Category Archives: Wine

Life in Images: Hospices de Beaune

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I won’t go so far as to say it was a homework assignment. Suffice it to say that the annual charity auction at the Hospices de Beaune was understood to be a cultural supplement to our coursework. Basically, I had to go take part in the festivities.

The Hospices de Beaune used to be a hospital for the poor. As in, back in the 1400’s, when it was founded. Now it is a museum (and one of the most magnificent examples of French XV century architecture in Burgundy). The charity auction has been held annually since 1851, always on the third Sunday of November.

The Hospices’ eponymous domaine comprises 61 hectares (150 acres) of donated vineyard land, much of it classified Grand Cru and Premier Cru.

The prices – encouraged by carefully chosen hosts, like this year’s former first lady and ex-supermodel Carla Bruni-Sarkozy – are out of this world, even for Grand Cru. Carla sold the presidential cuvée (a 350 liter barrel) for 270,000 euros, for example.

Nicolas and I ran into more than a few members of my class during the day, but, try as we might, we didn’t spot Carla. (Let’s be real: after thirty minutes of elbowing at the window of the auction hall, we retreated in search of Nutella slathered crêpes and waffles.)

One thing is for sure: the people-watching was prime.

So was the wine tasting…of course!

2012-11-16 Hospices de Beaune

IMG_1056{Doing a little publicity work for MyVitibox.}

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IMG_1049{The “Anti-Parker Wine Buyer’s Guide”: The Seven Capital Sins…obviously there are mixed feelings about Parker here, as in the USA.}

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IMG_1012{Cougar sighting?}

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Wine School: An oxymoron? Not in France!

Bonjour! Guess who’s back in France?

And…since I’ve been away a while…and since there’s so much to tell…I’ll give you the long-story-short for now, accompanied by some mysterious pictures to pique your interest!

To make a long story short, then, since the beginning of this month, I have been taking classes at the Burgundy School of Business and working toward a Master’s Degree in International Wine Commerce. Yes, reading that sentence surprises me too. I would pinch myself, except that the demanding courses I am taking every day are enough of a wake-up call in themselves.

I’m back in France! I have six hours of classes in French every day! And this time next year I will be beginning my career in the wine industry!

Wow.

By way of introduction into this new French life, here are some images from my class’s first “field trip” into the Côte d’Or vineyards. We were led by our professor, Eric Vincent, who was trying to teach us about the geology of Burgundy terroir on what must have been the foggiest day of the year so far. Even though we couldn’t see much, we had fun climbing the prestigious Montrachet côte and noting the differences between limestone, loam, and clay soils – all very distinct, all in such close proximity. We had lunch in Beaune and finished the day with a cuverie visit and wine tasting at Domaine d’Ardhuy in Corgoloin.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s a pretty sweet deal to have the vineyards of Burgundy as a classroom and wine tasting as part of the curriculum. I know. I am aware.

Pinch me?!

{Our newly elected class representatives, Victor and François}

{“Moi-même,” Jenifer, Estelle, Laure, Emilie, and Marlène}

{Marion and Jules}

En Francais! Click here to see Marie-Amélie’s translation: Continue reading

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The Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague defines “Sommelier” + a riddle of sorts!

Winemaker, Vineyard manager, Cellar Master.

Wine Writer, Critic, Journalist.

Wine Consultant, Distributor, Sales Director…

There are many, many diverse professions within the wine industry, yet “Sommelier” seems to be the layman’s catch-all for wine professionalism. In this video, Lettie Teague, wine writer for The Wall Street Journal, explains why it’s a hot career right now, the common assumptions about what these people do, and what it truly means to be a sommelier.

I think it’s a great summary that clears up a lot of misconceptions. But because I haven’t forgotten my dear English degree, I’d like to challenge you to find one fairly surprising orthographical error that jumped out at me in the first 40 seconds of the video. Here are three hints to draw your attention (don’t read them if you want to try to find it first without help!).

  • I said “orthographical,” not “grammatical” or “typographical” error.
  • It has something to do with a very common, non-wine specific term or expression.
  • An artist might use it, or you can stack stuff on it, but for our purposes we’d rather perceive things with it.

