Sunday, November 10, 2019

Young French professionals take the lead in the wine trade

Alice Paillard and Victor Coulon
When one looks back at a career and all the people and occurrences in the span of the last 40 or so years, there is overwhelming evidence that we have been in a Golden Age for wine. But as one backs away from the precipice and the younger generations take their turn grabbing the brass ring, the idea of legacy emanates.

First, let’s just dispense with any romantic idea of legacy, here and now. Anyone living on earth who thinks what they do in 50 or so years of activity moves the needle is delusional. We are inhabiting, and are a part of, a live organism - earth - which is billions of years old, and with a little luck will last for many billions more. So, what we do or what we think we do, in our little lives, is all well and good. But it matters really only in the here and now. A hundred years from now, at most, who we are, and what we did, will be forgotten. And for most of us, after our ashes are scattered, within a year, at most, the memory of what we did will be dust in the wind. Just to put it in perspective. We are borrowing space on this earth and grabbing a few years, micro-seconds in time, and that is what we have going for us.

That said, while we are here in this form, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we felt that our deeds and the actions of our peers and colleagues, generated new lives who came into their own time and space and saw what we did as something to continue, as a stepping off point, not as a fixed point in space? As a beginning, not an end?

And that is exactly what I felt this past month when I sat in the company of two young French wine professionals, both well under 40. Happy to say the wine trade is alive and well in the hands of young French professionals like these.

Alice Paillard – when I first met Alice, she was playing in her family’s backyard. Alice was about 3 years old, it was summertime, and it was one of those perfect summer nights one can have in France or Italy, or wherever there are the right conditions. It was cooling off after a warm day. And her father, Bruno, had the right idea, an aperitif of Champagne. And of course, it was from Bruno Paillard.

The company I worked for had a wide focus on fine wine and this new producer from Champagne was bright and sharp and just the thing for the 1980’s in Texas, where all things were possible. As Bruno poured his wine into glasses and handed one to each of us in our party, little Alice played in the background. Who knew 34 years later we would be sitting next to each other in a tony little dandy corner of the Arts District in Dallas, this time with all-grown-up Alice pouring the wine into our glasses? What a wonderful cycle this wine world can be.

And, like her parents, Alice is devoted to wine. She, like many in her generation, have taken it to the next level, what with traveling the world to visit her clients and with social media to blaze the trail, or rather to capture her con-trails. While we chat, she sends her papa a message telling of our lunch meeting. And within moment, Bruno responds. The circle will be unbroken.

And the wines? Lovelier than ever. I do love Champagne (who amongst us doesn’t?). Tasting notes at the end of the post.

Victor Coulon comes from the southern Rhone, his family has been making wine in the region for eight generations. And like so many French and Italian families in the 20th century, they started their climb up from being growers making rustic styles wines, to a proper little estate with their Chateauneuf du Pape being the top wine they make.

The property, Domaine de Beaurenard – Famille Coulon, is now biodynamically farmed. My first exposure to their wines was last year when I had a bottle of their Cotes du Rhone. What I noticed, almost immediately, was that this was a wine which delivered more than a simple Cotes du Rhone. It was vibrant, animale, full of energy. And it had a wildness to it that I found very compelling. I texted a friend who runs a natural wine store in town and she remarked how much she liked the wine. It made an impression.

The Famille Coulon was known for their white wines in a time when white wines weren’t necessarily in favor with a large portion of the wine drinking public. We’re talking 40-50 years ago. Anyone around back then know white wines from Italy and France, simple white wines, didn’t always make the ocean voyage so swell to the New World. But a Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc is a creature of a higher order. And as we sipped on the 2018 Victor remarked how this wine changes, evolves, as it ages. A chameleon of a wine, they don’t block any malolactic occurrences (they also don’t embolden it). Consequently, the wine, as it ages and matures, goes in its youth from a bright spicy, evergreen creature to one with is mellower, but taking on secondary (and tertiary) aspects. More levels, more depth, subtle, not shouting, a quiet path through its life, but one which still is remarkable.

