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Producer Spotlight: Valerie Forgues

Producer Spotlight: Valerie Forgues

Valerie Forgues, producer at Domaine de la Méchinière, has seen her fair share of difficulties in her efforts to preserve the estate. In 2008, with no viticulture or winemaking experience, she pursued learning from other nearby vignerons so as to save her home, the place in which her sons had grown up, from bankruptcy. With guidance from former producers Catherine Roussel and Didier Barrouillet of the famed Clos Roche Blanche, she began to work her 16 hectares. Fast forward to today and she's farming organically, using native yeast fermentations, and harvesting all of her grapes by hand.

Her story is powerful and Louis/Dressner Selections interviewed her back in 2017. Below are excerpts from that interview. Read it to learn more about her story, one of perseverance.

- Erica Christian

How did you end up heading Domaine de la Méchinière? I’m not from the area and have absolutely no agricultural or viticultural background. I do have some family ties to the Cher, but it’s a total coincidence I found myself living here. Like a good little Frenchie, I went to school to follow a career path.

To answer your question about the estate, love is what brought me here. It was a decision I made with my ex-husband about 20 years ago. I knew nothing about wine.

 
So how did you go about taking the estate over? My brother-in-law was a retired vigneron, and he was instrumental in keeping things together in the very beginning. He quite frankly ran the entire estate the first few months, and for that I will always be thankful to him.

He was also very helpful in actively engaging me, in encouraging me to come see the work in the vines, what different choices meant, etc... He also made me understand that if I really wanted to do this, just how much responsibility it really meant. From managing employees to working the tractor, he showed me the way.

It was hard though, because of course having him around meant a constant reminder of my ex-husband. It also bothered me because at that point Didier would swing by occasionally and point out that his work was extremely conventional. Didier’s philosophy and vision of agriculture resonated with me in a way my brother-in-law’s did not.

 
So how did the two of you go about creating the new direction for the estate? I can’t even remember how the process started. But I know that we constantly talked about what was possible in the vines and the cellar, and that his responses resonated with me. I’d ask him what he would have done in my place. This led to him visiting the vines and cellar with me and getting increasingly specific with his advice. Some of it I follow, some I don't; but if I’m asking someone for advice it’s either to follow it or have a conversation about it!

I think that it was around 2011 that the collaboration was fully under way. He was helping me in the vines, constantly tasting from vat, giving his advice... It all happened very naturally. As far as converting to organic viticulture, which I began in 2013, these are the moments of our collaboration that I remember most vividly. It started with an argument: he told me that at the point I’d progressed, that I should take the next step and convert the vineyards. I told him to hold his horses: this meant making an already demanding job even harder! I had to ensure I was bringing fruit to the cellar!

I could never have taken such a big risk without his help, so he agreed he’d be there every step of the way to help me convert. And you know how it is: for someone to commit voluntarily (and benevolently!) to such a huge undertaking, he’s got to believe in the final result!

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A Contrarian Goes to France

A Contrarian Goes to France

I'm not sure when I became a side-eye-loving hater of all things "picture perfect." I think it was around two and a half in Mena, AR but, again, it’s hard to say. However, I have committed. In art school, I remember a rudimentary composition class that emphasized the importance of placement but also exclusion (i.e Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother). We looked at photographs before the final edit and something in me was crushed. The concept that everything is a construct and we as humans can shape almost any reality was suddenly so clear.

Since then what is excluded has always been more relatable to me. TO FRANCE: one thing that struck me was the strong support system that many winemakers (ie, the names on the labels) have. Herve Villemade’s team pouring the massive line up at his table, Thierry Puzelat's daughter, Zoe, explaining Clos du Tue Bœuf to a large group of people with unfiltered humor in French and English, or the quiet, consistent support of Adrien’s Baloche’s blonde-haired friend. If you weren’t there, you'd never know.

Yes, Les Capriades was king, Labet was powerful, and the Loire reigned supreme. But what I liked most about the trip was watching. When you're there, you make your own lens. It can be as blurry or as straight edge as you want. I saw that even the most revered travel in packs and need validation. And though maybe not always seen stateside, women are respected badasses in France and beyond. Blah, blah, blah...next year, I'll have less imposter syndrome, speak more, and learn not as much.

