Tag Archives: terroir

Natural wines: the joys of simplicity

Local vigneron Rémi Curtil

Local vigneron Rémi Curtil

There’s a relatively new movement afoot here in rural France that has the wine world abuzz. Something called “natural wine” which is made almost like regular wine except it allows none of the 2,000 or so additives, enzymes, boosters of colour and other enhancers that can be used in wine production. Only sun-ripened grapes go into natural wines. That’s it. Simple, or so it may seem. The problem is there is not even a trace of sulphites added to natural wines so there is a risk of turning a juicy, well made wine into vinegar in no time. Not a choice for the faint of heart. It takes a special breed, with lots of courage, long-term commitment and a touch of folly to go this far against the grain.

Tasting on the market in Uzes.

Tasting on the market in Uzes.

Rémi at the wine cellar in Bourdic.

Rémi at the wine cellar in Bourdic.

My friend Rémi Curtil runs de Grappes et d’Ô, a one-man winery of 7.5 ha just south of Uzès.  Rémi is in the wine business for the love of pure, complex wines and the love of the land or the terroir he works throughout the year. He respects the soil and wants to transform the current norm of chemical based production to a much more ecologically friendly organic model. One only has to compare the rich living soil of an organically farmed vineyard to the weed free, barren vineyards of his neighbours to understand the harm we are doing.

Rémi has always loved good food and wine and initially trained as a sommelier. After several years working for several top restaurants in Paris, he become head sommelier for the huge Accor hotel chain and got progressively bored with wines that all tasted much the same. Rémi wanted a change so at 25 he went back to school for a year to learn the basics of grape growing and wine making at the Lycée Agricole in Beaune. Since that time he’s learned the rest on the job, working for some of the better domains in Bandol, Lirac and les Baux de Provence. He came to Uzès with the intention of one day starting his own domain and after a stint as cellar master at Domaine de Malaigues, Rémi started up in 2007 with a desire to create artisan, hand-made wines that reflect the vintage and the terroir. From what I have tasted, I would say he has done just that. There have been a few misses along the way but the vast majority of Rémi’s wine is balanced and full of character. He is very keen on the newly rewarded appellation status for the wines of Uzès and thinks it will help spread the renown of our local wines. For the moment, Rémi makes mainly red wine; a 100% grenache called Grenat, a 100 % syrah called Carmin and a blend of the two for the AOC Duché d’Uzès. And he is so thrilled about the 2012 vintage he may reserve the best lots for a super cuvée aged in top quality oak. Also in the works; a bag-in-box, unoaked white made from a  blend of white grenache, viognier and vermentino. Next year he will release the same wine in bottle.

When I ask Rémi if he has any regrets, his broad smile gives away his answer. Even though his adventure represents big risks and an enormous amount of effort, he wouldn’t give it up for anything. Long may he run.  De Grappe et d’Ô / telephone: 06 75 1999 55

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Filed under around uzes, south of france, travel France, Uncategorized, wine and food, wine tourism

The Amer-Austral-French Connection

When I first came to the Okanagan in the spring of 2007 to scout out a job in the wine business, I was surprised to learn that there was one winery with a big French connection. Osoyoos LaRose. It’s the result of a joint venture between Vincor (the largest wine producer in Canada) and a Bordeaux based wine group that owns amongst many other properties, the second-growth Chateau Gruaud Larose. The goal from the outset of the venture in 1998 was to create the best possible red from the special terroir and climatic conditions of the Okanagan using classic Bordeaux methods.

Wine maker Pascal Madevon

Along with imported vine cuttings and equipment, the wine maker chosen to take Osoyoos Larose to the lofty heights of the world’s best wines is a Bordeaux trained enologist and viticulturalist named Pascal Madevon. This diminutive Frenchman didn’t take long to warm to the amazing potential the Okanagan possesses for growing ripe, healthy wine grapes. Shortly after arriving in 2001 he brought over his family from France and by 2009 the commitment became complete when Pascal and his family became Canadian citizens.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Pascal recently for the wine maker segment of our documentary film project on the wines of the Okanagan. He comes across right away as someone who knows what he wants but understands that the road to renown for Osoyoos Larose will be long and difficult. But he seems convinced that the recognition and the rewards will come. It’s just a matter of time. I can’t make my judgment on the wines since I’ve only tasted the 2006 but from visiting the vineyards high above the town of Osoyoos and seeing the attention to detail in the winery, I think they’re headed down the right path. The day of our visit, Pascal just learned that he going to be invited to Paris to showcase Osoyoos Larose  by the producers of Tout le Monde en Parle, a well-known Quebec variety show. He was beaming from ear to ear.

Aussie born wine maker Jeff Martin

So, I figure, if the Okanagan can take the Frenchman out of France, what’s really going on here? The answer — and I’ve heard it repeated over and over — is that the valley is incredibly blessed when it comes to growing grapes. If you know anything about wine, you know that great wine can’t be made without great grapes. Add in the fact that the valley has hotter average summer temperatures and more sunshine than the Napa Valley, then I can start to see why there is so much excitement. From the cool climate vineyards around Kelowna in the northern part of the valley to the hot, arid climate of Osoyoos, 150 km to the south, almost all wines grapes and styles can be grown. There’s abundant water for irrigation and there are almost no diseases.

Home grown wine maker Michael Bartier

No wonder the region has attracted great wine makers like Pascal, Tom DiBello (California), Jeff Martin (Australia), and John Simes (New Zealand).  They are the proof that this valley has a true renaissance happening. All were talented, established wine makers at home but gave up their lucrative careers to create a new wine industry in the interior of British Columbia. They have inspired, also, a new breed of local wine makers like Michael Bartier at Road 13, Grant Stanley at Quails’ Gate and Stephanie Leinnemann at Calona Wines to raise the bar higher and higher. It’s exciting to watch it all unfold and see the wines get better every year.

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