Let me know what you come up with! Bonne chance!

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Patience and wine tasting: What I learned from Francois and three chardonnays

Three glasses of chardonnay, three progressive hues of citrus-tinged, wheat, and golden yellow, three napkin shrouded bottles adorned with rudely scribbled numbers.

When French guests arrive, it is fitting to organize a tasting or two, if you are lucky enough to have been offered a well-cushioned and strategically packed bottle.

A true Burgundian, Sara’s beau François didn’t stop at one. Reserving precious cargo space for pinot and chardonnay instead of superfluous clothing, he made his way through Charles de Gaulle security wearing an extra sweater and two jackets on his way to Louisville last week. His efforts made it all the more appropriate that they should host not one but multiple wine tastings while he was in town, and I, the adoring friend, was happy to take part.

So, after a very American dinner of burgers — accompanied nonetheless by an introductory glass of white wine in lieu of beer — Sara’s family and I find ourselves introduced to Glass 1, Glass 2, and Glass 3 (all chardonnay) by the smiling, soft spoken but assertive, Frenchman.

“First of all, let’s have a look at the color,” François suggests, his accent a melange of his native French and school-taught British English.

The table stirs with conversation; mention of colors gives way to contiguous reflections and questions. What does color mean in terms of chardonnay? Reminds me of wheat fields or mustard. Remember the yellow colza fields of Burgundy springtime?

François refrains from dominating the conversation with didactic discourse. It’s easy to see he is delighted by everyone’s interest. With dark eyes and dark hair, plus a fitted polo and tight black jeans, he is one you might peg as typically European. To hear his nearly flawless English flow into effortlessly gorgeous French further distinguishes him as coming from a traditional, cultured French family. It is no exaggeration to say his love for wine is not so much a personal passion as it is an ancestral legacy.

And yet, this traditional Frenchie has learned to appreciate more than burgers and Bud Lite over the course of his relationship with my friend Sara. He is highly, and might I say uncharacteristically, complimentary of American wine, and encouraging of our interest in learning about wine in general.

But back to color. “One of these is an American wine,” says François, “so its color might not help us when compared to the other two. The others are both Louis Latour Burgundies: a village level, and a Montagny Premier Cru. In that case, the color might tell us something.”

François reminds us that an  older chardonnay will show darker color, but then adds that there is only one year of difference between the vintages of the two Burgundies. “Which is which?” he asks slyly.

At this point, we’ve all been swirling and sniffing. An overwhelming whiff of toasty vanilla leaves me (and my rookie wine student pride) gratified in declaring that Glass 1 must be the Kendall Jackson California Chardonnay.

The remaining two glasses have their own distinct complexities. Reactions to aromas from Glass 2 range from fingernail polish remover to baked apples, peaches, and a hint of port. After that strong nose, we all agree to a general difficulty in defining the aromas of Glass 3.

“It seems muted,” says Sara.

“Smell something else,” suggests François, lifting a homemade gougere to his nose.

Still, Glass 2 dominates our senses, intriguing some and alienating others of us. I have a preconceived notion that this powerful chard must be the premier cru.

When we taste the wines in succession, we all agree that Glass 1 is the California wine. It’s familiar to us. François nods neutrally.

Glass 2 again gets the most attention after its visit with our palates. Nutty and peachy, with that lasting taste of something like port, it is a rich wine and needs food to accompany it. I’m fairly certain it is the premier cru, especially when the closed, acidic third glass leaves us grasping at straws to come up with a description.

We go around the table, offering our final judgments and reasoning behind them. I stand alone in choosing Glass 2 as the premier cru. It is not until François offers his educated opinion, however, that my conviction falls by the wayside.

“I agree that Glass 1 is the Kendall Jackson,” he says simply and definitively, pushing the glass apart from the others as if to visually confirm its otherness.

