Thursday, 11 July 2019

On bottling in forty-two degree heat wedged between suitcases and an old fridge

I will write one day about the toothpaste factory twisting boredom of bottling which is a likeness I haven’t conjured up from behind my computer but one that struck me with the dull thump of anti-progress while actually bottling after which I couldn’t stop thinking about factories and empathy and all the people ever to have existed in such existential poverty and those who continue to do so. I have never thought more about industry and heavy duty machinery as I do nowadays working with people I would describe as more or less artisanal but it’s true, I do, so it's good that it doesn’t always make me sad when I think about factories but sometimes Wow cool like the time I drove via Champagne to Mars in the enjambeur of Dufour Charles and which I keep calling entrejamb meaning between-leg which makes the French laugh. There are other times too where I think Wow like when I’m scrolling through agricultural websites search term ‘cuve fibre’ and for sale I find tanks as big as concrete houses and I try to imagine how many grapes these need to be filled and how full France is of grapes and I can't which is the thing with industry: incomprehensible scale. But bottling doesn’t have to be in the controlled conditions of a factory it can also be in forty-two degree heat wedged between suitcases and an old fridge whose coiled back is thick with rust left as it was for years in a shed with the outside world clearly visible through the 1 cm gaps through its slats and not only visible but tangible, the heat pushing through and long-ago boiling the last eighty-odd litres of wine we’re finally bottling having only that morning secured the magnums brackets thank you Anders although I can think of a more exact of description of this than ‘bottling’ namely holding each mag up arm heavy to the tired déguster to catch drip by drip the liquid jam as you sit behind the fridge next to the suitcases amidst the hairy confusion of a million flies rubbing together their dirty feet as if gleefully at your misery and you are, you are miserable because in this heat you can’t eat, you can’t work, you can’t sleep, you can’t live and you tell yourself It's day eight of a wave of heat you just have to hang in there, It won't, you tell yourself, Go on forever but what if it does? What if we're at the beginning or maybe even already the middle of the end of the world and who cares which it is? why split hairs the flies are thirsty, the ants are thirsty and they are coming into the house to collect around the dripping fridge like elephants at a mud pool and humans around a lake.


Monday, 24 June 2019

Vincent Marie | No Control

Vincent Marie is not Vincent and Marie who are the Tricots and who I wrote about here but a gentle riot.
No compromise ni control, makes snapped guitar-string wines that crawl out of mosh pits bleeding magma and two black eyes in Volvic chai painted millennial conch shell pink.

— Visit 1 April 2019. Volvic, Auvergne


Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Charles Dufour

Charles is energy to the power of 7: Epicure, Enthusiast, quietly cultivating vines and transmuting their spirit into wines that sun on ocean-ripples dance and shimmer as opposed to sun on fresh-waxed Maserati b*l*i*n*g from which you shield your eyes. Here, can I offer you another rice cracker? A cold shower? A perpetual reserve of forest asparagus we foraged together then turned into a salad we’ll blend with veg and seeds and other things and eat for the next three days? Welcome to Landreville, an alternative Champagne. 

What more can I say than most days being mostly lunch with crunch? On the Only Living Boy in Champagne (thanks Honey) I have: Inherited responsibility, buh-bye biodynamics cus 'I don't want to wake up so early’, no more single-parcel cuvées, pale hands blue pick-up big time generosity and a legally grey-area orange spritz. Further on our visit there's Aux Crueyrs de Vin, a Troyes institution, a '09 Puzelat, Julien Guillot's '17 Cuvée 910 drunk fast and blind which made all three of us scratch our heads and sing; an andouillette initiation, a pintade prince and a standout Coteaux Champenois star-fire wine (capers, sandalwood, Arizona desert dust) on fiercely pithy skins. Then there was more fowl for lunch and a '98 to end but before all this the once in a lifetime time I can say a Le Carton wine was drunk in Champagne (!) ditto that I took an unsupervised spin (!!) on a Soviet octopus mission to Mars vine sprayer and in conclusion bear with my five word monologue by way of answer to your question, 'But tell me, how did you find Champagne?'

Charles: disgorges my birth year. 
Me: Can we drink something red soon? 

— Visit 6-10 June 2019. Landreville, Champagne


Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Harvest 2018: Aurélien Lefort

(very good)

— Auvergne, 14 October 2 0 1 8



Friday, 19 April 2019

Jan van Roekel

Jan or Jean nobody knows and nobody cares, it is what it is which I'll tell you is one hell of an explosive glacial melon pét nat of the finest china bubbles in Johnson’s² baby powder pink. What else? Well, what has always been is that Jan plays hard for the Jura team, believes in hip hop and that a better life is possible in France. One of the only Amsterdammers who doesn’t bike, the only one to visit us here twice and the person to look at my grapes and say “press” so the next day I did (thanks Jan). Furthermore director of tours from the swamplands North to Bojo's bastard salon Bojalien where, chez Romain, he’s been making Gamay since 15 in his cult-merch hoody softly beseeching #free(Olivier)cousin and is no joke big in Japan.

