines. It saved us."
After the visit, we packed up and headed to Tom's village, Calce. Next recap: MATASSA!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: ORATOIRE ST-MARTIN IN CAIRANNE
Ten minutes away from the thriving touristic town Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Dominique Hauvette lives off the back road of a back road. You have to know where's you're going to get there, and once you figure it out, the first thing you'll spot is a modern cellar. On the front door, a sign says:
"ABSOLUTELY NO RENDEZ-VOUS WITHOUT AN APPOINTMENT."
If you follow the dirt road to the left of the cellar for a kilometer or two, you find yourself in a huge open space.
In the middle of that space is Dominique's house, which overlooks the field where she holds some of her horses.
Dominique has loved horses for as long as she can remember. Between her house in Saint-Rémy and her property in the Roussillon, she has close to 30 of them! Wine came much later:
"I always dreamed about working with the earth, but back then it could have been with anything. But wine is like a healthy appetite: there is always something new to taste, learn and discover."
When we arrived it was lunch time, so we all sat down to eat ratatouille and octopus salad (all the produce was from Dominique's garden). An old friend of hers was hanging out prior to our arrival. He spoke pretty good English since he'd been living in Los Angeles for awhile before moving back to France. In between singing the praises of Dominique's 2006 Améthyste, we talked about this and that, eventually finding out this man created GPS technology. CREATED IT. Like most technologies, it started out for the military; when the first commercial GPS's were produced, his company was bought out and he moved to L.A to develop the product for car navigation.
"Today, this technology is available for free on your phone. I had to move on."
Now pursuing a more academic route, he is currently using satellite imagery to analyse geographical and weather patterns around the world. It was very funny hanging out with this guy (Michel maybe?) and Dominique at the same table: hearing them argue on the merits of biodynamics vs science was quite entertaining. And while it was clear the two couldn't disagree more with each other, they still managed to laugh it off and have a good time.
Lunch was also time to ask the classic question: what's up with 2012?
After spending the first half of July in the rainy North, none of us were expecting to hear someone complain about too little rain. But it's true: it hasn't rained once in 2012, and the vines are suffering from it. In a new plantation of Grenache, Dominique finds herself having the water the plants twice a day. It's also gotten hotter over the last decade, but temperature is not what worries her the most:
"It's gotten hotter everywhere, which in itself isn't that big of an issue. But what people don't talk about is how much more we're exposed to the sun than even 20 years ago. We've exhausted a huge amount of the ozone layer, which has always protected us. Today, 15 minutes out in the sun is the same as 2 hours in the 70's. I notice it on my horses: every year, their sunburns are getting worst and worst, to the point of blistering and getting infected. This never used to happen..."
After lunch, we headed to the cellar to taste. It was built in 2009, and is still a work in progress because Dominique didn't want to borrow money and put herself in debt. The first thing you'll notice is the large amount of concrete eggs.
That's her new employee Jean-Phillipe, btw. In another room, she has way more of them:
Dominique is a huge advocate of the concrete egg; she likes them because they are made with porous cement. This creates a slight, desired oxidation but doesn't affect the flavor of the wine like wood barrels. Casks are used for Roucas and Canalie, and she uses some new and old oak. Though Dominique is not a fan, for logistical reasons she also uses a bit of stainless steel. From her interview last year:
"Both wood and cement containers are magnetically neutral, so I use these over stainless steel tanks, because all stainless steel containers generate magnetic fields. Wine consists of suspended particles that contain either positive or negative electric charges. As soon as these particles come into contact with a magnetic field, they are aromatically affected, and I don't want that."
Dominique takes her cellar work very seriously, but acknowledges that great wine comes from great vineyards:
"If you have a good terroir, it will work."
We tasted the 2011 Rosé, 2010 Jaspé (a new cuvée made with young vine Roussanne), 2009 Dolia, 2008 Roucas, 2008 Cornaline and 2009 Améthyste. Guess what? Everything was really good.
Dominique had to go, but Jean-Phillipe had us hop into his 4x4 and check out the vines. Our first visit was a mixed parcel of Roussane, Marsanne, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
In all the vineyards, the Alpilles mountains loom majestically in the background.
Despite this year's dryness, Jean-Phillipe says the grapes are looking good.
Next up was a parcel of young Clairette.
Driving to the next site, Jean-Phillipe explained that the 17 hectares are spread over many different locations, but all are close to each other. Curious to know, I asked if they have any problems with neighbors using chemical treatments in their vineyards.
"All of Dominique's parcels are isolated, but even if we had neighbors, everyone around here works organically. The only one polluting is the night club when it throws its old whiskey bottles out!"
The short drive brought us to a Carignan/Cinsault parcel on much rockier soil.
Look at that contrast between the soil and Maya's New York Knicks colored Vans! Finally, we visited the new plantings of Grenache mentioned earlier.
After thanking Jean-Phillipe, we hopped into the Louis/Dressner Mobile and drove 3 and 1/2 hours to Caudiès-de-Fenouillèdes to visit Agnès and Alain Carrere from Domaine de Majas. On the menu for next time: a new profile, visit recap (co-starring Tom Lubbe) and interview with Alain! Really great story of overcoming the odds with this estate, and we're proud to be respresenting them.
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: OLD STUFF FROM THE CELLAR (ROILETTE EDITION)
Frédéric & François Alary are the 10th generation of their family to live in Cairanne. Over the last three centuries, things have slowly evolved and today the brothers are the third generation living off of viticulture and wine. Their father gave the estate its name, based on this oratory in the lieu-dit St-Martin.
Look, it's even on the label!
20 of the Alary's 27 hectares can be found in St-Martin, which borders Rasteau.
They mostly grow Grenache here, as well as an unusually large amount of Mourvèdre. The soils are yellow clay and limestone with a blue clay subsoil. Between all the varieties and different ripening periods (Syrah, Marsanne, Roussane, Clairette and Grenache Blanc are also grown), the harvest is usually spread over an entire month, with average yields of 25hl. The Alary's have always worked organically and feel that the region is particularly suited to this agriculture, since the mistral wind is great at avoiding rot. Organics are also of utmost importance in preserving the vineyard's native yeasts.
"When you don't use herbicide, you find at least 25 types of wild yeasts on your grapes. When you do use herbicide, it goes down to 4."
Furthermore, the estate has been worked biodynamically for the last 6 years. Frédéric elaborates on biodynamcs in his interview, which is now up on the Oratoire St-Martin profile:
"The first time I read a Rudolph Steiner book was about 15 years ago. At first, I really disliked it because of how esoteric it seemed. It felt like if you worked in biodynamics, you were in a sect. But many incredible vignerons whose wines I love work this way, so it made me more open to the idea. I consider us to be pragmatic biodynamists: we see what works and what doesn't, but aren't too caught up in the philosophy. We believe in what we see, and we see the wines becoming more mineral and acidic, so we're happy. We're not trying to push things much further though; organic and biodynamic agriculture is not our goal, it's our tool. If this is the way to make the best wine possible, then we will continue to do so."
All biodynamic preparations are made in this:
The Alary's have always been dedicated to the "natural agriculture", a work philosophy they've been practicing well before the term "organic" came to prominence. After studying oenology in the early 80's, Frédéric began making wine conventionally, but was quickly turned off by a simple observation: the wine he was producing was inferior than his father's!
"It took me a year to understand that I needed to unlearn everything I'd been taught in school; I asked my grandfather and father how they worked and followed in their footsteps."
The brothers both started in 1984; that same year, they decided to build a vinification cellar just under the vines.
"The idea was simply to have the cellar be as close to the vineyards as possible."
Frédéric is not a fan of wines marked by oak, so everything is fermented in stainless steel for younger vine stuff and in concrete tanks for the rest.
The Cairanne Côtes du Rhône has an 8 day maceration, 15-30 days for all the others. Nothing is added during vinification, and they don't filter. Once the wine is vinified, they bring it back 20hl at a time to another cellar in this container:
Before any grapes even make it to the cellar, they are sorted three times. First, the harvester makes his decisions in the vines. They then bring what they've picked on this tray table/trolley the Alary's created themselves.
A second inspection occurs with 2-4 people occurs, and then the grapes are dropped into the cart.
Finally, a third inspection is performed on a vibrating tray table.
All this information was boring Zaggy to tears.
After visiting the vinification cellar, we set off to an incredibly beautiful vineyard planted in 1905:
We then headed to the aging cellar to taste. Besides some demi-muits and a few oak barrels, the majority of the tanks are concrete. He still uses the ones his grandfather set up in 1930!
This year, Frédéric bought some eggs:
As well as these concrete "barrels":
For the whites, Frédéric used to use concrete tanks, barrels and demi-muits. But with biodynamics, he's found new qualities in the wine and felt the demi-muit was making the wines too big. To remedy this, he's purchased the eggs and concrete barrels. The brothers will do a blind tasting from each, and whichever they prefer, they will buy more of for future vintages.
Speaking of the white, the Réserve des Seigneurs 2010 was incredible. Everything was tasting good with the 2011's, continuing the summer's trend of easy drinking, pleasant and accessible wines. One fun thing to try was their sans souffre bottling of P'Ttit Martin. Frédéric only does this for a few wine bars in France, and wanted us to partake in an experiment: blind test both and guess which was which.
"Wine remembers sulfur."
Both Maya and I picked the first one without hesitation as the sans souffre. It was more alive and expressive. It also tasted less stable, so I almost laughed when Denyse picked the second bottle. But she was right! Both of were shocked; the second bottle was by no means inferior, but showing way tighter and "serious" than the first. Frédéric had proved his point!
"I'm not part of the whole sulfur debate; we actually make a sans souffre cuvée, but adding minimal sulfur at bottling to protect it a little is not something I'm against. The more grapes you have in the bottle, the better! But the most important is terroir: I don't think ours are better than anyone else's, but they are certainly unique and we want the wine to reflect them as authentically as possible."
Zaggy didn't really seem to care.
Next up, our visit with Dominique Hauvette!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: DARD & RIBO IN MERCUROL
Before reading the vist recap, go to the Elodie Balme profile and read all the new info we've provided for you, including an interview.
Ok, now we can start the show.
Elodie Balme is a go-getter. She's one of those personalities that just exudes positive energy, and in this day and age it's impressive to see someone so young and enthusiastic about anything, let alone agriculture! It's also very refreshing that she isn't afraid to admit that she is still very new at this, and that everyday is a learning experience.
We arrived around dinner time, where we ate some delicious cheese and tomato tart thing and drank Plageoles Mauzac. Well, everyone except Elodie, who is four months pregnant! While eating, we started talking about Elodie's work dynamic with her father Bernard, a recurrent theme that would come up throughout the visit (more on that later).
The next morning, it was time to taste the 2011's and check out the cellar. Almost everything is vinified and aged in concrete.
There's also some fiberglass tanks to blend the wines.
Elodie also has a few barrels, mostly for experiments. The 2011's where showing well: the Côtes du Rhône and Roaix had just been bottled, and we tasted tank samples of the Rasteau, which should have been bottled by now. Elodie really goes for elegance and finesse in the wines, which are fresh and fruity, but with enough weigh to add structure. One new thing was a Vin De France made from Merlot, Grenache and Carignan on sandy soils. Elodie's dad basically planted the atypical Merlot in front of their house so that no one would build a house in front of theirs:
"He thought it might be something original for me..."
After tasting, we went to visit Oratoire St-Martin. In the evening, we returned to go check out the vines. The first parcel we visited is a clos called Le Plateau.
This parcel was the one Bernard started with. Elodie's grandfather actually deforested the entire 4 hectares to plant vines! Being there, it was crazy to think this parcel of 80 year old vines could ever have been anything else. For these vines they put a treillissage in the middle because the infamous Mistral wind causes them to break. Most of the grapes go into the Roaix cuvée.
As we left Le Plateau, Elodie pointed out saffre, the compacted sands that constitute the majority of her sub-soils, as well as some of her top soils.
Saffre retains water, so the soil remains cooler than if it was just sand. It's quite compact, but breaks into the exact sand kind of sand you find at the beach.
Next up, we visited Les Champs Libres, a 5 hectare clos of 55 year old vines and Samuel, a parcel of 80% Grenache and 20% Carignan with vines over 80 years old.
These are two of the many parcels Elodie works organically, and goes mostly in the Côtes du Rhône, with a little bit in the Roaix. Every year, more and more parcels are being converted, but Elodie is partners with her father, and they work the 28 hectares of vines together. And while the two get along well, share all responsibilities in the vines and are indispensable to each other, viticulture has been a serious point of contention.
Many things have changed since Elodie settled in 2006, and this hasn't always been easy for father/daughter team. Making and selling wine independently was never a problem for Bernard, since he has absolutely no desire to partake in cellar work. If anything, he's proud that his daughter is pulling it off, and has no qualms with spontaneous fermentations and minimal cellar intervention (he says it makes the wines taste good). But when it comes to viticulture, the two see things differently: Elodie's time with Marcel Richaud deeply influenced her approach to viticulture, but this approach is contradictory to what Bernard has been doing since his early teens (he's in his early 50's now).
And while there have been significant changes made in the viticultural practices (no pesticides/herbicides on the vines Elodie makes wine with, organic fertilizers, contact copper and sulfur treatments on all 28h), Bernard is still not totally convinced on working organically, especially if the estate is 28 hectares. Though he has always been "soft" with his chemical use compared to a lot of his heavier handed neighbors, he still refuses to take them out of the picture completely. Still, switching to contact copper and sulfur treatments is a big decision, and Elodie sees this as a huge step forward for the estate. It also makes her feel like her father understands and respects what she is doing.
