On July 27, 1990, Debbie Baigrie thought she was just going to have a night out with her friends in Tampa, Florida – the first time doing so since the birth of her second child… it ended up with her getting shot in the mouth when some men harassed her for money as she walked to go back to her car alone … although she went through 40 dental procedures to rebuild her gums and teeth, the mental healing was a much more arduous task. Later, she would find out that her assailant was a young man named Ian Manuel, hanging out with an older crowd, who shot her in panic… he was the only one who was caught. 3 days after the incident, he confessed to the crime and he was subsequently sentenced to life in jail… shockingly, he was only 13 years old.
Chablis & Oyster Pairing
Around a month ago, I went to a seminar pairing William Fèvre Chablis wines with oysters led by William Fèvre cellar master Didier Séguier and author & oyster guru Rowan Jacobsen at Seamore’s in NYC. At one point, Rowan said in regards to an oyster, “always catching it in a little snapshot in time” when the first oyster, paired with an every day drinking Chablis, had a lot more richness than expected. Rowan pointed out that the oyster had a purple edge and said that it was probably an indication that it was feeding like crazy during the spring, and because the waters were warming up recently, it started to convert all that it was feeding on into fat, which sometimes happens. He then said that if he knew that it would be at this stage, he would have paired it with a richer wine in the lineup, such as one of the Grand Cru.
Like so many other wine nerds, I have of course been obsessed with Burgundy for most of my wine loving existence, over a couple of decades now, and despite loving oysters and enthusiastically eating them by the dozens when given the opportunity, I really didn’t think about them being like Burgundy wines. Since oysters are filter feeders, they are one of the ideal foods to express terroir, or in this case “merrior” as Rowan said. Also, there are 5 different species of oysters and they are affected by human influence, such as with wine and winemakers, as there are a few different ways to handle them; so pairing a different type of oyster with each wine that each had a distinctive expression of place and style, especially with the Premier Cru and Grand Cru single vineyard wines, made perfect sense. Chablis and oysters are generally a classic pairing, as you can imagine, but this seminar showed that one could take this pairing to a deeper level.
2009 vs 2016
It was a great experience to taste the 2009 and 2016 Chablis Grand Cru AOC Bougros ‘Côte Bouguerots’ in the same lineup and to experience the very different oysters that accompanied them. The 2009 was paired with an extreme oyster that usually wouldn’t be paired with any wine because it would overwhelm it, but in this case, the big, rich and multi-faceted 2009 had evolved to a place where it could take on such an oyster, unlike the 2016 version… not only was 2009 older, but it was given more opportunities to thrive in a contrasting vintage.
After his first year in jail, a 14 year old Ian Manuel ended up calling his victim Debbie Baigrie after seeing her phone number on his paperwork. He apologized and asked if he could write to her… she said yes and so their correspondence started and continued during his many years in jail – much of his sentence carried out in solitary confinement. Debbie was taken aback by his ability to express himself through language and the deep thoughts he conveyed through his written words. She encouraged him to educate himself as much as he could while in jail, and since his mother passed away while he was incarcerated, Debbie ended up becoming his adopted mother.
In 2006, after spending 16 years in jail, Ian was given the chance to challenge his sentence 6 years after a Supreme Court decision prohibited life sentences for juveniles charged with anything less than murder, with Debbie by his side. He was released that day and since then Debbie has been his biggest supporter to help him to adjust to society… to continue his education… to live up to his potential.
Mind Stays Frozen in a Snapshot
I first heard about Ian and Debbie’s story last year and it has stayed with me ever since. It made me think that if she had decided to keep her opinions about him frozen in that one snapshot in time, his life would have turned out differently and many of us wouldn’t have had the chance to be inspired by their story… if things had worked out differently, he may have been rotting away in solitary confinement, going slowly mad with no real human interaction. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have the strength that Debbie had to first start the correspondence. I hope I would… but as she said in an interview, she makes no bones about him being responsible for what he did, but he was only 13 years old.
