Visiting Crèmerie should be high up on your to-do list when in Paris; somewhere between the Musée d’Orsay and searching for Amélie in the hilly streets of Montmartre. Located in St. Germain, in what the French call a bo-bo neighborhood (for bourgeois-bohemian), Crèmerie’s letters stand ubiquitously on the century-old façade. One glimpse through the window will reassure the lactose-intolerant; there’s no crème nor fromage to be found. Inside, it’s all about wine, or rather vin naturel as the owner, Pierre Jancou, likes to call his special collection of 280 organic wines.
At the counter, a regular customer browses through Le Monde with a glass of red wine, while some Americans are chatting at a table. Christophe, the garçon, moves about the small boutique wearing a brown beret and a smile. The golden light and high ceiling make the wine bottles, and the elixirs they contain, look ever so enticing. Pierre asks what I would like to drink, and when I reply “coffee” the walls disapprove with their hundreds of red and yellow liquorish eyes. I thought we’d get to the wine a little later, but Pierre thinks it’s time for me to dive into vin naturel now. “Once you start drinking wines like these, you can’t go back,” he says. “You can’t take the sulfites and chemicals of traditional wines.”
By vin naturel, Pierre means wines that are organic and beyond; particularly biodynamic wine, which relies on natural forces such as moon cycles and aromatherapy to produce sustainable vines. These wines often contain live matters and differ more widely in taste, color, and texture than conventional wine, which is often made with packaged yeasts for flavor and sulfites for preservation. While grapes naturally contain a small amount of sulfur, the additional amounts added by winemakers may lead to headaches for the consumer. It’s one thing to have a hangover, and another to be hungover from cheap industrial high-sulfited wine. According to Pierre, if sulfites stabilize a wine, they also kill it. There is a trade-off, though; the delicate vin naturel can better represent its terroir, but it doesn’t age well. And they are not suited for travel. Unlike your Amélie DVD, you can’t buy most of these wines outside of France.
Pierre Jancou grew fond of biodynamic foods when he worked as a chef and maintained this philosophy when he opened Crèmerie, three years ago. He appreciates “the everyday world” of wine, particularly in Burgundy. “People are working on three or four hectares, sometimes using horse power and eking out a living.” And because they use no chemicals, it takes a lot more labor to keep the vines free from insects and disease. They need to sell their wines at a little higher prices.
French organic wine, commonly labeled AB (Agriculture Biologique), does not always guarantee a better-quality bottle. “AB means that no pesticides are used on the vine, but when making the wine, one can pretty much do whatever, like add tons of chemicals. This just doesn’t work for us.” For this reason he prefers the “Demeter” label, which guarantees both environmentally friendly practices and little to no additives.
Tall, in his mid-thirties, Pierre looks like the vampire Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So when he suddenly rises from the table, I’m glad it’s only to grab another bottle from the shelf. “This is a radical one,” he tells me while swinging the bottle so that I can fully appreciate a vin naturel alive; the reddish-brown liquid is strongly clouded. Growing up as a French farm girl, I’ve seen similar-looking beverages before, but never in a store. I can’t help but think its unattractive look and potentially formidable taste would go great with stinky cheese. And peeking over at the Americans at the other table, I think how utterly unfit this wine would be for cowboys raised on Pop Tarts and Pamela Anderson.
“Americans react well to organic wine,” Pierre answers my silent query. “But with a wine like this, you obviously can’t put a bottle in anyone’s hand without explaining it.” It belongs to another wine culture, and sometimes goes back into fermentation after it’s bottled. “It’s like going back in time. It’s what our grandparents’ grandparents used to drink.”
Some in the wine industry consider Jules Chauvet, the father of vin naturel, a heretic. A radical enologist and trained chemist, Chauvet didn’t use yeast or sulfites and invented the macération carbonique; a method that uses carbon dioxide in the last stage of fermentation to stabilize the wine. Philipe Pacalet (Côte de Beaune) uses this technique to make Pommard and Meursault Grand Cru, which, according to Pierre, keeps very well when maintained under a temperature of 14˚ C (57˚ F).
In the small world of vin naturel, Grand Crus are an oddity. In fact, most do not fit into the French appellation system, so they are often given creative names instead. On the shelf before me is a Pinot Noir playfully renamed “Pinoir de Soif” (soif means thirst). On the counter is another bottle named “Quartz.”. My eyes linger on this yellow wine, so color-saturated that I have to ask Pierre for a glass. “I don’t sell radical wines only,” he smiles. “But mainly I do.” Quartz tastes like no other wine I’ve had. It’s sweet, yet not too sweet. There are both citrus and woodsy flavors and a slight buttery texture. I turn and watch the nighttime snowfall from the window of this lovely boutique, slowly sipping la crème des vins.
Crèmerie Wine Bar and Store (métro Odéon)
9, rue des Quatre Vents
Tel: 01 43 54 99 30