Tag Archives: uzes

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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The Truffle King

The renowned black truffle or tuber melanosporum can be one of life’s memorable culinary experiences or a total waste of time and money. Much of what consumers buy has been processed, pasteurized and canned and by the time one gets round to using the tiny boite that cost a fortune, very little is left of the special scent that drives gourmandes mad.

But, thankfully, I live in a region with loads of fresh truffles and one of the largest producers is just a village away. La Truffière d’Uzès is run by fourth generation truffle farmer Michel Tournayre. He farms about 35 acres of truffle trees on the outskirts of Uzès and owns another 80 acres of scrubland forests in the hills surrounding Uzès. Michel can go on for hours about the finer points of growing this most difficult fungus. Crops can vary radically from year to year and hence the potential benefits. So much depends on the  getting the right weather throughout the year that one needs a solid constitution to make a business out of truffles.  Then there’s the constant threat of being robbed of the harvest at any time.

But all of these obstacles don’t deter Michel, who  opened earlier this year a large reception facility and shop at his domain next to Uzès. He wants to make the truffle into a local star and attract tourists from all over. A typical tour icludes a brief introduction to the world of truffles, then Michel leads a walk  through the truffle park where he’s  dug out a three metre deep trench that lets you see the root system of the host white oak trees.

Michel Tournayre showing the intricate root system of the truffle oak.

And of course the tour would be missing something without a bit of cavage or truffle hunting. Michel has several specially trained dogs he uses to hone in on the scent of the truffle. Then the master has only to gently dig up the famous tuber and reward his dog for all his hard work with a special treat. At the end of the tour participants can browse in the shop at their leisure.

In the future, Michel plans on holding special events, dinners and tastings to the glory, bien sur, of this very special fungus. For more information contact Michel Tournayre at m.tournayre@wanadoo.fr.

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Local heroes – Organic style, part 1

Succulent heritage tomatoes

One of the best things about living in this corner of our little planet in space is the great produce one can find locally. Farmer’s markets abound and I was thrilled we arrived home to learn that our village has, in addition to the regular Friday market,  a producers only Tuesday morning version.

Three years ago when we packed our bags to head back to Canada the only local farmer’s market was up the hill in Uzes and there was only one organic producer.Now both the Tuesday and Friday market here are teeming with dedicated, young farmers who care about what they grow and sell.

Hedwige and Loic Martin

Take Loic and Hedwige Martin for example. In their thirties, the couple farm about 2/3 of a hectare of prime land near St. Siffret. They were originally certified organic but to differentiate themselves from other organic farmers, they’re now using a relatively new technic called Ramial Chipped Wood (RCW). This revolutionary method was developed in the mid 80’s  by a team of researchers at Laval University in Québec. They discovered that the best way to regenerate a spent, dead soil was to cover it with a thin layer of chipped hardwood branches. But not just any branch will do. Loic explains to me that only young wood of 7cm diameter or less have the proper balance of carbon and living cells. He sources his wood from local landscaping firms then roughly chops them up and spreads them over his soil. Over time this thin layer of wood decomposes through the action of a white mould, basidiomycota. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basidiomycete. The result is a moist, dark, living soil that Loic claims is 500 times more nourishing than a standard agricultural soil. Although his vegetables don’t look as perfect as those from traditional producers, they are full of complex, intense flavours.

The very strange, mediterranean plant, Ficoide Glaciale.

As an added calling card, the couple grow some very distinct plants – ficoide glaciale, a furry leafed lemon flavoured salad green and something called Para watercress that leaves me with a stinging, tingling sensation in the mouth. An acquired taste I think.

A few stands away I run into another not so young organic producer named Luc Descoins. After many years in the insurance business he decided at 50 that the best way to do something meaningful for the planet, his community and his family was to go into organic farming.

Luc Descoins

Luc’s wife, Azra, took a year-long, hands on class at a local agricultural school to learn how to make it all work and the couple took the plunge in 2008. Today he grows salad, zucchini, aubergine, green beans, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables on a hectare of excellent, certified organic land that he leases from two local landowners.

Luc finds more and more people are buying organic, even though a recent study pegged organic fruits and vegetable prices  a whopping 70% higher than conventionally grown produce. Luc’s prices, however seem mostly in line with the other traditional producers at the market and he explains to me that buying direct from the farmer as opposed to a distributor keeps the price down. As if on cue, a Parisian woman wanders over to his stand and is amazed by his low prices.

As for the future of organic farming in the south of France, Luc is optimistic. The key, he feels is to get the consumer out of the supermarket and back to local farmer’s markets where one is guaranteed the most nutritional, healthy produce available. The reward for Luc is the direct contact he has with his growing base of satisfied customers. The wide smiles on their faces makes it all worthwhile. www.lesjardinsbiodeluc.fr

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Slap me again, it’s not a dream

I’ve had several bouts the last few weeks of a strange disorder I’ll call lost in transititis. You know, it’s that displaced person sensation. Everything looks so familiar but it sometimes doesn’t register that I really am back in my charming village in the south of France. I haven’t done so much moving around since I was a restless twenty-something. I think I remember that it was pretty easy to adapt to new locals way back then– more brain cells without a doubt.

The good news is I try to put what I’ve got left to much better use. Seriously, though, my condition is improving and I am no longer tongue-tied each time I stroll about the village. It feels so good to run into all my old friends and get into the way of life here again.

Michel, king of the Accra

Today I cycled into Uzes, the large Medieval town just up the hill. Saturday is market day and to avoid the huge summer crowds I arrived a bit after 9 am. I could feel the energy and excitement building. The calm before the storm of Dutch, German, British, American and French tourists arrived in late morning. It felt so familiar, normal I guess since I sold wine at this same market for several years. Not much had changed; my good friend Michel was still at his habitual stand, slaving away like a madman dropping tiny teaspoons of salt-cod accras into hot oil all the while chatting with me. Elsa, his smiling young assistant was selling the golden morsels as fast as he could  make em. Michel’s stand, Les Accras de Marius, is known throughout Provence as the king of accras and falafel. His brandade, a salt cod and olive oil paste, is legendary. As luck would have it,  today was his 50th birthday. I couldn’t leave the market without doing something special so a bit later I passed by a second time with a nice bottle of red. Come September when the hordes of tourists have mostly gone home, we’ll get together and catch up, minus the smoking hot oil and the crowds of other displaced persons.

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