- Rebekah Pineda

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A Focus on Black Voices (in Natural Wine): Erica Christian

A Focus on Black Voices (in Natural Wine): Erica Christian

A week ago, after a slew of emails exclaiming “Black Lives Matter”, I received an email announcing Wine and Spirit Education Trust certification scholarships. The email acknowledges that POC are “vastly underrepresented” in the three-tier system for wine and spirits. Alongside this content is an infographic from a study that revealed a 2% Black/African representation in the three-tier system. Before the offering of scholarships, it is stated that this underrepresentation is both “disturbing” and “suspected”. That one email represents one of my greatest frustrations with the wine world and the mostly white representation in mentor and leadership positions. To be Black and work in the world of wine is to hold constant disappointment. It’s to hear the acknowledgment of how underrepresented we are and to know that everyone should have seen it all along. 
 
If diversity is an image and multiculturalism is a practice, the wine world partakes in neither. I continue to receive misguided messages about wine scholarship offerings and white sommeliers giving advice and mentorship to BIPOC. This is not inclusivity. Black voices in the wine industry need to be centered. I don’t need a scholarship to partake in an exclusive structural learning system, I need a platform. 
 
Wine is my passion. For me, the job is to give people an experience that leads to learning more about what they like and fuels their own passion to explore more. I want to do this for everyone, especially BIPOC. Moving forward, white leadership in the wine world needs to share and release their platforms to Black wine professionals and educators.  I see the changing of systems that determine deductive tasting descriptors. I see more Black wine educators and community efforts to get more Black folx engaged with information about wine. I see a wine world where I can be unapologetically me, unapologetically Black, and still be regarded as knowledgeable and professional. As Julia Coney, an incredible wine educator and boss seller, said, “I’m not hired to be peaceful.” We need to do more than just acknowledge these discrepancies behind closed doors, we need to correct and directly challenge those who uphold racist systems and participate in our exclusion. We must always speak up and demand consequences for those who continue to discriminate against Black folx, especially Black womxn in wine. I am of the mentality that we as Black folx build our own communities and our own table when we are excluded.
 
Wine is an agricultural product and we all deserve access as guests, sommeliers, growers, and winemakers. It is time we take action to disrupt these systems.

Erica Christian is a DC-based sommelier & activist.

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A Focus on Black Voices (in Natural Wine): Bianca Sanon

A Focus on Black Voices (in Natural Wine): Bianca Sanon

I’ve been “working in wine” for the past four years, give or take a few months. I started getting serious about my wine studies in late 2016 - early 2017, and my experiences have always been tied to service. Microaggressions have been at the forefront of my experience as a server, sommelier, floor manager, and every role in between. One time, when I was working in a restaurant in North Carolina, a guest asked for my name (Bianca), and upon telling him, he quickly responded “Beyonce?!?!” Everyone at the table loved that joke. And, somehow, almost as if on cue, I was subjected to that same experience three different times that week. 

Microaggressions are always difficult to navigate as a hospitality worker -- should I speak up and correct the guest, is that kind of interaction inappropriate, would I or should I even be able to control my emotions in addressing the issue? The tragedy of this moment is that it took the overdue recognition of Black death, one after the other, and a worldwide movement to make it possible for us as Black service industry workers to talk about and confront these instances of microaggressions and how they deeply affect us. The beauty of this moment, particularly in the time of COVID-19, is the realization that community has nothing to do with proximity, as my dear friend Imane Hanine put it so clearly. Although based in Miami, I have been able to process so many issues that I’ve had as a Black hospitality worker and as a Black sommelier with fellow Black women who are based throughout the country, from Philly to Napa, and we have had the actual time and energy to sit and listen to each other, a luxury we certainly would not have had under normal circumstances.