"Things really have changed. Even in "his" vines, he's reduced the chemical products considerably. For example now he only does 1 pesticide treatment a year, as late as possible to last through the summer."
One thing the two definitely agree on: a lot their soils are suffering from over-exploitation. The plan for currently empty parcels and those they will soon rip out is simple: back to the jachère technique. After ripping out the vines, you plant cereals one year, then something else, then something else… By doing this for 7, 8 years, the soil gets to rest and purify itself.
"People used to plant with the goal of having vines for 60-70 years minimum. Now, as soon as they start getting less productive (usually around the 30 year mark), you rip them right out and replant. Things back then were less about quantities and productivity."
That night, we had dinner with Elodie and her boyfriend Jérome at this great place in Rasteau. Marcel Richaud came up.
"I have him to thank for everything. He really encouraged me to start my own estate, introduced me to all his customers, got me press..."
Clearly Marcel really likes Elodie since he decided to be her mentor. But there's actually a cool story behind it! When he was just getting started, Marcel was 19, the same age Elodie was when she was placed to work for him part-time. His father had also sold his grapes to the cooperative his whole life, and in his day it made you a good living; when Marcel decided he wanted to be independent, everyone told him he was crazy. He was shunned from his family (Marcel elaborates on the whole story in his interview), and since no one wanted to help him, he actually produced his first vintage in a cellar with no roof! Incredibly discouraged, his first vintage was almost his last.
On the verge of giving up, a chance encounter with a monsieur Charavin (a famous vigneron from the area), would change everything. Seeing this 20 year old kid try to be a vigneron really clicked with him, and he told Marcel he could use a part of his cellar to make wine and show him how to properly vinify until he was more settled. This man who took him under his wing, who taught him everything he knew and gave Marcel the chance to suceed, this M. Charavin was none other than...Elodie's grandfather! Remembering what he'd done for him, he felt he had to do the same for Elodie. That's what I call some full circle shit right there!
Next up, our visit with Frédérique Alary of Oratoire St. Martin! Recap + interview!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: FRANCK PEILLOT IN MONTAGNIEU
After a packed three days of visits, it was the 14th of July so no one would have us. So we decided to celebrate France's independence with HUGE STEAKS!
We had a few neighboring families from the village to help us out, but it was still a bit overboard. As a good samaritan, I ate an entire one (almost).
The next morning, it was time to pack and kick off our two week road trip through the South, starting with Dard & Ribo in the commune of Mercurol. We were really early, so we decided to visit the neighboring towns of Tournon and Tain-L'Hermitage.
The two towns are separated by the Rhône river, but you can walk across the bridge pictured above in five minutes. The river also separates two departments: Tournon is in Ardèche (where Jean-René Dard was born) and Tain-L'Hermitage is in the Drôme (where François Ribo is from). As you can see, Tain-L'Hermitage has a great view on some of the steepiest, best placed Hermitage vines. The main drags are very touristy, but getting lost in the little side streets was a lot of fun. We also saw this very strange Kebab place:
"Hygiene, Quality, Service". MMMMMMMM, appetizing!
The Ardèche is also a huge player in French apricot production, and this time of the year is the peak of the season:
After killing some time, we set off to the small village of Blanche-Laine, where Dard & Ribo have their cellar.
In the 8 or so years we've worked with these guys, no one has ever met François Ribo; René-Jean takes care of everything on our side of things, and apparently François does the same for certain customers. So, you guessed it, René-Jean was our host. I would describe him as a lovable grump: he grumbled about us visiting on a Sunday ("and the day after the 14!"), but then spent 5 hours carefully showing us the vines and tasting through the 2011's. He likes to complain a lot, but it's always with a hint of amusement; he also has a great sense of humor and would be a shoe-in as a New Yorker. He's actually never been to the U.S, and says the only reason he would come is to have a "real American burger".
The first vineyard we visited was a parcel of Hermitage.
Roussanne, Marsanne and Syrah are co-planted together here. And while the Marsanne and Roussane are a bit hard to distinguish from one another, René-Jean grabbed some leaves to show how to easily spot the vines of red (left) and white (right).
Besides size, the white vines' leaves are more undulated, and their "butts cross"...
Their Crozes-Hermitage vines are at the very edge of the appellation. They are 20 years old, and were planted by René-Jean and François; when they took over in 1984, the preexisting vines were nearly 100 and unproductive. They ripped them out but were still able to get some selection massalles out of them, which is what was replanted. This particular parcel is one of many (but not all) that François works with a cable pulley and horse. The soils are deep, granitic sand.
The way they acquired this parcel is a cool story. Both the guys were participating in a traditional night of singing and dancing, with the party constantly moving from farm to farm. At around 2 AM, they found themselves drinking at an old farmer's house. In passing, he mentioned his imminent retirement and how he was hoping to sell his vines. Hungover, they woke up early the next morning to sign a contract with him. No one could understand why the guy was so adamant about selling his vines to two young nobodies who were just getting started, but he must of seen something special.
We also spotted some vines René-Jean is picking out his massalles for replanting:
Even in the Northern Rhône, there has been a lot of rain this year and therefore a lot of illness. This has forced them to do more treatments than usual. At the time of our visit, they'd done 5, but most in the region were well above 15. They were also hit with hail three times, which did some damage.
Our next stop was at les Karrières.
This parcel has the particularity of being on kaolinite soils. This is the same clay that is used to make porcelain, and just a few minutes from the vines, kaolinite is mined for just that.
We also checked out a parcel in Crozes-Hermitage called les Bâties.
Over the course of the visit, René-Jean kept bringing up his constant struggles with Inter-Rhône, an organisation designed to promote every aspect of wine in the region from A to Z. They claim to exist in order to maintain a certain quality in the vineyards and in the cellar, but according to what René-Jean told us, it seems like little more than a legal, administrative imposition of laws and regulations attempting to uniform an entire (rather large) region. The latest incident: Dard & Ribo recently got a 17 euro fine for letting too much grass grow...
"You need to let it grow when it rains this much. If you work the soils, you spread more illness."
But this is only a minor offense. Recently, the Dard & Ribo wines were tasted by an Inter-Rhône pannel who told them their wines were deviant and atypical, and now they're busting their chops about the winemaking, trying to send a guy over there to see what they're up to. This from the same institution that allows chaptalisation, acidification, and just passed the use of wood chips!
Unrelated but just as ridiculous, the cave cooperative of Tain just converted to organics, so they called Francois to tell him "watch what you're putting in the vines" so it wouldn't overlap into theirs. I guess they didn't know Dard & Ribo have been working organically since the 80's...
"But they never called us to tell us: hey we're using chemicals. Watch out!"
The same cave later got mad because the A.O.C forbade them from spraying the organic treatments via helicopter.
Crozes-Hermitage factoid: did you know that 70% of Crozes-Hermitage's vineyards are on flat land? In fact, up until fairly recently it was used as a bistro wine served at the counter. Traditional Crozes red was always light and pleasant, but in an effort to build up the region's reputation, many vignerons began making fuller bodied, more extracted and heavily oaked bottlings.
"Crozes was never meant to be a serious wine. It's supposed to be easy to drink."
In the cellar, we got to taste all the 2011's.
As many of you know, Dard & Ribo are amongst the pioneers of sans-souffre winemaking in France, and the reds have been this way since the 80's. For the whites, René-Jean explained that up until a few years ago, they'd always used to add a little bit of sulfur at press. But over the last decade, they have developed a technique where they rack the juice after press WITHOUT doing a débourbage. As the wine ferments, the gross lees are physically pushed out through the top of the barrels. This means they have to constantly clean up the overflow until fermentation is over, but this way, no sulfur! Once the fermentation is done, they then rack the wine.
We also got to taste Rouge Divers, a Crozes-Hermitage nouveau!
This bottling, which they've been doing since 2005, consistently infuriates their neighbors and probably Inter-Rhône if they knew about it. Why?
1. It's a primeur, so it is released in January. Not very serious Crozes!
2. It's in a transparent Bordeaux bottle, which is not typical of Crozes! And look at that color!
3. There is a big stamp that translates to "Drink Now" on the label. That's just not serious Crozes!
That was the visit. I wanted to do an interview, but René-Jean's lady-friend showed up and things just progressed into drinking some 2010's and hanging out. There was so much I wanted to ask, but I'm sure there'll be another opportunity. As we were about to leave, I stepped out for a second to check on Zaggy. Just then, a very tall, curly haired man with glasses was parking his tractor. Having no idea who it was, I politely said hello and went back in. It turns out it was François Ribo! By the time we'd figured out it was him (after all these years, Denyse wanted to meet him), it was too late: he'd gotten back on the tractor to work some vines! The mystery continues...
Next up, our visit with young up and comer Elodie Balme in Rasteau! Recap + interview!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: DOMAINE RENARDAT-FÂCHE IN MÉRIGNAT
If you've hung out with Franck Peillot past midnight, you know him as a party animal. If you read the Wine Advocate, you might know him as the guy who made David Schildknecht say : "I don't know any other grower as successful as he in revealing the noblesse d'Altesse." I know him simply as Franck, one of the nicest, funniest guys we work with. I present to you, KING FRANCK:
As you can see, it was a bit of a gloomy day when we visited, and like many other parts of Northern France, the weather has been shitty all year.
"Since March, we haven't had a single week of nice weather. It keeps raining and raining..."
Over our short walk to some nearby vines, Franck gave us a quick geography/history lesson. The village of Montagnieu (literally moutain-y) is located on the last bit of the Jura mountains.
It's quite serene and beautiful, surrounded by miles of uninterrupted nature. Except for the nuclear power plant built in the 70's.
It's never been used, and Franck thinks this might be the year they actually demolish it.
The Bugey finds itself in the middle of two distinct but neighboring regions, and Franck jokingly sums up the wines in simple mathematical terms: Jura soil + Savoie grapes = Bugey wine. This of course, is not true: Franck works principally with the Bugey's two indigenous varietals, Altesse and Mondeuse, which are grown on heavy clay and gravely limestone soils.
Even though polyculture was always the Bugey's dominant agricultural model through the 50's, the region still had a strong focus on viticulutre: the area used to be covered in over 20 000 hectares! Franck's father was the first Peillot to focus entirely on viticulture, only growing Altesse.
"He only made one wine, a 10,5%, dry, bubbly."
In 1981, Franck had started working with his father, taking over in 85. In his early days, he decided to get experimental and make a méthode champenoise Altesse. It didn't work, so he decided to plant Chardonnay. Over the years, Franck was able to acquire parcels of Mondeuse, an indigenous red grape, that produces its own cuvée and that he also blends into his sparkling Montagnieu. He also has a little bit of Pinot Noir, which is surprisingly glou-glou (I've opened four bottles of 2011 this summer...)
Frank's vines are among some of the steepest we'd see on the entire trip.
The vines we visited were on heavy clay.
The chalk rocks you see are only on the surface, and are very close to what is used for commercial chalk. Franck proved it by breaking off a piece and writing my name on the road.
After our walk, we hopped into the Franck-mobile where he drove us to a few smaller parcels. Before heading back for dinner, Franck wanted to show us where he goes to escape from it all.
Though by no means religious, Franck still finds his peace here by the stream.
The 11's were tasting really good, and included a new, late-harvest Altesse. It was by no means sweet, and showed the subtlety and complexity to distinguish itself from the "normal" Altesse. We then ate a great dinner while tasting many back vintages of the whites, which were showing well. Eventually, it was time to hit the road, so we got back into the car at 1 AM and drove an hour and half back the the Mâconnais in a crazy rain storm.
Next up is the first recap of our two week trip through the South, and we're setting it off with Jean René Dard of the legendary Northern Rhone pioneers, Dard & Ribo!
P.S: The dog's name is Virgil.
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!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: DAMIEN COQUELET AND GEORGES DESCOMBES IN MORGON
It's always a pleasant surprise when you imagine someone a certain way and they prove you completely wrong. Maybe it's that I'd only drank her wines a handful of times and that they strike me as "very serious" Burgundies (they are, and that's a good thing), but I always imagined Sylvie Esmonin to be, well, somewhat elusive and very serious. I'm talking stern, never laughs at anything serious. But she turned out to be warm, friendly, funny, passionate and insightful. While I'd envisioned her greeting us in a fancy-schmantzy pantsuit, she showed directly from the vines up in her "work outfit", consisting of boat-shoe loafers, purple soccer shorts, a t-shirt and a shiny, puffy silver-jacket that reminded of late 90's/early 2000's rap fashion. This description probably has you imagining Hillary Clinton dressed like Puff Daddy, but Sylvie actually looks like this.
Sylvie's most notorious vines are just outside of her house; she is one of only five to grow grapes on the lieu-dit Clos Saint-Jacques.
Here's a bonus pic of me petting Sylvie's dog Réglisse.
Sylvie was, as aforementioned, a little late because she was coming directly from her vines, which are keeping her very busy this year. Undoubtedly due to the extra attention she is giving them in this challenging vintage, her 8 hectares are not suffering from any significant illness problems. Though it will be another very low yielding vintage, quality should be high.
"It's been yet another very rainy summer, the 7th in the last 11 years. It rained 18 days in June! This is a fairly recent phenomenon in the region, one that people still haven't and need to adapt to."
For Sylvie, the current effects of global warming worry her less than recent and significant shifts in climate, namely warmer, drier winters and rainier summers. In her father's days, if there wasn't some kind of catastrophic weather incident, every vintage tended to be more or less "by the books": seasonal temperature and snow/rain/sun conditions of course varied from year to year, but the vigneron was rarely thrown major curveballs. But Sylvie says that over the last decade, her job as a vignerrone, which in her mind boils down to taking the best care of your vines as to produce the highest quality grapes (and thus the highest quality wine), has become an unpredictable, constant form of adaptation.
