I climbed into a rented car and tootled happily down the autoroute - direction la Touraine in the Loire Valley - to visit an artisan winemaker and get a lesson in "comment tailler les vignes."
I drove across the Cher River at Saint Aignan, followed la fleuve aways then turned up a hill toward Couffy and into the driveway of La Lunotte and the artisan world of Christophe Foucher, a most kindly, if not profoundly passionate, wizard of natural wine — only the bare essentials: the grapes, the organic soil they grow in, the sun they flourish in, the wind they dance in, the water they draw up, the micro organisms they absorb... basta!
He took me to his Rossignoux vineyard with its 80-year-old Sauvignon blanc vines: from afar their venerable forms seemed to gyrate to the swaying groove of some inaudible blues: Charlie Parker, Mingus... No wonder it's such an eloquent wine!
Handing me a pair of secateurs, Christophe patiently drew me into the ritual of pruning vines. Gazing at the geometric maze of sarments, rameaux et pousses (canes, branches and shoots) before me, I was at once mesmerized and daunted. So much robust life was going to be snipped off, and if so it had to be done with skill and "feeling."As he explained, tending to grapevines is a bit like the practice of bonsai... with a very different end in mind. Curtailing the exuberant tendency of the vine, removing the previous year's wood - on which all its plump grapes bulged - allows it to produce new strong shoots in spring and healthy grapes for next year's vintage.
By the end of two rows of hesitating, interrupting Christophe for advice, clipping, I started to understand and "almost" feel... though the skill is some time off down the road.
Inspiring it is to watch someone who has mastered his craft! And to think that he prunes his vines single handed... That's close to 10 acres!
man's best friend...
Menu Pineau vines before...
a Sauvignon vine after...
Back at the ranch we sipped on a bottle of les Rossignoux. Light and succulent, wonderfully balanced, a perky acidity with mineral tones that draw you down to the earth. A bit later Christophe broke open a la Flou, an inspiring little red from a small parcel of Cabernet Franc vines. His wines have such a lucid quality, such a generous offering of earth flowing through them, they are at the top of my list as for wines to adorn my table and my vegetarian dishes.
As I headed back to Paris, cold swells of winter air were gathering over much of France. The following day it snowed in the Touraine; in Paris we were simply welcomed by cadences of deep chill. As with each visit to the Touraine, I carried home with me the beauty of its pastoral soul...
I've been hankering to play around with farro (also called Einkorn, Emmer, petit épeautre, farro piccolo, Triticum Monococcum), and become more familiar with that wonderful most ancient of wheat grains. It is a celebrated kernel in Italy (as in France's Haute Provence) and I'm forever filled with wonderment at the creativeculinary aptitude of the Itas;ian soul... Such as this hearty farro soup I adapted from the web. And just in time, as last week offered the perfect weather for such a comforting, nourishing hot dish, what with the skies and sidewalks courting the onslot of determined frosty air... Almost as good as a nice fire crackling in the hearth!
FARRO SOUP — serves 4 - 6
350 gr || 10,5 oz Kabocha, Butternut, or other similar squash, peeled or not, the seeds removed
100 gr || 3,5 oz potato (peeled or not)
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 - 2 liter vegetable broth
Extra-virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt
Crushed peperoncino (red pepper flakes)
1 sprig rosemary leaves
for the wilted greens:
750 gr || 26 oz fresh greens (Swiss chard, beet greens…)
1 garlic clove, cut in half
Juice of ½ lemon
Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper
||| Soak the farro in cold water for 6 hours, if not pearled. Strain and rinse. (If pearled, no need to soak the faro. Do check the cooking instructions and add to the broth adjusting for the suggested cooking time.)
||| Cut the squash and potato into bite sized pieces. Feel free to leave the skin on the potato, and some or all of the skin on the squash, as it softens when cooked and adds a lovely depth and texture to the soup.
||| Heat the vegetable broth in a pan. In a separate large saucepan heat a generous drizzle of olive oil. Sauté the onion until becoming translucent, 2 – 3 minutes. Add the squash and potato and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer half of the vegetables to a bowl and set aside.
||| Add the farro to the pan and generously cover with 1 ½ liter of the hot vegetable broth. Add a good pinch of sea salt and one of crushed peperoncino. Toss in the rosemary leaves. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook uncovered, at a simmer, for 20 minutes. Add the remaining squash and potato and cook for another 20 minutes. The farro should be slightly al dente. Check the seasoning and adjust with salt to taste.
||| 10 minutes before the soup is ready, remove the ribs from the greens. Wash the greens leaving the residual water on them. Tear the leaves in half if they are quite large otherwise leave whole. Wash the ribs and slice all or a portion of them very thin. Heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet.. Add the garlic halves and cook for 1 minute then remove them. Add the sliced ribs and cook over medium heat for 2 - 3 minutes. Add the greens and cook for another 2 - 3 minutes, over medium-high heat, turning them with tongs from time to time until just wilted (3 – 4 minutes). Add a splash of water if needed. Remove from the heat. Give a couple three squeezes of lemon juice and mix well. Season with sea salt to taste.
||| Serve the soup in shallow soup bowls, topped with a generous helping of greens. Give a nice drizzle of olive oil, a couple twists of the pepper grinder, and dig in. As for wine : goes lovely with a vibrant Cabernet Franc or Pineau d’Aunis or Cot (Malbec in Southern France) from the Loire Valley—a natural, living one, of course.
As for wine : goes lovely with a vibrant Cabernet Franc or Pineau d’Aunis or Cot (Malbec in Southern France) from the Loire Valley—a natural, living one, of course.
— drink natural wines
— buy locally, from sustainable farmers
— eat with friends
— show thought and honor to ALL creatures
— be gentle with the earth and kind to yourself