There are a lot of issues at stake in Olivier Cousin’s resurgent court case. To read about the whole mess, you could check out our old posts here, and for the latest updates, read Jim Budd’s post here. The heart of the issue is not a mere case of overly tyrannical wine labeling laws, or even the bureaucratic AOC disaster. The real problem, and the one Olivier cares most about, is the government sponsored funding of industrial polluters and the fall of the small farmer and winemaker in France.
Many of these truly industrial wines from France are a product we don’t encounter in the United States. When you go to a supermarket in Paris, you will see wines from every prestigious appellation, including Pomerol, Sauternes, and Saint-Emilion, all at a price of 10 euros per bottle or even less. Due to the ranks of American importers combing through the mass of French wines searching for quality, most of these mass produced wines don’t make it to the United States. Here in the US these appellations command top dollar and are thought of as rare gems, pillars of the AOC system. But the reality is that the AOC system has been diluted and corrupted by these sham wines, until it has become almost meaningless.
The same is true of the wines of Anjou, Olivier’s homeland. The bulk of wines from this area now come from overproducing vines doused in herbicides and pesticides, and the reputation of the wines has tumbled into obscurity. In a letter he wrote in 2011, when this whole fiasco started, Olivier recalled how before 1980 his small town, Martigné-Briand, comprised 120 winemakers, 800 harvesters, 5 bistros, and 800 hectares of vines. Today there are 40 agro-business wineries, 2 vine growers, 40 harvesters, 2 bistros, and 850 hectares of vines.” The Layon river, once one of the cleanest and most beautiful in France, is so polluted you can’t even swim in it anymore.
If the AOC system is supposed to ensure quality and standards of wines, why does it promote these low quality, industrially produced wines? It seems the answer must lie, as it does so often these days, with the power of big business and industry, and corruption in the systems that partner eagerly with those businesses. In 2005, the final straw for Olivier was when the AOC allowed chaptilization and acidification in Anjou wines, something that had never been permitted before. For him the AOC had crossed the line and was now fully in support of the very same companies that destroyed his local river and forced out the small family run wineries.
Olivier left the appellation at that point, but in protest, he decided to leave “Anjou” on the labels. He hoped to point out how ridiculous and unfair the system was, and at the same time felt he should be able to tell his customers where his wine came from. Always one with a sense of humor, he later adorned his boxes with “Anjou Olivier Cousin”, with AOC in big red letters. The AOC rightly saw these moves as a threat to their dominion, and that’s why they’re attempting to teach a lesson and make an example of Olivier.
For those of who believe in French wines of quality and aren’t interested in the needs of big business to market and sell their products, this issue is enormously important. This is a David and Goliath fight Olivier has taken on. He risks his entire livelihood and even prison time for his protest, and for these actions, we commend him. If you feel the same, why not buy a tee-shirt to help support his defense fund?
I can tell Sicily will be a unique and incredible place before the plane even lands. My face is pressed up against the plane window and I see mountains and beautiful serene turquoise water. The kid behind me is kicking my seat and I’m so excited I could kick him back (I don’t). I’ve heard it before, and it’s true – it feels like a separate country compared to mainland Italy, and the wine follows suit- a whole new terroir to discover. Though I took this trip as more of a vacation, the vineyards were the highlight – that’s what happens when you are lucky enough to work with amazing and talented winemakers who invite you into their homes and seat you at their table. To share the local food and wine of a place with the people who make it is a truly special experience and I wanted to share a bit of it with you in the coming weeks.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m one of four sales reps for Jenny & François Selections and have been with the company for two years. My interest in wine began long ago during many years of working in restaurants. I became particularly interested in natural wine after working on Long Island’s North Fork at Shinn Estate Vineyards, where they grow grapes organically and have a more holistic approach to winemaking. After exploring the tastes of natural wines my palate wouldn’t have it any other way. My love for wine has really been fueled by my passion for travel which has been a part of my life since I was first allowed to get on an airplane by myself at age 12 to visit a friend who moved to Florida. Over the years my love of culture, food, wine, and history has brought me to a myriad of amazing places, from the mountains and jungle in Peru and Ecuador, to wine regions in Spain, France, Italy and Portugal. I once spent a week with a family in Morocco who cooked the best food I was ever allowed to eat with my hands. Wine for me is a symbol of life, enjoyment and reward for hard work in the way it can join cultures, history and people into a bottle and around a table.