So many thoughts, scenarios and questions have come from our conversations: What happens when the world opens back up and the restaurant industry fundamentally changes? Who will be chosen to move forward when restaurants open back up? Do you respect me for my knowledge or are you afraid of being called out? What happens to people like us who decide to speak up and don’t have a community to fall back on? What do we envision when we talk about inclusion? How inclusive can we be as an industry if we have always been more interested in allocations than structural oppression? How do we envision an industry striving towards inclusivity when it is driven by the concept of exclusivity? What is our collective goal as an industry? How far are we willing to go?

In the few conversations I’ve had with both old friends and new, it’s been clear that we do in fact have the power to challenge the norms of our industry and institute change. When we ask about the repercussions of speaking up, we envision actual structural change in the business in question and amplifying the voices of the traditionally oppressed, offering them a platform to submit grievances, possibly through establishing a third-party HR department that can hold business owners accountable. When we ask about inclusion, we imagine a future where the concept of access is at the forefront of business practices, encompassing everything from approachable pricing, especially for businesses in gentrifying neighborhoods, to QTPOC/BIPOC-led events to de-escalation training for all members on staff. 

In short, we may not have all of the answers, but being Black in the wine industry has always come with a lot of questions, and it feels good to finally start asking them. 

Bianca Sanon is a sommelier and soon-to-be bookstore/café owner.

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A Focus on Black Voices (in Natural Wine): Eric Moorer

A Focus on Black Voices (in Natural Wine): Eric Moorer

We are all so conditioned to fight for our success that we often skip over our missed opportunities. But this is the moment where we should reflect on times where we could have done more, spoken up, and taken action. And I know that I’m not alone in feeling that I have had some shortcomings when it comes to inclusion in wine.
 
A little background for you: While I claim Pittsburgh as home, I did a bit of growing up in Charlotte, NC in a suburban neighborhood where we were the only Black family for years. Houses had ample yards, and each backyard was seemingly a small forest. At that time in my life, I was known for athletics and academics, which often times gave me a pass that even some of my white friends wouldn’t get. I lived in a world of privilege that I did not care to see or even acknowledge. Breaking into the nearby pool to swim at midnight? Cops drove me home. Smashing mailboxes? The cops laughed and sent me on my way. I was trained not to see that my treatment was different from anyone else’s experiences.
 
Even my foray into wine has been laden with opportunities that I now see others who look like me have not received. Small things like tasting invites, or larger things like having your restaurant asked to host awards.
 
Earlier in my career, I never took the time to look around to see that I was either the only, or one of two people of color, instead enjoying and embracing my O.N.I.F.C. status. Or maybe I was just too selfish to care. I was too busy focusing on being in the room to remember to hold the door for anyone behind me. But I’m here now, eyes open, willing to share my past deficiencies to show that we can all be guilty of not doing enough.
 
What matters now is that we’re shifting the focus to highlight the places and people that we neglected before.  We must make up for lost time and failed inclusion—there is a duty for each and every one of us, myself included, to make sure we remember that we did not get here without support, and now it is time to support people who have been overlooked for far too long. Growth is seeing beyond yourself.

Eric Moorer is a sommelier, was part of the opening team at Domestique, and is our Director of Sales.

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A Focus on Black Voices (in Natural Wine): Lee Campbell

A Focus on Black Voices (in Natural Wine): Lee Campbell

I'm a born contrarian. Not argumentative, mind you. But just always looking for an alternative approach, a third way. Coming up, I was raised to be Bougie AF. And I often went along with it...at times, quite happily. But when the Elders weren't looking, I was sometimes prone to acting out, trying out, showing out. I was a curious girl who always felt compelled to explore.

When I graduated college, worried that I might be constrained to a life of predictability, I knocked on the kitchen door of a restaurant I adored (the D.C. institution, Restaurant Nora), and asked for a job. They obliged, and my work in food and hospitality (and ultimately, wine) commenced.

