|I didn't stage this photo. That issue of Stuff magazine was actually lying around when we arrived.|
On this blog, and elsewhere in life, I'm routinely chided for having drastic or polemical views about things. The title of this blog is a ready example. There are presumably many in the wine industry who would take exception to the embedded implication that to drink any wine other than natural wine is to drink poison.*
To hell with 'em.
No, but seriously, I do hold more nuanced views on these subjects than might be perceptible from certain statements I make. (I try to explore these nuances in footnotes, parenthetical asides, and digressive introductions.) But I find that in the din of contemporary blog-journo chatter, unless one says something memorably, what one says makes very little impact. I prefer to convey something of what I genuinely feel about a subject to a reader, even if now and then I get a pang of remorse when phrasing a complicated issue in terms that are harsh, or reductive, or vaguely violent.**
That being said, my friend J and I visited newly opened club-à-vin O Château: The Wine Bar the other Saturday evening, and while J left puzzled by the experience, and refrained from passing judgment, I myself walked out - shortly after we walked in - with refreshingly unshaded ideas.
O Château embodies everything I detest about the wine industry, and if the place were to burn down tomorrow, the unlucky proportion of honest wines captive inside would all meet happier fates than remaining seen there.
"Almost genius," is what J remarked, upon seeing O Château's wine list. On a Saturday night, the bar - an enormous space - was about half-full. The crowd was strangely fratty, or business-scholastic: a lot of hoodies, a lot of women with big earrings and outdated Jennifer Aniston haircuts. It was the first time I'd even seen that sort of crowd in Paris. (I avoid monuments.)
"Evil genius," was my reaction, although it risks giving O Château's founder, young sommelier Olivier Magny, significantly too much credit.
The wines at O Château, a whole battery of them lined up like frozen astronauts in an extensive Enomatic wine dispensing system, are hubristically overpriced. Just jaw-dropping audacious rip-offs, like if someone mugged you and then flew straight into the sun with your wallet and your car-keys.
For instance, Dard et Ribo's Crozes-Hermitage "C'est le Printemps" - a bright, lovely Syrah, but a base bottling by these vignerons - will run you a walloping 19,90€ for the largest of O Château's three sizes of glass pours: 12cl.*** This is a wine I have in the past purchased for under 15€ by the bottle at retail prices. And it bears mentioning that roughly 15cl is considered a normal glass pour, in places that are not run by banditos. If you do the math, M. Magny will get 6.25 baby pours from one bottle of "C'est le Printemps," which will net him a staggering total of 124,37€, or over a 1000% markup from the likely wholesale price of that bottle. C'est le printemps for someone, that's for sure.
This is supposing people will hemorrhage that kind of money on O Château's measly squirt pours. Realistically they won't. But the companies they work for might.
The real cynical genius of the place, however, lies in how O Château's prices, and, let's face it, overall college-town nightclub vibe, will see to it that no one with even a modicum of wine sophistication or taste in general will ever spend a dime there.**** This will in turn ensure that M. Magny's brand of swaggering wine goober-ism encounters no informed dissent within the confines of O Château. He gets a captive audience.
With no educated drinkers around, O Château is free to hawk all the blowsy wine myths anyone might need!
Free to book all the wine cruises anyone might need!
Free to arrange private tasting events for the honeymoons of the sons of Singaporean dentists!
Free, on a nightly basis, to not actually sell much wine, and to instead use the bar's decanters for vodka service:
Oh, shoot me in the face. The place isn't even worth getting breathless about. It's a wine-themed business venture, just like if you want to make money on toilet paper or widgets your business ventures are themed on toilets or widgets, respectively. The sole difference is O Château actively trades in misrepresentation. O Château is a wine education company with
[UPDATE: 18.03.10: I'm informed that O Château no longer use the premises on rue de l'Arbre Sec.]
O Château's wine list does contain, among the usual baller Rhône and Bordeaux prestige-bottle boredom, about 30-40% distinctive, engaging (if sickeningly overpriced) wines from good producers. J optimistically saw this as evidence of some kind of beneficent attitude toward the industry on the part of O Château. I saw little more than some dim reptilian cred-hunting awareness of what wines are considered cool by professionals. It made the list reminiscent of one of those boardwalk claw machines filled with clear plastic bubbles, several of which contain iPods, the rest rubber ducks. (Just imagine instead of iPods, the bubbles contained vignerons you respected.)
After finishing, in two sips, our thimbles of wine, J and I wandered around the premises a bit. There are several gigantic hangar-like wine tasting rooms well-suited for joyless corporate events or sinister Masonic meetings.
There is also a non-lit downstairs lounge area, perfect for Rohypnol adventures. We passed M. Magny himself, who was in the process of macking on a drunk-looking chick in the dim stairwell. J, who knows the guy, said hi. Magny invited us to show ourselves around and kept right on macking.
I can't really blame him. After all, we're merely, you know, wine professionals who possess some love for and knowledge of the subject. We are totally external to the guy's business model, which is a wine miseducation company.
* Such as the crotchety wanker who devotes a blog to proving biodynamics a hoax.
** The key phrase here is "now and then." For an example of the monstrously florid, antisympathetic writing that results when a writer tries to be memorable 100% of the time, see anything by A.A. Gill.
*** The smallest is 3cl, a serving so small it actually evaporates before it reaches your tongue.
**** Except J and I. We did it out of morbid curiosity. And we still felt raped afterwards.
68, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Metro: Etienne Marcel
Tel: 01 44 739 780
Wine By One, another slick faceless faker endeavor.
A 2004 visit to Dard et Ribo @ WineTerroirs
A rave about Dard et Ribo's 2008 Crozes-Hermitage @ LeBlogd'Olif