Louis Dressner Selections Louis Dressner Selections Blog http://louisdressner.com/ Fri, 27 Mar 2015 24:04:04 GMT Jules Dressner <![CDATA[Winter Bonanza 2015: Ulysse Collin in Congy!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/3/25/295/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/3/25/295/ Wed, 25 Mar 2015 27:46:43 GMT

[I must give an infinite amount of thanks to Phillip Ehrlich for kindly providing his notes to me for this next batch of recaps. They would not be possible without him!]

Sorry for the lack of updates. The whole team was super slammed with the 2015 REAL WINE ATTACK tour, where 20 of the finest vignerons in the game SMASHED through Los Angeles, San Francisco, Reno, New Orleans and NYC in 8 days. As with last year, I believe the trip can summed up with one very telling picture:



Moving on...

Olivier Collin is a meticulous man in the cellar. Everything starts with this incredible manual press:



Yes, that is in fact a divine light shining on to me.

This is one of the first presses in the village of Congy. It was built in the 1950's, and the whole village used to use it. During harvest, it is hand operated by 4 people for 12 days, 18 hours a day.

"It's a lot more work, but for me it is fundamental: you extract more matter, tannins, anti-oxidants and it permits the wines to age longer. It may be hard to taste when the wine is young, but they become sublime later on."

Using a manual press forces Olivier to harvest at a higher maturity than if he used a pneumatic one, because otherwise the wine would take on bitter characteristics. The Chardonnay is pressed separately from the Pinot Noir, and all in all 4000 kg of grapes produce about 2050 liters of jus de presse (first juice) and 500l of jus de taille (2nd juice). Notice the numbers on each of these underground tanks?



Olivier meticulously keeps first and second juices from each pressing separately: the first press goes into the cuves 2-5, and he manually deviates the jus de tailles into cuve 1.

After press, Olivier pumps the juices into the débourbage vats pictured below.



The juices are left overnight and sometimes a bit longer to let the juice settle. Olivier likes the juice to be very clear and free of bourbes ("gross lees") because you never know what can be in there.

According to Olivier, many independent growers in Champagne choose to discard their jus de taille and sell them to négociants. This is why many "Champagnes de taille" are usually what ends up in supermarkets. In the case of the Ulysse Collin wines, Olivier feels that the jus de presse gives the wine its backbone and structure -permitting it to age longer- and the jus de taille makes the wine a little stronger, richer and adds gourmandise. Because the second juices are more murky and fragile, Olivier keeps them separated from the first juice at least 1 year before blending.

The entirety of the Ulysse Collin production is fermented and aged in barrel.



Olivier is not a fan of new oak, but new barrels are out of necessity syphoned in every year to replace the old ones. Another major development in the cellar is Olivier's recent investment in foudres, which have been used since the 2011 vintage.



If you're not familiar with the Ulysse Collin wines, sites are not blended and each cuvée is parcel specific. Today, Olivier produces four wines from four sites: Les Maillons, Les Pierrières, Les Roises and Les Enfers. And while vintage and reserve wine is important to the final product, this is not what Oliver is seeking to accomplish with his Champagnes.

"When you work this way (vinifying specific parcels), the goal is not to express the vintage or the percentage of reserve wine. I want you to taste the parcel, to taste its DNA."

Strong words.

Nothing is set in stone, but about 20 to 40% of each year's juices go into his reserve wines.

NON-SEQUITUR FACTOID: The limestone suboils in Congy feature the same type of rare black flint you spot at François Pinon's in Vouvray!





From the cellar, Oliver manually disgorged some 2014's for us to taste.







Before tasting, we took a quick stroll to go visit Les Roises and Les Enfers.











Les Roises and Les Enfers are neighboring parcels, with the former exposed full South and the latter exposed East. The soils for both parcels are clay topsoils and limestone subsoils, though les Roises has a almost twice as much clay.

Walking through Les Enfers, Olivier grabbed this plant from the soil:



It is called Le Mouron des Oiseaux, which might just be the frenchest thing I've ever heard.

"When you see this plant, you know your soils are doing well. It's a bio-indicator that proves there is healthy microbiology in the soil."

As we've discussed before, Olivier isn't 100% convinced with organic viticulture, at least not in Champagne. He tried working les Roises organically in 2012 and lost 80% of his crop.

"I admit 2012 was the wrong year to launch myself into working organically. But I really believe that is is extremely difficult working 100% organically in Champagne's conditions. As an aside, one thing I notice about organic Champagne is they tend to taste more bitter to me. I believe this is because the use of copper increases the thickness of the skins, and I feel it is evident in the wine. I still believe that the most important thing anyone can do in the vineyard is work the soils."

For protection, Olivier mostly sprays the vines with silica. However, if he sees a sickness taking place, he will intervene with Pecadeux, a non-systemic product that is legally allowed in German organics but not in France.

"I don't believe in treating my vineyards with with systemic products. But I also don't believe in letting my vines suffer greatly from illness. I treat them like I would treat myself: if I'm really not feeling well, I will take antibiotics to get better."

Of course, we then tasted the 2014's, which were obviously very young but already showing great promise. We were also treated to the one-time-only Le Magnum, a relic from 2006 vintage.

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<![CDATA[New Estate: Agnanum in Campi Flegrei! Profile+Visit Recap!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/2/27/294/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/2/27/294/ Fri, 27 Feb 2015 27:33:35 GMT

CHECK THE AGNANUM PROFILE OVER HERE!

There's an old Italian expression that goes: "Vedi Napoli e poi muori", or "See Naples and Die". I can't really explain why, but any city where traffic is this fucking insane at any random street corner will always have a special place in my heart.



It's worth watching until the end. So many close calls... So few helmets...

Also, this:



Best. Outfit. Ever.

But Napoli isn't just panic-inducing traffic, insane all-night street parties, incredible architecture, delicious pizza and fashionable children. If you head to the Western edge of the city, you find yourself in Campi Flegrei, a unique area on the edge of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Geologically, Campi Flegrei is marked by many large volcanic craters. Combine this with the sea's constant winds and you have a fascinating terroir.

While still within the city limits, much of the area feels desolate and forgotten. However, if you follow the twisty, unkempt roads to the crater of Agnano, there is plenty of beauty to experience at Raffaele Moccia's 4 hectare estate, Agnanum.



All of Raffaele's vines are located on a single, steep hillside overlooking the mainland in all its postindustrial glory.



Here is Agnano's lovely hippodrome:



Fortunately, once you turn away from the urban panoramic, you are treated to an absolutely stunning vineyard site.









The soils here are sand and volcanic ash, with the vines planted on terraces that make mechanization impossible. Terraces have been the traditional way of planting in this area for centuries, but in an all too familiar tale, most growers are abandoning them because it's too much work. Speaking of too much work, Rafaelle has to be very careful with his soils.

"If you don't till, the rain goes right through (the soil) and messes everything up."

To avoid this, he lets grass grow wild to absorb water that would otherwise overfeed the vines. The grass also helps create a layer of moisture that helps cool down the vines.







"I didn't come up with this system. It is very old!"

Rafaelle's land is considered a historical vineyard: the youngest vines are 60 years old and the oldest are "at least" 200. Because his soils are so sandy, everything is planted in franc de pied.