To illustrate her point, she described her experience of the 2011 vintage. That year, it was a very hot and dry spring, resulting in extremely precocious budding and flowering. But after that, nothing grew, and the vines began stagnating due to the ongoing dryness. This led many vignerons to suffer from what Sylvie has coined "2003 syndrome": that year, there had been no rain and heavy sun from March to October. In the summer, it is traditional to do an effeuillage to separate the grapes from each other and air them out as to not spread illness. By routinely doing this in 2003, many vignerons completely burned their grapes in the process. So for 2011, the dryness made them panic, and imagining a 2003 repeat, everyone chose not to do an effeuillage. And lo and behold, it rained all of July and August! Of course, illness spread violently. Even worst, September was absurdly hot, and people found themselves having flash fermentations (california style), which according to Sylvie, "Pinot does not like". All of Sylvie's neighbors thought she was crazy for instinctively doing an effeuillage in 2011, but it would have been a disaster otherwise.
After our chat, we stepped into Sylvie's beautiful, classicly Burgundian cellar. It's spread out over a smaller room:
And a larger one:
All the wines are fermented and aged in barrel, which are marked with what they contain.
We got to taste all the 2011's from barrel, which will be bottled right after easter 2013. The cellar is naturally cool, but not temperature controlled; in such, a very slow fermentation takes place, so Sylvie always waits two winters before bottling. We also tasted some 2010's in bottle. The wines always strike me as very drinkable young, but are invariably marked by oak, which I imagine would fade around the 10 year mark. Don't get me wrong: the oak is noticeable but never overbearing, always feeling like a fully incorporated, integral part of the wine.
After the tasting, Denyse asked how Sylvie's father Michel was doing. At 75, he still rides the tractor everyday to work the soils and take care of the vineyards.
"He's bored to tears retired at the house. He doesn't know what do to with himself besides work."
Sylvie envies him; back in his day, a vigneron's job kept him in the vineyard and the cellar, which is where she wishes she could spend the majority of her time. But times have changed, and now she feels constantly bogged down by administrative and commercial duties.
"Sometimes I feel like I spend more time in the office than in the vines."
Sylvie wishes she could hire somebody to take care of these duties, but in the reality of working a small, 8 hectare estate like hers, the administrative and commercial side of things have become an extension of an independent vigneron's duties. The real problem, however, is that the administrative laws in France for estates producing wine are the same for everyone, regardless of size. What may seem trivial to a large instillation who can hire someone to take care of paperwork becomes a time consuming endeavor that keeps the small, independent vigneron out of the vines where they belong.
We also talked about the current state of Burgundy, which Sylvie has a hard time being optimistic about.
"Burgundy is becoming like Bordeaux... I've seen two of my colleagues (not my competitors!) in the village go out of business in 2012. They were both about my size; one was purchased by a rich Chinese couple, the other by wealthy Canadians... No one else can afford the land, and less people can afford the wine."
Sylvie feels that Burgundy has lost touch with its peasantry roots, resulting in inflated egos and a loss of camaraderie that still existed a generation ago.
"The code of honor between vignerons here is gone. In my father's days, if a neighbor accidentally broke one of your pillars with his tractor, he would call to tell you, then fix it. Now a guy doesn't call, and even though you see the fresh tractor marks going into his rows, he tells you it's not him."
Sylvie's pessimism was tough to accept but based in reality, and I could tell her frustrations stemmed from a true passion and care for a sense of place; she knows that she will be able to continue working on a small, traditional scale in her lifetime, but worries her daughter might be thrown insurmountable economic and administrative hurdles if she chooses to continue in the same path. In the end, all Sylvie wants to do is make the best wines possible from her terroir, and nothing else. While she's succeeding at just that, no one's making it any easier for her.
Our next visit brings us to Catherine and Claude Maréchal in Beaune! Visit recap and interview on their way!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: JULIE BALAGNY IN FLEURIE
In the little hamlet of Vermont, if you follow this very narrow pathway, you will find yourself in George Descombes' front yard.
Right as we were pulling in, none other than Damien Coquelet was hopping off his tractor to take a quick break before getting right back on to spread a treatment on his vines. After greeting us, he went to go grab Georges in the house, and we were ready to start the visit. The first question was the obvious one: how's 2012 going? It's been a challenging vintage around their parts: they've suffered from hail and frost since early May, but the big fight has been with mildew. With the same sunny/rainy day alternance that the Desvignes are experiencing, they are averaging one sulfur treatment a week against mildew, which is way above average for them. While they remain confident that it won't affect quality, it's looking like another small harvest.
Unfortunately, Damien had to go get some tractor parts replaced and then hit the vines, so we barely got to see him. Fortunetly, we were in good hands with Georges, who gave us a thorough tour of most of his vineyard sites. We hopped into his 4x4, and drove through the Morgon vines by the house before doing the same in Régnié.
The bulk of our time spent in vineyards was in Brouilly, where Georges owns a good amount of land. Our first stop in the Cru was a very old vineyard, the first piece of land Georges inherited from his grandmother. The vines are close to a 100, and a lot of them are missing; they actually just got a complaint from the INAO about it "not being dense enough". On top of that, the yields are tiny, so they are seriously considering tearing them out.
After visiting the flatter vineyards, it was time to put the 4x4 to use to check out the first ultra steep Brouilly site.
But that was nothing compared to where Georges was taking us next:
At 500m in altitude, George has a a quasi monopole of this hill.
It is STEEP!
Here's what it looks like from the bottom:
From the top, it's a beautiful view:
Also at the top, this mini parcel is one of the steepest in Beaujolais.
When Noella Morantin came to visit him last year, she said that she could never work these vines because they gave her vertigo! Georges uses a tractor to spray treatments on parts of the hill, but large portions of it, for example the bit from the above photo, cannot be worked mechanically. In fact, when Georges acquired them in 1993, he didn't own a 4x4 yet, so he'd walk to the top with bags of sulfur to do the treatments!
"That only lasted a year though! It made buying a truck a major priority!"
For soil work, they have a system similar to Julie Balagny's which I explained in the last post.
As we drove back to the house, Georges filled us in on some imminent changes, as he is planning to downsize his 18 hectares. He's getting rid of 1,5 h of Beaujolais villages because the conditions are too "harsh to work organically" (he didn't elaborate), but also giving about 3 h of his Morgon vines to his 20 year old son Kevin, who will work alongside his father for a few years before becoming completely independent like Damien.
We got back to the house, where we got to taste through Damien and Georges' 2011's.
They have a really cool tasting room full of old school Beaujolais memorabilia.
Notice the saussicons hanging from the rafters.
The 2011's, some of which are already bottled, others that were tank samples (Damien's V.V cuvées), are unsurprisingly showing great. To reiterate what I'm been saying in the last four visit recaps, 2011 Beaujolais is da bomb. We got to rediscover Damien's "Fou du Beaujo", something we'd tasted for the first time at the Dive Bouteille in January:
If you ever wondered what kind of incredibly professional notes we take while on these trips, you can spot Maya "Mayhem" Pedersen's apt observation: "awesome label" to the left of the bottle. In my professional opinion, it's hard to disagree.
While tasting, a few interesting conversations ensued. The first was about "organic wine" which officially exists now. Up until now, wine could only be made from organically grown grapes, but new European laws have passed stating that the wine itself can be organic, meaning there were no chemical additives added. However, since preselected yeasts and enzymes are not chemicals, they are fair game. Also, up to 150 g of sulfur can be legally added in bottle; Georges typically uses less than a gram at bottling, if any... Even thermo-vinification , an increasingly popular technique in the Beaujolais, is allowed.
I wasn't familiar with thermo-vinification, so Georges explained: it involves heating the grapes whole-cluster up to 158 degrees, cooling them down, then pressing the juice. So instead of doing the traditional semi-carbonic maceration, which takes 40 days on average, you can get similar results for color in 48 hours. It is beneficial in that it saves a ton of time and space, but it also gives the wine a displeasing, cooked taste. One thing's for sure: it's doesn't involve chemicals!
These permissive laws for winemaking strike Georges as rather strange, since the same associations are very strict about viticulture. In fact, he had to leave us halfway throughout the tasting because he had an appointment with an Ecocert official; we later found out that she made him visit EVERY SINGLE vineyard site and thoroughly investigated the cellars for any chemical products. This leads him to believe that "organic wine" is little more than a misleading title to boost sales. And while I won't deny that it's a positive thing for the consumer to know that no chemicals were used in the winemaking, it's clear that many qualitative factors were not considered when drafting these laws.
We ended the tasting with Georges' son Kevin pouring for us. He's a nice kid, and he's looking forward to his first harvest with the family this September. It was fun tasting the Descombes V.V wines from barrel with him, since he had no idea which was which.
"I think this one's Morgon. Or maybe Brouilly..."
I'm not sure which was which either, but they were all good.
Next up, our visit with the legendary Sylvie Esmonin in Gevrey-Chambertin!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: OLD STUFF FROM THE CELLAR (PART 2)
Julie Balagny lives in the Hauts De Poncié, a hamlet on the very top of Fleurie. Her house sits on the top of a hill. She has no neighbors, as the house is completely surrounded by vines (that are not hers).
After Julie greeted us, we got to meet her pet rabbit Wiggles.
We were parched, so Julie offered to cool us down with this delicious rasberry nectar from Patrick Front.
It was a good time to talk about how 2012 was going. Julie was spared from hail, but has been getting an average of 30-40mm of rain per week. She suffered a little frost damage, but nothing serious. As far as 2011, it was a great vintage quantity wise, but she suffered a few setbacks. Basically, she wanted to help two local new guys out, so she let them vinify their harvests in the cellar that she rents. Unfortunately, their inexperience led to some poor decisions, creating microbiological issues in the tanks. Barely dodging a bullet, Julie was able to salvage her wine with some quick re-racking, and this improvised move forced her to consolidate some of the juices, thus affecting her usual lineup of cuvées. 2011 will birth a new, perhaps one-off bottling called Carioca. It should be bottled in late August/early September. The Simone wine will be aged even longer.
After sipping on nectar and talking shop, it was time to hop into the 4x4 and check out the vines. Over the six kilometer drive to get there, Julie pointed out some vines that are part of new fad sweeping the Beaujolais: ripping out one in six rows to make more room for a large tractor to spread (chemical) treatments over the remaining five. Because of its horrible reputation, Beaujolais is really struggling; the only people investing on a large scale are bigger companies who are quickly buying up large portions of land. In the process, they are furthering the mechanization of the local viticultural landscape. We also passed by an abandoned parcel where the owners had killed all the vines with Roundup.
"It's obviously completely illegal, but it's a lot cheaper than ripping them out."
After getting out of the village and maneuvering through some isolated paths through the woods, you find yourself in Julie's completely isolated clos of 3,2 hectares at 510 meters in altitude.
Julie is about to add fences around the vines to keep wild animals out. She is also working on setting up a field for her cows and sheep to graze. This is part of a long term plan to create biodiversity around her vineyards via polyculture. As she explained in her interview:
"The property also included 2 h of prairies and 3 h of woods; in the spirit of working biodynamically, I knew this was a perfect place to start a polyculture. The vines support the woods, the woods supply the livestock, the livestock supplies the soil: everything works together, everything is coherent."
There is no treillisage; everything has remained in traditional goblet training. The youngest vines are 30:
The oldest are 90:
Though all the vines are in one place, there are three distinct soil types. Here's some granite and quartz:
And here's some granite mixed with basalt:
The old vines in these soils are what end up in the Simone cuvée.
The vines are on a coteau that progressively increases in steepness, making any mechanical work impossible. By the time you get to the top, you're almost at a 60% incline:
To work the soils, Julie has devised a system with this winch.
She attaches it to this truck:
A mechanism then pulls it up as it plows through the soil. She then walks it all the way down through the next row, where she starts all over again.
Before tasting in the cellar, Julie wanted us visit her sheep that will eventually live next to the vines.
After visiting the vines, we checked out the cellar, just a few kilometers away. Here we got to check out Julie's old school wood press.
That barrel on it is just there to save space. We got to taste the Carioca: it was fruity, fresh and easy, but the extra aging provided some structure. Red fruit finish and nice acidity. The Jean Barat and Simone (from barrel) were also well on their way; they were both structured but fresh. Julie might have had a tough time with vinification setbacks, but the wines are GOOD. In the end, she is thankful for the experience.
I learned a valuable lesson, which is that you need to be patient with wine, to let it make itself.
Next up, MORE BEAUJOLAIS MADNESS with Damien Coquelet and Georges Descombes!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: JEAN MANCIAT INTERVIEW
Did you know that there is no clos to be found at Clos de la Roilette, and that the horse on the the label is actually a drawing of the past owner's prized race horse, whose name was Roilette and who presumably hung out in a clos? That's some false advertising right there!
At the end of a long, winding road, Alain and Audile Coudert live in the house Alain's late father Fernand bought when he founded the estate. Things are tidily together: the house and cellar are one, and the vines are the first thing you see when you step outside.
We stepped into the tasting room which, as an extension of the cellar, also holds the foudre barrels the wines age in.
2012 will be a small harvest, mostly due to mildew and hail. The 2011's were bottled in May, so this was our first chance to taste them in bottle. The Roilette wines are known for needing a little time, and these were no exception. I really look forward to retasting them in a few months, and can confidently tell you to get ready for some more exceptional 2011 Beaujolais.
