Into the Eye of the Strike: Northern Rhône Day One

Tuesday, October 26

My hotel in Tain l’Hermitage has a great wireless network so I’m uploading footage and pictures at a reasonable speed.

It was a very busy day today, starting with a marathon blending session at Domaine Philippe Faury in Chavanay, just south of Côte-Rôtie, high up on the granite slopes above the Rhône River.  I’ve been baffled to observe over the past few years that the Faurys’ wines have not attracted a cult-like following across the US.  Given the extreme difficulty in finding authentic, terroir-driven wines in this part of France (bizarre, since the Northern Rhône possesses some of the greatest and most unique terroirs for wine in all the world), the Faurys stand tall and proud, with a very reasonable price tag to match.  Vintage 2009 is monumental at their place, their Saint Joseph Rouge is a grand vin that will age beautifully in your cellar for 10 years or more alongside the top appellations of the northern Rhône.

A bit further south I met up with biodynamic die-hard Jean-Pierre Monier, who crafts surprisingly refined wines in the rustic, in-the-middle-of nowhere hamlet of Brunieux far above the Rhône about halfway between Ampuis and Tain.  We import a bunch of different micro-cuvées of Vin de Pays and Saint Joseph from this address, rouge et blanc.  When we got to talking about the strike, Jean-Pierre lamented the fact that no politician had ever tried to overturn the absurd 35 hour French work week, at the very least to say that people could work as many hours as they wished.  He also explained quite simply why nobody wanted to work, saying that when business owners are only able to make 3-5% profit after all the taxes and charges are paid and they could make more sitting on the coach with their money invested, what was the point?

Finally a hint of excitement with a light-hearted band of sausage makers and car part manufacturers hanging out around a rond-point at the end of a bridge across the Rhône, laughing and exchanging good naturedly with all the people trying to drive through.  I ended up in a conversation about northern Rhône wine with one of the younger strikers, and was pleasantly surprised that he shared my view that many of them are too ripe and concentrated with too much new oak.

Big day tomorrow, literally and figuratively, the wines of Cornas are on the menu.

4 Comments

  1. robert says:

    Today two years, tomorrow three more. Before you know it people start talking about getting rid of social security. I hear a lack of understanding for what they are trying to stop in their country in your Striking Workers video.

  2. Josh says:

    Dear Dixon,

    First of all, thank you for importing such wonderful wines. I invariably enjoy them.

    Second, since you took the opportunity to introduce political content on to the blog, I would like to point out that you are misrepresenting the reasons for the strike, and the exceptionally rigid position that the unions have taken on opposing pension reform. It has little to do with an unwillingness to work or a reliance on hand-outs. Instead, this represents a rejection of the government’s suggestion that ordinary people should pay for an economic crisis created by the rich. Surely, we can all understand this in light of what is happening now in the state of California and United States at large – cutting benefits in the name of saving wall street.

    I’ll toast to the protesters in California or France any day. And I’ll even do it with Monier’s delicious wines.

    Best,

    Josh

  3. Dixon says:

    Josh and Robert,
    Thank you for your commentary. I think Monier tried to explain in his brief interview his view that the strike is about much more than the adjustment in retirement age. Certainly that is true, even if on the exterior many view it differently. It was difficult to convey the full picture in the short clips I was able to post. (Don’t know if you could read the sign of the striking sausage plant worker, but it literally said, difficult work, 2 more years impossible!) I can tell you that all the wine growers I visited were very frustrated by the striking workers, zero percent support, and they are all hard workers, most are frustrated with the government, and none are part of the upper class. The view in France from the majority is that a very small minority was striking. The view further was that a majority of this minority were fighting to protect benefits that no longer made any sense, for example : the SNCF workers fighting to retain incredibly generous benefits that dated from a time where they were literally shoveling charcoal to run engines – now they push a button and sit back. There is particular animosity in France about the work ethic of their young generation. No matter, I will raise a glass of fine French wine together with you to support the right of activism in free countries to advance a social agenda.
    Dixon

  4. Josh says:

    Dear Dixon,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. You raise some excellent points, particularly about the perception of the younger generation in France. I personally tend to think this has more to do with anxiety over deindustrialization and a middle class in crisis than it does with work ethic; but never mind that, you are correct to point out that it registers with some segment of the population as a cause of concern.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that I agree with you that the strike was not popular. Despite whatever frustration our esteemed winemakers might have suffered, the strike appears to have been supported by the majority of the public. As reported in local press outlets, an estimated 70 percent of the French public “sympathized” with the demonstrations, at least as of the day on which the pension law passed.

    On a lighter note, I should say that I have a whole lineup of KL wines ready for the holidays: a 2000 Vieux Telegraphe, and some Condrieu from Faury are on the menu for Christmas eve.

    Keep up the good work, and happy holidays…

    JE

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