"We're drinking the wines the Romans were drinking. Well, with the help of a more modern cellar!"

2.8 hectares of the native Falanghina are planted for white and 1.2 hectares of Piedirosso for red. The vines are some of the most strangely shaped I've ever witnessed.



Rafaelle described the training system as pergola, yet it doesn't resemble what one usually associates with the term.

At one point, a distinct whiff of sulfur overtook the group. That's because there are nearby sulfur eruptions all the time.



See that smoke in the middle? Sulfur cloud.

As we continued our walk through the vines, Rafaelle explained that there are 4 layers to his soil: sandy volcanic, humus, fine sand from basalt and finally basalt subsoils. It is very compact, and in such the roots of the vines feed from all 4 layers.

"Though the younger vines only reach the first 3."

By "younger", I'm pretty sure he meant the 60 year old vines.

Another particularity of these soils is that they auto-restrict yields, which was surprising since the vines are so huge.

Look, it's an old lady working her land alone in the horizon!



I spotted hoses in the vines, and asked Rafaelle about them.

"These are not for irrigation, but rather to have water handy when doing treatments. It's much easier to start from the top of the vines and having pitstops on the way down than having to go all the way back down each time."

At the very top of the hill, some young vines have been planted in massale and franc de pied. They are 15. To help them grow and develop, Rafaelle has planted fava beans in the rows and fertilizes the land with rabbit shit.

I found rabbit shit to be an oddly specific animal for this task, but it turns out that Rafaelle has a side-buisness of raising rabbits, so that makes sense. Speaking of which:



Our tasting/lunch took place in this medieval dungeon type space that was a stark contrast to the beautiful vines.



Rafaelle's son, who is currently in culinary school, made us a banging lunch from this amazing wood fire oven.



Of course, we had to eat some rabbit!

We also tasted some wine. In the cellar, slow native yeast fermentations take place in stainless steel tanks. Malolactic has never occurred since Rafaelle took over the winemaking.

For the white wine, 10mg of sulfur is added at the beginning of fermentation and nothing after. A light filtration also takes place. The red is unfiltered and un-fined.

Rafaellees great, great grandfather used to sell the wine in vrac to to restaurants in Naples. He would load barrels up in a horse wagon and bring them to town.

"The wine became so popular that my father had to start a lottery system. The wine would go to the winners."

Rafaelle is the first generation to bottle the wine with the 2002 vintage. 4 wines are produced: a Campi Flegrei Bianco that is 100% Falanghina, a IGT white thates 50% Falanghina and 50% grapes Ieve never heard of. He also makes two reds from Piedirosso: Per e Palumm and Vigne del Volpe, a selection from the oldest vines. They are all delicious.

After leaving, we got a little lost on the way to our next appointment and, after pulling over, met a really ugly dog with a heart of gold.



We nicknamed him Teeth. I wanted to keep him forever.

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<![CDATA[Paul Gillet of Les Maisons Brûlées Interview!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/2/16/293/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/2/16/293/ Mon, 16 Feb 2015 22:50:21 GMT

"When you truly love wine, you can immediately tell the difference in the way people work in the vineyards and cellar. You can taste convictions, from the choices made in the vines to those in the cellar."

A fascinating interview with Paul Gillet, the new proprietor of Les Maisons Brûlées. Find out how Paul and his wife Corinne went from opening a retail shop in Mulhouse to throwing pop up dinners in Buenos Aires. Read about their plans to start a viticultural estate in Argentina and eventually settling in France. Learn from Paul's wise words and choice philosophical musings!

Read the interview here!

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<![CDATA[The Didier Diaries Part 9: The Grand Finale!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/2/4/292/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/2/4/292/ Wed, 04 Feb 2015 19:57:53 GMT

READ PART 8!

This final post is dedicated to Joe Dressner and Joe Dougherty. Your spirits live in the Clos forever.

I can't remember what time I woke up, but it was early. As if by divine intervention, it just so happened that the last harvest day of Clos Roche Blanche's last vintage landed on my last day in France. Sometimes, when you know you are going to be part of something significant before it's actually happened, the self-awareness leads to expectations of emotions running high from the get-go. But to my surprise, everyone remained cool and collected throughout the work day. Later on would be another story...

Just like with the Côt, Catherine and I were the last ones to arrive to the vines. Once again, Catherine immediately got into boss-mode and started leading us into the vines. Friends and family came to help, including Laurent Saillard:



Béatrice Augé and Balou:



and Catherine's daughter Claire:



The morning went by smoothly, with everyone working at a brisk, professional pace. Except me. I was super slow.





The Côt was nothing to scoff at and the Romorantins at Tue-Boeuf were gorgeous, but this Cabernet Franc gave' em a run for their money.







While we harvested, Didier vigilantly observed every bunch being dumped into the wagon to inspect quality and get rid of dirty extras such as leaves or branches.







Around noon, the wagon was full so Catherine sent the harvesting team home for lunch while we got ready to load what had been been picked into a vat. Before we could do this, 6 of us had to MANUALLY LIFT an old car that was in the way of the vat (we thought we could push it but the front breaks were stuck, resulting in an improvised Worlds Strongest Man event). Then Catherine had to do some serious tractor maneuvering to get the wagon in position.





Unlike with the Côt, here we did not manually de-stem a portion of the grapes on a moving tray table. Instead, we loaded the grapes into an égrapeuse, a mechanical device that de-stemms the grapes. But first, we had to drain the juice from the grapes crushed at the bottom of the wagon:



Once the grapes were ready to come out, we got to work!



You can't tell from the video, but you actually need 5 people involved at all times for this entire process: the first is Didier pushing grapes out from the top of the wagon. The wagon is equipped with this mechanism to make things go smoother:



The whole time, Claire was making sure the grapes fell correctly into the égrapeuse. You also need a person clearing the bins of discarded stems and two people getting their hands dirty at the bottom and pushing grapes through to make sure the machine doesn't get clogged. The last job is quite strange, since your hand is emerged in juice that is much colder than you'd imagine, effectively making your hand feel like an icicle.

Once this was done, we sat down for a long, beautiful lunch prepared by Catherine's mother Solange.



There was still some work to do, so got right back to it around 2:00pm.



And then, in a little over an hour's work, it was over. I was trailing in the back, but it was confirmed by Laurent's:

"That's it for Clos Roche Blanche's 2014!"

There were of course grapes to load into the vat, but not nearly as much as the morning's harvest. When we got back down to the house, Catherine was paying her pickers one by one. Some hung out, others left as soon as they got their check. There was some wine open, but I was desperately craving beer so Laurent, Claire and I went on a mission to grab a bunch.

Sipping beers, the late afternoon conversation was jovial. As it began getting darker, those still hanging agreed it was time to eat something. Along with the leftovers from lunch, Catherine cooked a huge bowl of pasta. Though every meal at Clos Roche Blanche is always complemented with wine from the estate, Didier chose to serve us, in honor of it being my favorite wine EVER, his very last bottle of L'Arpent Rouge 2010.



As the night went on, things predictably got emotional, especially as I had to tell many of the people I'd spent the last two weeks with goodbye. I also individually thanked Didier and Catherine for letting me be a part of this experience, one that for so many reasons will remain a hallmark in my life.

