Through the Grapevine
Whenever in Paris, I love to visit Rue Cler – a quaint area of the city in the 7th arrondissement. Back in 1996, a little crêpe stand on Rue Cler was identified by culinary great Marion Cunningham as, “The Best Crêpe in Paris.” The restaurateur, originally from Greece, worked his crêpes stand almost every day for 19 years, serving visitors and locals alike with distinction. He was set! After all, he got to live in Paris – undoubtedly one of the greatest living cities of the world - and was designated as “Best” in that city! Now, his best friend and previous business partner, (also from Greece), runs the crêpe stand from his restaurant Ulysee en Gaule, also on Rue Cler, just a few steps away from the original site.
Paris is just one of those places that is truly very special. If it isn’t obvious, I am a Francophile, and love the city of Paris. This spectacular city was virtually leveled and rebuilt during the 19th century by Napoleon III, great nephew to the more famous Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon III had a purpose which was to re-make Paris as the most pleasurable and livable city in the world. (Napoleon III also convened the 1855 Paris World’s Fair which among many innovations also gave birth to the famous Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855).
The design and master plan of Paris still produces fantastic results today. Paris gives everything one could want in a pleasurable urban walking, shopping, dining or simply good living lifestyle – whether you are visiting, live there and have a good job, have a successful local business, or you happen to be one of the .01% that can afford to live in the most exclusive neighborhoods or one of the a handful of the world’s finest 5 star hotels.
Speaking of best in Paris, I recently had the pleasure of re-visiting Paris and was royally entertained at Le Bristol Paris, a Parisian Palace Hotel in the 8th arrondissement – and now the city’s leading 5 star hotel!
For many years, the George Cinq, a Four Seasons hotel, enjoyed that distinction and is still an amazing hotel in its own right. More recently, though, Le Bristol Paris has claimed every title and accolade for 5-star hotels in Paris. The reason for this change is simpler than you might think in my view. The core leadership team which had delivered the very successful run at the George Cinq has reunited, and is now working for the Oetker family who has long owned Le Bristol Paris as its flagship to the Oetker Collection of Masterpiece Hotels. While always a leader in the coveted best in class category, together, the leadership team working with the passionately engaged owner have re-made and re-positioned Le Bristol Paris once again as “the” finest hotel in this magnificent city.
While most of the world’s leading hotels struggle to balance world class service and standards without unnecessary pretension, that is not so at the Bristol. The General Manager of the Bristol is Leah Marshall, one of the world’s most accomplished hoteliers. She and her staff have created a friendly, high service oriented atmosphere, without the need for any added pretention. Together, they have become the best in the city, and truly bring xenia, the art of hospitality, to all their guests and visitors.
The Bristol has two extraordinary restaurants and that have both earned coveted Michelin star ratings, a beautiful garden dining area called Le Jardin and one of the most happening bars in the city, The Bar at Le Bristol. They are all under the guidance of Michelin-three starred Executive Chef Eric Frechon. Along with the outdoor terrace, The Bar at Le Bristol artfully blends high tech innovation with classic French design. The mirror which is located behind the bar, even displays seemingly live shots of some of Paris’ most famous sites with some innovative technology. All of the members of the staff are extremely knowledgeable, and have won many awards – whether it is in mixology for the Chef Barman Maxime Hoerth, or the world renowned wine program led by Master Sommelier Marco Pelletier.
On our tour of the kitchens, Chef Frechon was ever present and charming. The Pastry Chef delighted us with a quick demonstration of a lemon sorbet by using a lemon shaped mold and dry ice. Not only was it delicious, it was beautiful to behold!
The Bristol is all fine a good, but what about the best crepes in Paris, you ask? Well, if you are lucky enough to find it – and you do have to look – the same crepes that Marion Cunningham dubbed as the “Best in Paris” still exist. Now, it is the original recognized crepe makers’ best friend who prides himself with making crepes from the exact same recipe, with just the right amount of fresh squeezed lemon juice subtly added, and using the same original crepe stand. I had more servings than I care to admit during my last visit to Paris, and yes, they are undeniably the Best Crepes in Paris!
ps My personal favorite is a savory galette (a crêpe made with buckwheat flour) with bananas, cinnamon and a just bit of sweet brown cane sugar. C’est magnifique!
