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: 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.
Expect these once to twice a week, recapping our visits as they happen. Accompanying interviews, profiles and cuvée info will either get updated simultaneously with these logs, or a day or two later. In this first case, I will post Julien's interview tomorrow.
DISCLAIMER: I am a terrible photographer, and am only equipped with a cell phone. And because I prefer paying attention to my surroundings while listening to our vignerons talk about where they work their daily magic, I can't guarantee a ton of photos in these. Maybe when Maya's around there will be more. What I can guarantee is in depth recaps of everything discussed during our visits. Let's continue...
We started our trip out in Normandie, a region we rarely visit. We're staying in the tiny village of Montpinçon, where our friends just celebrated the 20 year anniversary of the country house they rebuilt themselves from scratch.
On top of all the local cider and calvados, we drank at least 12 magnums of Jean Paul Brun's 2011 L'Ancien, so you know it was a good party. And since it turns out that we were 10 minutes away from Julien Frémont's farm, it was only natural we go pay him a visit!
After a bit of catch up, we went right to the cellar to check out the cider making process, something I wasn't at all familiar with. The first stop was the attic, where apples are brought up by a pulley system, then sorted for quality. Altogether, it holds up to 20 tons of fruit.
After making their selections (mainly if the apples will be used for cider or calvados), they drop the apples in a hole, leading them straight into a large grater on the ground floor. It literally looks like a huge cheese grater. The apples are mulched, and the resulting pulp is then laid flat into special blankets and stacked one by one on old wooden panels laid on top of each other. It's then time to start a slow, water operated press which lasts a little over an hour (Julien says they average 6,7,8 of these a day). The juice drops into containers by gravity, which is then racked to tonneau or fiber glass containers.
Alcoholic fermentation occurs in tonneau and fiberglass containers. The tonneaux are all quite large, from 60 to 100 hl! All of these had to be built in the cellar itself because of their massive size. Julien loves the rustic qualities that he gets with the tonneaux, but admits that the fiberglass is easier to clean and control; by combining both he feels he strikes a proper balance between tradition and technology. Everything is fermented with the native yeasts on the apples and in the cellar.
Unlike wine, where dead yeasts form lees that sink to the bottom, fermenting apples produce pectins, which form a solid, gelatinous hat on the top of the juice. These are naturally lifted to the top by the carbonic gas that occurs during this period. But the same gas eventually punctures the hat, which is the perfect time to start racking the cider and get rid of the goo. This process lasts anywhere between 8 days and 3 weeks depending on the weather (the colder it is, the longer it takes).
On average, the harvest takes almost 2 months! This is because Julien grows about 25 varieties of apples and each of them has a unique ripening period. Each cuvée is a blend of 5-7 apples cofermented together, based on a similar ripening periods. This is a rather uncommon way of making cider, as most producers prefer blending different juices to balance the final product out (a sweeter one with a drier one, a more acidic one with a less acidic one... Julien's upcoming interview goes in depth on the philosophy regarding his blending).
The apple varieties were all planted at random, but Julien and his team are well trained at knowing which is which. For trees Julien planted in the last 10 years, he planted rows of identical varieties, as well as planting varieties that ripen around the same time next to each other; it's just logistically easier.
The 2011 cider we tasted-which is about to get shipped to the States- is a:
"Great compromise of fresh fruit and rustic structure."
As far as the farm, it was started in 1750 by his family, and the current cellar (tonneaux, press, etc…) dates back to 1900. Making cider traditionally means a lot more work for Julien, but he claims he'd feel uncomfortable in a "modern laboratory" setting. He has about 20 cows, which are used for beef; up until recently the Frémonts had always produced milk, but this became too much work so Julien decided it was time for a change. The cows take care of the fields by grazing and naturally fertilizing the ground, which Julien feels is essential to Auge's unique terroir.
We ended our visit shooting the shit about Julien's connection to the Dive Bouteille (cool story you'll discover in the interview), Catherine and Pierre Breton, the Beaujolais, the Loire, the South and how each has defined its own style of natural winemaking. We also talked about a phenomenon Julien aptly titled, the "consomacteur": people who choose to understand what they consume, to know where something comes from and how it's actually made, who support the actions of those who work in a more traditional way. A recent visitor, upon seeing the very, how shall I put this, "rustic" cellar, even asked if he was still legally allowed to work this way! It's true: hygiene laws have become stricter and stricter in Europe, and as we all know a cellar needs that natural funk to form the yeasts which naturally ferment the wines, cheeses and ciders we all love so much.
The best translation I could come up with for "comsomacteur" is "caresumer", but holy shit does that sound pretentious and corny, so WE ARE NEVER using that term ever. Watch someone do it though... Anyway, I highly recommend checking out Julien's interview, which is full of great info on his work philosophies as well as his connections to the natural wine world. It also draws a lot of parallels between the things we talk about all the time with wine, and how the same uniformisation and A.O.C bullshit affects small scale, traditional agriculture as a whole. That'll be for tomorrow though.
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!
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!
A heated bidding war ended last night when Chuck Mczormik offered 600$ to private Louis/Dressner related T-Shirt collector Jules Dressner for graphic design genius Arnaud Erhart's "Fucking Puzelat" design.
Only ten of these shirts exist, having been printed in Puerto Rico prior to Arnaud's trip to France for Thierry Puzelat's wedding last June. When Dressner announced that the 3 XL T-shirt would be the only one available to the public, bids went from 5 to 600$ in a mere two hours.
Says Mczormik on winning the shirt: " I'm a slender medium so it's a tad baggy on me. But all the girls at my local natural wine bar Le Glou-Glou in Alameda are loving it. It was worth every penny."
Today's interview is with one of our newest producers, Xavier Courant of Domaine de L'Oubliée in Bourgeuil. Catch up on the short history of the Bertrand Blier fanatic's estate, and expect a regular series of blog posts where Xavier reviews his favorite Blier films, and as discussed in the interview, pairs them with wine.
Interview with Xavier Courrant.
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