“But the choice between the two Burgundies is more complicated, just like the wines in this case. Look at the color. Glass 2 is indeed the darkest of the three, which leads us to believe it is oldest. But remember that the Bourgogne is only one year older than the Montagny Premier Cru: this should not be enough to tell a difference. Furthermore, if Glass 3 is a premier cru, it would take longer to develop color, just as it would take longer to develop its aromas and taste. Glass 2, as you can tell, is complex and round and ready to drink now, but it is only five or six years old. It cannot age much longer, can it? Glass 3 is still acidic and mysterious. One might think this is a sign of lesser quality, but it could just as easily be an indication of immense quality and complexity that will not reveal itself for years to come.”

The table is silent as the lesson takes effect. Light bulbs are going off. Revelations over three glasses of wine.

Across from François, I nod my head. I am at once disappointed that the seemingly obvious had not occurred to me and impressed by François’ execution.

Sara’s sister breaks the respectful silence. “Can we unwrap them already?” she asks, pointing to the mummy-esque bottles.

François does the honors and confirms his suspicion. The table livens once again, reactions to the solution of the game leading to tangential conversations and reflections.

I sit back in my chair, letting the lesson sink in and vowing not to make the same mistake again. Not that I guessed incorrectly, but that I spoke too soon. With a bit more patience, perhaps I would have come to a similar conclusion. François’ explanation makes perfect sense, and I’ve heard it before. I had been convinced even before tasting it that the village level wine was premier cru caliber (and perhaps it was, since there is only so much wine that is allowed to be labeled “premier cru,” leaving many bottles to be “declassified” each year: subject for another post). Had my mind been closed to other possibilities by this preconceived notion? I’m sure it was.

Patience is a virtue, as they say. More than that, it’s probably the only key to unlocking the mysteries of wine.

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World War II and the vineyards of southern Burgundy, on E-Romantic Hotels

You’ve already met Monsieur Drouin via the teaser transcription I posted yesterday, so I know you are on the edge of your seats to know more. Let me just say, the article that came of my conversation with Monsieur Drouin is nothing like what I expected it to be. Having tasted his wine a few weeks ago, I was eager to write more about a certain Macon-Villages I found particularly refreshing and clean. In the end I didn’t even mention it!

Monsieur Drouin brought up a topic that always piques my interest: World War II. When he started talking about the impact the Nazis had on Burgundian wine tradition, I knew the article would take a different turn. I did a bit more research. I waded through articles in French. What spurred me on (as if I needed spurring!) was the absolute dearth of information on the subject in English. Such a fascinating topic, and only one primary source came up in a Google Search!

Please indulge my fascination and let me know what you think about the article on E-Romantic Hotels’ website. Thanks!

{Hotel Burgevin, Loire Valley}

While we’re on the topic: E-Romantic Hotels is a French website (with text in both English and French) founded and run by Isabelle Brigout. Isabelle’s team searches for the most charming hotels and bed and breakfasts in France and organizes them by region, featuring them in an easy-to-browse database on the site.

The three make-it-or-break it criteria for inclusion on the site? Each hotel must be distinguished by beautiful architecture, elegant interior design and decoration, and a very warm welcome.

{Résidence Dary, Corsica and Hotel Le Moulin, Alsace}

To hear Isabelle describe it in her own words — in French — visit this page. I highly recommend listening to any of her 1.5 minute weekly “Air Show” radio spots, during which she describes a featured destination. It would be especially useful if you are just learning French. She articulates beautifully and exudes the French je ne sais quoi (pardon the cliche) to a tee. Plus, there is a transcript, so you can read along if you’d like.

All photos: E-Romantic-Hotels.com

Marie-Amelie’s Translation:

La Seconde Guerre Mondiale et les vignes du sud Bourgogne, sur E-Romantic Hotels

Vous avez déjà fait la connaissance de Monsieur Drouin dans le résumé que j’ai posté hier, donc je sais que vous mourez d’envie d’en savoir plus. Je vous dirai juste que l’article ressorti de ma conversation avec Monsieur Drouin n’a rien à voir avec ce à quoi je m’attendais. J’ai goûté ses vins il y a quelques semaines, j’avais hâte d’écrire un peu plus à propos d’un certain Mâcon-Villages que j’avais trouvé particulièrement rafraichissant et pur. Finalement, je ne l’ai même pas mentionné.

