Sunday, November 30, 2014

Around Town ~ Wine ~ Day Two

Years ago when I used to sell a few cameras and lenses at local photo-gear shows I met a man who was really "into" digital photography.  We got to talking and he learned I shot film and I learned he worked at a company that was just across the parking lot from where I worked.  For years after we'd meet on a regular basis for lunch at my companies "canteen" and talk about photography.

Vince introduced me to a boss in his company who came to France quite often.  I think he came every summer, if memory serves.  The man loved the Alsace region and a small town called Colmar in particular.  The three of us talked about wine and photography and the general poor state of the "canteen" food.  Vince suggested that Colmar was close enough to Germany to be fun.  Wine in a German style and, well, plenty of beer, again in a German-style.  He loved Germany while the boss and I were enamored with France.  We three had a good laugh when we talked about how ofter that piece of land had changed hands over the centuries.

This morning broke clear and cold.  Very cold, in fact.  Winter has arrived here in the City of Lights and it's only le but du moins de Novembre! for cry'n-out-loud.  So we slept in a little before we let warm feet hit cold plasticy wood-like looking floor.

Breakfast, shower, hair drying, and checking of coordinates for bio-wine at le Salon des Vins des Vingerons Independants before girding my loins for a second day of the Fall Chasse (Wine).

I should have known that the internet site that listed the coordinates of each Salon participant would be wrong.  I'd dutifully written down every bio-vendor from Bordeaux and the Loire-Vendee who were supposedly at le Salon.  But reality did not match the website.  Ugh.

Jude noticed that the placards that thrust into the sky over each vendor's counter contained enough information, however, to sort out who offered biologique beverages and who didn't.

A quick change in our strategy and we decided to walk each aisle while carefully inspecting the signs.  The first biologique producer we came to offered us an opportunity to hone our approach and questions.  I indicated what we were looking for and explained that we were allergic to sulfites.  What we were told is that we wanted something called "nature", or bio-dynamique (which we already knew).  These kinds of wines were very rare and the wines on offer at the counter we'd pulled up to would not satisfy our needs.

Ok then.  Onward.

As we stopped at a few places we were told similar things to what we were told at our first stop-point.  Further, we were told that sulfites were _required_ to make the wine stable and to keep the pests away.  Really?  _Required_?  We thought not and continued on our aisle by aisle search.

We soon came to the vendor I'd bought bio-dynamique wine from yesterday.  We hauled up to the counter and suggested we were having a hard time finding what we were looking for.  The very kind man pulled out his guide du Salon and said he had two recommendations for us.  Thanking him with the promise we'd return we set off in search of the two recommended counters.

The first "nature" wine vendor we came to was embouchon'd with a crowd that quickly told us we needed to see if the other suggestion was a little less crowded.

The other "nature" wine vendor was sufficiently un-bouchon'd that I could make my way around the edge of the counter to talk with one of the Nice Ladies.  Jude and I tried a couple Rieslings and a very nice Gerwurtz.  We told the Nice Lady what we wanted and she and Jude continued the conversation while I was distracted by something else.

Out of the corner of my auditory range I heard the word "Colmar."  I had to ask and sure enough, their wine operations are located in Colmar, the very city my friend Vince and the boss from his company had talked about over lunch.  The vendor assured us that it's a lovely place.  After the wines we tasted I couldn't imagine it being anything other than very lovely, indeed.  Into M.Caddy went a box of white wine.

We left and wandered and stumbled upon a bio-Bordeaux vintner.  They'd not been recommended but we decided to ask our questions.  We're looking for un vin biologique sans sulfite ajouter.  The look on the woman's face brightened and Jude and I set off on yet another wine tasting adventure.  Yum.  Yum.  And furthermore yum!  We bought enough of their red wine to weigh down M. Caddy (our trusty marketing side-kick and food hauler).

True to our word, we returned to the vendor who'd recommended the Alsatian "nature" vintner.  Jude and I bellied up to the bar and thanked them for their fine suggestions... and... by the way... we love your Merlot/CabSav/Malbec... um... do you happen to have something with more Cabernet Sauvignon in it?

It was Jude's turn to watch the tablet scroll the pretty pictures of chateau, vines, production, and Heavy Horses.  While she was mesmerized by the tablet I learned the vineyard has five Heavy Horses that till the space between the vines.  Their feet, while large, don't compact the soil the way tractors do and that this is a Very Good Thing(tm).  I also learned there are five varieties of Heavy Horse here on the mainland, of which this vineyard owned several of.