— Jan visited 11 April. Alba-la-Romaine, Ardèche


Monday, 15 April 2019

Catherine Dumora and Manuel Duveau

"Barrel wine is for the head", Manuel Duveau said,
and we’re in the biz. of firework spritzers and volcanic elixirs and getting mescaline crazed butterflies dancing in bellies.

— Visit 1 April 2019. Blanzat, Auvergne.


Thursday, 11 April 2019

Aurélien Lefort

There are two things I want to say about Aurélien Lefort and here they are in no particular order.

The first concerns his labels, each as if drawn by a genius doodling fine-lined the unwinding of the labyrinth of the mind in paper margins with spacecraft precision its runaway monsters and underground suns. Hieronymous Bosch sky burials event horizon heavy falcon full engines blast through black hole energy. Insane messages scratched out by ravaged wingtip with ketamine clarity, NDE-lucidity. Francis Bacon rib cages and dino-boned claws arranged methodically, algebraically, madly; urgent warnings left in black quill tip hint at the wine's liquid intensity. Cryptic script left by those before the known cosmic order in machine language and jester diamonds, traces of minotaur mazes filled with frightened winged things captured in scratchy lithograph Expressionist madness and the second thing is: his sound system is amazing.

— Visit April 2 2019. Madriat, Auvergne.


Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Vincent Tricot

Vincent is a Sunday afternoon beaten Creuset cooking all day slow on a Saturday quiet kitchen deep eyes heavy lidded talking slow like a metronome tick tick about the different Gamays. Silver stubbled old western smoking steady radio voice tones invites us post tasting 18s in late sun gilded cellar after pickup truck safari tour of sandy Auvernat hilltop soiled parcels of old and also newly planted vines to stay and drink at kitchen table cracking almonds and later eat risotto with François Dhumes and Francien their friends and neighbours for dinner. All we did otherwise today is eat lunch: six oysters with London beer and a Mediterranean rosé (Castex) with a breadcrumbed cassoulet and a liver nourishing broth that's pot au feu in French and afterwards I fell asleep in the back of the car.

— Visit 30 March 2019. Orcet, Auvergne


Friday, 5 April 2019

François Dhumes

Last year here they say a lack of Nitrogen means the wine’s lazy the day today March 31 twothousandnineteen spring and warm and sunny us music on in plastic small-trunked Jeep driving out of Clermont Ferrand city and what’s better all Sunday doing nothing ‘til at five drinking weeks to months-long cold carbo charged wines colour of dark stain-glass violets with taste hints of local basalt volcan-icty and different fibreglass personalities in a three years-new cellar downstairs before dinner dipping Saturday-dry bread sliced thin in juice of whole house smells like golden-crisp chicken? Dipping fries young-faced, doe-eyed François (Dhumes) triple-fried hot and salty with a bar of torn foiled dark chocolate, Spain’s first strawberries and effervescent Gamay d’Auvergne rosé flicking through folder of ancient local paper cut-outs of now older Auvernat gods in the kitchen with new friends fresh escaped from two weeks extra pruning in a pink-hued, otherwise stifling Beaujolais for dessert.

— Visit 31 March 2019. Orcet, Auvergne


Thursday, 15 November 2018

10 November

It’s been a long while since I wrote and with so much happening in between where to start? so you don’t or you start with what is true now so I will write about living in a cloud. 10 November 2018 and the Ardèche is sink-sponge yellow-green shaggy grey skies and sodden. The vines cling to their leaves shades of neon with gold skeletons their grapes two months-long gone into juice now quiet the last of the garden's green tomatoes fridge-top in jars next to the cooking spoons oh, and I brined olives today. Life is in muted sage green mist mottled with tones of brass door handles, burnt quince and ochre shades of corduroy, brushing off lazy flies and baguette-bending humidity, there was to my dismay no goat milk yoghurt thick as walls at the market today I'm told no more until spring and the mushrooms we picked were orange and poisonous but: quince! Meaty spice orbs turned slabs of fridge-cold jelly and an illicit harvest of hand polished chestnuts means they are brown in their basket with the walnuts on the windowsill while beyond I see a calico cat landscape of quilted army fatigue olive sheen, winter tomato ghostly greens copper pots fading into sad soup brown plus blush of rose gold pear and like I said, sodden. 


Thursday, 19 July 2018

Czechs and chateaux in week 2

The Czechs were coming and the toilet was blocked and Andrea, god bless mobile home plumbing proficiency from the 80s, didn’t have a plunger. Nor did anyone else we knew and I know 'cus we drove around asking. Sylvain Bock thought I was locked in the toilet and wasn’t sure what he could do about it, and when we asked our soon to be landlady (like I said last week, I started these posts late so will need to catch up but yes: in August we'll move from the future bistro to a future house!) she looked confused. Only dry toilets here she said. We knew that. 

Good thing there’s a load of crap in the bistro and a cabely thing we thought could work but didn’t. In Dutch there's the phrase ‘water ballet’ but in plain English this was us locked in the bathroom with the door locked and a family of Czechs fresh out of a 15 hour drive drinking beer just outside so: panic all around until...glughlug. On closer inspection we saw that the pipe veered off at a right angle. Friendly of the plumber to have foreseen future disaster and to have factored in a screw cap and left a pre-rolled cigarette on it.