I am forever indebted to that opportunity because it validated my natural desire to challenge the status quo, while also demanding that I do so within the professional sphere. As restaurateurs, the Pouillon-D'Amato clan worked relentlessly to address dissonance within American food pathways, and were key players in creating a market for organic, local ingredients. Food should be joyful and nourishing, yes. But food could also be a mission; and food in America was inherently political. This sense of purpose gave me the strength to begin to carve out my own path. And I needed that strength, because as a first-generation West Indian American, great things were expected, and food and service were clearly perceived as a step backward. Yet, I couldn't shake it. I was inspired.

I made my way back to New York, where I was raised, and worked in some fantastic places. A barrage of important restaurants, a bread company, a food consultant...wherever I felt drawn in by feeling part of a community and a larger purpose. Believing that I had already disappointed my family actually liberated me to do whatever I pleased. But wine was not initially on my radar. To me, it reeked of elitism and was filled with people who didn't look like me. But surprisingly, via the encouragement, support and mentoring of many of those people who didn't look like me, white men like Joe Dressner, Terry Theise and Charlie Woods; and white women like Beth von Benz and Anita Katzman, I began to work as a bona fide wine professional. This was before the obsession with credentials and certifications, before anyone dare utter the misguided honorific, "celebrity somm." The business was filled with people who also seemed to be disappointing their folks. And yet they were impassioned, inspired and caring. I had found my tribe.

A life-changing moment occurred at a luncheon with Michel Chapoutier. While he remains a titan of the industry, in those days, he was also a bit of a renegade: the stubbly Braille on dem labels espousing less-heralded varieties like Roussanne and what-not. In those days, I was usually the only person of color in the room, and also one of the few women. As we dined and imbibed in the lovely garden room of the old Provence in Soho, I snuck a peek at his hands. Callused. Pillowy and well-tended, but definitely callused in spots. That sighting was one of a string of road signs that told me that I belonged in this world. His hands reminded me of my grandfather, a farmer in Saint Catherine, Jamaica, whose own callused hands tended to pigs and sugar cane. Honest men doing honest work. Were grapes really so different than bananas? I decided they weren't.

We are currently experiencing a reckoning both in this country and within the wine industry. It's necessary. It's overdue. My path was truly not the normal one, particularly for women of color. I was lucky. I was impetuous. I was strangely confident. I thank my mother and my grandmother for that brash sense of entitlement. But honestly, the path to wine shouldn't just be open to heedless Black girl knuckleheads as some one-off. It should be an open and welcoming job path for anyone who seeks it, whether they run into the "right" folks en route or not. Whether they have something to prove, or just want to earn a paycheck in a pretty fun way. Whether they want to be big stars...or just be part of a tribe, that in its best expression, feels a lot like family.

Lee Campbell is a wine consultant and sommelier based in Brooklyn.

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The Major Taylor Fellowship

The Major Taylor Fellowship

Our goal is to give somebody amazing a starting point in wine. They'll work 30 hours per week at Domestique, learning all the ins-and-outs of running a wine retail operation. We've also facilitated stages at three award-winning restaurants: Komi, Bad Saint, and 2AMYS. And our partner, Streetsense, will organize three days of programming centered around finding a restaurant space, design and buildout, and branding strategy.

We are looking to address, challenge, and disrupt the clear lack of diversity in wine and strongly encourage people of color and from disenfranchised communities to apply. The fellowship will last three weeks and will include a $3,000 stipend, plus we'll pay for your housing costs. We're planning to announce the recipient a month from now, with the fellowship beginning in August or September. Come join our team. We're fun and the wine is pretty good.

Eligibility and fit with the fellowship:
Must have authorization to work in the United States and must be over the age of 21
Must have fewer than five years of related experience in the food or beverage industries

Application timeline:
June 23rd - July 10th: Application live
July 12th: Semi-finalists selected and all applicants notified
July 14th - 16th: Phone calls with semi-finalists
Week of July 20th: Fellowship recipient announced
3-week fellowship scheduled between weeks of August 3rd - September 28th

APPLY HERE

 

ABOUT

Streetsense is an experience-focused strategy and design collective that creates brands people love and places people love to be. We are unified by an approach that is people-centered and design-led and are powered by an uncommon team ranging in expertise from interiors to branding, real estate to hospitality. Learn more at streetsense.com or follow us @realstreetsense