During the tasting, we started talking about Beaujolais and its horrible reputation. As an avid Beaujolais lover, I still find this impossible to believe (I touched on this briefly in the Demoor post), but it seems the French have deemed it an unworthy region. It's gotten so bad that producers only name their wines by cru (Fleurie, Morgon, etc..) because the heavy stigma of the word Beaujolais is so strong that it scares consumers away. The result: a lot of vines are being abandoned, and Alain is sure that with this tough 2012, it looks like this might be the last vintage before many vignerons call it quits.
In my opinion, this bad reputation serves as a striking example of a broken AOC system that has betrayed itself. By oversimplifying (or confusing) "typicity" with "uniformity", we see mixed results at best: a "good" A.O.C like Chateauneuf permits producers to sell their stock and jack up their prices regardless of how good the wine actually is, because the consumer readily believes quality exists. On the other hand, a "bad" one like Beaujolais is in majority shunned for the very same -often false, or at the very least misguided- pre-conceptions. Any wine lover knows that some Chateauneuf's are much better than others, and the same goes for Beaujolais. And while yes, there is a lot of TERRIBLE, ABSOLUTELY UNDRINKABLE Beaujolais out there, the more I taste, the more I realize this is the case in almost every viticultural region in the world. This is why we must continue supporting the independants, the little guys who actually care enough to make something shine. They never stopped believing in their terroirs, and neither should we.
Anyway, Alain is in the process of building a new cellar, mostly for stocking and bottling purposes. It used to be a chicken and rabbit coop, and they had to dig out a whole bunch of the wall, but now they will have ample space. We also got to taste Griffe du Marquis 2011, which is the barrel aged cuvée Alain started making a few years ago. Only 12 barrels -or 3000 bottles- of this are produced; the wine will be bottled in December. Tasted from 4 barrels, and it was fun to taste the subtleties of Fleurie's different micro-parcels.
We didn't have to go far to check out the vines.
Isn't it weird to think Gamay can ever be that green?
Next up, more Beaujolais madness with the mysterious Julie Balagny! The big news is that this will mark the first visit recap where our amazing NYC salesperson extraordinaire, Maya "Mayhem" Pedersen, was rolling with us. She took tons of great pictures, so expect the next 20 (!) or so visit recaps to get a lot more visual!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: THOMAS MOREY PROFILE+INTERVIEW
Waiting on some pictures from Françoise Tête, so I'm scrapping chronological order and recapping our visit in Morgon with Louis-Claude, Claude-Emmanuelle and Louis-Benoit Desvignes instead.
The Desvignes all live on the same block in the center of Morgon. We swung by Louis-Claude's house to say hello, since we couldn't get in touch with Emmanuelle.
Even in his mid 70's, he's kept his raven-black hair (no word yet on if it's "au naturel" or not...). He came to greet us at the front door with some intense news: Louis-Benoit had suffered a light fracture and multiple stitches on his index while planting a new parcel in Javenières that morning. Emmanuelle had driven him to hospital, which accounted for her not picking up her phone earlier. Louis-Claude had better luck reaching her, and she told us to meet them in the Javenières parcel where it all went down.
We hopped into the Louis-Claude mobile and drove over to the beautiful Jarvenières parcel.
Louis-Claude's grandfather purchased these: they are all planted on sand and limestone in the traditional Beaujolais goblet style. Most of them are over 100 years old!
The other vines that complete the parcel were planted in 1989 and 1999. The Desvignes, who work organically, are the only estate to work the soil here, which they feel is a pity since it's such a great terroir.
Emmanuelle and Louis-Benoit -arm slung with a bandaged hand-, greeted us at the bottom of the hill where their team of two was actively planting 2000 vines over .8 hectares of land.
When I asked if they were in selection massalle, Emmanuelle looked at me like I was crazy.
We started chatting about 2012, and Louis-Benoit informed us that they were struggling with mildew: in the "tropical climate" they've been experiencing, rainy and hot, humid days have been trading off since March; this is a perfect recipe for mildew to grow and spread.
"Not only that, but you spray a treatment on a hot day, then it rains and washes everything off and you have to start all over again."
Though there is no legal repercussion in organics for retreating with copper as necessary (and the Desvignes are, even at this rate, well below the authorized treatment levels), Louis-Benoit worries that constantly re-applying too many copper treatments might do more harm than good in the long term. This is one of countless struggles one faces in a challenging vintage, organic or not: at the end of the year, you need to harvest grapes, and it is the vigneron's responsibility to protect his vines as he sees fit. In a statement that echoed Thomas Morey's in an earlier visit, Louis-Benoit pointed out that guys working conventionally were struggling just as hard as they were, and in many cases their vines were looking way worst.
After our tour of Jarvenières, Louis-Claude drove us to the Côte du Py site on the way to the cellar.
We couldn't access the vines because we needed a 4x4 vehicle to get there, but to give you and idea their vines are by the house in the middle of the picture.
In the cellar, we started by tasting many of the separate lieu-dits that go into the Voûte Saint-Vincent cuvée, including Les Champs, les Plâtres (aka plaster, because after it rains it gets hard like...), le Pré Jourdon, Peru (how exotic!) and Roches Noir. The decisions on the exact blend vary from year to year and are done entirely on instinct. Bottling also varies by vintage, and this year the Voûte Saint-Vincent and Jarvenières will be bottled around harvest. The Côte du Py, on the other hand, had just been bottled, and was tasting great. 2011 turned out to be one of the few regions in France to experience an excellent vintage (with almost everyone else's varying from good to very good). The Desvignes wines always need time, but you can already taste the expressive, concentrated fruit and balanced tannic structure in the tank samples.
FUN FACTOID: The Desvignes use a deep fryer to melt the wax for the the top of their very limited Les Impenitants.
We ended strong by revisiting the 2010's. They were delicious. Our dog, and Official Canine Companion (O.C.C) Zaggy took a liking to Louis-Benoit and took a nap on his lap for the entire tasting.
I wasn't kidding about that index! For those of you that don't know, Louis-Benoit is an avid drummer, and he was bummed because he was supposed to perform at a 14th of July concert. I told him it might be time for him to start messing with some drum-machines...
Next up, I'm not really sure but definitely somewhere in the Beaujolais. A la prochaine!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: VINCENT THOMAS IN TONNERRE
After visiting Vincent Thomas in Tonnerre, we headed South to the official French Louis/Dressner headquarters in Poil Rouge, France.
Located 22 km from Mâcon, Poil Rouge -or "red hair"- is a hamlet in the village of St-Gengoux-de-Scissé. My mother's family still has some very old vines here, which go into the Terroirs de Scissé cuvée, produced exculsively by the Cave de Lugny, who have a "quasi-monopole" on the region.
I've never had it, but I'm willing to bet it doesn't adhere to our philosophy... Anyhow, every summer we stay in our 16th century farm-house, which serves as a pied-a-terre while we visit growers. I used to hate coming here as a child, because I found the country to be the most boring place on earth. Now I like it a lot.
After barely having time to settle in, we drove over to Puligny-Montrachet to visit Paul Pernot.
Much to my dissapointment, Paul, who is now 75 but still in great shape, had just left for his annual vacation so I didn't get to meet him. His two sons, Paul Jr. and Michel were there to host us though. In fact, you should go check out the little interview I did with Michel, which provides a thorough history of the estate and its evolution over the last 30 years.
The Pernot family practices sustainable farming. They haven't used herbicides since late 80's, as they prefer working the soils manually and by tractor. Some parcels are too rocky, so instead they cut and burn the grass.
Before tasting, Michel started on how the 2012 vintage had been going so far; like most in Burgundy, it's been a very tough year, with a lot mildew and oidium issues. Frost damage and hail has already caused some serious damage, so quantity wise, 2012 will not yield much.
"It reminds me of 86: it was a cold, rainy year, but we still made a great wine. It's the last two months before harvest that really count anyway."
While this isn't the best news, we all know that great vignerons make good wine even in tough years, and Michel seemed confident that the bad weather would not affect the quality of the actual wine.
We got to taste the 2011 whites, which had been bottled 10 days prior. It's a really easy, accessible vintage, that Michel doesn't think will age incredibly and that should be drank young. Highlights for me were the Garenne, Follatieres and Santenay. The reds are still in barrel and quite promising, with nice acidity, tannic structure and expressive fruit. I really liked the Volnay.
This year the Pernot's introduce a new cuvée, the Champ Canet.
It was always part of the estate, but this is the first time it's been bottled independantly. It only represents 15 ares of land! I got flower petals on the nose, and found the wine to be ripe, with a lot of fruit and nice, if tucked back acidity.
Next visit, Thomas Morey of Chassagne-Montrachet! It's about time we catch up with Thomas, so expect a brand new profile, recap visit and interview.
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG 2: ALICE AND OLIVIER DE MOOR
We've been having technical difficulties with our internet. This has set me AT LEAST two posts back, so maybe next week there will be 3 posts. We'll see.
After our lovely visit to the De Moor's, we swung by Tonnerre to visit one of our youngest producers, Vincent Thomas of Domaine de la Chappe. We met Vincent at the 2011 Dive Bouteille, and after bringing our group to his table, everyone agreed that his wines were something we wanted to work with. At the time, he didn't have much wine to sell, and only small quantities have been brought to New York so far. This was our first visit to the estate, and also a first chance to get to know Vincent, who is a bright, passionate guy with a really interesting outlook on wine and life. He's only 32, but took over the estate when he was 25! Much has changed since he's been in charge, namely an immediate conversion to organic agriculture and natural winemaking practices in the cellar.
We started the visit by checking out the cellar, a 15th century building that used to be a beet farm. It's obviously quite old, and is currently over-going some renovations. It is not temperature controlled.
We started with the 2011 Aligoté, which is the only wine already bottled. For the first time since 2004, Vincent lightly filtered it; there was a little residual sugar left, and he didn't want to risk a re-fermentation by leaving any lees in the bottle. And while he usually feels that filtration shuts a wine down but in this case it opened it up. Because of its heavy clay soils that some would consider more suited for reds, the wine is less ample and fruity than most Aligoté, playing more on acidity and minerality. It's quite nice.
We then tried the Chardonnay from 3 separate barrels. Vincent cyphers 1 new barrel per wine each year, just to keep a rotation; the goal is never to add an oaky flavor to the wine. Denyse really enjoyed it, pointing out its rich structure and giving fruit. Vincent will blend the barrels and bottle at the end of July.
After the barrel sampling, we got to sit outside and taste the amazingly delicious "La Limonade" This exciting bottle of bubbles is a sparkling Aligoté in method champenoise. Lemonade is an apt name, since the wine has a great balance of sweet and sour (sugar and acidity ,duh!). What we tasted was unfinished and it probably won't be as sweet as what we tried, but Vincent assured us that some R.S would remain. Yum.
We then got to check out a bunch of vines, including the beautifully secluded Aligoté parcel.
Here, we sat down and did our interview, which is full of really interesting info on Tonnerre's viticultural history, as well as how Vincent discovered organic viticulture and natural wines. He's definitely a talker, and I learned a ton about his region from our chat. We also got to talk about the inspiration for his new labels. The wines have changed names but are made the same, so here is the low-down:
Joseph is a single parcel, sans souffre cuvée Vincent doesn't make every year. Named after his great-great grandfather.
Paulette used to be La Cadette, and is a carbonic Pinot.
André used to be Tradition, and is a traditional Burgundian red. Named after Vincent's father.
Apoline is the Bourgogne Aligoté.
Thérese is the Bourgogne Tonnerre Chardonnay.
If you want the nitty gritty details on the inspiration for each character, check the interview.
Our sit down ended with us continuing our conversation from the interview about how natural wine, for Vincent, is a a technique to make a great wine of terroir. Denyse brought up how Vincent had mentioned his carbonic Pinot as tasting almost identical to a carbonic Poulsard from the Jura, and asked how he felt about this increasingly popular winemaking technique that, in her opinion, often creates a uniform style that detracts from sense of place. It could have been a touchy subject, but Vincent had no problem stating:
"I never made the carbonic red to make a wine of terroir. The idea was simply to have a vin de soif. A lot of oak, yeasts, these all hide terroir. So does carbonic maceration. But it tastes good and I enjoy drinking these wines, so I make one."
Next up, our visit to Paul Pernot and Thomas Morey!
PREVIOUS SUMMER LOG: JULIEN FRÉMONT IN NORMANDY
After our relaxing weekend in Montpinçon, it was a 5 hour drive to Courgis, the small village where Alice and Olivier De Moor reside. Our visit started in the cellar, which is split two ways between an older, traditional underground room that only holds barrels, and a larger, more modern space with concrete containers, some fiberglass tanks, a lot more barrels and a recently renovated tasting room. We tasted through the 2011's, which were universally great. Stuff of note:
À Ligoter: A little R.S remained this year so they filtered it for the first time ever, just to try and see the results. Also a first, this year the bottle will feature a screw cap; the idea is that the cap will indicate that this early release is a vin de soif, and meant to be drank fresh and young. It is indeed all those things, and the first shipment will be arriving stateside sometime this month.
L'Humeur du Temps: is a blend of three parcels that are vinified separately then blended: Côte de l' Etang, Les Envers de Côte Chétif, Les Goulots de Jouan.
Bel Air et Clardy: As obvious as this may seem to some, the Bel Air Et Clardy cuvée is a blend of two separate parcels. From barrel, the Bel Air was crisp and precise with a rich finish, while Bel Air was on the more mineral side, with pronounced acidity. When I asked Olivier why he chose this specific blend, he explained that the parcels are the same age and have complimentary soil types; ideally, he would use this technique make every cuvée (blending a bit of Rosette with the Chitry for example, so on and so forth…), and that single parcel wines -which A.O.C's like Chablis encourage- don't always make the best ones.
Les Vendangeurs Masqués: this négoce wine is a blend of three sources the De Moor's purchase from, including the local up and comer Thomas Pico. They all work organically.
As we tasted through, Olivier joked that he must be boring us with all (four) of his Aligoté cuvées. I personally love good Aligoté, and am always surprised when I hear of French disdain for grapes or regions that tend to be loved in the US; I couldn't believe how many people told Denyse that Jean Paul Brun's 2010 L'Ancien showed them that good Beaujolais actually existed at the party in Normandy. Duh! This topic got Olivier talking about Chablis and the myth that Chardonnay has always been the only grape grown here.
"There used to be Chenin Blanc, Dammery (local name for Romorantin), Pinot Gris and there are still some Sacy vines hanging around (Tressaillié in Saint-Pourçain). Gascon was also planted for red. This was only 200 years ago. I try bringing this up at council meetings and people don't believe me, but if you do your homework you can read about this stuff."
The De Moor's also made a red this year! It's called "Le Rouge D'Etienne", and is named after their first full time employee; at the time he was hired, Etienne had never made whites and the De Moor's had never made reds, so they helped each other out and therefore the cuvée is named in his honor. The grapes were sourced from Vincent Thomas, and only 800 bottles were produced.
After the tasting, we got to check some vines out. The first stop was the aforementioned Côte de l' Etang.
It was very grassy.
This is one of the parcels that they've started using a horse on over the last two years.
Notice how much better of a photographer Olivier is... He is very happy with the results, and can't believe how much stuff the horse has been pulling out of the ground.
"I've been working this soil for 15 years, and when I saw all the stuff I was missing, I told myself I was really doing a terrible job!"
Next we checked out the Clardy parcel. It was a good time to compare and contrast Olivier's work with that of his neighbors, which he sadly he considers a "abandonment of work" on their part. Here's one of Olivier's vines:
And here's one of his neighbors just a few rows down:
As you can see, they use tons of herbicide, and tightly tie the vines together to ensure as little human interaction as possible. They also trim the shit out of the vines.
"They look like bonsai trees."
Olivier then explained how 20-30 cm of extra folliage changes everything, because they help the grapes ripen. 8 to 10 leaves above the highest bunches used to be the traditional way of knowing you had the right vine size.
"Slow maturation is what makes good wine here, and you need to do all you can to help this, not impede it."
After the vineyard visit, we hung out for a great dinner Alice cooked up for us, drank some Ganevat bubbles, Heredia Pineau D'Aunis, À Ligoter and Heredia Sparkling Gamay that naturally led to some fun conversation, hearty laughs and- at least in my case- a good buzz.
Next up, our visit with young up and comer Vincent Thomas! Expect a visit recap, an interview, a rewritten profile and a look at his trippy new labels. Vincent is a really cool and smart guy, I liked a lot of what he had to say.
Denyse and I are off to France! For two months! We're going to visit A LOT of vignerons, which will result in a lot of new photos, profiles, interviews, cuvée info and stupid anecdotes!
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÁ
PART 3: VINI VERI, VILLA FAVORITA AND VINITALY
PART 4: NUSSERHOF
PART 5: RADOAR
PART 6: I VIGNERI
PART 7: FATTORIE ROMEO DEL CASTELLO
PART 8: ARIANNA OCCHIPINTI
After saying goodbye to Arianna, we drove off to Marsala to visit the the de Bartoli brothers. They live in a little hamlet that looks like a cross of Miami Vice and the set of spaghetti western.
We got out of our cars and Sebastiano greeted the group.
After saying hello, we got to check out the only vines we'd see that day, a large parcel of Grillo located in the back of the farm.
The brothers also grow grapes in many different parts of Marsala, as well as the tiny volcanic island of Pantelleria for the Bukkuram (more info on their official website). No fertilizers are ever used, as they feel the plant's roots need to go deep into the soil to keep their substance. It's very dry where they are, so mildew and odium are not a concern. They use about three sulfur treatments a year on the vines, and are certified organic.
The soils vary, but are mostly composed of limestone; sand and volcanic ash are also present. The brothers specialize in growing white grapes, but they also have Syrah and Merlot planted, as well as a recently acquired parcel of the local red grape Pignatello (not to be confused with the white grape Pignoletto that Alberto Tedeschi grows in Emilia-Romagna).
An old farmer recently sold them a parcel in selection massale: they have been experimenting and might eventually bottle it commercially. The barrel sample we tasted was juicy and on the lighter side of things.
The grape they grow the most of is Grillo, which in indigenous to Marsala but now grown in other parts of Sicily (the TAMI Grillo, for example). It's very high yielding and in the last 50 years, most growers have been selling in bulk to cooperatives, so value has plummeted. And while people now use a ton of other grapes to make Marsala (which has now become little more than cheap cooking wine, but more on that later), the de Bartolis feel that is the ONLY grape to use when making an authentic one. Why? Because it maintains high acidity, which is great for aging.
We then started our tour of the cellar, which is subdivided in accordance to the many styles of wines produced by the de Bartoli family. The upstairs hosts all the stainless steel tanks, and the first wine we tasted was a méthode traditionelle Grillo sparkling from Renato's Terzavia line. "Terzavia" stands for "a third way"; the family produces the classic Marsala dessert wines, the unique dry whites and so the Terzavia is yet another approach to vinification. The sparkling is really, really good, and you should buy some if you haven't already. The wine has no dosage: instead Renato adds a fresh must after the wine is fermented dry to create bubbles. The wine was from 2009 and the must from 2010.
We then checked out the dry white barrel room, where Renato began extracting barrel samples for us.
The wines we were tasting were the INTEGER wines. This is something the brothers started doing a few years ago, the idea being to show how vinification choices affect the final product. The INTEGER cuvées (one Grillo, one Zibbibo) are fermented and aged in old oak with battonage, in contrast to the Grappoli di Grillo and Pietra Nera (Zibbibo) cuvées, which are cold stabilized and fermented in stainless steel, then racked in oak. Sebastiano explained that the winery had taken advantage of new technology in the early 90's (specifically referring to cold stabilization) and that this had resulted in a style of wine that became very popular with their customers. But as time went by, and with Marco de Bartoli being an azienda founded on innovation AND tradition, the brothers decided they wanted to make something a little more old school (even though making dry whites is a relatively new phenomenon in Marsala). The juice for the two cuvées styles comes from the same grapes, harvested at the same time; to reiterate, the only difference is the vinification, which does in fact make a huge difference in how the wines taste. Both styles are very good.
After our INTEGER tasting (11's are well on their way to being super solid), it was the moment we'd all been waiting for: a visit to the Marsala lair!
The Marsala cellar needs to be underground to accelerate oxidation. Two styles are made, the first being the Vecchio Samperi line, which is NOT fortified (the vast majority of Marsala produced today is fortified with alcohol). Then there is the Superiore line, which IS fortified with mistella, a combination of sweet must and eau de vie. This makes them sweeter and rounder, a result most other Marsala producers obtain by using cooked must and caramel to give that same impression of aging. Both are a product of the Solera method: this is a process where new wine is constantly being added to old wine to keep it fresh. In practice, this is never-ending process and the late Marco de Bartoli, who started the azienda in the 70's, began buying every old barrel farmers were willing to sell (which turned out to be a whole lot). Some had clearly marked vintages on them, most didn't. They are all still being used today.
When the de Bartolis release a vintage Marsala (ex: 1986), this indicates the year it was fortified, and therefore a vintaged de Bartoli Marsala will always be labeled as part of the Superiore line. The brothers also release riserva wines: the legal amount of time needed to declare a riserva is 5 years, but for the De Bartoli's it has to be at least 10.
Before we knew it, it was lunch time. Renato served up this insanely bomb seafood cous-cous.
With the couscous we got to taste the 2010 Pietra Nera from 60 year old Zibbibo vines on volcanic soils. Super fresh. The vineyards are at 400 meter elevation, and were harvested almost one entire month after the Grillo! We then tasted the Grappoli di Grillo 2010 along with the 2005 to see how the wine ages. The winery started experimenting with spontaneous fermentation in 2005, and has been using 100% native yeasts since 2008. By tasting the the inoculated '05 alongside the '10, it was a rare opportunity to taste the same wine made with and without preselected yeasts. The 2005 was certainly a very good wine, but there was a flatness, a lack of life in the middle palate I often get with inoculated wines.
Sebastiano also wanted to prove to the group that Marsala wasn't just a dessert wine, and could be paired with salty foods. He pulled out the 1986 Superiore (the first vintage wine in the azienda's history), and definitely got the point across by serving us the single saltiest plate of food I've ever had in my life.
That's salt cured anchovies, salt cured tuna, salt cured tuna heart and salt cured something-else-I-forgot. It was very salty. The 1986 was bold and elegant, and did indeed stand up to the salt really well, though I still had to drink five glasses of water and have fourths of couscous to get my palate back on track. We ended the meal with a very refreshing fruit salad and cigars.
We then returned to the cellar to taste from the original 1986 barrels.
We ended the tasting with a sip from a 1903 barrel!
To Sebastiano's knowledge, this is the oldest wine in all of Marsala.
"When my father bought it, it was basically molasses!"
The nose was incredible, with tons of depth and spice. On the palate, a never ending finish.
The tasting was over, so we we drove back to downtown Marsala, where Sebastiano had us pull over on the docks to give us a history lesson.
Marsala production dates back to the 1770's, and is a direct result of the Spanish/English war. Brits were already in Sicily at that point, and started making wine similar to Madeira and Sherry, also made using the Solera method. This continued until 1860, when the Italian states united. At this point, Mr. Florio, an important business man, started bottling Marsala independently and under his name. The wine's popularity rose over the years, and by the early 1900's there were a 100+ wineries in the city, most located by the water for easy exporting. In fact Marsala was one of the very first wines exported around the world!
Fast forward to the 1960's where the cave cooperatives grew, and of course started focusing on quantity instead of quality. This slowly killed the reputation of the once great wine, which is now mostly known as a cooking wine most people associate with a disgusting American/Italian restaurant staple.
In the 70's, Marco was sick of hearing that Marsala was an industrial wine. So he came to the countryside to produce his own. The rest is history.
After the visit, we partied in downtown Marsala all night with Sebastiano, which was a lot of fun. The next day, we flew back to Rome, had a great day, ate at some restaurant with a really cool wine list, then all flew home to our respective cities.
Thanks again to Lauren Feldman, Shawn Mead and Ian Becker for letting me use their great pictures, as well as the rest of group for making it such an enjoyable trip.
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÁ
PART 3: VINI VERI, VILLA FAVORITA AND VINITALY
PART 4: NUSSERHOF
PART 5: RADOAR
PART 6: I VIGNERI
PART 7: FATTORIE ROMEO DEL CASTELLO
After our visit to Fattorie Romeo del Castello, we hit the road and drove down to Siracusa to hang out with Arianna Occhipinti. We started off with an aperitif at TAMI, her boyfriend Francesco's shop.
I had always assumed that TAMI was just a wine shop, but it turns out they sell all types of food, beer, books, knick knacks (including a bananaguard), toys and gadgets. Jeff Vierra scored this sweet hat there.
A TAMI wine bar, located directly across the street, is currently in the works, and they hope to have it operational by the beginning of the summer.
After hanging out and drinking Coste Piane, we grabbed some bottles and head over to a new restaurant just a few blocks away, located in this teeny-tiny alley.
It was a good chance to practice my "SOMM" skills with Arianna.
This work of photoshopped "art" in the men's bathroom embodies what I assume all Americans immediately think of when you say "Italy" (other than Jersey Shore).
Notice the espresso.
After dinner, it quickly became a Radoar grappa, Tami Grillo and shitty Italian beer party on Jeff Vierra's rooftop terrace. A good time was had, and with the exception of Ian Becker and Robert Brownsen who went to a fist-pumping techno club, everyone went to bed to be ready for the first annual OCCHIPINTATHON.
In the morning, we drove to Vittoria and immediately started our visit of the SP-68 vines, located right by her house and bordering the autostrada of the same name.
The SP-68 vines are 8-15 years old. The Frappato vines are 50 years old and the Nero D'Avola is 45. Arianna prefers the Guyot training system, especially for Frappato, because the first buds tend to not produce grapes when trained in Albarello. As you can see in the pictures, grass grows free between each row, and Ari plants fava beans in each other row for the SP-68 vineyards. The idea is to create biodiversity and stimulate the soil in one row while the other gets "a year off". She also uses paper tape, as opposed to plastic, to tie vines; this way she avoids plastic falling off and polluting the soil. We wrapped up our tour of the vines, then drove the 1,5 km to Arianna's new property and future home.
Last December, Arianna's lifelong dream came true when she purchased La Bomborieri, a 23 hectare farm with no neighbors. The entire site has been certified organic for 15 years and consists of 11 hectares of cereals, orange trees and cow stables (she doesn't have any yet, but plans to). There are also 7 hectares of 18 year old vines (Frappato and Nero D'Avola) on a mix of chalk, clay and red sands. The vines are equipped with an irrigation system Arianna has no intention of using and that she will eventually remove when she has the free time. I asked her if she might want to make a new, separate cuvée with these vines since the soil composition differs from the red sands the rest of her vines grow in, and she said "maybe". For now, these grapes will go into the SP-68. The house that came with the farm needs major renovation, but will eventually become her permanent residence. Francesco, who owns TAMI but is also an architect, will design and build a new cellar on the premises.
Surprising Varietal Factoid: Frappato actually has thicker skins than Nero D'Avola, which I never would have guessed.