Monsieur Drouin a évoqué un sujet qui éveille toujours mon intérêt : la Seconde Guerre Mondiale. Quand il a commencé à parler de l’influence des Nazis sur la tradition viticole en Bourgogne, j’ai su que l’article allait prendre un tour différent. J’ai effectué un peu plus de recherches. J’ai pataugé au milieu d’articles en français. Ce qui m’a stimulée (comme si j’avais besoin d’être stimulée) est le manque profond d’information en anglais sur la question. Un sujet si fascinant, et seulement une source principale dans la recherche Google !

Pitié, pardonnez ma fascination et dites-moi ce que vous pensez de mon article sur le site d’E-Romantic Hotels. Merci !

Puisqu’on en parle, E-Romantic Hotels est un site Français (avec des textes en anglais et en français), fondé et dirigé  par Isabelle Brigout. L’équipe d’Isabelle recherche les hôtels et chambres d’hôtes les plus charmants de France et les trie par région, pour les présenter dans une base de données facile à parcourir sur le site.

Les trois critères de sélection pour apparaître sur le site ? chaque hôtel doit se distinguer par une belle architecture, une décoration intérieure et un design élégants, et un accueil très chaleureux.

Pour entendre Isabelle faire une description avec ses propres mots – en français – visitez cette page. Je vous recommande chaudement d’écouter un de ses spots hebdomadaires de 1,5 minutes ‘’en radio’’, pendant lequel elle décrit une destination sélectionnée. Cela vous sera très utile si vous apprenez tout juste le Français. Elle articule parfaitement et respire à plein nez le je ne sais quoi Français (pardon pour le cliché). En plus, il y a une transcription, donc vous pouvez suivre en lisant si vous le désirez.

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“Only imbeciles don’t change their minds!” A conversation with winemaker Jean-Michel Drouin

{Domaine des Gerbeaux}

For my upcoming E-Romantic Hotels article, I spoke with southern Burgundy wine producer Jean-Michel Drouin, owner of Domaine des Gerbeaux. Not knowing much about Pouilly-Fuissé — an appellation with varying micro-climates that produce many unique terroirs — I got a real introductory course in the short conversation I had with Monsieur Drouin. I’m including some of my favorite excerpts from our conversation below. Read on to learn Drouin’s perspective on traditional farming versus organic labeling, a winemaker’s love for his vines (“the simple act of taking a few days’ vacation stresses me out!”), and the growing need for [real] truth in advertising.

A little background…

The estate was created in 1896 by my great grandfather, Jacques Charvet, a great lover of the vineyards. (My name is “Drouin” because my grandfather had two daughters; that’s why I don’t go by Charvet.) I know that when my great grandfather’s son in law wanted to buy a horse to work the vines, Charvet wanted to disown him! He didn’t want him to work the vines anymore because he thought a horse would ruin them, although these days we all use tractors anyway, but he worked the soil by hand. He turned up the earth with a wicker basket on his back. He was very close to nature. That was his philosophy.

After my grandfather and my father, I took over the domain. Of course, we have made mistakes, like everyone. We used herbicides twenty years ago; we also added supplementary yeast to our wines during fermentation. But only imbeciles don’t change their minds, so one day I decided to change the production methods back. Now we work our vines using only the natural yeasts from the grapes…and I am passionate about what I do…

We have 13 hectares, and on those 13 hectares we have 60 parcels of vines, the largest of which is 80 ares (just shy of two acres). We produce everything separately…I make different combinations, for example, a Pouilly-Fuissé with a terroir from Solutré (because only the grapes from the old vines of Solutré are used). I also make a Pouilly-Fuissé that’s called L’intimité du Chardonnay (I christened it such). It is a Pouilly that has never seen oak, and is comprised of grapes from two harvests from the same year. (During the first harvest we leave a few grapes and then come back 15 days later, in order to have a higher concentration of juice in this wine.)

True Love

In addition to the natural yeasts, we pay attention to press the grapes gently, so as to extract only the best juice. We harvest by hand, and bottle with minimal filtration. With the help of a lunar calendar I choose the best day to harvest and to bottle. I know each square meter of every one of my vineyards; nothing is secret to me.