Domestique is a natural wine store based in Washington, DC. We (only) work with producers who use organic and biodynamic agriculture and minimal intervention in the cellar to make real wine. We're here in service of these producers. Learn more at domestiquewine.com or follow us @domestiquewine

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Phase 1: Low ABV Ciders

Phase 1: Low ABV Ciders

Patrick has been shopping at Domestique since we opened. He came in often specifically looking for bubbles (Marnes Blanches Cremant and Capriades, among others). After chatting a bit, we learned he was making his own cider in Virginia. He came down for a tasting with Benoit Lesuffleur in July of 2019 and brought some samples. Almost a year has passed since then and we're so excited to carry his first bottling. He's doing everything himself: harvesting wild fruit, trialing no spray practices in an old-growth orchard, and fermenting with little/no SO2 in a couple hundred square feet of warehouse space. It’s very small scale, with roughly 425 cases total production for 2019.

The pear cider is absolutely delightful and is what we want to drink on the patio all summer long. The acid is present and lively without being overpowering. And the bubbles! They are soft and delicate; they don't just dissipate after five minutes open. Cider is what we've been craving recently as the weather warms up and we're hunting something to pair with dehydrated bike rides. And this one is perfect. Below, Patrick shares a little bit about his process, his background, and Virginia. It's a pretty fascinating read.

How did you get into cider? I’m drawn to cider primarily because pomme fruits are better adapted to where we are. If you go poke around the mountains and piedmont backroads, there’re seedling trees swarmed with vines and brambles that are still generally healthy and producing fruit. I fermented for other folks in Virginia for three years while I explored my own ideas in the cellar and researched sustainable growing practices (and drank as much natural wine as I could afford). 2019 is my first harvest on my own.
 
What makes Virginia unique for cider? Virginia has a deep history (on a colonial timeline) of apple cultivation, from homesteads to the post Civil War boom in production and exportation. While maybe not as directly relevant as the plots of Burgundian monks, there’s much to learn from the pre-industrial successes of these old orchards (it’s fun to read the decorous Gentlemen Farmer debates in agricultural society minutes on proper cover crop regimens). I’m working with the current landowner to revive and replant one of these 19th century sites in western Albemarle County, and found a few others to harvest from.

Within the world of cider, Virginia’s warm climate has not yet been fully explored. The austerity of cooler New York and New England gives way to more ample fruit down here. Most cidermakers inhibit malolactic and ferment in reductive environments, but I’m very curious about how to embrace the chin-dripping lushness of Virginia instead of fighting against it.

I also have to mention seedlings and their potential for novel expressions of place. The genetic variability of apples is such that each seed contains a new iteration of its bearing and pollen parents. Those that survive are uniquely attuned to their given place. A few are wonderfully tannic and acidic, perfect for cider.

Your feelings on RS in cider? RS in wine? I have no prescriptive opinion of RS, only that things must be in balance and come from the fruit. A key component of pears (and certain apples in warm years) is their sorbitol, so a key component of perry should be some sense of sweet.

I very much like the concept of ‘feinherb,’ that a ferment finds its own equilibrium point and may change year to year. I’ll stir to resuspend yeasts in as ferments slow with cooler weather, but if the microbiome of a given cider says “I’m good at 2 g/L,” and is stable, then that’s fine with me.

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Mr. Baguette Makes an Egg Salad

Mr. Baguette Makes an Egg Salad

I was in the mood for Coronation Chicken Salad sandwiches for some reason, but I made do with what I had in the fridge and some sourdough from the freezer, and came up with curried egg salad tartines.