After visiting the cellar, it was lunch time. Once seated, we began to talk about Vittoria as a wine region, and its recent rise to popularity almost entirely due to the quality, high profile work of Arianna and her uncle Giusto of COS. Arianna explained that Vittoria is a very agricultural place, but it's also very economy driven. Because it is a poor part of Sicily (which itself is one of the poorest parts of Italy), farmers are always looking to grow whatever crop will make them the most money. For most, grapes are worth next to nothing; it got so bad in 2009 that some of Arianna's friends where going to dispose of their entire harvest without making a penny. Instead, she decided to partner up with them and vinify those grapes, eventually leading to the TAMI wine project. The only reason Arianna is one of the only vigniaoli with old Frappato vines is because most farmers have torn theirs out over the years.
After lunch we tasted the current releases that will be be making it to the US soon. The 2011 SP-68 White is less potent and more elegant than the 10, most notably due to it being 100% albanello this year (last year's had Zibbibo). The SP-68 red is the bomb. The Frappato 10 had very structured, dark berry fruit and tannins, with pronounced acidity. It will age incredibly well.
As a special treat, Arianna pulled out magnums of the Frappato 04, her first vintage. Alex Miranda pointed out that the nose had notes similar to a Barbaresco. It had aged very elegantly, and was still full of life. It was then time to taste the 05 Nero D'Avola: it had structured fruit on the nose and palate, as well as nice tannic structure.
We then hung out and digested in the sun for a few hours before saying goodbye. Next stop: the exciting conclusion of Italy 2012 featuring our visit to Renato and Sebastiano de Bartoli!
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÁ
PART 3: VINI VERI, VILLA FAVORITA AND VINITALY
PART 4: NUSSERHOF
PART 5: RADOAR
PART 6: I VIGNERI
After lunch at San Giorgio e il Drago, we hopped in our cars to visit Rosanna Romeo and Chiara Vigo of Fattorie Romeo del Castello. The estate is located just on the outskirts of Randazzo, so it was a very quick drive. A long dirt path off the main road brings you to the 17th century house where Rosanna and Chiara live part time (their main residence is in Catania).
Rosanna, who is a local, inherited the farm from her grandmother in the 70's. She then married Mr. Vigo (originally from Naples), and together they took care of the farm and vines, but sold all of the grapes. After his death in 1987, Rosanna continued to maintain the farm alone. Her daughter Chiara, after travelling the world to pursue her masters degree, become a published author as well as a certified kundalini yoga master, decided to return in 2007.
From an early age, Chiara found herself drawn to the parallels between works of nature and art. Inspired by this connection, she found a perfect middle ground with wine labels: this passion became the foundation of her masters' thesis, which she later developed into the great book Arte e Vino. After many years yearning to return to the farm, a chance encounter with Salvo Foti in 2007 gave her the perfect reason.
"He made me understand that I had a treasure, something I wasn't really conscious of."
She returned almost immediately with the goal of independently bottling wine from her family's estate for the first time since her grandfather in the 1950's. Because of her lack of agronomical and oenological knowledge, Salvo offered to mentor her by showing her how to tend the vines and make the wine. 2007 was the "first" vintage of the Vigo wine, the cuvée being an hommage to Chiara's father.
The 14 hectares of vines are 70-100 years old, all in Nerello Mascalese.
In the background, you can see the huge wall of lava that borders the vines.
Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and its massive eruption in 1981 almost completely destroyed the entire Romeo Castello property. The flow's original trajectory was headed directly towards the house, but at the last minute took a right turn, sparing the property. It was a great tragedy that cost the family a lot of land, but's it's also the very reason why the wines are one of a kind. The lava wall heavily affects how the winds hit the vines and how temperature is contained, thus creating a unique micro-climate. The result is a bright, concentrated red with a ton of personality.
At no point have chemicals ever been used in the estate's history. Chiara has recently reintegrated wildlife into the vines, and Stefano Bellotti of Cascina Degli Ulivi is consulting on how to incorporate biodynamic practices. His first visit was in January; he plans to return in summer, and Chiara can't wait to visit his farm to see what he does first hand.
Walking back, we got to see this 1000 year old tree.
At some point, another completely different tree started growing OUT of it. Pretty trippy man!
I then petted Rosanna's dog because it was super cute.
About a ten minute walk South of the house, Chiara has replanted vines -also in Nerello Mascalese- that have yet to produce fruit.
They aren't too far from the Simeto river.
If you look closely, you can see exactly where the flow of lava that borders the vines ended. The river is very dry this time of year, but fills up considerably.
We then visited the old palmento, which is adorned by that creepy leatherface thing that was just as terrifying in person as it is in the picture.
It was time to taste, so we stepped into the house. First up were the 2007 and 2008 Vigo's which have both been available in the US before. Since Chiara is such a label geek, it's no surprise that she has spent a lot of time thinking about her own designs. The Vigo label features a map showcasing the exact place where the lava flowed through her property (highlighted in red).
It was inspired by this map of the 1981 eruption of where the lava flowed.
Next up where the Allegracore wines, which are new and about to be available in the United States for the first time. Chiara explains the idea behind this cuvée in her Louis/Dressner interview:
"We started with the Vigo wine in 2007. I used my last name as an homage to my father, because he worked this land and died here. But we'd originally wanted to call the wine Allegracore because it's the name of the parcel. I love the name, because it means "the place that makes a happy heart"! This was not possible because D.O.C legislation dictated that everything made in my area had to be Etna Rosso. But thanks to a dedicated group of vigniaoli who fought against this, as of 2011 you are allowed to write the name of a parcel on an Etna Rosso. So now the base wine will be called Allegracore, and the Vigo cuvée will only be produced in great vintages. Allegracore will be cheaper because it's aged in stainless steel. The Vigo will be made the same way as 07 and 08: stainless steel fermentation then aged in barrel. At least for now!"
It is quite glou-glou. The labels are pretty cool too, and will change every vintage. Here is the initial line up for 09, 10 and 11, along with the original label used by Chiara's grandfather on the far left.
For the first three, Chiara has actually used pictures of the original art nouveau wallpaper in the house. You can actually see the electrical wiring!
Here is it is real life. Not too sure what's going on with that clown though...
Up next, Arianna Occhipinti! Stay tuned!
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÁ
PART 3: VINI VERI, VILLA FAVORITA AND VINITALY
PART 4: NUSSERHOF
PART 5: RADOAR
We'd gotten some bad news during lunch at Nusserhof. Our early afternoon flight from Verona to Catana had been cancelled, and the only alternative was an 8:30 A.M flight. From Venice... No one wanted to lose an entire day in Sicily so the group was ok with it, but it meant waking up at 5:30 am and an hour and a half drive to the airport.
On an aside: you know a plane is old when there's still ashtrays on each arm rest...
After a quick, restless flight, we were officially in Sicily! With tiny eyes, everyone grabbed their rental cars and we drove to Randazzo. After checking into our hotel, we were greeted by Alfio from I Vigneri. We arrived just around lunch, and he took us to the incredibly named San Giorgio e il Drago. During the meal, Alfio opened up some Vinudilice rosé. It comes from a parcel called Vigna Bosco.
It's a red and white field blend composed mostly of Alicante, with a tiny bit of mystery white and a bunch random reds (i.e: they're not sure what the grapes are), all interplanted together. The soil is ash, the elevation is 1300 meters and the vines are a 100+ years old. We also had the Etna Rosso, also from 100 year old vines. Both are vinified with native yeasts and minimal sulfur, added only at bottling. Both are very good and paired excellently with the local pastas and rabbit served at lunch.
At some point during the meal, Alfio informed us that Salvo wouldn't be able to join us because of an unexpected medical operation, and that he and Maurizio Pagano (I Vigneri's head honcho) would host us instead. It was nothing serious, but Salvo did have to stay in the hospital for a few days so we didn't get to see him...
After eating, we set off to see the first of many vineyard sights.
A quick walk up the path leads to more terraced vines and Mount Etna looming in the background.
Once we'd made it up top, we were greeted by the incredible Maurizio Pagano.
This guy is a serious character: his conviction and passion for viticulture, at least in his way of vocalizing it, is unparalleled. On a prior visit, he apparently told Arianna Occhipinti (who had tagged along with Jeff Vierra and was translating), something like:
"We give him (Salvo) the gold, he makes the wine."
At this point, if you're not familiar with the association Salvo Foti founded 12 years ago, you may be asking yourself, what exactly is I Vigneri?
The renaissance of Etna wines over the last decade can be largely, if not entirely attributed to Salvo Foti and the team he put together in 2000. Salvo was born in Etna, and has always had a love affair with the wines of his region. He is also famous oenologist, and makes the wine for a lot of people in the area. I Vigneri is the culmination of Salvo's desire to promote an environmentally sound agriculture with a simultaneous return to traditional farming. Taken from the association's official website:
"The "Maestranza dei Vigneri" ("Winegrowers Guild") was established in Catania in 1435. This important association of vine cultivators working in the Etna region was the foundation stone for professionalism in wine growing and production.
After 500 years, I Vigneri is today the name of a company of winegrowers and producers operating around Etna and in eastern Sicily. The proprietors are vine experts like Salvo Foti (www.salvofoti.it) and a group of local growers from the Etna region.
I Vigneri is the culmination of more than 30 years experience in Eastern Sicily, of historic, social and technical research aimed at achieving "excellence" in wine growing and producing. We have sought to use non-invasive methods and systems, to respect local traditions and our own ancient grape varieties as far as possible, and to avoid the damage that over-reaching ambition and egoism can cause. Our work ethic lies in the pleasure of work well done, without frenzy, in harmony above all with ourselves, and with all that surrounds us: environment, nature, the volcano Etna, which is so much a part of us. I Vigneri is also a holistic system of grape growing and wine production which respects our environment."
The deal is this: if you want Salvo Foti to make your wine, the I Vigneri team have to be the ones taking care of the vines. This means immediately shifting to organic viticulture practices, eliminating any mechanical labor, hand harvesting and a focus on lower yields. The vines must also be trained in albarello, which Salvo believes is the only way to express Etna's terroir. Maurizio leads the pack, and all in all 35 vignaoli are responsable for day to day maintenance of A LOT of vines. These guys have been in the vineyards their whole lives, so they know what they're doing. What's great is that this also offers them job security they might not otherwise have, all while encouraging locals to take pride in traditional agriculture.
Everyone involved is extremely proud, and they show it by always being adorned in I Vigneri gear (see Maurizio's photo above, and the great pics from their 2011 harvest). When you see the red gear with an albarello vine somewhere on it, you know who's taking care of business...
At the first parcel we visited, the guys had just planted some very young vines.
All vines, especially when they are very young and the roots haven't really sunk into the ground, have to stay on stakes because the ash soils are so loose that they could easily be ripped out during routine plowing and soil work.
On the same site, we visited the beautiful palmento where the Etna Rosso is made.
The fruit is brought up a flight of stairs to the top of the edifice where the grapes are foot trodden. The juice then trickles down into concrete vats below to begin fermentation. I once again direct you to the 2011 harvest pics, which (un-chronologically) document this process. We also checked out the attached -and very abandoned- barrel room.
There was actually still wine in that thing, and it stunk!
After visiting another site, we took a quick rest before dinner, which took place at I Vigneri's club house. Ok, it's not really a club house, but it's a little space in downtown Randazzo where you can buy the wines, the two books Salvo has written about wine, as well as his novel. Yes: Salvo Foti wrote a novel. We had the "Vinujancu" as an aperitif: this white wine comes from a small parcel at 1200 meters altitude; the grape is Carricante, and indigenous varietal. The wine is un-sulfured.
Maurizio was there, and he was almost a different person. Casually dressed in jeans and sneakers, his stern persona from earlier was gone; he was all smiles and told funny stories the whole night. He did however keep reiterating how great all the the wines were throughout the meal...
Upstairs, a big table was set up for us and we got to taste a bunch of I Vigneri wines that Salvo makes but we don't import. To be clear, we only import Salvo's line of wines. I asked Kevin why, and he explained that many of them were inoculated and/or more copious in sulfur. I was surprised to hear this, since I naively assumed that because Salvo was so insistent that the vines be worked organically, he'd also be diligent on spontaneous fermentation. Kevin replied:
"You have to choose your battles. Salvo has chosen to focus his energy on agriculture and the environment, and in doing so he's cleaned up a lot of Etna's vineyards. With his own line, we're on the same page philosophically. But he still makes the wine his clients want him to make for them. Spontaneous fermentation and low sulfur is a risk many are not willing to take."
The next day, we woke up bright and early to check out even more vineyards, starting with the Vigna Bosco.
We got to meet Ciccio the mule!
I Vigneri does as much soil work with mules as they can. It's a lot of hard work for both man and beast, and Maurizio told us that the last one couldn't handle it: his heart exploded on the job! Maurizio punctuated this story by doing "the meh".
It was pretty hilarious. I'm pretty sure that if he was a New Yorker, he would accompanied the gesture with: "Whaddaya gonna do?". Fortunately, Ciccio is a great worker and Maurizio likes him a lot.
But he'll still ride him if he's not doing a good job.
Alfio told Ciccio he WAS doing a good job, and not to worry about Maurizio always bossing him around.
We then visited another new site, where a mystery white was being grown ("ask Salvo what it is!")
Before we knew it, it was lunch time so we went back to San Giorgio e il Drago because Alfio said we weren't going to find better. Nobody complained.
Next up: our visit to Fattorie Romeo del Castello!
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÁ
PART 3: VINI VERI, VILLA FAVORITA AND VINITALY
PART 4: NUSSERHOF
After our great visit at Nusserhof, we it was time to drive way high into the mountains to the commune of Feldthurns.