What are the snapshots in time of ourselves we would like to forget and those that we would like to be remembered for? What are the snapshots of others that we hold on to? What world does our mind see? The one of the past? The one of the future? Maybe we are missing more than we know, right in front of us. We don’t see the potential. We don’t see the possibilities.
I was extremely impressed with the knowledge of oyster guru Rowan Jacobsen, but I was most impressed to see him acknowledge something that surprised him in the moment. I know how one can have blinders when having spent so much time preparing for a seminar (that was being officially recorded for a learning tool no less) and it takes so much strength to stay in the moment itself, many times fighting our nerves and/or insecurities. Not only was he aware that things did not go according to plan, but he admitted it as well, becoming a learning moment for all of us in the room.
The great Chablis wines, such as the Grand Cru, can be very deceptive in their youth… from a classic, cooler year they can be tight and hard with fierce acidity – none of the beautiful complex notes ready to reveal themselves. It is not always fair to judge their quality in that fledgling stage. It was like that moment when Debbie read Ian’s first letter… she was willing to look past a moment that actually caused her a tremendous amount of mental and physical pain… and decided she could take a tragic moment and make it an opportunity to do a lot more good in her life. When we are looking for our purpose, sometimes it comes in the most unlikely places but we have to be awake in that moment to allow what we thought we knew to pass so we can open our eyes to the beauty of the world in front of us.
I participated in two Chablis tastings on May 22nd, 2018: the first was the above mentioned Chablis and Oyster pairing and the second was a Twitter Chat/Tasting later that night.
All Chablis is 100% Chardonnay which is interesting to note as many people who think they don’t like Chardonnay like Chablis; it is its own wine connected to a specific place with its ancient Kimmeridgean soil that is estimated to be around 150 million years old. Also, the Chablis district’s close proximity to Champagne provides a cooler climate than the rest of Burgundy and their wines are known for their high acidity and expression of a chalky minerality that can also be found in Champagne.
William Fèvre cellar master Didier Séguier said that they never use new oak for their Chablis wines because he noted that when you use new oak, you make Chardonnay; when you don’t, you make Chablis; expression of place, terroir, is their main goal.
Tasting of William Fèvre Chablis Wines on May 22nd, 2018
–2017 William Fèvre, ‘Champs Royaux’, Chablis AOC, Limited Edition Sea: Pale color with citrus peel, grapefruit and bright acidity was matched by Rowan Jacobsen with a classic oyster since he saw this as a white bistro wine, and so, he chose a West Coast, Pacific, Hama Hama oyster that was from Hood Canal, Washington. The Hama Hama is also commonly found in France, giving notes of cucumber and watermelon rind, but this one threw Rowan off as I mentioned above as it was much fattier than expected. This Hama Hama had a purple edge that Rowan pointed out and said was an indication that it was probably feeding like crazy during the spring and because the waters were warming up recently, it started to convert all that it was feeding on into fat which sometimes happens – he actually said that if he knew that it was at this stage he would have paired it with the richer wines in the lineup, such as the Grand Cru. Rowan said that in regards to an oyster, you’re “…always catching it in a little snapshot in time.”
The new Limited Edition Sea Label will be released on August 5th, National Oyster Day, and the label depicts the oyster fossil soil (Kimmeridgian) which is credited for the mineral notes observed in Chablis wines. 2017 was a tough vintage as Chablis suffered from frost 15 nights in a row, but although it was a low yield they were able to produce classic wines with high acidity and intense energy.
–2016 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru AOC Montmains, Domaine: This Montmains 1er Cru vineyard is known for its upfront minerality and so Rowan said that he was thrilled to pair it with an East Coast, Eastern, oyster from Duxbury, Massachusetts (an area that is known for oysters) because of its intense saline minerality. He warned against adding too much lemon or any other condiment because it could cover the saline minerality or other complexities of high quality oysters.
2016 was noted as having the ripeness of 2015 (a warm year) and acidity of 2014 (a cooler vintage) and it will be remembered as suffering from a succession of climatic incidents that would make it one of the most trying in modern history; in 2016, William Fèvre’s yield was 1/3 of their typical average.
–2016 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru AOC Montée de Tonnerre, Domaine: White peach skin with crumbled chalk that had a rich, creamy body, paired with an oyster called Sea Cow that is considered the “foie gras of the ocean”.
Sea Cow is a Pacific oyster that is placed in tumble bags because they are located in a watershed in Washington State that encourages fast growth – they use the tumble bags to slow down the growth, so their shells don’t get too thin, and the oysters freak out because they think a predator is throwing them around so they open and shut constantly – lots of exercise that builds a muscle that gives them firmness and sweetness – tumbling is all the rage now on the West Coast. Also a fun side note: Generally East Coast oysters are 2-3 years old and West Coast oysters are around 18 months old.
-2016 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru AOC Bougros, ‘Côte Bouguerots’, Domaine: An incredible wine that had fierce, steely acidity and intense richness of fruit that was laced with saline minerality with a long flavorful finish; matched with the equally intense Eastern oyster called Bluepoint from Mystic, Connecticut, that had intriguing metallic notes like iron and an overall wild quality.
This wine is a blend of separate vinifications of different plots in the same Grand Cru Bougros; one on a 45 degree slope that produces grapes with high concentration of ripeness and the other is on a less steep slope producing grapes with intense freshness.
-2016 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru AOC Les Clos, Domaine: An exotically spiced wine that had juicy nectarine fruit and perfumed flowers with a mineral edge that was most noted on the finish; broad, bright and bada$$. This is the same oyster as paired with the first wine, Hama Hama, from Washington State’s Hood Canal but the human influence is different as it is placed in tumble bags unlike the 1st Hama Hama. These oysters are called Blue Pools and it had the same herbaceous quality as the first yet it was plumper with a sweet finish.
Les Clos is the largest and most famous Grand Cru; its fame is based on being one of Chablis’ first named vineyards.
–2009 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru AOC Bougros, ‘Côte Bouguerots’, Domaine: Yellow pear with hints of mango that had pressed flowers and sea shells intertwined within the generous fruit… lots of delicious fleshy fruit still with enticing smoke and sensual texture on the finish. This wine is singing right now. Rowan decided to pair this decadent wine with an oyster with a fierce salinity that normally doesn’t pair well with most wines: Wellfleet from Cape Cod in Massachusetts that comes from a section that has no fresh water areas and so this oyster was influenced by the ocean.
2009 was a warm vintage like 2005 – Didier said they harvested early to keep freshness and acidity.
#PureChablis Twitter Chat/Tasting on the Evening of May 22nd, 2018
-2016 Isabelle et Denis Pommier, Petit Chablis AOC: It had pristine fruit with juicy peach and nectarine with a refined wet stone finish… lovely.
–2015 Julien Brocard, ‘Vigne De La Boissonneuse’, Chablis AOC: A single vineyard of biodynamically treated vines; it immediately impressed with a thick waxy top and a fine piece of paper that covered the bottle. A wine crafted with love showing volcanic smoky notes with rich lemon curd on the palate.
-2014 Romain Collet, Chablis Premier Cru AOC Butteaux: An intense limestone backbone that slapped me in my face with ‘get your attention’ acidity – I don’t mind this kind of slap in the face at all! Orange zest. seashell and briny goodness with a long, linear, fierce finish – OH YEAH BABY HURT ME!
-2015 Domaine Gerard Duplessis, Chablis Grand Cru AOC Les Clos: Complex notes of chalky, crumbly rocks with lime blossom and white peach with a rich and expressive overall quality on the extraordinarily long finish. OH MY, THIS WAS DAMN GOOD!