Monday, June 14, 2010

The Natural Wines of La Cremerie in Paris

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller and Serge Matthieu, La Cremerie, Paris

La Cremerie

La Cremerie is a fascinating little place on the Left Bank near Odeon and Bd St Germain, right in the center of the Quartier Latin, owned and managed by Serge and Helene Mathieu. They sell and pour natural wines and serve small plates of exceptional artisanal charcuterie and cheeses, but also oysters, foie gras, and smoked tuna.

The Place

La Crèmerie began its life in 1880 as a dairy, and the interiors remain unchanged today – counters made of slabs of marble, ancient wooden fridges, a fabulous pastel ceiling fresco painted on silk. In 1947, it became a cave à vins and, three years ago, Serge and Helene took over.

It is a small place, just enough room for 12 people to sit down, plus four stools at the bar. There is no kitchen for hot dishes.

The concept of the place is to be both a wine bar and a wine store. You can walk in, choose a bottle, pay and walk away. You can also drink a glass from the (limited) wine-by-the-glass selection, or buy a bottle from the shelves, pay an extra 10 Euro corkage fee and drink it there.

Serge and Helene Matthieu

When I was there, it was Serge’s turn. Born in New York, Serge lived all his life in France and is an architect by training. He discovered the “green” wines, loved them and decided to make a profession of that love. I did not meet Helene. She is also an architect. Serge and Helene have four children.

The Wines

There are about 200 wines, mostly in the Euro 6 to 15 range. But I also saw wines for up to Euro 250. All French regions are represented, with the emphasis on Loire and Burgundy. All wines are artisanal wines from small growers. And all the wines are natural wines.

Picture: La Cremerie

Green wines: Natural, Organic, Biodynamic, Zero Carbon Foot-print and Other Concepts

There are different concepts of “green wines”. Natural wines is just one of them.

Organic: Organic generally means the use of natural as opposed to chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. The key is: no chemicals.

Organic wines are changing the look of vineyards, literally. Whereas vineyards of the past commanded neat rows rid of all insects, rodents and weeds, organic vineyards are now replacing costly and damaging chemical sprays with environmental partnerships. Pesticides are giving way to introducing low-growing plants between vine rows that host beneficial insects that keep the pest insects in check.

Unfortunately, there is no agreement on what organic wine making as opposed to organic wine growing means. The main issue is the use of sulfur in the fermentation process. In the US, organic winemakers are not allowed to add sulfites during winemaking; an organic wine is a wine with basically zero sulfur. In Europe, sulfites are allowed to be added during fermentation and an organic wine typically contains a modest amount of sulfur.

Picture: Traditional and Organic Vineyard

Biodynamic: Biodynamic is similar to organic farming in that both take place without chemicals, but biodynamic farming incorporates ideas about a vineyard as an ecosystem, and also accounting for things such as astrological influences and lunar cycles. Biodynamic is an approach following the rules and ideas of Austrian philosopher-scientist Rudolph Steiner. In his 1924 lectures, he viewed the farm as an entire living ecosystem starting with the soil which is treated as a living organism and receives special applications to enhance its health.

Sustainable: Sustainability refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. Sustainable farmers may farm largely organically or biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property; they may also focus on energy and water conservation, use of renewable resources and other issues.

Natural: The idea behind natural wine is non-intervention and a respect for nature. For example, only natural yeasts are used, the fermentation is slow, there is little or no use of new oak barrels; and there are no filtrations or cold stabilization. Natural wines are minimalist wines produced with as little intervention as possible.

Vegan: Vegan refers to the process of "finning" the wine. Proteins, spent yeasts and small organic matter in wines are sometimes eliminated from wines with fining agents made from animal products. Fish bladders, egg whites, milk proteins and even bull’s blood (not allowed in the US or France) are all used as fining agents. As an alternative, Bentonite, a specific type of clay, is used for clarification in vegan wines. It’s important to note that vegan or vegetarian wines may or may not be made from organic grapes.

Fair trade: Fair trade wines first came onto the market the US in 2007, following trends in coffee, tea and produce. Fair trade refers to the conditions and wages paid to employees of the winery; it guarantees employees a fair and "livable" wage for their product. Fair Trade certification of wine has been around since 2003 in Europe. The certification means that wineries met certain standards for living wages, environmental sustainability and community improvement. Oakland's TransFair USA just announced that it has begun certifying Fair Trade wines from Argentina, Chile and South Africa for the American market.

Carbon footprint: The carbon neutral label comes from a different angle: global warming. All economic activites have a carbon footprint, including wine making. Carbon neutral wineries are trying to make a contribution to the general efforts of reducing the emission of carbon dioxide.

A major aspect of carbon neutrality however is outside the control of wineries. It is the transport of the wine from the winery to the consumer. For example, the carbon dioxide emission of a Bordeaux send to New York City by ship is lower than that of a California wine transported on the road.

Water footprint: A new thing is water footprint, reflecting the concern that the planet is moving into a period where water becomes more and more scarce.

The Food

Several Saucissons and Jambons hang over the counter, from France and Spain. La cremerie serves small plates of exceptional artisanal charcuterie and cheeses, but also oysters, foie gras, and smoked tuna. The red-bright ham-slicing machine on the counter is a venerable Berkel made in the year 1936. The Berkel company was at the time based in Rotterdam, Holland.

Picture: Serge Matthieu Cutting Saucissons

Address, Opening Hours, etc.

C'est aujourd'hui de l'avis de tous, un lieu unique, chaleureux et convivial où il fait bon s'arrêter pour y déguster des vins hors du commun, accompagnés de salaisons et de fromages.

Adresse : 9 rue des Quatre Vents 75006 PARIS (Métro Odéon)

Ouvert de 10h30 à 22h00.
Dégustations sur place le soir du mardi au samedi (17h30 à 22h00), le midi vendredi et samedi (13h00 à 14h30).
Vente à emporter de vin, alcools et épicerie : mardi à samedi de 10h00 à 22h00 - dimanche de 11h00 à 14h30 - lundi de 14h00 à 20h00.

Fermé Dimanche après-midi

Réservation Tel / Fax : 01 43 54 99 30

Mail :

NB : Réservations uniquement à partir de 19h30 pour le repas du soir (du mardi au samedi) et les vendredis et samedis pour le déjeuner à partir de 13h00. Aucune réservation de 17h00 à 19h30.

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  1. Thanks Christian for bringing this to our attention. I'll be in Paris in two weeks and just requested a lunch reservation!

    Incidently, do natural wines also mean that no sulfites are added during the winemaking process?

  2. Lindsay, in Europe, organic and natural wines definitely can have sulfites added, but only a minimum amount. In the US, organic wines do not have added sulfites, but natural may have.


  3. Interesting... thanks for the explanation.

  4. Organic Wine Selections by Natural Wine MerchantsJune 16, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    Thank you, Christian, for your concise common-sense definitions of the wine categories in your article. Although many of these wines are of highest quality thanks to the extra special attention given to their terroir the baffling wine labeling requirements in the US cause consumer confusion and result (in the case of Organic wines) sales of less than 1% of the total wine market. Education is key. Fantastic article!