This is where Norbert Blasbichler runs the Radoar farm.
While our visit obviously centered around visiting the vines and tasting in the cellar, it's important to note that wine isn't what keeps the farm running: Norbert makes a living principally off growing Golden Delicious apples, which represent the majority of his production. He also raises cows, grows many other fruits, walnuts, cereals and of course grapes. There have been vines on the property for 200 years, but Norbert's passion for wine inspired him to take things further by independently bottling and producing terroir and varietal specific cuvées.
The farm was started in 1300, and Norbert is the 15th generation of his family to work this land. Radoar comes from a local dialect, and means "big round field" (which explains the logo). Norbert took over in 1997, and immediately converted the entire farm to organic agriculture (certified by Bioland).
After a quick hello, we set off to the vines.
That's Norbert in the center, next to Kevin and Shawn.
The main parcel is about 1.5 km from the farm, and 900m in elevation!
On this parcel, Norbert grows young Kerner vines (1 to 25 years old), 45 year old Pinot Noir and 35 year old Zweigelt.
Zweigelt is the most widely planted red grape in Austria, but very rare in Italy; Norbert actually owns the biggest plot in the entire country. It's actually a funny story: it was planted by Norbert's father by accident! He'd ordered Portugeiser but the nursery sent him the wrong clone. By the time he'd realized the mistake, it was too late...
In total, Norbert owns 2.5 hectares of vines, 80% in white and 20% in red.
We then drove back to the farm to taste some wines. One of Norbert's cats was just hanging out in the loose fissures of the old farm house.
The cellar is right by the cow's stable.
It was tasting time!
Norbert made his first wine in 1999. For the whites, everything is direct pressed then fermented in stainless steel. For the the Etza cuvée, he does two passes, more or less a week apart. We got to taste the 2011 results from both: the later pass is, unsurprisingly, richer and fatter with less acidity, so the blend creates a nice balance. Norbert also makes a sweeter Kerner with intentional residual sugar called Radoy; The 2010 I tasted at Villa Favorita had 35 grams of R.S and was at about 7% alcohol. The reds are fermented in stainless steel then aged 22 months in barrel.
At some point during the tasting, someone asked Norbert if his kids had any interest in taking over the farm. He said that at the moment, the answer is a definite no!
"But it's ok! They are young, and they need to find their own path in life. It wasn't obvious for me at first either, but I truly found my passion here. And you never know what will happen. If you had told me 15 years ago that a group of Americans from New York and San Francisco would come all the way up here to taste my wines, I wouldn't have believed you!"
Norbert also makes an amazing cider, peach and pear schnaps, grappa, apple and walnut spirits... He basically makes booze with everything he grows! Our group ended up buying a ton of it to drink on the trip and/or bring back home. Before leaving, we got to check out the beautiful, old distiller.
Next up: our mega tour of Sicily, including visits with Salvo Foti, Chiara Vigo, Arianna Occhipinti and the De Bartoli brothers!
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÁ
PART 3: VINI VERI, VILLA FAVORITA AND VINITALY
PRE-NUSSERHOF ANECTDOTE: VinItaly was over, and it was time to hit the road again. For the last 4 days, our groups had been split into different hotels, and the plan was to freshen up and meet at I TIGLI in San Bonifacio to celebrate having successfully tasted hundreds of wines in 3 days over some pizzas. And more wine. And beer. This sounded like a great way to wrap up our taste-a-thon, but unfortunately only a handful of us would make it to dinner.
If you ever plan on going to VinItaly, you need to use the "I'm going to leave approximately an hour before the event is over so I don't get caught up in the parking lot/traffic rush at the end" technique popularized in the United States by sports fans who drive and don't live in New York City or San Francisco. It took us 30 minutes to get out of the parking lot we were in, which would probably have been much worst if Jeff Vierra hadn't cut-off a huge, traffic stopping tour bus at the very last second. Shawn and Lauren, who had left the ViViT stand 45 minutes before us, ended up being stuck in the underground parking lot for 2 hours. By the time they escaped, they were already almost an hour late for dinner (which was an hour drive away) and had to politely bow out. Yet this was nothing compared to what happened to Kevin's car.
Kevin's group had left the earliest, and though they got out of their parking lot with relative ease, they still got stuck in gridlock traffic. At one point, a wrong turn meant they needed to backtrack. Kevin pulled into an empty parking lot to get the group going in the opposite direction, and what happened next has to be one of most precious examples of bad timing in human history. Almost immediately after they'd pulled in, the front gate started to close!
It turns out the lot was part of an office building, and the last employee must have left mere moments before Kevin pulled in. There was no one left in the building, and no way to open the gate. The car was trapped! Kevin climbed over the gate to get help; he eventually found a policemen who told him that there was nothing he could do, and that they'd have to come get the car in the morning. Everyone eventually climbed the gates and took cabs back to their hotels. No one got into any trouble, and the car was safely retrieved in the morning.
Jeff Vierra, Robert Brownsen, Ian Becker and I ended up being the only ones making it to I TIGLI, where we ordered five pizzas. They are very hearty, and the waitress looked at us like we were crazy, asking us multiple times if we were sure we wanted that many. We also bumped into Tom Lubbe, met Tom and Arianna Occhipinti's Swedish importer, Niklas Jakobson, and hung out with a bunch of the staff from Les Caves de Pyrene, a group of British importers that do a great job. We ate all the pizzas.
The next day it was time to visit Elda and Heindrich Mayr at Nusserhof!
NOTE: Elda talked about how social media annoys her to no end and how she still likes living in a world of semi-privacy, so to honor her right to not to be flaunted all over the internet (a choice I respect and agree with), there will be no pictures of her in this post. Back to the post...
The Nusserhof estate is a post-modern anomaly of urbanization. The original 2.5 hectares of vines are located right off the highway, in the center of Bolzano, the capitol Tyrol.
In the background, you can see many of the modern buildings that completely surround the Mayr's farm (most of which were built in the 70's). Before World War 2, the city was much smaller (more like the size of a town), and the area's warm climate favored a traditional agricultural economy of nuts, fruits, grapes and wine. After the war, a train station was built, making access to the far removed mountain town a lot easier. This was the beginning of a complete transformation of Bolzano's landscape.
These photos are featured in the Mayr's tasting room. Both were taken from the same location: the one on the right shows Bolzano a few years after the war, and the one on the left depicts what the city looks like today. You may have to squint a little, but the big highway at the bottom of the left-hand picture is what the Mayr's live next to. As you can see, most of the green got replaced by concrete and, as Elda explained, by the late 70's, farm culture had been almost completely erased to accomodate the ever increasing amount of summer tourists.
This hasn't deterred Heinrich or Elda; they are the latest generation of their family to work this land, where the records date back to at least 1788. The name Nusserhof comes from the walnut trees that once lined the house on the river side. Not so long ago they were torn out to put in a municipal bike path. As the years have gone by, the urban environs of Bolzano have encroached the estate, with the city systematically making it harder and harder for the Mayrs to continue their farming. It is believed that the only reason the estate is still in existence is due to the fact that one of Heinrich's relatives was an early opponent of the Nazi occupation and died as a Catholic martyr and conscientious objecter in a concentration camp.
After our history lesson, it was time for a quick tour of the vines.
The 2.5 hectares of vines are a mix of Blatterle, Lagrein and Teroldego, all on sandy soils with granite subsoil. All the vines are equipped with irrigation systems (the norm in this very hot region) but Heinrich uses them only in June/July and if necessary. For example, he only irrigated the Blaterle in 2011, and very little at that. The entire estate is certified organic by the German association Bioland.
We then checked out the cellar. Everything is fermented in stainless steel, aged 1 or 2 years in 500l barrels for the reds, then 1 or 2 years in bottle. Blaterle is all stainless, and Heinrich uses small, Burgundian barrels for the Tyroldego. The cellar is tiny so it was a quick visit; we stepped out and it was time to taste!
We started with the Blaterle: this grape in indigenous to the Bolzano plain, and was traditionally used to make must or sweet, partially fermented wine. Only 3 producers still grow it, and collectively this only represents 1,5 h! In fact, Heindrich is the biggest Blatterle producer in the world! Blatterle is actually spelled with two T's, but Heinrich made the intentional typo because up until 2011, you could not put the grape of the wine from his region. This is also the case with the Tyroldego (funny aside: the first Teroldego I ever tasted was the Tyroldego when I worked at Terroir in SF, so at first I thought Elisabetta Foradori was spelling it wrong). The law just changed, but Heinrich thinks he's going to keep the typo anyway.
After the grapes are de-stemmed, Heinrich does a 6 hour slow press, then ferments the wine in stainless steel. We tasted 2010, 2011 and 2002, which had evolved beautifully. We then tried Lagrein Rosé from 2010, 2011 (tank) and 2001. The wine had developed with age; it was rounder and more structured but hadn't lost any of its acidity.
Next was the Lagrein Rosso. Elda explained that traditionally, Lagrein (also an indigenous varietal) had always been used to make simple, easy rosé. For better or worst, the Bordeaux influence of the 70's/80's led a lot of local vignioli to start fermenting and aging Lagrein in barrique in hopes of creating structured red wine. So red Lagrein has only really existed for 25 years. Heinrich insists on fermenting it in stainless steel to create a lighter, more elegant wine. We tasted 09, 10 and the 1995!
Overall, the 2010's were the unanimous favorites, but the 09's were also great and 2011 shows a lot of promise. After all that tasting, it was time for some lunch, which was definitely one of the best meals of the trip. Because a picture speaks a thousand words:
Look at that slice of tongue! Not pictured: local bread and cheese dumplings called canederli.
Lunch ended with a walnut-centric dessert with a delicious walnut liqueur made by Heinrichs' 89 year old aunt. We still had some time left, so Heinrich proposed we visit the Elda vineyard.
This vineyard is also right off the highway.
The cuvée is named after Ms. Mayr herself, and the grape is Schiava. It's grown on Porphyry (an iron rich granite) and sand. Heinrich rents this parcel from the same 89 year old aunt who made the walnut liqueur, and she was actually there, hanging out in overalls and plowing the soil! Heinrich told her we'd drank her liqueur for dessert: with a big smile, she brought an imaginary glass to her mouth, made believe to drink, said something that I didn't understand (but that was definitely about drinking her walnut liqueur), and let out a content, hearty laugh. We all thanked her for her good job while she laughed and smiled at us the whole time. I can't blame her: being 89 and having a dozen Americans compliment you on the walnut liqueur they just tasted a half-hour ago is indeed a pretty funny scenario. My biggest regret of the trip is that no one took a photo of her; she was so old yet full of life, and it was an absolute pleasure to meet her.
Tune in for Part 5: Radoar!
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÀ
First person to correctly identify every grower we work with in that picture wins a Coste Piane apron!
Over the many years of Louis/Dressner's existence, we've developed a formula where these trips always revolve around a series of trade tastings. Italy 2012 was no different, so after a beautiful tour of Prosecco country, we drove off to Verona for a three day taste-a-thon.
Our first stop was Vini Veri in Cerea. Founded by the late Teobaldo Cappellano, this was the 9th edition of Vini Veri, where one can taste:
"...wines that are authentically unique, because they're the final result of a natural philosophy of production, and of a precious work done in the vineyard with organic or biodynamic method, or simply without the use of synthetic chemistry, and into the cellar without any forced stabilizations."
Many of our growers were there, including Altura, Odilio Antoniotti, Campi di Fonterenza, Casa Coste Piane, Clai Bijele Zemjle, Čotar, Domaine Matassa, Fattorie Romeo del Castello, Massa Vechia and Luciano Saetti.
Stuff worth mentioning: Antonietti's 09's (which should just have been bottled), Fonterenza 09's and their new Pettirosso (glou-glou, stainless steel Sangiovese), The Cotar whites, the Massa Vecchia 10 white and Luciano Saetti's 11's. I had a lot of fun at the head of a small tasting group, practicing my horrible Italian with a lot of people I'd never met before. Between their English, my Italian and a lot of expressive hand gestures, I think I did ok.
The next day, it was off to the 12th edition of Villa Favorita, organized by Vinnatur. If you're not familiar with Angiolino Maule's organization and the work they do, check out the blog post I wrote about our visit to La Biancara back in November and refresh your memory with this video:
Villa Favorita takes place in a beautiful Villa called Favorita.
Of the Italians, we got to taste with Camillo Donati, Ca' de Noci, Cascina Tavijn, Giovanni Montisci, Elisabetta Foradori, La Biancara, Monte dall'Ora, Costadilà, Del Prete and Radoar (profiles for both these guys coming soon). Haut les Vins, which teamed up with Vinnatur 4 years ago, was also there in full force, so we got to taste with Eric Texier, Eric Nicolas, Evelyne de Jessey (check out her newly updated profile), Alexandre Bain and João Roseira.
Highlights: Bain's 2010 Pouilly Fumé, Biancara 2011's, Montischi Rosé, Tavijn 11's, and Eric Texier's Picpoul petillant naturel.
We also bumped into Alberto Tedeschi. He was just hanging out, but had some tank samples for us to taste at dinner.
We got a chance to check out the 2011 Bellaria, as a well as Alberto's first attempt at red wine, a Barbera/Merlot blend (don't think this will make it State side, he made very little). After a great dinner, it was time to mentally prepare for the most epicly important wine event of the unviverse:
From the collective tales of Kevin McKenna, Jeff Vierra and Robert Brownsen, three grizzled veterans, Vinitaly sounded like a shit show: 600,000 people over three days, thousands of booths, millions of euros spent on marketing, guys in suits, scantily clad Prosecco girls, displays of raging public intoxication... It basically sounded like the wine industry at its worst. But let me tell you...
