The youthful face of France

The Saladin Sisters

This past January I went to France motivated by the opportunity to find the newest and best emerging wine producers. I covered over 3,000 kilometers from Champagne all the down to Rousillon near the Spanish border in the span of ten days. I tasted with 114 producers and more than 1,000 wines. I have been traveling to France since the mid 90s and the fresh, new feeling of both the way vineyards are managed and wines are made has evolved, but with an eye on keeping tradition.

The internationalisation of wines that is a topic of controversy in many wine discussions seemed farther away in France than anywhere I have been in the last few years. The eye is on quality, the identity of place, and a huge swing towards better winemaking technique and a greater understanding of the science of vinification than ever before. The average age of most of the wine producers I met was about 32 years. A big shift with most of the winemakers is that they have travelled, made wine in other countries, and have the knowledge and wisdom of their fathers in their pocket along with education that comes with advanced schooling and seeing talking to other winemakers around the world.

Most were husband and wife teams, or fathers and sons, sisters, all of them family operations to be sure. I was invited not only into their cellars but also into their homes. I ate and drank with them in their kitchens, bounced their kids on my knee, saw the hardship of vineyard work on their hands, and the overwhelming sense of pride they had. Their names are on the labels, and their hearts are in the bottles.

As a result of this trip, there are new wines arriving in the Minnesota market this week … these are wines that have never before been in America. (If you’re having guests over from New York City or San Francisco, be sure to serve one of these … they can’t buy it back home! Ha!). They include a fantastic and affordable Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine in the Loire Valley (Rin du Bois), a whole line up of organically farmed gems from the Southern Rhone (from the Saladin sisters, pictured above), and a gem of a Sancerre (from Eric Louis).

Over the next two weeks I’ll post tasting notes of each of these wines for you, and tell you some of the stories about the properties.

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