It got a little weepy...

Being there for the end of something that truly mattered is certainly bittersweet. Clos Roche Blanche is a magical place, and Catherine and Didier are magical people; whether they realize it or not, they have touched and inspired countless lives through their work. But as I stood outside at the end of the night, alone and watching the stars in the crystal clear sky, I didn't feel sad. If anything, I was excited to see what the future holds: for the Clos Roche Blanche vines, for Catherine, for Didier, for Laurent and Julien.

And shit, even for me.

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<![CDATA[The Didier Diaries Part 8: Le Décuvage!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/1/24/291/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/1/24/291/ Sat, 24 Jan 2015 27:01:04 GMT

READ PART 7!

The décuvage, or "devatting", is the critical moment when you press the red grapes that have been macerating on their skins, stems and seeds to extract their juice. To do so, you have to manually take them out of the vat where they have been macerating.



That juice you see dripping from the vat is called the jus de goutte; this comes from the grapes at the bottom of the vat crushed by the weight of the bunches on top of them. The jus de goutte has usually finished its alcoholic fermentation by the time of the décuvae, but the berries that haven't completely burst still have a ways to go.

The jus de goutte drips down into the press, which is directly below the vats.



From there, the first step involves shoveling out the grapes from the vat into the press.











You eventually get to a point when you can't reach any more grapes from the outside and must physically enter the vat to keep pushing them out.



A few days after we devatted the Gamay, I would go into the vat of Côt to repeat this operation. IT IS SO HOT IN THERE! As Eben Lillie once described it:

"It's like being in a NYC subway with broken air conditioning In August!"

Not only that, but because of all the trapped CO2, you get all light-headed. It's kind of fun but also a little freaky, since fainting is never a good look.

Anyway, once the grapes are in the press, it's time for the juice to flow!









As you can see, the vats and press are outside (a unique particularity at Clos Roche Blanche), and the wine is racked by gravity into the underground cellar.

A few hours later, it was time to clean the press. The first step of this required removing the marc (or pomace), aka the solid remains of grapes after pressing for juice. Didier tractored this bin over so we could throw it in there.



By observing the marc, you can see that the grapes are evenly flattened but the stems aren't.







"This is great because it means the marc isn't imparting its flavor into the wine. 15 years ago, equipment was much less efficient. You would always see flattened stems."

As far as the press itself, the way it works is as follows: a bladder full of air pushes in a vertical line. Grapes are pressed and go through this grid, which does not let solids through.



The marc is aged for 3 years, then used as a natural compost for the vines.

After the marc had been cleared, it was time to vigorously hose everything down.

"Being a vigneron is 90% manual labor and 10% internal reflection. On the other hand vinifying is 10% reflection and 90% cleaning stuff. It's not as noble as everyone thinks!"

For every liter of wine produced, you need 1.5 liters of water to clean up the equipment.

"It used to be 2. We have better technology now."]]>
<![CDATA[Lotsa More Harvest Reports!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/1/16/290/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/1/16/290/ Fri, 16 Jan 2015 24:26:18 GMT

Çotar!!!

Francis and Delphine Boulard!!!

Eric Texier!!!

Campi di Fonterenza!!!

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<![CDATA[The Didier Diaries Part 7: Le Prélèvement and Testing for Volatile Acidity!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/1/13/289/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/1/13/289/ Tue, 13 Jan 2015 5:00:58 GMT

READ PART 6.

I've already mentioned the process of the prélèvement in the first part of this series, but to re-iterate, it consists of grabbing a bucket's worth of grape bunches, crushing and analyzing them to decide if the time is right to harvest. In Part 2, Didier and I had done an initial prélèvement of the Cabernet Franc. Five days later, it was time to do another one.

The Cabernet Franc is not in the lieu-dit Clos Roche Blanche, but in a plot just outside of La Boudinerie (an old farm where Didier, Laurent Saillard and Noella Morantin live).

"I consider this our best terroir."



Didier's instructions were simple: pick a random row to pick random bunches from, repeat until your bucket is full. You also need to constantly snack on grapes to see how they taste. By utilizing this randomized process, you get a global idea of entire plot's overall ripeness. Picking lasted about 20 minutes.





From there, we headed back to "the lab" to test the juice out!





Catherine noticed that the pigs with arrows were pointing at Julien as if to indicate he was one, prompting us all to laugh.



The first device you can see in the pictures above is similar to an old school thermometer, and this is to measure sugar levels. This next device, which looks like a taser, is to measure PH levels.



The final test is acidity, where you keep adding this liquid until the juice becomes blue.





I still don't understand how it works, but it's essentially a chemical reaction that happens once there is the right amount.

After manually smushing my grapes, it was my turn to analyse my bucket's worth of fruit.







Our results were identical. After testing and tasting the juices, we agreed it tasted good but was not ready. In such, Dider decides to harvest the following Tuesday (October 10th).

"There is a big difference between today and five days ago, but it's not there yet."

"You knew just from tasting the grapes in the vines that they weren't ready, didn't you?"

"Yes. Well, I mean I'm not surprised they aren't ready."

On another day, Didier took me to the lab in his room to the Gamay for volatile acidity.



Here is the setup:



And the main piece of equipment is this cool ass thing:



This is how it works: you add 2 drops of oxygenated water (which blocks away any sulfur, which could alter results) and add 10ml of wine. The bottom heats the water, creating rising vapors that boil down the wine. Here is the whole process in action:



"It's very similar to a distillation".

The result of this operation is that all of the wine's volatile acid is diluted into vapor and water, both completely clear.

"Volatile means "it can fly", which is why it can easily get extracted out of the wine. All the other molecules are too heavy and will fall back down."

On a completely unrelated note, Didier has this sweet out-of-order pinball machine in his room.

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<![CDATA[Harvest Reports from Elisabetta Foradori, François Cazin, Clemens Busch and Agnès et René Mosse!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/1/10/288/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/1/10/288/ Sat, 10 Jan 2015 5:04:27 GMT

We've been late on providing harvest reports this year, but rest assured that we still have a couple more batches after this post. I promise they will all be up on the site well before you get a chance to taste any of these!

Elisabetta Foradori!

François Cazin!

Clemens Busch!

Agnès et René Mosse!]]>
<![CDATA[Watch an Extremely Infomative Video about Quinta do Infantado and Learn A Shit-Ton!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/1/2/287/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2015/1/2/287/ Fri, 02 Jan 2015 26:56:32 GMT

Happy New Year!!!

Ring in 2015 by learning an insane amount of information on Quinta do Infantado and Port wine in general? Originally published by our lovely distributor David Bowler Wines, this video is narrated by João Roseira himself. It's a fascinating, well paced and extremely informative glimpse into the often misunderstood world of Port. It's also a glimpse into Quinta do Infantado's work and why they are considered one of the best Port producers in the world. Enjoy!]]>
<![CDATA[New Producer: Laurent Lebled of A la Vôtre!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/12/23/286/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/12/23/286/ Tue, 23 Dec 2014 27:02:51 GMT

Did you guys know we like wine from the Loire? Did you know that we work with 6 producers from Touraine? Well make it 7!

