Into the Eye of the Strike: Northern Rhône Day One
Tuesday, October 26
My hotel in Tain l’Hermitage has a great wireless network so I’m uploading footage and pictures at a reasonable speed.
It was a very busy day today, starting with a marathon blending session at Domaine Philippe Faury in Chavanay, just south of Côte-Rôtie, high up on the granite slopes above the Rhône River. I’ve been baffled to observe over the past few years that the Faurys’ wines have not attracted a cult-like following across the US. Given the extreme difficulty in finding authentic, terroir-driven wines in this part of France (bizarre, since the Northern Rhône possesses some of the greatest and most unique terroirs for wine in all the world), the Faurys stand tall and proud, with a very reasonable price tag to match. Vintage 2009 is monumental at their place, their Saint Joseph Rouge is a grand vin that will age beautifully in your cellar for 10 years or more alongside the top appellations of the northern Rhône.
A bit further south I met up with biodynamic die-hard Jean-Pierre Monier, who crafts surprisingly refined wines in the rustic, in-the-middle-of nowhere hamlet of Brunieux far above the Rhône about halfway between Ampuis and Tain. We import a bunch of different micro-cuvées of Vin de Pays and Saint Joseph from this address, rouge et blanc. When we got to talking about the strike, Jean-Pierre lamented the fact that no politician had ever tried to overturn the absurd 35 hour French work week, at the very least to say that people could work as many hours as they wished. He also explained quite simply why nobody wanted to work, saying that when business owners are only able to make 3-5% profit after all the taxes and charges are paid and they could make more sitting on the coach with their money invested, what was the point?
Finally a hint of excitement with a light-hearted band of sausage makers and car part manufacturers hanging out around a rond-point at the end of a bridge across the Rhône, laughing and exchanging good naturedly with all the people trying to drive through. I ended up in a conversation about northern Rhône wine with one of the younger strikers, and was pleasantly surprised that he shared my view that many of them are too ripe and concentrated with too much new oak.
Big day tomorrow, literally and figuratively, the wines of Cornas are on the menu.