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.
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
Martin and Joel setting up a shoot.
The last few months I’ve been busy with a new project that is very exciting. Along with my friend Martin (east2west.tv) I am making a documentary film on the wines of the Okanagan. So far we’ve had nothing but positive interest in the project and I look at it as a great new opportunity. I’ll give periodic updates on how we’re progressing but today it occurred to me just how diverse the wineries are out here in BC. There’s a real spirit of adventure and newness that you don’t feel so much in France. Kind of normal when you learn that quality wine’s only been made here for less than 20 years. Compare that to over 2,000 years in France.
One encounters just about every type of major grape variety up and down the valley. Growers are experimenting to the max to find the best clones and the best sites for each. Some are pushing the limits truly into orbit by planting mediterranean grapes like Cinsault, Grenache and Tempranillo. Who knows? Maybe global warming will turn this arid valley into a hotbed for southern French grapes but for now the risk is high and a bad freeze like we had in December 2008 can wipe out the less hardy varieties.
I’ve also met many fascinating wine makers on my travels up and down the valley. How about a retired Israeli fighter pilot who makes stunning Viognier and Pinot Noir (http://www.silkw.net/)? Or the Punjabi immigrant who’s making great organic Pinot Gris yet doesn’t drink wine at all (http://www.kalala.ca/wine/index.php).
Tilman and his horses hard at work
And then there’s Tilman Hainle. He’s made wine for many firms over the years but today he is back at his small family farm near Peachland. He and partner Sara Norman created the Working Horse Winery as a showcase for organic and bio-dynamic methods. As the name implies, a beautiful pair of Suffolk draught horses supply the muscle at WHW. Talk about a low carbon footprint or should I say hoofprint! http://www.workinghorsewinery.com
Dirty Laundry makes three Gewurztraminers
As for dirty laundry, I’ve got lots but in the Okanagan everyone knows about the liquid Dirty Laundry. This dynamic little winery in Summerland – gotta love that name – has proved a point that in order to rise above the pack in the new world, the marketing and the look have to be special. A few years back Dirty Laundry had a long, difficult to pronounce German name and was not hugely successful even though the wines were solid. In 2005 the winery changed hands and a new name was chosen from a rather steamy detail of Summerland’s pioneer past. It seems there was a Chinese laundry in the village at one time that not only starched shirts but provided other services that left customers hot under the collar! The locals referred to it as the Dirty Laundry. Since the name change the winery sells out of most of their wines quickly. The latest addition to the portfolio is a red blend called Bordello and I think it is likely the only wine in the world that comes with a magnifying glass attached! http://www.dirtylaundry.ca/