En fait, encore on prend six bouteilles, s'il vous plait...

The Good Man started preparing l'addition and as his pen hovered over the paper suggested we try one more thing.  Out came their best bottle.  You could see this coming, right?  L'addition Bottom Line had yet to be written.  Ah, but yes, it was Good Stuff, this.  Une bouteille, s'il vous plait.

Into M.Caddy went six bouteilles en carton and une bouteille of the Good Stuff.  Poor M. Caddy.  He was now weighed down so heavily he must've wished he was instead one of those lovely Heavy Horses.  M.Caddy groaned and creaked His Complaint as we made our way out of le Salon and our made our home.

We have Jacky and all the fine folk in our French/English conversation group to thank for learning about a few the wonderful things that happen here.  I can also thank them for helping me realize the long dormant dream of experiencing a broader, deeper appreciation of French wine and culture.  All it took was one look at 1100+ vendors spread out over a vast space to realize what I'd read years ago in several books on the topic would never, ever replace a direct, personal experience with the Real Thing(tm).

What a stellar weekend this had been.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Around Town ~ Wine

Anyone who's read our prior entries on this blog know that I prefer Belgium beer to wine.  I've found beer to be a more complex beverage.  Perhaps just as importantly, Jude and I are moderately allergic to sulfites and have been known to turn red in the face when we've encountered a wine heavy in them.   Yeast Piss (that wonderful ETOH) in beer is just fine for me.  Wine is a little more dicey.  But by carefully selecting her wines Jude continues to enjoy some very good vintages.

So what was I doing going to le Salon des Vins des Vingerons Independants?  What can I say?  We'd been invited by some friends from our French/English conversation group and, well, what can be more authentically French than wine?  It was time to Roll the Dice and see what happened.

One of the interesting things I learned is that the French don't typically drink wine in the afternoon from, say, 14h00 to 18h00.  It is, however, completely socially acceptable to have wine with le dejuner, bien sur.  For this reason our start time was set for a French culturally dictated as being appropriate and acceptable 11h00.

I girded my loins and set off for a day of wine tasting with the hope of finding a bio-dynamic wine san sulfite ajouter.

Arriving at la Porte de Versailles Paris Expo Pavillon 7/1 and presenting our billet produced a pair of perfectly useable, perfectly wonderful wine glasses.  For free.  The wine glass had un mignon gar etched into it.  Les billet were free, too. I have no idea where Jacky found les billet, but, as with my experience with le Salon de la Photo, I love the lengths people will go to acquire something for free.

Free wine glass in hand I turned to face... um... oh... wow!  I've never in my life seen anything like this.  There are as many aisles of wine vendors as there are letters in the alphabet.  There are... oh... hell... the wine prevents from performing the calculation.  Let's just say Jacky told me, as he spread his arms as if surveying His Domain, voici 1,100+ wine producers selling their wines to any and all who would buy.

I had no idea.  I'd studied a little about French wines years ago before my wife and I became allergic to sulfites.  I thought I knew something about the incredible variety of wines to be found here.  But, honestly, I really had no direct experience with... ah... er... Man Alive!... where does a person begin?... how does a person wrap their mind around this?... Yikes!  I'm a Yank in Paris and well out of my depth here!!

Jacky pulled off to the side and looked thru a thick book that listed all the vendors to be found at la Porte de Versailles Paris Expo Pavillon 7/1.  He asked what I liked, wrote down a few coordinates, and then suggested we start with what he knew.  That would be wines from the Loire where he grew up.

As we threaded are way through the vast crowd I couldn't help be notice that cases and cases and cases of wine were being hauled out of la Porte de Versailles Paris Expo Pavillon 7/1 by any and all means possible.  Hand carts.  Hand trucks.  Caddys.  Pallet movers.  Caged trollies.  Human shoulders.  Human hands.  I thought "... so this is what les Halles must've been like before they sent the Belly of Paris off to live in sanitized place called Rungis..."  I was nearly run over by people hauling their loot every time I tried to look at the wines on offer.