The “organic” problem:

Many vintners do not tell the truth. The label “organic” or “biodynamic” is new, but my great grandfather worked his vines naturally. He didn’t talk about organic farming. He wouldn’t even know what the word biodynamic means. It’s a word that was created to separate certain wines from the others, and certain winemakers from their peers. Maybe it was the easy solution to say, “I’m organic, I let nature take its course.” But I think that letting nature take its course to the extreme is not the best way either. We are making all this commotion about organics because it’s the trendy thing to do right now. We like to distinguish ourselves from others.

There are some natural winemakers who work their vines with a horse for the photos that the journalists take when they come to their domains. But after that, they work completely differently. Maybe they even buy grapes, or juice, from other places in order to keep their volume up. Often those who are organic, who let nature take its course, can’t produce enough wine. Financially, they struggle, so they must buy other wine on the side. They then tell stories to the journalists – and everyone – and that is something we should be aware of.

As for me, I am telling you that I am honest. I work my vines as I told you: natural yeasts, hand selection, etc. But I don’t call myself organic. I use the moon, but I never call myself biodynamic. My philosophy: I am for the truth, for the real work of the winemakers. I work a bit like our grandfathers worked, but, honestly, I use modern tools – we are no longer in the age of slave labor! – I use little tractors, but I pay attention not to harm the vines.

I am not biodynamic, but I am above all not a liar. I don’t even like the word biodynamic. I like the phrase “purity of work.” I like the word “real.”

Photo Credits: Bourgeois Family Selections

Marie-Amelie’s translation:

‘’Il n’y a que les imbéciles qui ne changent pas d’avis !’’ – Conversation avec le vigneron Jean-Michel Drouin

Pour mon prochain article sur E-Romantic Hotels, j’ai discuté avec un producteur du sud de la Bourgogne, Jean-Michel Drouin, propriétaire du Domaine des Gerbeaux. Ne connaissant que très peu de choses sur le Pouilly-Fuissé – une appellation comprenant divers microclimats produisant autant de terroirs uniques – j’ai eu droit à un vrai cours d’initiation durant ma courte discussion avec Monsieur Drouin. Voici quelques uns de mes extraits préférés de notre conversation. Lisez pour connaître le point de vue des Drouin sur l’agriculture traditionnelle face au label bio, l’amour d’un vigneron pour ses vignes (‘’le seul fait de prendre quelques jours de vacances me stresse !’’), et le besoin grandissant de [vraie] vérité dans la publicité.

Un peu d’histoire …

Le domaine a été créé en 1896 par mon arrière-grand-père, Jacques Charvet, grand amoureux des vignes. (Mon nom est Drouin parce que mon grand-père a eu deux filles, et donc je ne perpétue pas le nom Charvet). Je sais que lorsque le gendre de mon arrière-grand-père a voulu acheter un cheval pour travailler les vignes, Charvet a voulu le deshériter ! il ne voulait plus qu’il travaille les vignes parce qu’il pensait qu’un cheval allait les endommager, même si de toute façon de nos jours nous utilisons tous des tracteurs, mais lui travaillait le sol à la main. Il retournait la terre avec un panier en osier sur le dos. Il était très proche de la nature. C’était sa philosophie.

J’ai repris le domaine à la suite de mon père et mon grand-père. Bien sûr, nous avons fait des erreurs, comme tout le monde. Nous avons utilisé des désherbants il y a 20 ans, nous avons aussi ajouté des levures à nos vins pendant la fermentation. Mais il n’y a que les imbéciles qui ne changent pas d’avis, donc un jour, j’ai décidé de revenir aux anciennes méthodes de production. Maintenant nous travaillons nos vins en utilisant seulement les ferments naturels du raisin…et je suis passionné par ce que je fais…

Nous possèdons 13 hectares, et sur ces 13 hectares, nous avons 60 parcelles de vignes, la plus grande faisant 18 ares (on est loin des deux hectares). Nous exploitons tout séparément … je fais des combinaisons différentes, par exemple, un Pouilly-Fuissé avec le terroir de Solutré (parce que nous utilisons seulement le raisin des vieilles vignes de Solutré). Je fais aussi un Pouilly-Fuissé appelé L’intimité du Chardonnay (c’est moi qui l’ai baptisé ainsi). C’est un Pouilly n’ayant jamais été en contact avec du chêne, et composé de raisins de deux récoltes de la même année. (Pendant la première récolte, nous laissons quelques grappes et revenons 15 jours après, pour avoir une plus grande concentration de jus dans ce vin.)