What I loved about Victor and his presence was that he, like Alice, seem fully integrated in the continuum of wine from their family. They appear comfortable in their own skin, so to say. And these days, often with youth, there is that longing for something that is not quite within reach. And with that, comes an unsettled air. Not these two. They’re in it for the long haul. So very reassuring, even for those of us who see legacy in more illusory terms.

Avignon 1985 - park reflection from restaurant window
What I got also was an understanding of what Victor’s parents and grandparents laid down in their life, from a foundational perspective, for future generations. Look, Victor’s progenitors in the 20th century had to face their share of crucibles. But like so many in that time, they did what they had to do, and they forged on through for their descendants. Something in this country (USA) we seem to have forgotten lately.

All this to say, I admire not only Victor and his brother, now making and marketing the wine, but the parents and grandparents for having the strength, the faith and the patience to work through good times and bad.

I know many of the Italians I encounter have similar stories. But there’s something about my French cousins that connect with me and how I see the world. It’s like they understand time in a way that allows them to look outside of themselves, reach out and consider this global community in a way which is unique to them, and also which considers wine, in almost a timeless way, as they serve the Grape, the vine, the wine and humankind, all wrapped up in one very pretty and compelling saga.

The tasting notes:

Bruno Paillard
Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée MV –Extra brut (first pressing) Alice says “this is our vision of Champagne.” It is a selection of terroir, grapes and vintages. A lovely ‘grapey’ character – dry – nice butteriness. Citric, crisp (acidity is fresh) and lively. Lees ageing three years. Honey, almonds, one third is reserve wine from their perpetual reserve started back in 1985.

Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée Rose’ MV – I first sold this wine in the 1980’s and my neighbor down the street, when he was maître d of a fancy hotel, poured it by the glass. It is as I remember it – sharp, crisp, well balanced. Now rose wines are very popular, but to propose one in 1986 was stretching it. Thankfully, Dallas loves bright and glitzy. Fortunately, this wine, while being all that, also is a wine of substance and character, exhibiting their house style of balance and restraint, while still being an exciting wine to drink.

Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru MV–Disgorged 2 years earlier, four years on the lees. Again, the restraint and subtlety of the house style. It had a beautiful flowery buttery quality. Absolutely wonderful with Chef Peter Barlow’s meal at Fauna.

Millésimé 2009 Blanc de Blancs –Just released – bottled in 2010, disgorged in 2017. Subtle, restrained (that pattern) half Pinot Noir and half Chardonnay. Alice says “we like to give names to our vintage. This one is ‘invitation to travel.’”

Millésimé 2009 Assemblage -  The artist label is unique to each of their vintage wines, a tradition which started back in the beginning of the company. 50%  Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay. Again, a lovely wine. It’s a rich wine, from a balanced vintage “it’s like a pillow.” A lovely end to a civilized business lunch.

Domaine de Beaurenard
2018 Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc – Slight evergreen notes, cinnamon, spice, healthy fruit. “My father and grandfather had never seen a vintage like this in their career. It was a warm, wet Spring. With no Mistral. And a nice summer.” Classic six grapes (Clairette, Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Picpoul and Picardan) co-fermented field blend. Family known for their whites (10% of their production). Floral notes, rich texture. As stated in post, ML was not blocked. Should age very well.

2018 Cotes du Rhone – From a 10-hectare vineyard. 90% of the wine is declassified Cotes du Rhone. Certified Organic by Ecocert and Biodynamic by Demeter. 70% Grenache, 30% Syrah, co-fermented (“Our idea is that they learn to live together”). Fresh, drinkable, youthful fruit and that lovely garrigue which marks wine from this area.

2016 Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge – Pepper, spice, well-balanced, freshness, concentration. Accessible now. Alcohol is in check. “2016 is what you want to have every year.” Indeed, lots of enthusiasm all across that part of France (and Piedmont, Tuscany for the 2016 vintage).

2012 Gran Partita Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge – Picked on a “fruit day.” The thirteen classic grapes are co-fermented – a spicy, lovely, remarkably well-balanced wine. So rich, but not overpowering, lots of dimensionality. I’d love to cellar this wine. Well done!

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