I met up with Laurent Lebled in the center square of Saint-Aignan, just a 5 minute drive from Clos Roche Blanche. From there, it was a quick drive to to a good portion of the land he rents.







Laurent currently rents land from 3 separate owners. Because he currently lives too far to do so, for the time being the Saint-Aignan owner does all of the viticultural work here. Laurent makes his specific requests (working the soil, yields, etc...), then comes with his team to harvest. And because he vinifies over an hour away (more on this later), he then shuttles the grapes in a refrigerated truck.

Originally from Saumur, Laurent planned to start his estate in Touraine. After some diligent research, he was able to secure rented vines and a cellar, but the guy with the cellar dropped the ball at the last minute. Laurent had to improvise and, as you will see, found himself forced to spread himself all over the place. He currently vinifies over an hour away in Savigny en Véron, but is confident he will eventually relocate to Saint-Aignan. Laurent been working the same 1.7 hectares here since he started in 2010.

0.8 hectares consist of Sauvignon planted in 1962 on clay and limestone. The Gamay is massale from vines planted in 1950 and 1970, and planted in rockier subsoils which give the wine a more structured acidity. The Cabernet Franc is on similar soil to the Gamay and planted in the 60's and 70's.

Laurent was born and raised in Saumur. Before making wine, he was a successful wood merchant for 30 years. Specializing in chestnut trees, he sourced woods from Spain, Portugal and Italy. But by 2008, the recession hit hard and Laurent had to shut up shop.

"I had never done anything else. But it was clearly the end of an era for this type of work. I had no idea what I was going to do, and never thought about making wine. Not even for a second."

It was his childhood friend Sebastien Bobinet, who himself gave up a first career to tend his grandfather's 2 hectares of Cabernet Franc, who proposed that Laurent follow a similar path. After some rigorous research to find land and a cellar, A la Vôtre's first vintage was in 2010.

"I just jumped right into it by learning in the vines. Sebastien helped me through the entire process in 2010, from pruning to vinification. Combined with the additional help of Patrick Corbineau, this gave me the confidence to continue. It's a beautiful second chance. It's an incredible feeling to see something through from beginning to end."

We then drove an hour to Chinon country, where Laurent was able to find the chai where he vinifies and ages the wine. Because of his proximity to nice vineyards, he couldn't resist renting some land here as well. This he works 100% from beginning to end. The first plot we visited was 0.49 hectares of Cabernet Franc planted on pure sand.





This plot used to be worked conventionally, and after 4 years of conversion Laurent is finally able to easily work the grass and soils.

"No one wanted this vineyard because the rows are all different (in length) and you can't use machines here."

The grapes here are blended with the Cabernet from Saint-Aignan to make the On Est Su l' Sable cuvée.



Both sites are vinified separately. I was surprised to learn that a parcel this far out could still be classified as an AOC Touraine wine.

"It can! The first vintage we made it a Touraine wine, but have stuck to Vin de France since then."

A lot of replacements have been necessary, and Laurent planted many in 2012. His neighbors also replanted a bunch at the exact same time, and the difference is shocking. Here's Laurent's:



And here are his neighbor's:



"I have no idea how that's even possible."

Me neither. As we drove off, I couldn't help but feel I'd been to this vineyard before. It all felt eerily familiar...

We then drove to Laurent's 0.6 hectares in Les Picasses, the famed lieu-dit where Olga Raffault (amongst many others) produce some of their most expressive wines. In fact, it turns out that Laurent's parcel direct neighbors Olga Raffault's Chenin Blanc!





This parcel was also worked conventionally prior to Laurent's rental, and in still in conversion. The grapes were looking nice, and Laurent believed he'd harvest a few days later.



From Les Picasses, we drove to Laurent's vinification chai, which just so happens to be in Savigny-en-Véron, the village where Olga Rafault is based. And it just so happened that Laurent's chai is literally three doors down from the Raffault house! Neighbors again!

We naturally popped in to say hi. Eric and Sylvie had no idea I'd be visiting, and were just returning from picking a parcel in Les Picasses. Though Eric was busy getting the grapes into tank, Sylvie graciously offered us a few drinks of older vintages.



As we kept chatting, the fact that they were neighbors in Les Picasses came up. And from there, it was confirmed that the parcel that the Raffault produce Les Barnabés with is RIGHT NEXT to Laurent's sandy parcel. That's why it felt so familiar! So to recap, Laurent Lebled and the Olga Raffault are neighbors EVERYWHERE. What are the odds?

As we left for the chai, Laurent was really happy that I introduced him to Eric and Sylvie.

"This is the first time I'm meeting a colleague and neighbor since I started. Sometimes I feel all alone out here. It's good to know there are nice people just next door!"

In the chai, Laurent showed me his vinification process. During fermentation, he keeps a heater on because it gets very cold in there. He tries keeping it around 20&#730;.

The main vinifications happen in concrete tanks with wood planks on the bottom. A full carbonic maceration takes place for 30 days (an average, "normal" carbonic maceration goes from 10-12 days). Here are the whole clusters in tank:







Once the fermentation takes place, the grapes are pressed and racked to fiberglass tanks:





The wines stay on their lees until bottling.

To taste the older vintages, we THEN had to drive to Laurent's storage cellar, an old tuffeau cave in a neighboring village.







Man this is a lot of bouncing around! We did a vertical all the way back to 2010. Each vintage- and this is not a bad thing- was radically different.

"I have no shame admitting that I am completely new to this and learning as I go. Every vintage has proven to be a completely unique experience, both in the work and in the flavors of the wines."

I found it particularly interesting how the wines are able to keep a more rustic, terroir driven quality than most pure-carbo vinifications. Laurent believes this is due to the extended period of time he lets the intra-cellular fermentation occur.

We THEN drove to Saumur to eat at the excellent Bistro des Jean, a tiny spot doing amazing French bistro fare. Highly recommended. The two owners were are originally from Saumur but had a successful place in Paris for years. Eventually, they got sick of the big city and moved back home. More importantly, they have this incredibly huge dog:







His name is Gandalf, and he is the size or a small horse!]]>
<![CDATA[The Didier Diaries Part 6: Party Time!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/12/11/284/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/12/11/284/ Thu, 11 Dec 2014 28:45:43 GMT

A farçie is local Loire slang for the end of harvest celebration. These vary in size, but are usually an intimate affair between the harvesters and the vignerons who hired them. Since Clos Roche Blanche was one of the last estates to finish their harvest, I was lucky to partake in many farçies while in France. The first I got to check out was at Maisons Brûlées.



To the left, new owner Paul Gillet celebrates the first harvest he's seen all the way through since taking over from Michel Augé in 2013. It was kind of a cold, but we still hung out for apéro outside. Even in the heart of natural wine country, you gotta satisfy the children with artificially colored and flavored candy:



Can't lie: I kind of mess with those Coca Colas...

Paul's team was mostly composed of natty boys and gals who chain smoked joints (this can describe 95% of harvest teams in France), but there was a handful of interesting characters, including some older locals, an elderly couple from Brittany and a very nice Spanish guy.