Fortunately Our Man Jacky knew a Good Thing(tm) when he saw it and we pulled up to the counter at a producer from Cheverny (Loire).  The wines were decent and the conversation lively.  I listened and let Jacki fire up the vendor with brisk, bracing discussions about Youth These Days.  I learned that in Former Times the French allowed their children to enjoy a little wine with fruit juice.  They did this so their children could learn about taste, about how to select a decent wine, and to help them enjoy the health benefits of this National Beverage.  Alas, those days are gone and college kids here do the same things as their counterparts in the US.  They get Blindingly Drunk for no other reason than to get Blindingly Drunk.

I was introduced to other vintners from other parts of the Loire, sampled many wonderful things and... oh... look!  It's 13h00 and time for notre dejunerEt voila une petite baguette with canard rouillet.  Eating as we walked I reflected on the fact that I'd not seen a single bio, let alone bio-dynamic, wine producer.  Not one.  Thought I'd not yet turned bright red from an allergic reaction, everyone could be using chemicals on their vines for all I knew.

This when I learned that it's important to be able to look a producer in the eye as you buy your wine.  It's the only way the French can trust what they're being told.  Otherwise what they're told could vary a little from reality.  If what I wanted as bio san sulfites ajouter I'd have to ask direct questions and keep looking if I wasn't satisfied with the answers.

I pondered this as we walked around the corner and down yet another vast, long aisle.

Something caught my eye and I quickly retrieved a Fast Moving Jacky.  Returning to a producer from Bordeaux and remembering that Jude prefers les cépages cabernait sauvignon et merlot I couldn't help but notice the vinters bio certification followed by the list of les cépages they used.

It turns out I wasn't the only one who was happy to have stopped by to have un coup d'oeil.  Jacky learned about bio-dynamic practices in wine production.  He learned why these vintners felt chemicals were bad for a wine.  He learned they used horses to tilt the soil between the rows of grapes.

As we tasted the 10Euro wine offered, Jacky leaned over and said "... this is better than the 28Euro Bordeaux we tasted at the place we just left..."  Indeed, the Merlot/Cab/Malbec blend was pretty tasty stuff.  Though by this point I'd had plenty to sample and was Mesmerized by the scrolling images on the tablet.  I watched as photos of beautiful vines, soil with plump earthworms, and heavy horses tilling the soil scrolled by.

En fait, je prends 6 bouteilles, s'il vous plait.

I thought about it and realized this was the best thing I'd tried all day and I needed to take some home to Jude.  Jacky must've been thinking along similar lines as he too bought up un carton of various things.

A few more tastes of this and that and we were off... only to stop twice more to sample a few more things, including wine from the vineyard Jacky's father-in-law used to stock in his cellar.

After consulting with Jude we've decided to return to the salon, this time together. Our strategy will be to troll the aisles for signs of "bio".  Our questions will be at the ready.  Our new, free glasses at the ready.  Our taste-buds fired up and ready to go.  Our target time will be from 14h00 to 18h00.  So as to avoid the crush of wine sampling Parisians.

Wish us luck.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Around Town ~ le Salon de la Photo

[reposted from my photography blog]

There are no doubt numerous "show reports" floating around out there regarding this year's Salon de la Photo.  What could I possible add?  Perhaps not much, but here it goes in any event.

Scenes from le Salon de la Photo ~ 2014

Arriving at opening time is a prime recipe for getting squashed in a righteous French-style queue.  You see, it's Madness and Bedlam as people wade or crowd-surf their way to one or two Gate Keepers.  The Gate Keepers are the ones with the scanners.

Ah... I see I need to explain something, so let me back up a bit.

Last year someone laughed at me when I asked where one buys a ticket to le Salon.  The way the game is played here is that you get an "invitation" to the event.  Unlike fashion runway shows, receiving an "invitation" is as easy as reading Paris Match.

Scenes from le Salon de la Photo ~ 2014

There's a "code" that specifies who's doing the "inviting".  These "codes" are widely available and it seems like any and all dogs, cats, critters, and companies issue them.  Chose a "code", any "code".  They're free.  As in No Charge.  Gratuit.  Zip.  Zero.

Enter a "code" into the Salon website in the right place and what you get is a PDF you can print.  The PDF has, among other things, a bar-code and this is your ticket into the show.