INGREDIENTS
Scallions (if not ramps or other coveted spring alliums), reserve some green tips for garnish
Crab Apple Mostarda (Casa Forcella from Lombardy, highly recommended, or sub mango chutney)
Radishes, diced
Large eggs
Unsalted butter
Madras Curry powder (or Vadouvan)
Labneh (or full fat Fage, Skyr, etc.)
Sourdough bread slices

PREPARATION No measurements needed, trust your instincts. Smash and char scallions in a dry cast iron skillet, add a bit of oil just at the end to blacken, then mince. Stir mostarda thoroughly into labneh. Dice radishes. Cook eggs in boiling water for seven minutes, then shock in an ice bath until cooled; yolk should be jammy and not runny. Toast bread. Bloom curry powder in hot melted butter, add eggs (cut in half), minced scallion, diced radish, and fold together with a fork until well combined.

Schmear toast with mostarda-labneh mixture then top with scoops of egg salad, garnish with sliced scallion.

WINE PAIRING Domaine La Loue Chardonnay 2015. This is among the few sleeper Jura whites remaining, made by Catherine Hannoun, a film producer (worked on brilliant Mondovino documentary on globalization in wine in the late 20th century) who after guidance from her friend Manu Houillon (of Domaine Overnoy) began a micro-domain of her own in the Jura.

This Chardonnay comes from parcels of gray marl in Pupillin, fermented in steel tanks then raised in neutral barrels for over a year. Open this bottle a good hour in advance of serving; there are notes of honey and buttered pastry, followed by golden apple and preserved lemon, with a chiseled mineral and savory finish. An impeccably fresh and precise wine that plays well off the pungent fruit of the mostarda and creamy/chalky labneh, along with the richly spiced and buttered egg salad.

- Saman Hosseini

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Ritual, Celebration, Alcohol

Ritual, Celebration, Alcohol

I've been thinking a lot recently about rituals. As humans, we perform rituals because they help us structure and control our inherently chaotic existence and confront the illusion of time. We make coffee at 7:05am every morning, we purge our closets when spring arrives, we always read the Style section first on Thursdays. 

Celebrations are built upon ritual. My older son, Nat, is going to turn five years old in a few weeks. He's at that age where birthdays take on supreme significance. He's been looking forward to his birthday for six months now. About two months ago, he started telling me, "Dad, Coronavirus will definitely be done by the time it's my birthday." And then a few weeks ago, it changed to, "Dad, I think it will be okay if I can't have a big party with my friends, as long as we celebrate at home and I still get a Nerf blaster."

The other day at our house, we saw our next door neighbors outside playing a game with their kids and one other family. They were all wearing the same color. Nat stood at the window watching intently, not saying a word (which never, ever happens) as the small party pinned tails on paper dinosaurs and ate cupcakes and danced. He seemed shaken, pensive, but also oddly accepting, despite the fact that he hasn't seen a friend in person in almost three months. That acceptance was crushing. Eventually Nat walked away from the window and quietly sat down to dinner. We realized it was the neighbor's eldest son's fifth birthday that day.

Alcohol and ritual go hand in hand. Champagne toasts at weddings, beers after a long bike ride, whiskey shots on birthdays, bottles emptied onto the street for lost friends. Business deals and Roman sacrifices alike revolve around the presence of alcohol.

One thing that we've been focused on learning more about recently is sake. I'll readily admit that sake is the area of beverage that I know the least about. It's always intimidated me somewhat. The other week, I was having a discussion with Lane Harlan of Baltimore's Fadensonnen, a beautiful natural wine and sake bar, and she touched upon the value of serving rituals for sake. Lane explained how, from ceramic drinkware to how it's poured to careful manipulation of temperature, ritual is closely tied to the sensory experience of sake. That ritual is likely much of the reason for my intimidation.

And below we're lucky to have Monica Samuels, one of the world's leading sake experts, writing about the confluence of Japanese sake and natural wine. She picks out a few sakes to help guide any natural wine drinkers, like us, who may be newer to the experience.

One of the many things we've lost because of COVID-19 is ritual, especially the ritual of celebration. There are no weddings, bars, or funerals. But we have a chance to find some new, slower rituals these days. At our house, we'll be having "corn-a-macob" and steak for Nat's birthday, at his request.  Because a June birthday also means the beginning of summer, and all of the rituals that that entails. Hopefully we'll carry some of these smaller rituals with us when the old ones come back too. 

-Jeff Segal

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