After drinking a couple of bottles, it was time to eat an Alsatian specialty, the Baeckeoffe:







If you're wondering why we we were eating a mix of sliced potatoes, sliced onions, cubed mutton, beef and pork which have been marinated overnight in Alsatian white wine and juniper berries and slow cooked in a sealed ceramic casserole dish in the Loire, it's because Paul and Corinne Gillet are, you guessed it, Alsatian! To wash it down, the gracious Laurent Saillard brought some of his Lucky You! Sauvignon and La Pause Gamay:







That gentleman to the right of Laurent (who is in the foreground if you don't know what he looks like) is Bruno Allion, a much loved biodynamic vigneron who for years has sold his grapes to Thierry Puzelat and Pierre-O Bonhomme's négoce. I also got to try some of his own wines for the first time, which were delicious.

After lunch, the sun decided to pay us a visit so we had no choice to sit back outside.



We also had no choice but to drink some Maisons Brûlées Dernier Né, which due to the label is illegal for us to import to the United States.



You see, the barred out "drinking pregnant woman" is the equivalent of the US Government Warning, saying you shouldn't drink and drive or drink while pregnant (or both). It is obligatory to have on each label of wine in France, so as a joke Paul has made it the focal point of this cuvée; it's actually the exact logo you see in tiny on most labels, except huge. But hey, it's legal. Except in the US, where it isn't...

All in all, the Maisons Brûlées farçie was a lovely afternoon, and just a pre-game for what would happen a few nights later: The Villemade farçie!

It can pretty much be summed up in this 4 second video:



First off, this happened at maybe 9pm so you can imagine how the rest of the night went. The context here is that the harvesters, 90% of whom were from Brittany, were about to sing Isabelle and Hervé Villemade a song to thank them. This courageous young lady decided to stand on a chair and play ring leader. Then that happened...

Anyhow, due to the size of the Villemade's estate, there were many more people at this event, including cameos from Loire all-stars Thierry Puzelat, Christian Venier and Pascal Potaire. Pretty early in the evening, I vaguely remember smoking a cigar while make-believe surfing because Surfin' USA by the Beach Boys came on.

After dinner, everyone started dancing to basically the worst music ever, but it didn't matter and was still super fun. I don't think you can quite grasp this type of scene without having experienced an improvised musical mish-mash in rural France for yourself (I'm a hardened veteran), but the flow of music is jarring and all over the place stylistically. To make matters worst, the internet connection kept crashing and cutting off songs half-way through. I tried jumping on to flex my DJ skills and almost immediately this guy wanted to fight me so he could hear some Miles Davis (right after, mind you, a horrible French Ska song picked by someone else). The flow of the two songs was horrendous, but everyone still danced and it didn't matter.

Around 3 in the morning, Thierry Puzelat busted out a secret stash Overnoy that we carefully hid from the harvesters, who were guzzling everything in sight.



Also, this happened:



Strangely, both those images captured a 100% accurate representation of what my blurred vision looked like at that point of the night.

After waking up in Hervé Villemade's guest room, I took a shower and headed to the Clos du Tue-Boeuf farçie for lunch. Knowing Thierry, I was expecting the worst. And of course, before serving me any food, guess what lands in front of me:



Jero bomb of Lemasson!

Lunch was delicious, but I was exhausted and desperately in need of a nap despite having been awake not much more than 3 hours. When I woke up, I was pleasantly surprised that Thierry and most of the harvest team were in a pétanque tournament, with the others jamming on their guitars. It was shockingly mellow for a Puzelat party.

And I couldn't be happier.]]>
<![CDATA[Italian and Croatian Harvest Bonanza!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/11/25/283/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/11/25/283/ Tue, 25 Nov 2014 28:25:25 GMT

Cantina Giardino!

Cà de Noci!

Massa Vecchia!

Clai Bijele Zemjle!]]>
<![CDATA[The Didier Diaries Part 5: A Visit to Clos du Tue-Boeuf!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/11/18/282/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/11/18/282/ Tue, 18 Nov 2014 27:54:05 GMT

The evening of the remontage and visit with Valérie (recapped here and here), Didier told me there would be little to do for a few days and that I should take advantage of them to visit other growers. I had a loose itinerary of people to see, and the following morning I called Thierry Puzelat on his cell.

"We're actually on our last day of harvest. Wanna come?"

The answer was an obvious YES!!!!!! When I pulled into Les Montils, Thierry was loading the just harvested Menu Pineau from the Brin de Chèvre parcel into the press.



From press, it goes into a débourbage concrete tank before being racked into barrel.



Débourbage translates to "racking off the gross lees", which is apt because they are in fact quite gross:



It looks like a honey-mustard factory. Yuck.

Thierry's harvest began on September 19th, and would finish on the day I showed up, October 6th. After lunch with the harvest team, we grabbed our sheers and drove over the a parcel of old vine Romorantin, the oldest being planted in 1905!









eThis is the highest yields weeve ever seen here.i

The grapes were indeed plentiful and magnificent.



Thierry was getting in the mix.





Everything was going great for the first ten minutes. Then, in a bold move of over-confidence, I went for a bunch hidden behind some leaves and cut my finger pretty bad! Much to my surprise, Thierry had a first aid kit and patched me up so I could continue working.



I debated putting up a picture of my extremely bloody hand, but decided that while profanity and nudity (mostly in the form of absurd paintings) is ok, I must draw the line at gore.

Harvesting took about an hour and half, and we couldn't have finished at a better time since it started raining heavily just minutes after we'd loaded all the grapes into the truck.





After a short drive back to Les Montils, we went right to the press.





Unloading the grapes took about 20 minutes, and the press lasts 2:30 to 3 hours depending on the load. Once again, the juice was racked to a débourbage tank, this time much smaller.



The Romorantin we harvested will have to be labeled Vin de France, as it lies just outside of the Cour-Cheverny AOC. Thierry was making it under the Puzelat-Bonhomme label for years, but in 2014 this will be a Tue-Boeuf wine.

In the cellar, an employee was testing the sugar/acidity/PH of the Menu Pineau.





While the harvesters celebrated the end of harvest, Thierry and I tasted some juices.

PeTit Blanc 2014 had a few grams of sugar left, and was in full malo.

Petit Buisson 2014 had way more sugar, but tasted good.

"Once youere about 2/3rd done with fermentation, you can start tasting aromatic complexities."

Frileuse is an assemblage of Fié Gris (a strain of Sauvignon) planted in 1998 and Chardonnay planted from massale in 1967. We tried two separate barrels.

eThe maturities in each barrel are about a week apart, and they bring balance to each other.i

The first was denser and richer, the second more tense and bright.

We then tried the the Brin de Chèvre that had been pressed just hours earlier.

"A slight oxidation on the juice means you won't have any on the wine. It's a guarantee that it can handle it from an early stage. The brown color will be gone in 5 days."

Then we tried the Gamay Vin de France 14, which is made with a 100% carbonic maceration. It was in full malolactic fermentation and had a muddy, murky color. The malic acid tasted awful.

"It's pretty gross right? Once it's finished, it softens up considerably."

I asked Thierry if he gets much from tasting the juice.

"For me, it's about tasting if the juice is pure and in good shape. As I mentioned earlier the aromatic complexities come later. For now it's about making sure the juices are in good shape and to spot any potential issues before they become insurmountable."

