Friday, February 11, 2011

On a Few French Items that Feed my Soul

Jean-Marc Espinasse of Domaine Rouge-Bleu
I was going to provide you with some items to consider for the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday - you know, the ones most everyone else considers right about now.  However, recent events have led me (only slightly) astray. So ... I present to you a few French items that have, and continue to, feed me artistic soul.

Initially, here is the first in what I hope will be a recurring series on the blog – The Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire. In the inaugural installment, please meet someone I consider an artist and friend: Jean-Marc Espinasse, winemaker extraordinaire at Domaine Rouge-Bleu. Or, as his wife has affectionately nicknamed him, “Chef Grape.”

I spent an intense, amazing two weeks at the Domaine Rouge-Bleu farm ostensibly picking grapes during the ‘09 harvest. However, my time in France that summer fed my Canuck-rooted soul in ways I cannot properly describe in words. Happily, I don’t have to try. Since the ‘09 vintage is set to be released, I’ll let the wine do the talking for me. So here, I present a little slice of Espinasse philosophy:

The Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire

Old grenache vines at Domaine Rouge-Bleu
Can you tell us a little bit about your background before you started to make wine?

I fell in love with wine when my uncle decided, 20 years ago, to get three vine parcels in Chateauneuf-du-Pape to re-create the family vineyard, Domaine du Banneret, which originally dates back from many centuries.

As a CPA, I initially made the financial plans for the loans and participated in the first and all harvests. It was during this joyful time that I met with my future American wife, Kristin, author of the blog French Word-a-Day.

I started then to offer my uncle's wines to US importers and then embraced the wine world.

Now, besides Domaine du Banneret where I am also involved in the wine making, I distribute a portfolio of "boutique" French wines in the US.

In my dreams, I have often imagined that running a small vineyard by myself would actually be a realistic project. And whereas I was not expecting it to happen, I was offered in November 2006, 25 acres of old vines with a great potential "terroir". Domaine Rouge-Bleu was born ...

Besides wine, I am in love with Mother Nature, the band U2, and before all my dear family.

When was the moment you knew you wanted to become a winemaker?

When I first started to harvest. I have never questioned myself on the winemaking which is, for me, something quite natural. I have always heard that 99% of the wine is made once the grapes are harvested.

Please describe your personal winemaking philosophy?

Minimum human interaction. Leaving Mother Nature to do its role, which means leaving the stems (in the fermentation process) and minimum pumping-over of the (grape skin) cap (while in the tank).* Also, making sure that the prime oxidation phases (during fermentation) are covered by the minimum amount of sulphur needed.

What is your greatest wine drinking memory?

A ’90 red Châteauneuf du Pape from my uncle’s vineyard, Domaine du Banneret. It is also the wine we had at our wedding but at the time, the wine was too young. It is now at its best and carries a lot of spirit.

If you could have dinner with any three vintners, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?

Marcel Lapierre as he has inspired me so much, Paul Draper as he is definitely the best winemaker I know, and Emile Peynaud for his vision.

or Screw cap?

Cork for aging wines and screw cap for drinking wines

It’s your last meal. What’s in your wine glass?

Chateau d'Yquem 1967, the year I was born, and one of the best vintages for this unique wine.

What trait do you most admire in wine makers?

Start over from scratch every new vintage.

What trait do you most detest in wine makers?

People who pretend that technique is the most important thing in winemaking.

You are recommending a gift of wine in response to a friend’s inquiry. Other than your own wines (which, as everyone knows, are very tasty!), what would you recommend?

Ah … ah ... what about the one this friend chooses? I am sure it will be a good choice.

acrylic on canvas

*For those who might want more information concerning the process of which Jean-Marc speaks,  David Bird's Understanding Wine Technology is a great reference; specifically, page 85 discusses pumping-over.

Finally, I had discussed a French package I received here. It was yarn and other goodies from a Parisian Ravelry swap acquaintence. Yesterday, I received yet another package as a result of this swap, which was an amazingly generous surprise! Inside was more yarn goodness – seven hanks of goodness, to be exact. From Filature du Valgaudemar, there were two hanks of angora and merino blend in a lovely mousson colorway, and five (!) mohair and silk hanks in varying fiber weights. My soul is further fed. Thank you!

So, this Valentine’s Day, indulge those you care about with the things that feed their soul.


  1. A Parisian swap... oh, I await your posting of it with haste!

  2. Just have a look at my Projects page - the contents from the first package are there. :)