Sustainability as a term is now all around us, but what does this really mean. The Wine Industry like others based on agriculture has well embedded market messaging these days about sustainability, with growing emphasis on the balance and healthy use of the land and processes to make the final wine product as an example. While there are producers and wine growers who are absolutely following this path with passion very successfully, not all who are talking the talk are walking the walk. This article serves to both introduce our new Sustainability Advisor to the American Grand Cru Society Sandra Taylor, and to share areas of importance from one of the world’s leading authorities about the subject of Sustainability in the Wine Industry.
Grégoire M. Poirier, Founder, The American Grand Cru Society
My story is a journey that has taken me through different jobs and changing views about what corporate social responsibility (CSR) means to me, a journey that parallels the transformation of what CSR means to the rest of the world.
After several years in government, I went to work in the chemical industry. This was the 1990s. The Exxon Valdez spill had happened, so companies had the idea that it wasn’t smart to dump 11 million gallons of oil in a wildlife habitat. But beyond that, companies weren’t paying a lot of attention to what we call social responsibility today. When they did think of social responsibility, it was in the context of crises like the Exxon spill: social responsibility was basically restitution for bad things you had done.
If you hadn’t done anything wrong, there was nothing to worry about.
Fast forward to the 21st century - sustainability has become a common part of the business lexicon. As an executive at Starbucks overseeing the integration of corporate responsibility into all business strategies, I experienced a new phase of CSR – that is, taking the principles of treating people and the planet well and integrating them across the entire supply chain and into everything a business does. The goal is to make sure future generations are not negatively impacted by decisions we ake today. Businesses now focuson the‘triple‐bottom‐line’of balancing economic, environental and social diensions of sustainability -- addressing the concerns of both internal and external stakeholders: the physical environment, job security, workplace environment for eployees, relationships with community andthe abilityof business to remain viable and profitable.
Today I apply this knowledge to the wine sector, researching what motivates sustainability in the wine industry around the world.
The sustainability performance of the wine windustry does not receive as much media coverage as some other industries. Nevertheless, environmental stewardship in winegrowing--responsible use of persticides and herbicides, fertilizers, management of scarce water resources, soil erosion, and solid and organic waste, in addition to the overuse of of available tracts of land-- has received much attention. Many wines have been produced and sold as organic certified or biodynamic.
Many external factors motivate sustainability in the wine sector; including effects of the environment on the winemaking process and the effect climate change can have on crops. Different varieties of grapes used for winemaking must be grown within certain average temperature margins in order for them to achieve adequate maturity.
Thus, climate change could potentially lead to the creation of new vineyards in areas that are currently unusable due to their harsh climates and will dramatically impact many of the most famous wine-producing regions in the world today, while prompting the opening of new areas to wine production in unusual places.
Five Wine Sustainability Programs Around the Globe
In response to increasing concerns from consumers, government regulators, retailers and other stakeholders, national and regional wine industry associations around the globe have developed and promoted various environmental management systems or sustainability systems to their members. The systems typically foster improved environmental health, with some also having a focus on increased social responsibility and economic viability. Notable among these are systems in Bordeaux, California, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa designed to bring wine suppliers into the sustainability process. While these systems vary due to local climatic, environmental and social conditions they are all based on legal requirements, significant stakeholder concern, environmental and social impact, economic feasibility, potential risk to the company and certification to vineyards and wineries for compliance, and typically cover:
· Soil Management
· Vineyard Water Management
· Pest Management
· Wine Quality
· Ecosystem Management
· Bio-diversity and Wildlife Protection
· Energy Efficiency
· Winery Water Conservation & Quality
· Material Handling
· Solid Waste Reduction
· Environmentally preferred purchasing
· Human Resources
· Neighbors & Community
· Air Quality
In the process of my research on sustainability I had the opportunity to visit wineries in these regions, interview their winemakers and taste a selection of their wines, all produced sustainably.
Jean Michel Comme, Technical Director of Chateau Ponet-Canet is following a biodynamic approach to produce sustainable wine. “This is more than a program or technique,“ he said. “It’s a philosophy of life, a vision of nature. It doesn’t compete with nature. When there is a problem with the vine, we need to know why the fungus erupted and became a disease. We need to understand the disease and protect the plant, not just kill the disease. Biodynamic is active and efficient and improves the quality of the grape and therefore of the wine, allowing you to make more money.”
