While I love New York City and it's been my home for over 10 years now, it's time for a little change of scenery! Starting in September, my wife and I are picking up and moving to France for 9 months. Mostly because she's doing a masters in French through Middlebury College. I also have the ulterior motive of getting to pick grapes for the Harvest, and perfecting my long lost french skills.
So today I took my most major step towards securing said harvest job. I had to speak to Madame Lapierre, Marcel LaPierre's wife, as she's the one in charge of hiring the harvest workers. The catch? She speaks zero English. I've been taking some review lessons for a couple weeks but other than that I haven't spoken a lick of french since college, almost 15 years ago. In short, I was nervous beyond words for this conversation. I'd been introduced to Marcel by a representative of Kermit Lynch, the importer that brings his wines to the states. He told me I could come and pick grapes there, but his wife is the one who's really in charge, so how would she respond to my broken French? Would she come back with a bunch of fastly spoken, cryptic gobble-dee-gook? Would I even be able to make it past Bonjour?
Now you might be wondering right now, "Who is Marcel LaPierre?" Good question! Marcel is a winemaker in Beaujolais, which is in the southernmost portion of Burgundy. You've probably heard of Beajolais Nouveau, it's the wine that comes out right before thanksgiving. It's cheap, cheerful, super fruity, and pretty universally derided by serious and pretentious wine drinkers. The technique used to make these wines is called carbonic maceration, and it can lead to notes of banana and strawberry in the wine. There's also a lot of specialized industrially created yeasts that can enhance these juicy fruity flavors. Why do wine snobs hate this wine? Because it's simple and cheap, and if that's true it must be bad right? Well it all depends on your point of view. Some also hate the idea that most nouveau is a product of giant coporate-style winemaking. But, where your opinion lies, Marcel LaPierre represents the exact opposite of the Nouveau style of winemaking.
Marcel is the founding of member of what's called the Gang of Four in Beaujolais. The Gang of Four is a group of winemakers that are dedicated to bringing back natural winemaking techniques to Beaujolais. They don't use carbonic maceration, or chemically created yeasts. Instead they let the grapes ferment naturally, for as long as it takes, with indigenous yeasts that occur naturally. Marcel himself is also known as an extremely selective picker. He throws away a lot of grapes, looking for only the perfect fruit. The result is he makes a wine that is very subtle and floral, much less juicy and fruity than the nouveau style. Marcel is definitely talked about as the best winemaker in Beaujolais, and the amazing thing is that his wine only costs $22 a bottle retail in the US! It's lucky for us that Nouveau has such a bad rap because it's really helped keep down prices of all wine coming from the area. This wine drinks well young, but it also has the potential to age for at least 10 years, possibly more. For me personally, this place is a dream job. It also doesn't hurt that the LaPierre's are known to feed their workers a cornucopia of extravagant homecooked French food.
So how'd the telephone call go? Well, I couldn't understand everything she said, but I'm pretty sure I got most of it. I believe the harvest starts around September 6th. Or was that the 16th? Those numbers sound kind of similar in French. The one sticking point was when she tried to spell her email address for me. We got stuck on some kind of symbol, I think it was probably an underscore or a dash, but unfortunately my high school and college french teachers didn't think that was the most important thing to teach me. And who can blame them? It's a very 21st century problem really. Anyway, it should be fine as she said I could email the general email address for the Domaine and it would get to her. Just one more hurdle down until I'm on my hands and knees, picking grapes in France!
Alice Feiring pointed out to me that Marcel does in fact use carbonic maceration of a sort. It's a technique developed by Chauvet, the founder of the Gang of Four. Instead of using the CO2 that is created by fermentation to exert pressure on the grapes, they apparently use dry ice. Dry ice is a solid form of CO2, and, according to Alice contains some kind antioxidant that allows them to not use any sulphur. Marcel did invite me to stay on for vinification, so I guess I will learn all about this technique when I get there!