The last two wines I tried were a special new experiment, Menu Pineau and Pinot Noir from Caillière made in amphora! They were totally wild and tasted nothing like what you'd expect from a Tue-Boeuf wine. Both spent 6 months on the skins and were bottled un-sulphured. Thierry showed me the 2014's fermenting:





Oh and the soon to be available Caillière 2013 (3 week maceration, 10 months in barrel) is absolutely delicious.

We then joined the harvesters and hung out until really late.

]]>
<![CDATA[More Harvest Reports from France and Italy!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/11/14/281/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/11/14/281/ Fri, 14 Nov 2014 27:52:26 GMT

Jean Manciat!

Olivier Lemasson!

Monte Dall'Ora!

Cascina 'Tavijn! (Those crazy looking grapes are the Ruché!)]]>
<![CDATA[And So It Begins: 2014 Harvest Reports!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/11/10/279/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/11/10/279/ Mon, 10 Nov 2014 24:35:26 GMT

Alice and Olivier de Moor!

Zélige-Caravant!

Bernard Baudry!

Plenty more where that came from!

]]>
<![CDATA[The Didier Diaries Part 4: Visiting a Colleague!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/11/4/278/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/11/4/278/ Tue, 04 Nov 2014 26:19:02 GMT

Apologies for the lack of recent updates. All the craziness leading up to our annual portfolio tasting (which was a huge success!) and a trip to DC has set me back on posting new stuff on the blog, but rest assured that there will soon be a FLURRY of new content, including new interviews, producer visits, and of course our annual HARVEST REPORTS, which have usually already been published at this point.

Louis/Dressner Selections: Weeve Got Internet Content!u

On a lovely afternoon, Julien Pineau and I accompany Didier to Domaine de la Méchinière, an estate run by Valérie Forgues. Didier chose to wear this sweet T-Shirt, purchased in NYC during a trip in 1998.



Founded in 1999, Méchinière spans 14 hectares in Mareuil-sur-Cher, is planted in the 6 grapes of the Touraine AOC and is in its second year of converting the vines to organic viticulture. Didier met Valérie because she is dating his brother, and for the last few years has been helping her out in the cellar.

"She's gone through a lot of setbacks and I think she deserves the help. She's a fast learner and I think that she will be able to do everything on her own very soon."

Here is her awesome dog Drago, Crusher of Souls.



The reason for our visit was to scope out the damage from the what would turn out to be the hot topic on everyone's mind: the drosophila suzukii. Originally from Japan, these flies have been fucking shit up in the US since 2008, and were first spotted in France sometime in 2010. They look like fruit flies (which are a common occurrence around fruits, so no one really worried at first), and feed themselves by stinging soft summer fruits and sucking out the sugars. They also lay their eggs between the skin and the pulp, and in both cases the berries start turning to vinegar. Normally these bugs die after summer, but the strange climactic conditions of 2014 kept them around too long. As far as anyone knows, this is the first time they've actively targeted grapes in France.

Herees what the damage looks like:








"It's crazy. Here we are a few days after our Pineau D'Aunis harvest, and you can easily spot the damaged grapes. When we were picking ours, you could barely see the stings and the only way to know was smelling the bunches to see if they stunk of vinegar. Good luck explaining that to the harvesters!"

Valérie was one of the last people in the area to harvest her Pineau D' Aunis, so this was a rare opportunity to see what the grapes look like after about a week after being stung. The worst is reports of suzukii bites began only TWO WEEKS before harvest, which many believed was going to be an abundant year after the very challenging 2012 and 2013 (Ieve heard some growers have lost up to 50% of their harvest because of this).

Still, not all hope was lost:

"The grapes that havenet been stung are ripe and in good shape. This is salvageable, but only if you hit the tank with sulfur immediately after cuvaison. Otherwise the vinegar yeasts, which are in full force, will take over."

Stories like this are stark reminders that the work of a vigneron is one of constant adaptation, and that dogmatic extremism -Iem specifically referring to sulfur use here- can only work in ideal conditions or states of complete mastery (Overnoy, Dard & Ribo and Massa Vecchia immediately come to mind). Many vignerons who traditionally do not sulfur during vinification felt obliged to do so this year, and I do not fault them for it: if they hadnet I canet imagine what the juices would have ended up as. For Valérie, whose Pineau De Aunis rosé is a big seller, you can understand why sheed be losing sleep at night over this.

On a brighter note, we then visited Valériees 80+ year old Chenins, which were in tip-top shape and ready to make some bubbles.







After a walk through the vines, we went to taste the juices in the cellar, which had a shockingly over-powering odor of reduction.

eItes intense right?i

These crazy concrete tanks that looked like submarines captured my imagination.



We tasted Sauvignon from an organic parcel, and Sauvignon Rose from one in conversion. We also tried some Gamay.





Outside, I admitted to Julien that tasting juice is really hard, and that I found it almost impossible to tell what was going on.

"Me too. But ites still fun to do!"]]>
<![CDATA[The Didier Diaries Part 3: Introducing Julien Pineau and Doing a Remontage!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/10/20/277/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/10/20/277/ Mon, 20 Oct 2014 26:36:13 GMT

When I wake up on my third day at CRB, the sun has already risen. Today Didier, Julien Pineau and I are going to do a remontage!

Just as I step out to catch some fresh morning air, Julien pulls up ready to work.



Who is Julien Pineau?


photo copyright Jim Budd.

Julien is originally from Tours, where for many years he worked as a geological analyst for a real estate contractor. His job mainly involved analyzing the geological compositions of pre-built or build-able land in order to advise on how to proceed with construction on the most sound foundations possible.

"You'd be surprised how much stuff was built anywhere in the 70's. So much has to be done to make sure these don't crumble to the ground."

Though he found the geological aspect of his job fascinating, the corporate environment was not really his jam so he decided to quit and try something new. Along with a few friends, he had gotten increasingly into natural wine and wondered if there was a place for him working in the vines. After some research he landed at an estate in Provence for 2 years, followed by a year stint as Noella Morantin's employee.

During that time he met Didier, and the two hit it off during Julien's benevolent help in the CRB cellar. He is currently interning with Didier for a year, and will be one of the partners taking over the CRB land in coming vintages (more on that in a future post).

Anyhow, back to wine stuff. For Didier, the two first days after harvest are the most important when making red wine.



"The first two days, you extract the best colors and tannins. After this initial period, it gets much less interesting."

In order to extract said color and tannin, it was time for me to do my first of many remontages! A remontage, which translates to "bringing back up", consists of pumping the juice trapped at the bottom of the tank back onto the grape bunches so they can interact with each other. It is important to remember that at this point the grapes are macerating and haven't been pressed yet. The pumped juice will precipitate the berries that haven't "popped" yet to do so, and the contact with the skins and stems help with extraction of color and tannin.

eWhat do you have in there (the tank)? Juice at the bottom and grapes at the top. If we don't do a remontage, there is no exchange between the two.i

The remontage is done with the help of this pump:



In the photo below, you can see how a tube from the bottom gets pumped through the pump and pumped back onto the grapes:




Before pumps like the one used existed, this process was done bucket by bucket, and would take twice and much manpower and time!

