Vin à la Parisienne

For a long time, wine was a man's game. However, a team of young French women are now transforming the industry - with organic and natural wines, which are neither chaptalised nor acidified, and with no tannin powder or added sulphites. They are produced as they were centuries ago, under the motto: less is more. Two women champions of natural wine tell us their story.

Julie Caute, Restaurateur

Although I only started drinking wine at about 19 or 20, I would say that I have now developed an excellent palate. In my family, we spent a lot of time at the dinner table. After I finished school, I started to work in restaurants, some 18 years ago now. In 2014, when I opened my wine bar in the Parisian district of Belleville, I called it "Dame Jane". That's what the flasks (demijohns) that were once used to store wine were called. I wanted to create a place that harks back to times gone by, where you can spend quality time with friends enjoying excellent food and wine. The menu changes every day, depending on what's available at the market. Nothing is written down on paper. We prefer to talk to one another, and I explain to people what we offer and why. It is a home - my home. Filled with great products and people that are important to me. The location, here in the northeast, right on the edge of the city, might seem a little far at first. It's not an easy area to reach, but I want our guests to come here because we're here. It's not intended to be an arbitrary location amongst the masses. 

At Dame Jane, I always keep 40 to 60 wines in stock, depending on the time of year, but all of them are organic or natural wines. They are made as they were a hundred years ago. That's what makes them so special, so vibrant. With conventional wines nowadays, it's almost always about the technique and money, which is a shame. I don't feel any love there. With natural wines, there is a very close connection between the vintner and their wine; it's about the environment, the soil, the grape. Of course, it's about the flavour, too. Some people say natural wines don't taste very good - but there are also conventional wines that don't taste good either. Many people who drink natural wine are no longer able to drink conventional wines, except maybe very old ones with no chemicals. I get headaches and stomach pain from conventional wines. On the other hand, natural wines are excellent for digestion, and the wine doesn't go to your head as quickly. 

There are no bottles here that I am not 100 percent behind. You really have an authentic experience with the wine: The grape expresses itself, the soil expresses itself, the wine has no option for camouflage. Where there are no sulphites, nothing can hide - you can taste every ingredient. Of course, that makes the vintner's work even more difficult and risky, and they also have to explain to people why the wines are sometimes a little more expensive. But once you've acquired a taste for natural wine, it's hard to go back. 

Natural winemakers are very free in how they are able to create their wines, and that comes out in the flavour. The number of vintners is also increasing constantly. I think that's a great thing, as they make wine in different ways. More modestly, I would say. Women have had a difficult time in the wine cultivation industry, just like in many other sectors. Even when I started Dame Jane, I often had to justify myself. Today, I am a certified caviste, which is what you call cellarer in France. The people who come to me are often looking for something special. I help them find it. It's not just about red, white, or rosé. It's about what you will be eating, and your personal preferences. My job is to find the wine closest to what you are looking for. I always find it funny when people come to me and say, 'I eat organic because it's good for my health.' They're not thinking about the environment at all, but that's actually the most important part of organic food and drink. But in the end, they all want the same thing: good food, good drinks - and to spend quality time together.  

My favourite wine region? 

I like the wines from Loire the best, they're mostly Cabernet Francs. I appreciate their rustic nature. Sometimes I taste new ones and think, 'Oh! I need you. Nice to meet you.'

Fleur Godard, Wholesaler 

I grew up in the countryside. We didn't have wine very often, but when we did, we usually just had the cheap stuff. But we had great meat and great vegetables. After my father was involved in an accident, I sold his poultry at a market in Paris, and the stand next to mine was run by a vintner called Fifi, who sold natural wine. He twisted my arm to get me to try it. I wanted to tell him that I didn't like it so that he would leave me alone - but then I was rather surprised. 

Natural wines are artistic, very fragile. There's a lot of love in them. I enjoyed the wine for three hours, that's how rich and delicious it was. It told me an unbelievably concise story, a very complex one. Although I was attending theatre school in Montpellier at the time, I dropped it all and spent two years on Fifi's vineyard to learn as much about wine as I could. 

Two years later, I didn't have a degree, but I had enough experience in wine production to go into business for myself. I moved to Paris and started to network with vintners. Today, I distribute natural wines and work together with restaurants and small-scale dealers. I sell my father's poultry alongside it (which is where the name 'Vins et Volailles' came from). When you have a foot in both doors - in the kitchen and the wine cellar - you can create a dialogue between the chef and the sommelier, both of whom traditionally work alone. 

You can see how times are changing. Up until a few years ago, people still thought that red wines were more masculine and white wines were more feminine. On my first visits to the vineyards, people often looked at me strangely: 'What's she doing here? Surely she's much too young?' Now, we have hopefully reached a point where we can leave the categorisation behind. Winegrowing may still be a very patriarchal system, and very physically demanding, because you have to face the elements. However, nowadays there are many great female vintners, especially in the field of natural wines. Natural wine is made with a lot of passion and love - it is a very open kind of wine.

The natural wine business is an export business, and many go to Berlin, London, Copenhagen, Brussels, Stockholm. Those places already have a considerable market for naturals. But I think it's good that we have a system in France now that is making natural wine even more popular here. France is still the home of wine - to put it more accurately, the home of natural wine, before industrialisation took place and we started mixing strange additives into the wines. Conventional wines contain up to 300 chemicals. It's a shame, because the grape brings the wine to life, incorporating the mood and feelings of the person bottling it. Many vintners think it's too risky to produce natural wine. The vines must be protected against inclement weather, and it must be ensured that the flavour doesn't deviate too far from the rest of the grapes. Without chemical and technical aides, this is a challenge. 

Natural wine is a highly political topic. That's why I published a comic book series with Justine Saint-Lô, the sister of a vintner friend of mine. It's called 'Pur Jus' (Pure Juice). She does the illustrations, I write the text. We use entertaining stories to somewhat demystify the whole topic of wine. There is no one single way to make wine, but rather many different ways. On the one hand, it may be made by a family-run vineyard in its eighth generation, and on the other hand, an IT specialist who cultivates grapes in his free time. The first volume of our series was dedicated to wine cultivation, and the second, which will be available in stores from September 2018, is dedicated to the winemaking process. This way, we can explain things like the principle of carbonic maceration, which uses whole grapes. 

Many people of our generation are too shy to talk about wine, as they feel that they lack the necessary experience. Sommelier jargon can be intimidating. It was the same for me, as I thought that I wasn't educated enough; you're always scared of saying the wrong thing. That's also why I do what I do - because I still haven't learned everything there is to know, and I want to learn more. However, one key question can always be answered in good faith: the best wine is always the one that you think tastes the best. 

My favourite wine region? 

I actually like wines from all regions. I particularly like Jura and Auvergne, but also wines from Portugal and Utah. 

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