Give Olivier Cousin our Help and Support
Please excuse the interruption to this week’s regular scheduling of the California Series. This is because something has come to my attention which is far more important than my boozy travels in North America.
Olivier Cousin and his horses Romeo and Kiki-he uses these fine animals to plough all of his vineyards.
Please allow me to re-introduce you to Olivier Cousin, one of the most respected natural/biodynamic winemakers in the Loire Valley. A year ago my friend Whitney and I visited him and his lovely family and it remains the most epic, wonderful winemaker visit we’ve ever had (for more on that, read these two posts). Personally, I found Olivier to be one of the most kind, generous, and admirable vigneron I’ve ever met, with an absolute respect for nature in every part of his winemaking process. Olivier makes wine the way his grandfather and his grandfather’s father’s father before that. To make it any other way (ie with chemicals and high-tech machinery) would not only be a betrayal of all that they worked for, but would pollute his land, his plants, his animals, and himself and his family.
Olivier Cousin and his son Baptiste at the Natural Wine Fair in London
Olivier has been a teacher and mentor to other winemakers in the region who work under the same principles. Olivier has also refused to ‘play the game’. And by the game I mean to cooperate with Interloire, an organisation which promotes wine in the region. Olivier does not agree with their policies and about 20 years ago refused to continue to pay a subscription to them. For this he was taken to court last month, lost the case, and had his bank account frozen. It gets worse. Despite having much bigger fish to fry when it comes to dodgy dealings in the Loire (see Jim Budd’s post), Olivier is facing a second court case which, should he lose, he could face a fine of up to 45,000 euros. His crime? Having a sense of humour. I kid you not. Olivier sells his wines under the label category vin de table because he does not conform to the AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) regulations, which legally allow the use of chaptalization and acidification (which basically mean you can add sugar to your wine while it’s still grape juice, and chuck in some acids for good measure) amongst other very unnatural ‘ingredients’. They also apparently make rather absurd declarations such as, ‘it’s impossible to practice organic viticulture in Sancerre’, a statement winemaker Sebastien Riffault would find particularly amusing (see Alice Feiring’s post). Anyway, Olivier, in an act of satirical wordplay, placed the words ‘Appellation Olivier Cousin’ (AOC) on some of his wine cases. Funny right? Not according to InterLoire, whose sense of humour seems to have escaped them, and who instead feel that Olivier is single-handedly defacing the good name of the AOC. Really?! Olivier, who makes a comparatively minute amount of wine, who drinks a good part of it, trades another large part of it with local producers (while we were there a neighbour stopped by to trade his cheese for wine), and sells enough to pay his harvesters and keep a roof over his head? This is the man who deserves to be prosecuted and taken for most of what he’s worth and potentially be unable to continue to make and sell his wine?! It’s ludicrous. It’s blood boiling. And in my opinion, it’s only harming the Loire Valley’s reputation as a whole.
horse-riding through Olivier's vineyards
So what can you do to support Olivier and let InterLoire and the DGCCRF (Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes) know how many of us in the international wine world feel? Sign this petition (translate it first if you don’t speak French!) and get the word out, let it be known that Olivier’s winemaking principles are the kind we value, and that his wines (wonderful, by the way) are the kind we want to see more of, and that he should be allowed to continue to make them his way without the absurdities of bureaucracy attempting to squash him.
at Brawn wine bar in London with Olivier and Tom Lubbe, biodynamic winemaker at Matassa in the Roussillon
Oh and buy and drink his wines! In the UK you can get Domaine Cousin-Leduc wines from Les Caves de Pyrene, just drop them an email. In the states find them (and a wonderful article) at Jenny & Francois Selections.