Speaking of buckets, there's always a little juice left in the pumps so we made sure to catch it and not let it go to waste.





eThe white foam shows the beginnings of yeasts fermenting and eating away at the sugars.i



After Julien took care of the Gamays, Didier asked me to do a "special, one time above oxygen level" remontage. You see, in the very early stages of fermentation, yeasts need oxygen to multiply. Yet the very act of fermentation emits carbonic gas, which smothers oxygen. Didier proved this with the "lighter trick":



The point when the lighter goes out is when their is no more oxygen in the tank.

"You have to be very careful with this. It's the number one cause of fatal accidents in this line of work. The body reacts extremely poorly to a lack of oxygen."

The idea of the "special one time only above air" remontage is to pump the juice where it is exposed to oxygen (where the flame stays lit), which will kickstart and invigorate the active, native yeasts that will then continue to work on the sugars. I was a little freaked out at the prospect of instant death, but got up there and did it anyway. It's hard to see, but this is what the grape bunches look like:



Up until press, a remontage is done each day. After it is done, Didier measures the density of liquid in the tank.



When it gets to 1000, this means there is very little sugar left and it is time to press. Today it was the Gamay was at 1074.



I have no idea how this is read.

On the way back to the cellar, my bud Jack the Rooster was just hanging out.



Back in the cellar, we tasted the juices again. The Sauvignon had just started fermenting.

"You can feel that bite on the edge of your tongue."

The wine was also more cloudy.

"That's totally normal. It means the yeasts are getting to work."

The Sauvignon in wood, however, had not started fermenting.

"That's because of the wood. Unlike stainless steel, which adapts to its environment, wood stays colder in the initial stages of fermentations. However, because fermentation emits heat, the wood will stay hotter than stainless steel at that point. This is ok with small volumes but becomes much more challenging otherwise."

The Pineau D'Aunis Rosé was fermenting a little bit as well, but will really kick start the next day according to Didier. The color this year is surprising, and will be darker than usual.]]>
<![CDATA[The Didier Diaries Part 2: Harvesting the Côt!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/10/10/276/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/10/10/276/ Fri, 10 Oct 2014 18:33:48 GMT

NOTE: ALL PHOTOS COPYRIGHT JIM BUDD. JIM HAS GRACIOUSLY GIVEN ME PERMISSION TO USE THESE PHOTOS FROM HIS EXCELLENT BLOG JIM'S LOIRE. THESE PHOTOS, ALONG WITH MANY OTHERS, ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THIS BLOG POST.

When I wake up at 7:am, it's still dark outside. The meet-up is set for 8 to harvest the Côt at La Boudinerie, the farm where Didier, Noella Morantin and Laurant Saillard live (the first picture here is the parcel we harvested). Catherine drives me over and we are the last ones to get there. The team of harvesters is a hodge-podge of younger people and some middle aged women who, as I would later find out, love gossiping about the goings-on in the village like some weird rural Days of Our Lives recap. They are not particularly friendly to me, but not mean either. Then again, I'm showing up 2 weeks in, working at a slow and confused pace.

Like with most things, my first attempt at harvesting grapes comes with a hefty amount of over-analysis. It this bunch with a few shrunken grapes good? What about that one with only four grapes? When I ask Catherine, she just says: "Sure, take it." and keeps moving. In a year like 2014, there weren't any issues with rot, so harvesting is really as simple as finding bunches and putting them in your bucket.

Everyone works at a steady pace, and my bucket always seems half full compared to the rest of the group. The organization is semi-informal: two people per row, but Catherine and a few others jump around rows to help out where they see fit. If someone finishes a row before the other, then they help finish their neighbors' before moving on to the next. Two harvesters man the "hotte", big open container backpacks which the pickers dump their grapes in for them to unload back to the truck.

Didier is knees-deep in arriving grapes, sorting through bunches as they arrive, making sure to get rid of leaves, grass and undesirable grapes. When we are almost done with the first parcel, he tells me to come with him to do a eprélevementi of the Cabernets, which are just a short walk away. Walking through the unpicked parcel, Didier randomly picks grape bunches here and there from various rows. We return to La Boudinerie, where he crushes them with his hands to extract the juice. This is poured into a beaker, and the sugar/acidity/PH tests are done.

eNot Ripe. Friday at the earliest, but most probably Sunday or Monday.i

It's Friday the 3rd, and Didier is talking about the 10th.

By the time we get back, the parcel is finished and it's off to Clos Roche Blanche to harvest the 120 year old Côt. In my jet-lagged state, I forgot to charge my phone and was super bummed that I wouldn't get any pictures of the proceedings. Fortunately, Jim Budd (from the fantastic blog Jim's Loire, which you should go read immediately) was there to capture the moment.











Here's a picture of me to prove I was actually doing something...



After another 17 row parcel of younger vines, harvesting is done for the day, just shy of 12:30. Catherine sends the team home, and we head over to the the press to sort grapes for them to start their fermentation. First, we collect the juice from the crushed grapes at the bottom of truck, dumping it bucket by bucket into the vat. When this is done, the grapes get unloaded on a conveyor belt tray table, where they endlessly flow from right to left as 6 of us de-stem the bunches and throw out as many stems as we can before they get end up in one of Didier's custom stainless steel cuves to macerate and ferment. It's a messy procedure which leaves my grey tee full of splashes, stains and pulp, and my hands sticky and red from the juice.

eIf your hands stick, it means the alcohol will be there!i

If anyone is interested in a super limited stained XL grey tee full of 120 year old Côt from Clos Roche Blanche's last vintage, I'm putting it up on Ebay. Bids start at 500$.]]>
<![CDATA[The Didier Diaries: An In Depth Look at Clos Roche Blanche's Last Vintage (And So Much More)!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/10/6/275/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/10/6/275/ Mon, 06 Oct 2014 14:29:45 GMT

PART 1: SETTLING IN...

(NOTE: There will be a lack of pics in the first two posts, but I will more than make up for this afterwards.)

I arrived to the Saint-Aignan train station on October 2nd around 5:10pm. As per usual, I hadn't slept on my red-eye flight (where I watched 22 Jump Street and X-Men: Days of Future Past), and was pretty loopy. Catherine Roussel picked me up, and told me that we hadn't exactly calculated my arrival correctly: the Sauvignons had been picked the week before, the Pineau D'Aunis was done but a mess because of some new asian bug that came out of nowhere a few weeks ago (more on that in future posts), and that I had missed the Gamay by a day. All that was left was the Côt, which would be harvested the next day, and the Cabernets, which would be done sometime next week. Slightly disappointed but undeterred, I thought to myself: eShit, this may actually be a vacation!i

Yeah right.

A few minutes after settling in to the beautiful Clos Roche Blanche house, I hear Didier chatting away with his colleague Valérie. For the last 4 years, Didier has been guiding Valérie in the cellar. She founded the estate in 1999, has always worked sustainably and is her second year of converting the estate to organics.