Easy.  Right?  When it comes to free, you don't know the lengths Parisians will go to make sure there is Egalitie, Libertie, and, well, forget the Fraternitie, OK?  You realize the pecking order of what's important once you're queued.  Any Fraternitie comes from how closely packed you are, not from the level of conviviality you might imagine the word should have meant.

Close your eyes and try to envision hundreds of Old Farts of all sizes, shapes, and heights doing their level best to elbow their way to the front of the queue where two and only two men with bar-code scanners await to grant you entry.  Or not.

We'd chosen the wrong side of the scrum.  I mean, queue.  No.  I think scrum adequately describes the experience.  Two elderly gents had reached the front of the scrum and... their bar-codes were not scanning properly... they were arguing with the Bar Code Handlers... and the scrum was becoming as anxious as a herd of Zebras who smelled Lions in the brush...

Scenes from le Salon de la Photo ~ 2014

Our neighbor, Jude, and I skirted the scrum to the other side... et... voila!  After a 25minute surge forward we were having our "invitations" scanned and, as it was a tight squeeze past the Old Geezers Who Must Argue with a Bar Code Handler, it felt like we might be Watermelon seeds being squirted out into the rusting dented parts missing automobile strewn yard while... um... nevermind that.  It was a funny feeling to go from the scrum into the peaceful, calm area inside the barrier to the show floor.

Collecting ourselves (mentally) we found our directions and headed off to see a few nice photographs.  The camera gear portion of le Salon could wait until my wife and neighbor left the show 45 minutes later.

I find it fascinating that HUGE scrums of Fraternitie Loving French People are seen huddled around the camera equipment displays, fondling the latest, greatest, sometimes hugely expensive tools of image making... and you can almost hear the crickets chirping in the areas where the results of putting Image Making Tools to use are displayed.

Why is it that so many people love the tools and so few try to appreciate the art?

Scenes from le Salon de la Photo ~ 2014

Considering the art, one thing that impressed me and at the same time confirmed what I'd proven thru testing was a display of 20x30inch(approx) images made using 16mpixel micro-4/3rd's Image Making Tools.  They were lovely to look at.  They were well composed, well exposed, well printed, and looked every bit as good as photographs printed to the same size taken using 50mpixel medium format sensors.  Yes.  It might be difficult to believe.  To me the Truth was in the seeing.  I was blown away.  Which tool is less important than the results of your artistic process.

Kissing my lovely wife goodbye and telling her "I'll be home later" left me to my own (evil?) devices.  Ah, Libertie!

I wanted to experience the Egalitie of Sharp French Elbows by fondling a few Image Making Tools myself.  To get there I needed to Egalitie my Sharp American Elbows to a camera manufacturer's display of choice.  It had to begin with Sony.

Being on a Mission from the Muse of Photographic Arts meant I was looking to downsize my camera kit.  The older I get the bigger and heavier the Old Beast has become.  Unless it's gained weight eating all that light (which it hadn't) the issue rests with me.  I'm getting old.

I tried my version of Egalitie out on the poor French peoples, elbows and all, and found myself quickly at a Display Counter Filled with Dreams.

Scenes from le Salon de la Photo ~ 2014
Your Humble Servant
on a Mission from the Muse of Photographic Arts 

After a short disappointing look at a Dream A7R (size and weight challenges for me) a strange and eerie light beckoned. It was like First Love.  Or Last Love at First Light.  Um, maybe it was First Love at First Sight.  Whatever.  I could tell there were important differences between what I was holding and what I was looking at.

On the other side of the Sony counter sat a pair of A6000 mirrorless APS-C sized sensor mini-wonders.  I had to try them out and Egalitie'd my way around the Display Counter Filled with Dreams.

Cutting to the Chase, I bought a boitier nu from a Paris local store shortly after realizing my dreams had come true.

If interested, you can read my prior post on testing an A6000 against the Old Beast.

Scenes from le Salon de la Photo ~ 2014

The rest of the show was a haze of images, sounds, further Egalitie-Elbows and More Scrum.  Trade shows can be loud crazy affairs and the Salon to me borders on chaos.  If I hadn't been on a Mission from the Muse of Photographic Arts I'd like to think I would avoid the place.  But that's not true.

I find I love the Fraternitie scrum, Sharp French Elbow'd Egalitie, and trans-national-corporate-sponsored Libertie as only the French can deliver it.  Besides, le Salon is a free "code", a short walk, an elderly scrum, and a scanned bar-code away.