Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Howling at the Moon: Bruno Duchene

Something profound is irrevocably lost when machines flatten hills and monoculture is introduced. Rows and rows and rows seemingly ad infinitum of the same GMO produce, and hormones and antibiotics used when raising animals in factory farms, are ultra efficient, but also devastating and polluting, and tend to produce ingredients that are neither flavorful nor good for you.

Case in point: tomatoes. Local, in-season heirloom tomatoes grown organically out-do their so-called conventionally-grown beefsteak super-market clones in taste yet we in Brooklyn have a short window to enjoy them. In addition, they tend to be more expensive, harder to find, more delicate to handle, and thus prohibitive to distribute widely.

Along the same lines, winemakers organically working dry-farmed vineyards on challenging slopes with low yields, produce healthy grapes and expressive wines full of character reflective of where they're grown; in contrast to those made, for instance, by Big Brand Wine Companies (three such companies control more than 50% of wine sales in the US) who largely make wine from irrigated flatlands that are easier to manage, have significantly higher yields, and whose wines, to be charitable, lack character.

Bruno Duchene
Our winemakers relish the challenge of meeting their vineyards on their own terms and making from them pure, hand-made wines. For us, such efforts can be a revelation in a bottle, can unearth, as it were, a taste of "terroir."

Without exaggeration (and we say this rarely), Bruno Duchene -- no stranger to the delicacies of wilder nature (for a time, he was a dealer in wild mushrooms in the Loire Valley) -- is performing feats on arduous, sun-baked, terraced hills in Banyuls and Couillure worthy of the admiration we more often give to winemakers who work, for instance, the steep slopes of Cornas, the Mosel, or Valtellina. 

Four hectares (about eight acres) is plenty for Bruno to deal with. The yields are naturally extremely low on his organically farmed plots of forty- to sixty-five-year-old vines of Grenache and Carignan. In fact, many of his neighbors have abandoned their legendary sites because the vineyards are so hard to work; those who haven't often vinify this meaty grape juice in a manner that tries to out-do other Languedoc monster trucks or Chateauneuf-du-Papes. Bruno takes the powerful potentiality of his terroir and does a complete one-eighty. He ferments the grapes (grown organically with few treatments in the vineyard, no copper, for example) whole cluster with very little fussing about (in tech talk, no remontage and barely any pigeage), with most of the wine done in large vats and just a little with old barrel treatment for balance. The delicacy of his approach is akin to Eric Texier's style of just-enough extraction, which allows the wine to retain some translucency that gives a window to the flavors of a place; allowing for a new standard of what it means to say a wine is balanced when it's from this region.

Bruno Duchene's "La Luna" really is an absolute gamechanger, a vin de soif from a "heady" region -- the village of Banyuls, famous for their fortified Grenache-based dessert wines of meditation -- is here repurposed with a greater solar influence, drawing the wine's terroir up and out. If schist could float, this is it. Unmistakable aromas draw you in to taste a sap-like quality that's as succulent as can be, the Grenache is not over-done or too "varietal." The 13.5% alcohol, vivid palette, a breezy succulence on the palate, and as enduring as it should be without any extra baggage -- just the right amount of time in the sun.

If we had to make hydra-headed comparisons, this wine reminds us of the clarity of Yannick Pelletier's Saint Chinians but with the generous and then snappy quality of some of the best sans soufre Anjou rogues out there. As his acreage and yields are so low, you can imagine how small his production is. We have less than four cases (which is a lot!) available, so first come, first served.*

The 2011 Vin de Pays de la Cote Vermeille "La Luna" from Bruno Duchene is $25 per bottle, $89 for four.

*Those who purchase the "La Luna" cuvee will get first chance at his even smaller-batch Coillure AOC wines when they become available, thanks.

To order: email us, call us at 718-596-7643, or stop by the shop! 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Year, New You: Elodie Balme

We at Thirst Wine Merchants believe there's a way to make a New Year's Resolution that dissolves headaches rather than creates them. Now the jury's still out on why it is that natural wines are decidedly better for you; whether it's the lack of extraneous petro-chemicals, added artificial flavors, artificial yeasts, or the healthier soil (and thus grapes) and natural yeast, resulting in sips with more flavor -- or the lower-to-nil added sulfur -- or other natural compounds that are not eradicated by herbicides or pesticides in the vineyard. We're not scientists, but a confluence of factors and experiences have us resolved to drink -- and sell -- only wines made as naturally as possible.

The young and talented Elodie Balme is a great example of our type of independent winemaker. She makes the kind of wine that we decided we were going to represent in our store when we opened in 2006. 2006, in fact, was her first vintage! She was selling wines when she realized she was more interested in making wine; she decided to study viticulture and oenology and to work part-time for the influential Marcel Richaud, who makes phenomenal organic, naturally fermented wines based in Cairanne, a village in the Côtes du Rhône, for almost forty years now. Marcel is also active in the association of natural winemakers in France (Association des Vins Naturels) and believes, as do we, that "real wine is wine that sees no chemical treatment, no filtering, no commercial yeasts and no other technique that would specifically alter a wine." 

Marcel encouraged Elodie to become an independent vigneronne, telling her "there's always room for you when you're motivated to work well." Elodie returned home to make wine and began re-calibrating what were her father's vineyards by eliminating chemical pesticides and herbicides and converting to organic farming informed by biodynamic principles. Her approach is centered on attaining eminently drinkable wines rather than following a set of dogmas in the abstract. 
Elodie also cites influences from numerous other vignerons, young and old, whose work we also sell in our shop from the Loire, Languedoc, Champagne. (Please inquire if you want to know more.)

Although Elodie's father has not been completely convinced of her natural methods (parents take time, no?) such as minimal sulfur usage at only the most robust stages of fermentation and bottling, we are inspired by her quick ascension to making thirst-quenching wines and are stoked to have locked down a nice allocation of her 2011 wines that just arrived and to share them with you. Elodie wants you to actually drink and enjoy some of these wines in their youth, and their ethical pricing reflects a commitment that allows you to relax about opening them now.

2011 Elodie Balme Vin de France Rouge

We'll start with her Vin de France from Vaucluse, which is made from Grenache, Carignan and Merlot. The Grenache comes from a single hectare (about two acres) of forty-year old vines in the sandy village of Roaix, river-side Carignan of equal age, and young vines Merlot (hence the Vin de France designation -- this Bordeaux varietal is not allowed under the strict Rhône regulations for Appellation status) to complete the blend. Elodie's Vin de France potentially takes the cake for the most versatile, drinkable, party-friendly Rhône red we've tasted in a while.  The balance is impeccable, albeit with ripe black fruit that's not intensely dry so you can enjoy it even on its own.
2011 Elodie Balme Côtes du Rhône Villages Roaix "Champs Libres" Rouge
Drink her Vin de France casually, but for more serious cooking, Elodie's single-village Roaix has a more roasted meat quality, with Mourvedre entering the blend to give the wine grip, texture, and tension, as well as serious depth on the nose and an energetic, vigorous finish.  Both wines are showing phenomenally well, proving that the Mediterranean sun of this region will warm your winter cooking appropriately.
Elodie's Vaucluse is $15 per bottle, the Roaix $18 -- buy a combo six-pack of four Vaucluse and two Roaix for only $89.

To order any of these wines, email us!