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Wine cellar, bar and even house of wines: it is hard to tell what Artnoa exactly is. And that is for the best! Antoine Vignac succeeded in creating a perfect setting to share his passion: the passion for great wines. Arnoa means wine in Basque. By adding a “t”, Antoine plays with the words and highlights the different sides of this place, and above all his desire to share. He wants to share on the one hand thanks to the grape variety, of course, with a lot of tasting sessions, and on the other hand thanks to art, with exhibitions by artists coming from the region. One of them is always there: the photographer César Ancelle Hansen. Thanks to a specialised and original selection, having an aperitif is transformed into taste discoveries in the concept-store. The astute advice of the sommeliers Matthieu, Idoia and Jenny will eventually set the scene. Is it paradise? Almost.
L’ArtNoa, 56 rue Gambetta – 64200 Biarritz.
Antoine, can you explain us what ArtNoa is?
ArtNoa is a concept that was thought around three things: a man, a product, a story. The man is the wine-grower; the product is the wine made by him; and the story is the one I tell to the customer. There has to be a coherence between my knowledge of the man that makes the wine and of the region where he works. My work is to transpose the qualities of a region and of a wine-grower to a customer. That is why we offer an intimate range of wines. I know more than 90% of the wine-growers. We do our utmost to go in the vineyard, to taste and to meet the producers. As we insist on the pre-drink dinner, we develop an activity of wine and champagne bar, where we change our selection of wines by the glass every week, with about thirty references. We also offer wine tasting courses. The last new thing was a bit of a child dream. It is a glass wine cellar, with controlled temperature and humidity, and that can contain 600 bottles. It will enable us to serve great wines by the glass and to store them. There will only be 4 bottles, and when it will be finished, we will change for another great wine.
What is your career?
I studied viniculture, oenology and international business in spirits. Then, I directly worked for one of the greatest French wine merchants, Pierre Aguiazabal. Thanks to him, I really could expand my knowledge and research base. After two years working with him, I worked for the Revue du Vin de France, before I came to live here. In 2007, the project ArtNoa was born and we started in a very small 27m² cellar and moved here in 2010. This summer, we had the opportunity to extend and, after a month of intensive works, we opened on July 15th.
What do you like in terms of wine?
I may look like an alcoholic, but what I like in wine is drinking it, so there has to be a perfect balance between alcohol, sourness and the tannins. I am looking for gourmet wines. If we have to be two to taste a bottle, it means there is a problem. What I like in wine is a drinkable approach! As Henri Jayer said – and he is one of the winegrowers that contributed the most in the evolution of modern wine -, “a great wine can always be drinkable, either it is young or old”. What I am looking for is this balanced approach between the fruit, the grape’s sign of maturity, the freshness and the mouth-watering side of it, that makes you want to drink it again and again.
In terms of aesthetics, what did you want?
First of all, I wanted to respect what we had done until then, since I wanted the people who already knew ArtNoa to get back to the atmosphere they liked. Then, Bertrand Fontaine, my partner, and I have imagined everything, with the help of a friend who is an architect, Vincent Balhadere. We wanted to leave aside the effect wood/stonework that we see very often in the wine cellars, since we had in mind a more contemporary atmosphere. We wanted a colour that would represent the earth. Green is a strong colour in the Basque country, and this green in particular since it is a colour coding dear to the Biscay: Lekeitio green. Biscay is a Basque province which capital city is Bilbao. We played on materials – at the beginning, this colour was used in former frontons, places where the Basque pelota is played – to make it more bright and with a glycerol effect. We tried to get a matter colour on which we could write. The bar is in black granite and was made by a marbler from Bayonne, Benoist Bousquet. Once more, we thought it very simple, around the earth, around wine, and the place needed a mineral approach. So we thought about the stone that could suit the place. The granite was worked as an open book. The vertical parts are the same as the horizontal ones. The stone was carved and folded. Then, there are a lot of things we made ourselves, such as the copper lights my partner made.
Do you sell natural wines?
Yes, we do, and a lot. We must admit that, when it is well done, it is really good. One of my mentors was late Marcel Lapierre, who was one of the bigwigs of biodynamic in France. Today, the family keeps working on natural wines. They have a regional tradition, a climatology and a variety of wines that enable to do so. But making natural to make natural does not always work.
It is the end of summer, and it is sunset: would you have a wine to recommend for that moment?
I’d like a white wine that would be based on the mineral, the freshness and greed. I would recommend a Chenin, a variety of grape that evolves towards peer flavours, with a great acidity. So both wines I have in mind would be “Les Salles Martin”, by Antoine Sanzay, and “Attention Chenin Méchant”, by Nicolas Reau.
Credits : Eve Campestrini @thesocialitefamily