Sunday, February 2, 2020

Being Alive on The Night of Ideas. Raw, Naked and Living.

Being Alive on The Night of Ideas. 
Raw, Naked and Living. 
The panel (l to r): Nicolas, Pascal, Oliver, Anna and Colm

Here we are in Cork city centre, in the vaults of a 19th century wine warehouse, watching a French film about a bunch of “neo” winemakers at the foot of the eastern Pyrenees, close to the Spanish border. The showing is part of the ongoing worldwide initiative, Night of Ideas, spearheaded by Institut Français, that celebrates the constant stream of ideas between countries, cultures and generations, and the current theme is ‘Being Alive’.

The documentary is titled Wine Calling, though the Google translation, Wine Rising, of the French Le vin se lève, may be quite accurate as the 90 minutes are a lively celebration of the rise of the organic, biodynamic and natural wine movement. In a preview of the night, here,  I quoted wine importer Mary Pawle who was at last week’s Millesime Bio ( the annual organic wine showcase) in Montpelier. She first attended 20 years ago when there were just 40 stands; this year, there were close to 1,400, another indicator of the rise.

Director Bruno Sauvard followed this revolution in the South of France for over a year, from the harvest to the bottling, revealing a rising global movement for taste and sustainability. During a post-screening discussion in the Cellar Theatre, the film’s producer Nicolas Manuel, when asked about the terms used to describe these wines as a group, said he was somewhat jealous of the English terms RAW and Naked. The term “Living” was used in the film and I rather like that myself.
Steep in Banyuls. Not a place for lazy winemakers! 

Nicolas said he had “a good feeling” about the possibility of a film emerging at the initial meeting with the group in January 2016 but it did take the best part of a year to earn their trust. He reported that no money was made on this film but “it is something you want to share”. A bit like the wines then!

And it’s no joke being out here in the weather. Even though some people joke (a few turn it into a jibe) that natural winemakers are lazy. Early shots in the film, showing workers struggling on the steep slopes of a vineyard near Banyuls, quickly dispelled that notion. Here you have to be on top of it all the time, well for nine months anyhow, in the vineyard and later in the winery. “It’s like giving birth,” one  said.

Besides, you are living on the edge. No matter how good a winemaker you are. “Mastery isn’t a word we use around here…We adapt and improve each year… It’s a trial and error process.” They acknowledge that nature is the boss. And then there’s human error, illustrated when one of the group (they each have their own vineyard, by the way) poured the wrong grape juice into a blend. No way could he reverse that error. He’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out.
Ready to roll at the cellar

And, in the face of nature, for instance the constant battle between yeasts and bacteria, Jean-Francois Nicq, summed it up: “Doubt is crucial. Certainty a disaster.” Doubt keeps you on your toes!

Joe McNamee was the moderator of the discussion and he asked Dr Oliver Moore (UCC Centre for Cooperative Studies and ACR2020) for a general view on the environment now. Oliver admitted he was not “super-optimistic” but was encouraged by some positives including “the teenage revolution”. “A lot of hope but barriers are huge”.

He also said the reaction to the EU’s ACR2020, for smaller farmers and running “parallel to CAP, is interesting. “It’s a push for something different”. “The current system is wasteful, especially the fertiliser element”. Monoculture in wine “is not a positive - we need more biodiversity”. We had seen horses working in the vineyards in the film and Oliver remarked: “Horses can produce horses; tractors can’t produce tractors.” 
Horses working in North Cork in 2014

Kilkenny’s Le Caveau was founded by Pascal Rossignol and family in 1999 (time for a 21st celebration then!) to sell artisan wines (including organic). The man from Burgundy recalled his first taste of natural wines. “No going back. You really get hooked.” Though he admitted that the first trade tasting produced mixed reactions.

Colm McCan, who works with Pascal in Le Caveau, reminded us that as far back as the 80s, Myrtle Allen ran a restaurant in Paris, a restaurant that sold natural wines! He agreed with Oliver that changes can already be seen, eg the rising temperatures in Bordeaux and elsewhere. He also sympathised with the winemakers in the film who because of their methods find themselves outside of the appellation system and agreed with them that your name is more important than the appellation stamp. And you’ll see that Le Caveau stock quite a such few wines.

Anna Kopecká, the new Director of Programming at the Cork International Film Festival, the local organisers of the very enjoyable and informative evening, was also on the discussion panel. She was able to sympathise with the winemakers who only get one chance a year to get it right, “like the film festival”. She enjoyed the film: “Soundtrack was very special, not what you’d expect, and the film is a great way of understanding what’s going on in the world.”
Prades,  where the great Spanish cellist Pablo Casals lived in exile. See the "cello" at far side of roundabout.

The Film Festival, now in its 65th year, will be held in November. But this out-of-season screening may be followed by others before then as Anna told Joe there’s the possibility of a film club to screen "films like this" (not necessarily about wine). If I remember rightly, the festival did survive as a film club probably in the 70s, when the venue was the Cameo up by Collins Barracks. I attended quite a few there.

And that wasn’t the end of the evening. No shortage of volunteers to clear the chairs off to the side and we all queued up for a tasing or two of the wines made by M. Nicq. His Foulards Rouges (Red Scarves) Rouge and Blanc were the wines and the cheese was supplied by On the pig’s back. The red, a blend of Grenache (80%) and Syrah, is a fresh and fruity delight, easy drinking. The cloudy white is just as pleasant, hard to pick between the two, and we didn't have to in any case!. 

These wines and similar are available at Bradley's, North Main Street, Cork. Indeed, you should also look out for Octobre, another light red from Foulards Rouges. I enjoyed it recently, details here.

By the way, I know quite a few Irish make their way down to that Catalan corner of France, just above the Spanish border. You may know Collioure or the holiday village of Argeles-sur-Mer. Well, leave the coast behind and about twenty minutes later you’ll arrive at Montesquieu-des-Albères where Jean-Francois makes these delicious wines.

No comments: