Saturday, November 13, 2010

Those who can't do teach... A rare exception

The quality of the teaching at the CFPPA tends to fluctuate wildly. There are a few who have good days and bad days. Our vinification lecturer can be very engaging and lively or she can come in having been kept up all night by her very young son. There is the instructor for History of Viticulture, who has no interest in anyone's opinion but his own. A fair number of the French students think he's very charming. I don't really see it myself. There is at least one who barely has a pulse, though fortunately we don't see him often. Then there is Dominique Roy, who teaches Vineyard Protection, dealing with vine diseases, forms of rot and how to combat them. He is always on. He explains himself clearly, gives good notes, takes time to answer questions and cares that one is paying attention and trying to get the most from his class (he is the only teacher to have taken to task the 19-year old who always arrives late, stoned and who sits playing with his cell phone throughout class.)

Teaching is thirsty work
Monsieur Roy has his own domaine, in Pommard. I had passed it once on my bicycle and had since been curious about the wines. After all, one's depth of knowledge doesn't necessarily translate to the creation of a good product. He could spend plenty of time caring for his vines with a minimum of interference and employing ecologically sound techniques and then go about ruining that work by over-extracting the fruit and oaking it heavily until the wine is unrecognizable as Pommard, or even as Pinot Noir. So I was jazzed when my friends Christian, Christina and I landed an appointment to taste there, on a Sunday afternoon no less.

We arrived at two o'clock and he ushered us in to his little cuverie, which was a bit of a shock after the generous, even cavernous space that houses Domaine des Croix where I worked this year. He told us a bit about his vineyard and winemaking practices (he works organically in the vines, harvests everything by hand, de-stems, uses only native yeasts, blah blah) and then we went down into the cave to taste. Moment of truth... Would his wines prove him a fraud? Unsurprisingly, the answer was no.
The wines were almost uniformly excellent. As you may or may not have heard at this point, 2009 is a critic's darling of a vintage in Burgundy (and elsewhere in France). The wines are generally ripe, full of lush fruit and relatively high levels of alcohol. I have tasted some wines since arriving that I really enjoy and some that I find too plush. Soft these were not, but rather extremely elegant, full of high-toned red fruit, cedar and with a vein of chalk minerality that ran through the whole lineup, from the Bourgogne Rouge to Pommard villages and on up to the "Rugiens" and "Argillieres" Premier Crus. The oak was present but hardly oppressive. They still had the firm tannins and broad shoulders that set Pommard apart from its neighbors but these were very pretty wines.

He opened a 2008 and 2006 "Argillieres" for us to taste as well, which shared that same sense of restraint and delicacy with the 2009s, perhaps even more so, as they are both vintages which lend themselves to a leaner style. He also talked constantly throughout the tasting, telling us about a winemaking project in China he has been consulting on (his first vintage was 2002), and about vines he is helping plant in Senegal. Clearly the guy is no slouch when it comes to earning a living either.
The whole experience was rather reassuring to me. From all the beatings that trade schools have taken in the press in the US over the last couple of years, one gets the impression that they often employ third rate instructors who teach because they would never be hired in the real world. On Sunday I got to see the fruits of the labor I'm sitting in class learning about all day, and they were very tasty. Alvie Singer, eat your heart out.

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