Before I became an Italophile, I was a mad Francophile. I studied French for 12 years and lived for a period of time in Dijon, France and became acquainted with lovely wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux but not too many wines from the Loire Valley.
In the intervening years, I have spent much less time in France than in Italy and thus am always excited to be able to revisit my first love. Last Friday, I had the good fortune to go to a dinner at City Winery of Natural Winemakers from France that was organized by Maslow 6, a new wine community.
As luck would have it, I was seated very close to Olivier Cousin, a guru of bio-dynamic winemaking. I am new to bio-dynamics and bow to the natural wine goddess Alice Feiring and others like Mike Drapkin who have been following these wine-makers for years but I am a neophyte.
The dinner showcased part of Jenny & Francois’s portfolio with three winemakers, Cousin, Jean-Marie Rimbert and Magali Terrier. I enjoyed all of the wines but was particularly fascinated with Cousin’s Saumur Brut NV and will write more about the other two wineries at a later date.
Mollie Battenhouse, wine director at Maslow 6, hates to pair cheese with red wine. I actually like the combination but her pairing of cheese with the Saumur was perfect. The Saumur had apple and orange notes with yeasty aromas and flavors. It was also full of minerality and sapid or briny notes which would work well with oysters and other lovely foods. Made from Chenin Blanc (my favorite white wine grape) and Chardonnay, this wine was a definitely a memorable experience. Cousin said he makes the wine without adding a liqueur de tirage (sugar + yeast) but instead added wine that that has not been totally fermented dry.
His approach is completely bio-dynamic. He very gingerly answered all of my silly questions. I like many others I believed that bio-dynamic wine making was only about following the seasons, the moon and the tides. Cousin corrected me noting that the most important thing on a biodynamic winery is to keep the entire ecosystem humming along. He said that all parts of the vineyard from the vines to the flowers, insects and animals must be kept in a healthy equilibrium. Cousin is one of approximately 100 bio-dynamic wine makers in France. The winemakers get together on a yearly basis to exchange ideas and such.
One of the things that I wanted to know was what happens when the vineyard next door uses insecticides and pesticides? Does it completely ruin all the careful work that one bio-dynamic wine maker has done? According to Cousin, the wind will, of course, bring this unpleasantness but he noted that if your ecosystem is very healthy, it can fight off the arrival of these toxic agents.
Cousin doesn’t use technology to farm but still uses horses. Maslow 6 gives a great description of their visit to the winery and a long description of natural wine making methods on their blog. The combination of drinking his wines in the extremely sleek City Winery with the metro grumbling underfoot was quite a contrast.
David Lecomte, a Frenchman and the winemaker at City Winery, came over to speak with Cousin. Their back and forth was fascinating as each compared what they were doing in their respective wineries. I like the fact that Cousin seemed very interested in Lecomte and vice-versa.
Cousin also had two other wines on the table. A “Cousin 2007” made from Grolleau, a distinctly Loire varietal. It was fresh and fruity with some mineral notes. Cousin noted that most grolleau is made into rose’ and that he was the first to make a red wine. I liked this wine very much as well. Cousin said that organic wines can only be kept for a day or two once they are open because they don’t have any preservatives.
We also tried his “Pur Breton” 2006 which was made from another signature Loire Valley grape, Cabernet Franc. Cab Franc is another one of my favorite varieties so I was naturally partial to this well balanced wine. Cousin’s wines are available at Vino Vino in Tribeca and at Astor in the East Village for New Yorkers rushing out to buy them.