This summer I was able to spend time at three of our vineyards in Sicily– Bosco Falconeria located 40 miles west of Palermo, Azienda Agricola Serragghia in Pantelleria, and Vino Quantico in Linguaglossa, near Mt. Etna. Each one was special and unique, with abundant history, different terroir and lovely families behind the scenes.
I have too much information and too many beautiful photos to pack into one newsletter. So this is me saying stay tuned until next week so I can take you on a little trip and share more stories with you.
Ca’ dei Zago’s Col Fondo Prosecco has become one of the quickest shining stars of our relatively new Italian Portfolio. The demand for this wine surprised even us: when we first tasted it we instantly loved it, but wondered how far a product so different from most prosecco could spread. It turns out the demand for real prosecco was huge. It’s even become the most talked about wine in Texas! We quickly sold out of the wine, so we had to wait to post this video. The wine is back in stock now, so we thought it was time to revisit it.
When we were in Valdobbiadene last January, we shot this little video with Christian Zago, up on top of the terraced vineyard hill looking out onto the tiny town of San Giovani. Christian explains what it means to him to work without additives, and why he wanted to carry on the traditions of his grandfather. Enjoy!
The 2012 Dirty and Rowdy Semillon is back in NYC! The Dirty and Rowdy wines are taking New York, and the wine world in general, by storm, and we are honored to work with them. The 2011 Semillon was 50% skin contact and 50% concrete egg fermented, but this year the 2012 is 80% skin contact and 20% egg fermented.
So what is all this skin contact and egg business about?
Most white wines in the world today are made without the skins in contact with the juice. The juice of all grapes is clear, so red wines get their color entirely from the skins. In ancient times white wines were made, often in amphora buried in the ground, with the skins macerating along with the juice. It turns out the skins actually help preserve freshness in the wine, by preventing oxidation. Sulfites also prevent oxidation, so, for a winemaker looking to minimize the addition of sulfites, skin-contact is a natural fermentation method that helps to make a well-preserved natural wine. Some white wines made with skin contact become orange or amber in color, hence the term, “Orange Wine,” which has become somewhat popular. The juice of these wines spends a long time, from several months up to several years, in contact with the skins. The Dirty and Rowdy white wine is only in contact with the skins during alcoholic fermentation, about 15 days in 2012. The wine is not orange, but the skins add complexity to the aromas and flavors of the wine, and without a doubt produces a very fresh white wine.
Egg fermenters are one of the newest trends to hit the natural wine world. The concept harkens back to the Anfora used in ancient times. One of the amazing aspects of these two vessels is that the shape actually creates motion of the juice. As fermentation happens, bubbles form and due to the shape of the egg, the juice is constantly pushed in circles inside the egg. Hardy Wallace, winemaker at Dirty and Rowdy, told us there was something about wines made in this way that seem to taste more energetic, more “alive.”
The vineyards that provide the grapes to make the Semillon yielded almost 3 times as much production as last year, so there’s a lot more of this wine for 2012. We tasted the white wine last week and were all wowed by its finesse and purity. This year, since the yields were much higher, and they only had one egg (for financial reasons!), they had to make more of the wine with skin contact. They have since purchased a second concrete egg.
The bottles are green this time around, instead of brown, and so this year the tee-shirts are green as well. Hardy Wallace brought all of us at J&F a shirt, and we love wearing them! They are made from super comfy fabric (organic of course). We strongly you suggest you head over to the D&R store to grab one for yourself before they sell out again!
You don’t have to look around much to find some hype about the wine list Patrick Cappiello has put together at Pearl & Ash. The list is full of gems the mainstream world drools over, plenty of fancy Bordeaux and Burgundy at very reasonable markups. Patrick has also received some attention for his laid back style, often sitting down at the table to discuss wine options. He’s also shed the fancy suit and tie from his Veritas days in favor of heavy metal and punk tee-shirts. What some of the hype may have missed however, is that Patrick has also filled the list with a stunning array of beautiful natural wines. Patrick developed a passion for natural wines that he feels he is finally able to showcase in this brand new hip spot. We simply had to sit down with him to find out what he likes about these wines:
Pet Nat, short for Petillant Natural (Natural Sparkling Wine) is one of our favorite kinds of natural wine. A Pet Nat is distinguished from Champagne in that nothing at all is added to it. The fermentation starts in a tank and then the juice is transferred to bottle where it finishes fermenting. The bubble is usually softer and finer than in Champagne, more natural if you will. The wine doesn’t need sulfites added to it because instead the gas inside the bottle acts as a natural preservative (sulfites are used as preservatives in most wines).
As the yeast finishes converting the natural sugar to alcohol, it dies and falls to the bottom of the bottle, just as it does with Champagne, and the winemaker turns over the bottle gradually, letting the yeast settle in the neck. It is then disgorged to get the dead yeast out, often by hand, topped up with a little more wine from another bottle, and recapped. This process is really cool to watch, so we shot this short video of Dante, the winemaker for Colombaia in Tuscany, Italy doing some hand disgorgements. A very small quantity of this rosé just arrived into New York city, and you can drop by Osteria Morini to try some, they’re pouring it by the glass!
On our recent trip to Italy, we did this brief interview with Henry and Massimilliana of Castello di Tassarolo winery. We talked all about what it’s like to work biodynamically, with horses, and why they decided to make 3 cuvées with zero sulfur added. We were even graced by a trickle of rain during the interview that really added to the ambiance. Enjoy the video!
On our recent trip to Italy, we learned about a truly authentic and regional product heretofore unknown by the global market: Prosecco. You may think you’ve heard of Prosecco before, but in fact that sightly sweet, inoffensive bubbly beverage is a modern invention, targeted to capture a specific demographic, focus-group tested and marketed to the masses. Col Fondo, or on the sediment, Prosecco, is another animal entirely. Now, we’re no stranger to lost methods of winemaking. We’ve been working with petillant naturels (pet nat for short) from France for quite some time now. So at first when we tasted Ca’ dei Zago‘s Col Fondo Prosecco, we assumed this was a similar story, a lost method brought back by curious and experimental natural winemakers. But in fact, when you visit Valdobbiadene in the Veneto, you discover that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Col Fondo is in abundant supply, but 99% of it is drank locally and never leaves the region.
Commercial prosecco is made in the charmat method, fermentated in large, pressure sealed, generally stainless steel tanks, and the finished wine is transferred to the bottle under pressure. Made with selected yeast and toss in some sugar, and you get the product most people think of as Prosecco. Slightly sweet, clear and filtered, this is a bubbly commercial beverage. Col Fondo Prosecco, however, is initially fermented in a tank, but then transfered to the bottle about 1 degree of alcohol before it is finished fermenting. The remainder of the fermentation takes place inside the bottle, and as the yeast finishes its job, it falls to the bottom, leaving a small amount of sediment behind. Col Fondo bottles are stored standing up to leave this sediment at the bottom, and then decanted into a pitcher at serving time, reserving the last little bit of cloudy wine in the bottle, to be tasted and enjoyed separately. The flavor is light and pure, something innocent enough to be enjoyed at any occasion, with any food throughout the day.
Glera, the grape used in Prosecco, is a late ripening variety, that naturally finishes fermenting around 10% alcohol depending on the vintage. Most commercial Prosecco ends up around 11% alcohol, thanks to the addition of sugar and yeast. The Col Fondo from Ca’ dei Zago we are working with is a representation of the natural 10% level the grape attains on its own, with no additives whatsoever.
Col Fondo Prosecco, is not some lost method, brought back through the use of arcane writings or related from stories told by grandparents. Col Fondo is in fact alive and well today in Valdobbiadene. Everywhere we went, be it Christian Zago’s great auntie’s, or the local bar in San Pietro di Barbozza, we found unlabeled Col Fondo bottles. Every family in the area that grows grapes reserves a tiny quantity for themselves and makes their own Col Fondo, before selling them to the commercial Prosecco maker. The sad fact today is that a grower can earn a lot more by selling his grapes to a big house, rather than by making his own artisanal product that reflects the history, culture and terroir of the region. As a result, Prosecco Col Fondo almost never leaves the region. The first person to make and export it outside the region, was Louis Follador of Casa Coste Piane. Christian Zago, our young winemaker, says he has a tremendous amount of respect for this pioneer who was the first to bring this style of wine around the world.
The story of Col Fondo stands in stark contrast to Champagne, its bubbly counterpart to the north. In Champagne, growers struggled for years to free themselves from the tyranny of the big houses, and are now experiencing a revival of small production and new-found economic independence. In Valdobbiadene, however, the region has firmly attached itself to the production of commercial Prosecco. In fact, Champagne now struggles to fill the economic void created by this less expensive but powerful new-comer. For now, that story is one of great economic success for the region, as thirsty drinkers worldwide crave a less expensive bubbly wine. But, as we know, world-wide tastes ride trends, and always seek the next best thing. What happens if the world moves on from the commercial Prosecco style? Who knows, maybe then the Col Fondo winemakers will become the heroes of the region, as people increasingly seek out the myriad real and authentic experiences small regions have to offer.