Next drama was next day when we burnt out our engine 600 km from home and 30 from Fountainbleau where we had to be. But first — this is France — there was lunch. I say ‘this is France’ but this is not the France of A Year in Provence every weekend of which seemed filled with good honest lunch. This is 2018 and we have Raisen and Le Fooding and they are well intentioned and full of potential but then so was dial-up and it is still very, very difficult to find good lunch (by which I mean something not leftover from the 90s). I like that Le Fooding has a filter for restaurants ‘open on Sundays’, but couldn’t they add one for ‘No square plates and/or balsamic squiqqles?’ 

But it wasn’t the fault of failing apps that meant the place I finally chose (based on the fact it looked like it had the roundest plates with the least piled-high food) in the Beaujolais turned out to be somewhere we’d actually eaten before, after Bojalien at Romain des Grottes' place last year. Oh well. It was nice to drink wine (a '16 Dutraive) you can see through again.

You win some you lose some, and we lost the Volvo. I was driving when it started shuddering and lost control and a lot of smoke from the hood. The oil had run dry. Actually it hadn’t run dry but evaporated after we broke a critical part off the bottom when taking the wrong, incredibly steep dirt road on our way to talk to Gérald Oustric about buying grapes the other day. Thank the gods for Dutch roadside assistance which not only managed to galvanise the French to tow two foreigners on a Friday afternoon, but which has repatriated the car for gratis and set us up with a rental BMW with… AIRCONDITIONG!! (He said yes).

Good thing we didn’t break our car in vain but as volunteers for the Django Reinhardt (gypsy) jazz festival but more importantly, for the bar. When Le Carton grows up it would like to be Le Garde Robe. Even Cyril Zang helped out.

Flat-beaded along with all the wine we were bringing for the festival bar

We stashed a bottle for the rest of the ride — by train

Cyril, a cider maker 

Driving back south on a Sunday we had time. Initially the idea was to leave Saturday via the Auvergne but if you read my guide on how not to visit a winemaker written for Terre magazine (soon Pipette) you'll know you don't do this on a Sunday. (To be honest we tried, but after a complicated conversation with the complicated Pierre Beauger we said we'd rain-check.) Instead we drove through Burgundy. It’s beautiful, and to think of all those times we just blasted past on the A6, eager to get somewhere grottier. The aforementioned apps yielding nothing, we decided to just ‘get off the road’ and ‘find an auberge’. So we did and we did and it worked in that the food was at least honest and happy we continued on the 'small roads’ which is actually just one road and not at all small but sweeping and undulating with chateaux on hills and open golden spaces both sides until you hit the vines and you’re struck by their density! Golly is Burgundy full. Not with people (this would be a worse place to break down) but vines on vines on vines and where there’s any space left, the postcard villages one after the other and in some of which, we stopped. Dinner was three boudin (for me) in Lyon.

Happy to be back to the (h)ardéche, the crickets loud at night and back to wine. This week I was back at Sylvain Bock’s and to bottling Les Grelots, a blend of Grenache Noir, Merlot and Syrah. Bottling is called mis-en-bouteille but they just call it ‘mis’ (like vinification is just 'vinf'). Here’s what I learned:

  • You can get blisters just about anywhere/I will be the worst winemaker ever because I managed to get blisters on the front side of both index fingers. 
  • Any process can be made more efficient. Do all you can to make everything more efficient. 
  • That smell Sylvain kept complaining about hovering around the machine? That’s how my opa’s cellar smelled and it’s VA. (A note on the great winemaking dynasty from which I do not come: my opa bought grapes from California, had a crony at the dump save him old champagne bottles and made enough wine for home and friends for the year). 
  • Bottles must rest upright after bottling for at least 5 minutes for the cork to settle. 
  • When the wine level is too low in the cuve for the pump to pump, Sylvain pumps it into a cube, tops it off with CO2 to protect against oxidation, raises this on the forklift and lets gravity do the rest. 
  • Sylvain keeps the wine from the end of the bottling separate (it’s inconsistent with the rest, has more sediment). 
  • How making wine is mostly about moving stuff. 
  • I got a lot ‘transpallet’ practice. Failing wine, Amazon here I come. 

Pumping the last bits with the help of gravity

We also continued with ébourgenonnage (leaf thinning, lots of which happened last week) on Calek’s Merlot and old Syrah. July is meant to be downtime but we’re still up every morning to start at 6 pulling leaves to make space for air and prevent disease. Things to take away here are we only pick on the side with exposure to the east otherwise grapes will burn, and that the ‘technique’ was different for the two varieties. For the Merlot, trained along wires "à la baguette", the instruction was pull everything i.e. don’t leave anything like we were used to doing for shade. Old Syrah was different. These are pruned according to the guyot method and hang differently (and in tighter bunches) so instead we pick off the leaves from beneath the bunches and only lightly within the canopy above them to make a sort of hollow.

Oh, and it's a constant 33 degrees out.

Doing the dishes

Cooking on vine wood

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