They are outside doing the analysis for sugar density, acidity and Ph levels, crucial info for when to harvest. This process, which I always imagined to be extremely elaborate, with everyone putting on white lab coats on and breaking out microscopes, turns out to be almost crude in its simplicity. First, the sugars are weighed by an instrument that looks a lot like a thermometer: it's dunked in the juice, and floats back up with an indication of the sugar density. Acidity is measured by adding liquid that changes the juice's color, and somehow you know what it is based on the color. Finally, Ph is done with an instrument that looks like a lot like a taser, which again is placed in the juice, and a reading is done.

The juice Valérie has brought is called a prélèvement: she has taken a few bunches of grapes, crushed and analyzed them to decide if the time is right to pick or not. Didier tells her the Chenins are in good shape, but when it comes to the Pineau d'Aunis, there is a dangerous amount of volatile acidity due to the Suzukees bugs. These bugs are from Asia, and came out of nowhere 2 weeks ago. They sting grapes to feed themselves from the sugars, which then dry out and start reeking of vinegar (acetate acid). Dider tells her we'll go visit in a few days to check the damage.

After Valérie says her goodbyes, Didier asks me if I want to taste some juices. Duh!
We start with a stainless steel tank of Sauvignon Blanc. I missed the last day of Sauvignon picking by two days: it was harvested on September 30th. It has 13.3 degrees of alcohol. We both laugh that it tastes like canned pineapple juice, or pineapple gummy bears. But way better.

Didier tells me that stainless has the best exchange between the inside and the outside environment. Therefore the thermic exchange adapts to the cellar, which in CRB's case is ideal.

Next, we try Sauvignon from foudre, which Didier thinks will producer a N#5. It tastes more concentrated to me, but he assures me it's the exact same, although with higher acidity and Ph.

We end with Pineau D'Aunis rosé, which has a beautiful color. It has a sweet candied taste, and we both laugh that it tastes like Strawberry Haribos. Except way better.

-eDoes the peppery thing come with the fermentation?i

-eUsually.i ]]>
<![CDATA[New Visit: Salvo Foti in Randazzo!]]> http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/9/23/274/ http://louisdressner.com/date/2014/9/23/274/ Tue, 23 Sep 2014 28:28:50 GMT

That's the picture Salvo sent us the night before our visit. Oh Etna, always erupting!

After a lovely morning visit at Romeo del Castello, it was once again time to visit the grand, mysterious Salvo Foti!

While waiting for him, many of us got into a heated debate on who was going to buy this sweet miniature automobile.





No one could agree, so we decided to grab a coffee at the best named cafe of all time:



YES, I know it's spelled with a K but I still thought it was funny.



Not making us wait too long, Salvo pulled up with his left-hand man Mauricio and we drove up to a new vineyard.



This parcel is at 1100 meters elevation, and was planted 3 years ago. Salvo does not plant Nerello Mascalese above 800m, as it doesn't grow well in those circumstances. Whites, on the other hand, fare well, and this vineyard has been planted in Grecanico and Minella.

A small crew of the I Vigneri team was busy hoeing the soils.



"Every time they do this, it's like adding a fertilizer to the vineyard. It's the vines' water."

It's very important to do this work in the vines' infancy due to Etna's volcanic ash soils. If the ash isn't constantly being shifted around, the roots will stay superficial and not reach the subsoils. Furthermore, wild grasses and flowers grow very quickly on volcanic ash, making for too much competition.

"If we weren't constantly hoeing, these vines would look like this."



From there, we took a terrifying, extremely steep road that almost resulted in a few accidents. Certainly not for stick-shift novices... Fortunately no one was harmed and we were able to visit the Vigna Bosco:









Salvo acquired this vineyard 12 years ago. To his knowledge, this is one of if not THE highest vineyard in all of Etna, towering at 1300 meters elevation. Very few people still own vineyards at these types of altitude.

"In their eyes, it's too much work for too little result. Plus you need to have workers who know what they are doing, and these are getting harder and harder to come by."

Do to the altitude, the vineyard produces very low alcohol grapes. Harvests here are always extremely late as well. 2013 was picked on November 5th!

Grenache, Alicante, Grecanico and a bunch of grapes Salvo can't recognize are planted here. The vines are 110 years old, and all planted in franc de pied.

Speaking of franc de pied, a new plantation is in the works, all in massale.



Of course, everything will be raised in Albarello.

"Albarello is the best and oldest training method in the world. If this was used world-wide, fungal illness disappear. Other training systems are for chemicals and machines."

That's quite a hefty statement I'm sure many would disagree with. Perhaps Salvo was specifically referring to hotter regions? Then again, Mark Angéli trains all his Chenin in gobelet. Ultimately, his argument lies in the fact that Albarello gets no shadows from other vines and is exposed to more air.

"The cure for any plant's illness is sunshine."

Salvo then busted out a picnic basket with a couple of bottles in it.



It was none other than 2011 Vinudilice Sparkling!



Vinudilice is the wine produced from the Vigna Bosco, and usually consists of a still rosé field blend. With the 2011 vintage, Salvo exceptionally decide to make bubbles due to low quantities and maturity issues.

The wine is already sold out.

From Vigna Bosco, we headed to Vinupetra, undoubtedly in the top 5 vineyards I've seen in my lifetime.











At 240 years old (!!!), Salvo thinks these are "probably" the oldest existing vines in Etna.

"You have to treat these vines with the same respect and care and you would a 90 year old person. When you're 90 you can't do the same stuff you were doing when you were 20. It's the same with vines."

On average, the work to maintain these old vines requires his team 250 days of work. Young vines trained in Cordon on these soils require approximately 50 days of work a year.

"40 years ago, all of Etna's vines were trained in Albarello. Now it's water, chemicals and vines planted to last only 20 years before being ripped up."

The craziest of these vines were HUGE. Here's one taller than me!



And I'm tall!





Conveniently enough, Salvo's house overlooks Vinupetra, and it was at a long table that we sat down to eat dinner and taste wine.



As always, the antipasti alone was enough to fill an average human being up.



Of course, Salvo has a oven set up outside, perfect for making flatbreads and pizza.





As we set up, we asked for a spit bucket. Reluctantly, Salvo got up and brought some to the table. The one on my side had a large spider web in it.

"As you can see, no one uses that thing!"

We started with some white, then the 2013 Vinudilice Rosé, which if you recall is from the Vigna Bosco we visited earlier. Before Salvo acquired it, the prior owner used this parcel to make house wine for his family.

"When I took over, he told me that his grandfather had always made the wine with one night skin maceration. So I continue this tradition."

We then moved on to the Etna Rosso 2012. Did you know that the Etna DOC is the oldest in Sicily, dating back to 1968? Did you also know that this wine is a wine illegally made in a Palmento? If not, re-read this. On the subject, Salvo chimed in:

"Sicilians always expect something illegal. So we don't worry."

The Etna Rosso is always foot-trodden, then and open fermentation takes place for 7 to 10 days before the wine is racked to chestnut barrels.

The tasting ended with younger vintages of Vinupetra, followed by 06, 02 and 01.

As we ended dinner, Salvo toasted us and had this to say:

"I thank you all for coming and doing what you do. Wine is important, wine is three dimensional: there is time (the cycle of the year, the wine aging...), space (the context of where it is consumed, whether in its place of origin or all the way in the US...) and the mental (how it makes us feel, how it brings us together...)."


I guarantee you a lot was lost in translation, but it was a special way to end a special night.

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