Vin Paillé - "Strawed" Wine
With origins going back to the Middle Ages or before, this wine is made on a small scale by craftsmen and women. The legend goes that good St Eloi, on pilgrimage to St Jacques de Compostelle stopped to rest at Bilhac. Local farmers brought him food and drink, and the latter was Vin Paillé! Finding it delightful he asked them to reserve all that remained for his return so that he could take it to King Dagobert.
Before the arrival of phylloxera in 1870, the commune of
Bilhac whose total surface area was 700 Hectares, had
around 400 Ha under vines.
It's worth remembering that before then there were nearly 17000 Hectares - 42,000 acres - of vineyards in the lower Correze! (Nowadays Alsace has but 14000 Hectares - 35,000 acres.)* Despite the damage caused by that infestation, local peasants maintained the tradition, and in almost every farmhouse in the neighbouring communes around Beaulieu and Meyssac, one could taste home made Vin Paillé.
I produce Vin Paillé" called "red" on vineyards of about 1 hectare (2.4 acres) in area, planted in the year 2000. The varietals used are Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, on land ideally situated on a plateau overlooking the nearby Dordogne river and valley.
Legend has it that Vin Paillé (which literally means "strawed" wine) was invented at the end of a summer so hot, and an autumn so mild that the grapes started to shrivel on the vines. The exceptional quality of this wine prompted the growers the following year to pick their best bunches and to lay them upon a bed of straw in the attic until they had lost around 2/3 of their water content.
So, grapes are harvested in September or October.
Before harvesting, I check their ripeness by testing for sugar in a refractometer. The harvest can only be carried out by hand, and demands the greatest care. Each bunch is then individually examined to remove damaged or substandard grapes, before laying them in straw lined (hence the name) shallow wooden crates.
And that's how things stay for 3 to6 months. What we're looking for in this dehydration process is that the sugars and aromas become more concentrated. After pressing, the volume of nectar obtained is 5 to 7 times less than it would otherwise have been!
Then you have to wait at least another 2 years before at last being able to taste it…
It should be served cold but not iced, to accompany quite "substantial" food, like dry walnuts, melon served with local ham, duck foie gras, local goats cheese, roquefort, strawberries or dark chocolate.
The wine, like tawny port has a dark amber colour, described as "onion skin". It may be drunk as an aperitif, with dessert, or at any time just for the pleasure accompanied by walnut kernels. Those lucky enough to have tasted it will tell you it's round and sappy, powerfully fruity, with just a hint of walnut on the nose.
One could say that it tastes of the land it grew in and the strength of the people who made it.
Cheers, though like all the best things, remember that to appreciate it at its best, you should exercise moderation!