Un Amour Vrai

En plus des ferments naturels, nous faisons très attention à presser le raisin doucement, afin d’obtenir seulement le meilleur jus. Nous vendangeons à la main, et mettons en bouteilles avec un minimum de filtration. Je choisis les meilleurs jours pour les vendanges et la mise en bouteille à l’aide du calendrier lunaire. Je connais chaque mètre carré de chacune de mes vignes ; elles n’ont aucun secret pour moi.

La question ‘’bio’’ :

De nombreux viticulteurs ne disent pas la vérité. Le label ‘’bio’’ ou ‘’biodynamique’’ est nouveau, mais mon arrière-grand-père travaillait ses vignes naturellement. Il ne parlait pas d’agriculture biologique. Il ne connaissait même pas le sens du mot biodynamique. C’est un mot qui a été créé pour séparer certains vins d’autres, et certains vignerons de leurs pairs. C’était peu être la solution de facilité pour dire ‘’je suis bio, je laisse la nature faire son travail’’. Mais je pense que laisser faire la nature à l’extrême n’est pas non plus la bonne méthode. Nous faisons tout ce tumulte autour du bio parce que c’est la tendance en ce moment. Nous aimons nous distinguer des autres.

Certains vignerons naturels travaillent leurs vignes avec des chevaux pour les photos que les journalistes viennent prendre dans leurs domaines. Mais après cela, ils travaillent complètement différemment. Peut être même qu’ils achètent du raisin, ou du jus, à d’autres afin de maintenir leur volume. Souvent, ceux qui sont bio, qui laissent la nature faire son travail, ne peuvent pas produire suffisamment de vin. Financièrement, ils luttent, ils doivent donc acheter d’autres vins à côté. Ensuite ils racontent des histoires aux journalistes – et à tout le monde – et nous devons avoir conscience de cela.

En ce qui me concerne, je vous dis que je suis honnête. Je travaille mes vignes comme je vous l’ai dit : ferments naturels, sélection manuelle, etc. Mais je ne me considère pas bio. J’utilise la lune, mais je ne m’appelle jamais biodynamique. Ma philosophie : je suis pour la vérité, pour le vrai travail des vignerons. Je travaille un peu comme le faisaient nos grands-parents, mais honnêtement, j’utilise des outils modernes – nous ne sommes plus à l’époque de l’esclavage ! – j’utilise des petits tracteurs, mais je fais attention à ne pas endommager les vignes.

Je ne suis pas biodynamique, mais surtout, je ne suis pas un menteur. Je n’aime pas vraiment le mot biodynamique. J’aime la phrase ‘’pureté du travail’’. J’aime le mot ‘’vrai’’.

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Los Monitos’ Wine and Language series made the news (Hear me say, “I would like some wine, please!” in French)

Man, these morning shows are like clockwork and a rapid fire gun show combined.

When Bill from Los Monitos Language Center called to tell me our Wine and Language series — the French part of which I’ll be teaching next week — was going on the air, I said I’ve always dreamed of being a star.

Hardy har.

Our four point two-five minutes of pure fame flew by so fast I didn’t even have time to check out the cool teleprompters. We sat down on that skinny grey couch and no sooner had I been hooked up to a mic and shaken the hands of Terry and Rachel, than the cameraman announced “ten seconds” and we were live.

I have no idea how I remembered my French.

But I did! Which leads me to believe I just need more time in front of the camera to get comfortable…

I’d love it if you got a chuckle out of the video…and I’d be even more thrilled if my Louisville readers made it to Vint next week for wine and French on the patio.

Hope to see you there!

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