Since a few months I have become a fanatical customer of BioPlanet, the bio-supermarket chain linked to the Colruyt group, www.bioplanet.be, and I find myself being hooked by the intense taste of bio-products. But whenever I go, it is with a little twinge of regret and guilt because I did not go to the local bio-shop where I was a customer for years. So this brought me to a good question: when bio becomes big business, is this good or bad ?
I think most of us, when we buy and love biologically sound goods, also have a romantic idea entangled. One of the nice things about it is that you often seem to know where it comes from, and we allways think of small scale wineries, cheesemakers, bakeries etc, when we buy most of these things. It gives us the idea of not following the masses, fighting the big industrial conglomerates and when the result of this is small scale production we think this is human and fine.
But of course, where trends and fashion go, big companies follow, and now we see big retailers picking up these ideas and offering larger and larger product ranges. And because of their scale they need to work with companies that can offer them sufficient supply. So out goes the small farmer and in come the bigger groups.
A good example of this is the bottle of Wolfberger Crémant d'Alsace I am now drinking (www.wolfberger.com). I bought it at Bioplanet and I like it so much that it has become my summer-bubble for "unexpected visitors" or "too lazy too think hard about my wine" or when I am just in the mood. It is decent, it's even good with its toasted bread and flowery nose and its nice crispness and volume. But the Wolfberger cooperative has about 680 ha vineyards and is one of the biggest wine companies of the Alsace...so is this bottle "politically" correct ?
Yes, I think so because:
1: It is certified bio. Every acre of ground that is not destroyed by herbicides and pesticides is an acre won.
2: It is made by a cooperative. Coop's were originally meant to unify the small famers and make them stronger. This does not allways result in bigger quality (well it usually does not) but from a social view coop's once saved thousands of farmers and workers from poverty.
3: It is what I call an honest bottle. You know where the grapes come from and what the farming philosophy was behind it.
4: When things like this happen it also proves that the bio-ideas are becoming mainstream. This may seem less romantic, but nobody can say it is bad. As long as it is not an excuse for maintaining bad practices in the rest of the company.
Some second thoughts however:
1: Every wine should be bio, not only part of a range.
2: the sense of terroir is lost a bit here. I don't know who made it and what he meant by it.
But in general, yes I do think it is a good thing this. ** for this wine and welcome in my cellar. And now I'm going downstairs for another glass !
It is probably typically Belgian, this love for the underdog, but I allways have been very keen on the best wines from wineregions with a bad reputation. They deliver an excellent price/quality and they make you remember where the region got its reputation.
The Loire is one of these regions, and especially the Muscadet has a special place in my wineheart. Ever since I had my first fruits-de-mers combined with one of these dirt-cheap fresh and vibrant wines I fell in love with them, and the idea of resolutely going for the cheapest wine on the list and then finding out it was actually the best combination is great. I also frequently experienced that when going for the slightly more expensive Muscadet on a winelist I stumbled upon the very best of the region, sometimes in very unpretentious restaurants where you would not expect them.
Recently I drank a bottle by Marc Ollivier, an impressive figure and an excellent winemaker. and unfortunately an exception in the region as he works his soils and does not use weedkillers. In the nose it was mineral with a vague hint of apples, but the ones you will find on farmers markets and bio-shops, the old varieties I mean. In the mouth the same earthiness, the taste of soil and old apples powdered with dust, and in the finish, that was quite fresh, a surprising little touch of honey.
I paid 9,5 euro for this bottle at Delcoeur in Eupen, Belgium. Marc also makes an unpretentious but very good red, and some top-cuvées in white that I still have to find (and taste). If you ever drive through Eupen, this is and a good wineshop and a good restaurant : www.delcoeur.be
I wrote this message because I stumbled on a very interesting article on my favorite wineblog, Wine Terroirs. It has some nice pictures of Marc Ollivier and explains very well the circumstances in the Muscadet region, where wine-heaven and wine-hell are often neighbours. The picture of Mr Ollivier also comes from this article. http://www.wineterroirs.com/2013/05/muscadet_vineyard_man...
I have to admit that even big companies can sometimes do surprising and original things. The Belgian supermarket chain Delhaize has allready developed a quite nice beer offer, but now they even start pioneering ! Tasting beer some questions frequently come to mind, and one of them for me was allways this one: can I taste the hop variety ? I smell the difference when I visit a brewery and the brewer lets me smell his different hops, but most beers are blends, and than I get hopelessly lost.
About a year ago Delhaize listened to the hidden wishes of many a Belgian beer lover, and created a series of three Single Hop beers, around the idea that if the brewing process was identical the character of the hop variety used would stand out, a very interesting concept. This limited series was a great succes, sold out very fast and was rebrewed at least once (I think). The new Xtrem Hop series goes a step further and concentrates on hops that deliver lots of bitterness.
The quantity of hop is allways exactly the same, so you can taste what the hop variety adds to the beer. I just love the idea, and for once I pity you non-Belgian beer lovers ! Of each variety 4000 bottles were made, and the beers have all 7.1 alcohol. All three hops come from Washington State.
I started my tasting experience with the Columbus, normally the most bitter variety of the three. I loved it. It has the extreme but well-balanced bitterness that I adore in a beer, and that I can also find back in for example an Orval (though I don't think they use Columbus). I do however recognise the taste from the beers I drank from the Jandrain-Jandrenouille brewery. This is not so suprising if you know the owner is the biggest European importer of American hop. This must (is!) a lovely beer on a hot day, quite dangerous as it is one of those you can quaff all afternoon, never getting tired of it. I absolutely love it.
By the way, all beers were tasted in a glass from the Belgian Beersommelier so there is no influence from the shape of the glass. This really excellent beer tasting glass is by the way also availalable in Delhaize, with a book (in Dutch) and some Belgian beers in a nice pack with two glasses. The glasses were developed by Ben Vinken, Belgium's first and best known beersommelier, and I'm very grateful for this.