You'll never quite understand how big Vinitaly is until you visit (fact master extraordinaire Alex Finberg told me that if you were to put each booth side by side, it would span 2.5 miles!). Everything about it is over-produced, over-hyped and over-the-top. There is no shame. Do you you want to purchase Prosecco packaged in a gold bottle?
One stand had the entire Verona basketball team, including some American guys Ian Becker followed when they played in college, looking bored out of their minds (and obviously completely out of place), sitting around and sipping whatever brand pays for their uniforms. Complimentary foam mini-basketballs were available for those who tasted. Also, for some reason the Marche has officially made Dustin Hoffman their spokesperson.
Don't believe me?
I actually got really excited about this, and couldn't wait to meet Dustin in person, since I'm a huge fan of Rain Man. I was furious to find out he wasn't even there! What a rip! Needless to say I will be boycotting the Marche
for their false advertising.
But none of this could even come close to the Astoria 9.5 Pink Rosé stand.
You can't see it in that picture, but the girl in the picture is rubbing a dripping ice cube on her face. Girls in skin tight, pink and white spandex would wait outside to flirt with guys and encourage them to come visit the stand. There was a "bouncer" at the front working the velvet rope, and loud techno was blaring. The kicker: on the side of the stand, written in white on pink:
"I have a dream" MLK
Ian couldn't get a picture because the stand was too crowded. I will eternally regret this.
If you're wondering if we went to VinItaly solely to make fun of absurd stands, you're wrong! We totally had a legitimate reason to be there and it's called ViViT. Spearheaded by Silvio Messana, Elisabetta Foradori and Elena Pantaleoni of La Stoppa, here is the manifesto:
"Vivit is the exhibition this year at Vinitaly dedicated, for the first time, to natural wines from organic and biodynamic agriculture. Wines from organic and biodynamic agriculture are increasingly attracting the interest of consumers. This trend should by no means be underestimated, since society as a whole is requesting production methods ensuring low environmental impact. Vivit at Vin italy offeres producers and traders the chance to get to know each other better, over and above ideologies and in the name of fine wine. Vinitialy has asked the companies involved in ViVit to sign a very strict self certification document concerning the production methods applied in vineyard and in the wine cellar."
This is the first time a part of VinItaly has been organized by the producers themselves. It's also the first time different countries and regions have been grouped together by the way they farm, so it's kind of a big deal that were able to pull this off. All together, 100 vigniaoli from Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Croatia and Slovenia came together to show off their hard work. Stefano Belloti and Nicolas Joly helped with the organization, so there was a very strong Renaissance des Appelations presence. Of our producers, Montesecondo, Cascina degli Ulivi, Monte D'all Ora, Arianna Occhipinti, Costadilà, Cristiano Guttarolo, Alessandra Bera, Cantina Giardino, Elisabetta Foradori and Luciano Saetti were present (there was some overlap between this, Vini Veri and Villa Favorita). Silvio later told me that it was a huge success, with thousands of people visiting each day (I commend him for his hard work). VinItaly has agreed to redo ViVit next year in a bigger, more open space.
We didn't have too many stands to check out, but we did swing by Radikon. Saša made us taste from black gobelets so we couldn't see the wine. The idea was to show that without seeing it, the experience is similar to drinking a red. We tasted something new, a 2000 "Riserva" that has aged 9 years in bottle and is only being released now (we're getting some in), and it was the best wine I tasted the entire trip. I also finally got to meet Stanko for the first time; he was really busy but we still got to talk for a few minutes about how much I looked like my dad and our upcoming visit to the estate in November.
We also swung by Sanguineto's stand to taste the 11 bianco (which will be bottled in July), the Rosso 10 (bottled in January) and the Nobile 09. Dora was wearing a blazer, which was awesome, and brought out wild boar and black and white spotted pig sausage for us to munch on while we tasted. Naturally she'd hunted the animals and made the sausages herself. The wines are fantastic.
On our way to the parking lot, my lace became undone. This had been happening constantly on the trip, and Ian told me I really needed to learn how to tie my laces correctly. Right when he said that we bumped into Sonia Torretta, who applied the powerful "double knot" technique on my shoes.
My laces haven't come undone since.
Stay tuned for Part 4, detailing our visit at Nusserhof!
PART 1: Coste Piane
After our great visit with Loris Follador at Coste Piane, we drove back to Conegliano. We had some time to kill, so naturally we decided to go to some local bar with a terrace about a block away. Note to all broke travelers: if you're really hungry but can't afford a nice meal, go to an Italian bar around 6pm. I ordered a beer and the waiter brought out chips. Robert Browson ordered a Spritz (which I mercifully made fun of him for) and they brought out a tray of prosciutto. Ian Becker ordered something else and they brought out 4 mini sandwiches. I was a bit perplexed as to why this bar would give us so much free food (didn't they know we had to eat dinner at 8?), but Robert explained that this practice is fairly common, that bars tend to give away all the old stuff they hadn't sold for lunch/dinner because it's better than throwing it away. We barely touched it.
We got back to the hotel and were immediately greeted by Ernesto Cattel, the brainchild of Costadilà.
He easily recognized us since we were the only obnoxious, loud Americans screaming down the streets in English.
For the most part, we here at Louis/Dressner haven't put up too much info on Costadilà (check out their meticulously detailed profile), so I'm glad that we can finally shed some light on what Ernesto has been doing since 2006 (the first wine was in 2007). The Costadilà project is the combined effort of Ernesto, Mauro Lorenzon (who owns the famous Osteria Mascareta in Venice), their oenologist Leonello (didn't catch his last name) and a few silent partners/investors; it's truly a labor of love, since all three currently have full time careers. The goal is to valorize and rejuvenate the rich agricultural traditions of Tarzo by reintroducing natural farming -however small the scale- to the region. The scope of the project goes well beyond wine, and emphasizes polyculture: the long term goal is to have vines, fruits, vegetables, cereals and livestock coexist on the same plots of land. They hope that by creating this example, they can create a model farm for the region, so other farmers who are trapped in monoculture can see the way out. Completing this cycle, the produce grown from Costadilà land is then used and sold in local businesses, such as Osteria la Muda where we had dinner.
Nestled in the little mountain village of Cison di Valmarino, Osteria la Muda is one of the oldest restaurants in Italy, dating back to the 1470! When the last owner decided to sell the space, Ernesto and 6 other partners didn't hesitate to remodel and keep this landmark alive. They are currently touching up the upstairs and planning to open an agriturismo. Also, the place is open till 1am almost every night.
The next morning, it was time to visit the first of many vineyard sites.
Our first stop was a completely isolated plot, only accessible by a single dirt road. Tucked away in the mountains, this little area has a rather interesting history: up until the early 70's vines had been grown here, but when the owner retired no one wanted them and the land became abandoned. It was then taken over by a German hippie commune. Then they left, and nothing really happened until Ernesto saw the terroir's potential and decided to replant vines two years ago. These vines are coming from 6 different clones, all in selection massale, and are a mix of the four traditional prosecco grapes (Glera, Prosecco, Bianchietta and Verdizo, but more on that later). The soil is composed of clay with a marn subsoil at 15-20 meters.
Ernesto is replanting the vines exactly where they were originally located in the 1970's.
Everything at Costadilà is farmed organically. Ernesto, who has never studied agriculture or oenology, explained how he came to this decision.
"Working organically and not manipulating nature is much more favorable in the long term. Chemical agriculture seems beneficial in the short term, because you get instant results. But those quicker, easier results have repercussions. For example, if you use a herbicide, on the short term you've solved your grass problem. But then the soils have less life and micro-diversity, so yields suffer. So you use a chemical fertilizer, and now your yield problem is solved. But then your soils are even weaker and the vines, now lacking a proper immune system, become prone to fungal illness and insects. So now you have to use pesticides and large quantities of sulfur to protect the vines. And even then, the vines become so overexploited and ill that they can only live for about 25 years before they need to be ripped out and replanted. It's a vicious cycle that traps the farmer in continuing to use chemicals if he wants to keep his business going."
The site is also host to this old house that Ernesto and the gang are in the process of converting to an agriturismo and attached osteria that would serve only Costadilà produce.
It's fully equipped with the coolest sun clock ever.
For those of you familiar with the Costadilà wines, you already know that each cuvée is named by the elevation of the site. We got to check out the "280" vineyard, and our final stop was the "450".
The "450" is a 3.5 hectare parcel that is completely isolated, featuring chalk soil. It's all glera grapes. If you've never heard of Glera, Bianchietta and Verdizo as grapes used for Prosecco, you're not alone. These grapes, along with the seminal Prosecco, used to be widespread in the area, often blended together to make the region's famous sparkling wine. But in an all too common scenario, farmers began to realize how much more prolific and high yielding the Prosecco grape was, so they began tearing out their remaining vines to replant the more productive varietal.
As far as the wines, they are fermented with native yeasts until completely dry, then bottled with must made from passito grapes they dry themselves in the attic of the farm for a secondary fermentation. No sulfur is used at any point in the vinification. The wines are crisp, fresh, expressive and each cuvée successfully expresses its terroir. Ernesto cites Loris of Coste Piane as a big inspiration for making a quality wine in a region that has succumbed to the pitfalls of industrialization.
"Loris is a sculptor! We just shape rocks!"
Tune in next time for the official recap of Vini Veri, Villa Favorita and, drumroll please, our wacky hijinks at the craziest place in the world, VINITALY!
Greetings everyone! It's already been 10 days since my return from Italy, and the trip is still fresh in my mind. Ian Becker, Shawn Mead and Lauren Feldman have given me access to their pictures of the trip, so I'm glad to say these recaps will be a little more colorful than those covering our recent trip to France. Let's begin!
Here at Louis/Dressner, we're dedicated to getting as much bang for our buck as we can from these trips, so the plan was to visit Loris Follador of Casa Coste Piane approximately five hours after landing in Venice. So after a 9 hour flight, we grabbed the rental cars and it was a two hour drive to the lovely town of Conegliano. After an hour nap, it was time to drive to the famous village of Valdobbiadene!
I was excited, because if there's one thing I drank the most in 2011 (and the first third of 2012), it's Coste Piane. It never fails me, and I drink it almost every opportunity I get. It's gotten so bad that I was recently pulled aside by our Self Consumption Director Eddie Wrinkerman (S.C.D), who told me that I needed to leave some for the customers.
The visit began with Loris heartily greeting us, then almost immediately sitting us down in his dining room to taste Prosecco and eat lunch.
Food was not part of the plan, and everyone had just eaten in the anticipation of the visit. Well, everyone except me, who had napped instead (cause I'm smart). So after a 2010 bottle for the aperitif, a true feast began, which started off with this pan seared salami on a bed of local Friar's Beard.
It was delicious. Another fun thing was the opportunity to try Loris' new Brichet cuvée.
Brichet is a single vineyard of 50+ year old vines just outside of the village. Loris rents them from an old guy who recently retired, and they've been worked organically for years. The soils are composed of sandy limestone with red earth. Brichet is just as easy to drink as the base cuvée, but a little more structured, with pronounced minerality.
Having the group sit down for a meal gave Loris the opportunity to give us some insight on the estate. Coste Piane was founded by his grandfather; in those days, all sparkling wine from the village was made completely dry, with a méthode traditionelle secondary fermentation in bottle. But at some point in Loris' lifetime, two major changes occured: people began to develop a taste for a much sweeter style of Prosecco, and cave cooperatives began dominating local production. Today, almost all Prosecco is chaptalized and carbonated in the chermat method.
By the time Loris took over the estate in the late 70's, things were taking a turn for the worst. Since most vigniaoli were selling their grapes to a coop, the more they had to sell the better, which led many to aim for the highest yields possible (Loris then explained that Prosecco vines are already incredibly high yielding, and that you really need to act responsibly if you want the juice to retain any complexity). And with the dominance of chemical agricultural practices that began post-war (which became the norm in the region in the late 70s early 80s), chemical fertilizers were incredibly popular to beef up yields. But Loris was unfazed: he's always worked the vineyards organically and made the wine naturally. When he started, only 3 producers in Valdobbiadene worked traditionally. Now there are about 20, which makes him happy.
After lunch it was time to check out the vines.
This is what the 60 year old vines look like:
We also checked out some incredibly beautiful 120 year old vines that are apparently still very productive:
While most have shifted to intensive monoculture, Loris continues to let grass, wild flowers and various root vegetables grow free. Free roaming chickens and ducks hang out in the vineyard.
Before swinging by the cellar to taste the 2011's, Loris had to play with his 3 month old puppy.
He was the softest dog I've ever petted in my life, and was adorably cute. The only scary thing was that he was teething and has these uber-sharp vampire dog teeth. He was chewing on everything he could (mostly Kevin's shoe and Ian's pant leg).
In the cellar, we got to taste the 2011's. As always, the wine is direct pressed, then racked to stainless steel and cold fermented until completely dry. The wine ferments in about 12 days then settles in tank for 4 months. A must (which is usually purchased) is then added to the wine and bottled immediately, where it referents in bottle. We tasted the 2011 before pre-must, and the wine was bright, intensely acidic and mineral, qualities that definitely carry over into the final product. Loris always bottles the wine right after Easter (so just a few days ago! Yay!), so that magic re-fermentation should be happening as we speak. We ended our visit by drinking two bottles of 2005 to see how the wine ages. It ages well.
Tune in for Part 2 of Perusing Prosecco, when we swing by Costadila!
We're in Italy. I'm going to write about it. Stay tuned for part 1: Pressure in Prosecco.
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!
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!