Andre Lurton Wines
Like many Bordeaux producers, Andre Lurton has its own well-established sustainability program involving balanced fertilization, biodiversity preservation, water management, health and safety and employee communications. But in addition it has joined in the recently launched 1st Association of EMS for Bordeaux wines, a unique program of cooperation and shared risks among 24 Bordeaux producers.
Trefethen Family Vineyards
The Trefethen family has worked to preserve agricultural lands in California since in 1968, and has become a model for sustainability in Napa. It farms with a biodynamic approach, implements nearly all-organic practices and all facilities and operations are solar powered. It has a water strategy for reuse and recycling in the winery, capturing rainwater and almost never using virgin water from its nearby creeks. Marketing its sustainability story to customers, especially its wine club members, has created loyalty among customers who appreciate the high quality wine and the traditions of environmental preservation and family ownership.
Caliterra is a leader in developing Chile’s sustainability program and one of the first companies to be certified. Market forces led them to pursue sustainability. The Chilean program emerged from a growing awareness of international consumers for environmentally friendly and socially responsible products. In particular a shift in purchasing practices by Nordic governments requiring stricter standards for accountability pushed Chile to move forward with the launch of its Sustainability Code.
The organizational mission of the American Grand Cru Society®is to identify and recognize our best in class American vineyards for the benefit of the American wine consumer. As one of the founders, I feel an obligation to carefully choose what areas on which to focus my writings. With all the lower 48 states now participating in wine viticulture (wine grape growing) and oenology (wine making), trying to cover this vast amount of territory is an enormous task that may take years – if not decades. It’s a grand endeavor, and I am most pleased to pursue it!
For me, there are consistent key attributes to wine travel – for both business and pleasure. There's a certain lifestyle around vineyards and wine that has a lot of appeal. Great foods, pleasant climates, and the slower pace of its agricultural pursuit invite a sense of relaxation. This is true of even Napa Valley – if you can stay off of the Silverado Trail! “To know wine, is to travel to its origin,” is a key phrase that I have long espoused during my life’s wine journey. And what a good phrase it is! What makes wine so special IS the human interaction with nature, from vine to table - including all the very cool people you get to meet along the way.
Today, I’d like to bring to attention a very small wine producing state – New Mexico. I had the pleasure of visiting New Mexico for the first time, and it truly lives up to its name – The Land of Enchantment. Now, you are probably thinking that you have never seen, let alone tasted, a wine from New Mexico. You might be surprised to learn you may have without even realizing it. What I’m referring to is a very fine Methode Champenoise produced American Sparkling wine called GRUET.
Have you ever seen GRUET on a wine list, or in a wine shop? Many DC - metro wine shops have found it, and love selling it because it is 1). A very well made sparkling wine; 2). It is quite affordable; and 3). Exactly because it IS from New Mexico - and the sheer novelty of that being case in point.
The GRUET winery and tasting room is located just on the northern outskirts of Albuquerque, and the vineyards themselves are located 100 miles to the south. It is usually my custom to visit the vineyard site, but time did not allow on this trip. So, after my visit to the tasting room, I drove 30 minutes north towards Santa Fe for an amazing hike through the Tent Rock National Monument on the Cochiti Indian Reservation – an enchanting and amazing experience in itself.
The top authority on New Mexico wines is Jim Hammond, author of “The Wines of New Mexico” now in its second edition. I had the opportunity to speak with Jim and he was very gracious in helping with our research. If ever traveling to the area, or if interesting in getting some excellent wines that not all your friends will know about, I suggest reading his book and contacting some New Mexico wineries to order their wines directly. The price to quality value is there!
The most important vineyard areas are clustered mostly around Deming, New Mexico with scattered others in and around other parts of the state.
In case you have the opportunity to taste or order these excellent wines, here is a short list of recommended New Mexico wine producers:
Luna Rossa Winery, (Lordsburg Vineyard specifically if you can find them)
PS - If New Mexico and the beautiful Southwest are not on your current travel itinerary and you need a quick fix, remember to take a short drive out to Linden Vineyards off route 66 on the way toward Winchester, Virginia. It is a very worthy local vineyard winery destination making wines from Virginia Grand Cru nominated vineyards!