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! 

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