These Winemaking Punks Are Bringing Anarchy to the Vineyard

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These Winemaking Punks Are Bringing Anarchy to the Vineyard

An anonymous "punk" winemaking collective is shaking up France's wine scene. Like the original punks of the 70s, their aim is to bring anarchy—albeit to the elitist wine industry.
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Collectif Anonyme caravans on their Banyuls-sur-Mer vineyard. Photo courtesy Collectif Anonyme.

High on a rocky vineyard in Banyuls-sur-Mer, just over the Spanish border in the south of France, a wine tasting is in progress.

"The yield of grapes has just been amazing this year," says one man.

"I love how sweet this one tastes. The grapes are left longer on the vines so it's more concentrated," adds another.

If you're picturing ruddy cheeked, suited-up white dudes swilling and spitting for their country right now, you're very wrong. This group of seven or so wine fanatics are all extended members of the "techno punk crew" Collectif Anonyme. Today, they're happily enjoying a few of their choice vintages outside the caravans where they live on the vineyard.

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This group of friends—who want to remain faceless and anonymous—have been making French natural wine since 2013. Like the original punks of the 70s, their aim is to bring anarchy—this time to France's sometimes elitist wine industry.

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Photo by the author. Photo by the author.

"We wanted to make a wine together, that's why we're Collectif Anonyme, it's not my wine or Julia's wine: it's our wine," says Australian-born Kris, who started the Collectif with Julia, from Germany. "It's always a social thing. It's so hypocritical that these people go around and will say, 'This is my wine.' It's another way of cutting through all the bullshit. Plus, I've always been involved in the punk scene so we wanted to do something political."

Kris and Julia met through their involvement with the radical left scene in Berlin in the mid-noughties and went on to work together in the famous wine region of Languedoc-Roussillon.

But while working in the vineyards, the pair felt again entrenched in the system they'd attempted to break out of back in Germany. They'd ended up working for "the man" again. A man who probably looked a lot like that ruddy cheeked, wine-swiller.

"When I was working in the vineyards four or five years ago, I would often do all the hard jobs and someone else would get up there and say, 'That's my wine.'" says Kris. "But we actually made that wine—me and some other guys. You're just the capitalist coming along and putting your name on it. 'Domaine de blah blah' or something. Wine is sold through personalities here."

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But the ultimate middle finger to the establishment? Making wine that's as kick-ass as their politics.

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Processing grapes by hand. Photo by the author.

While it would be pretty easy to go down the standard winemaking route, Kris and Julia decided that, like the minimal techno that plays from their beaten up camper van, they wanted to take winemaking back to basics, using a set of traditional practices that are over 100 years old. All of the Collectif's wine comes from organically grown grapes and is natural, meaning it contains minimal sulfates.

"It's just fermented grape juice," says Kris.

It sounds obvious but not when you realise what lurks in some commercially produced wines.

"Glycerine, synthetic chemicals, other additives …" he adds. Basically, a cocktail no one really wants a refill of.

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Crushing grapes in a press powered by a stationary push bike. Photo by the author. Photo by the author.

From tending and growing grapes with no synthetic chemicals or pesticides to picking the fruits by hand, crushing them in a press powered by a stationary push bike, and fermenting the juice in wooden barrels, Collectif's wine is 100 percent handmade.

The crew fluctuates from three to about 20 people at different times of the year, including friends like Haida, a DIY artist who designed several of the bottles' labels. Another Collectif member, Boris is a club promoter who also happens to be Austria's reigning air guitar champion. Between them, the group now has a collection of around 13 different wines and hopes to produce about 14,000 bottles in total this year.

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That's 14,000 bottles of wine, all made by hand—the very definition of a #strongcrew.

Of the wines, there's the punchy XTRMNTR red made from Mourvedre and Grenache Noir grapes and the Beau Oui Comme Bowie (a nod to the Serge Gainsbourg song). Their Chemin F is a dusky rosé, miles away from the overly sweet horrors we're used to drinking and the electric flash bottle design of the Collectif's hearty Syrah makes it a cert to stick around long after the contents have been finished.

"It's pretty easy to make good wine if you have good grapes—it's a holistic process," says Kris. "If you do the viticulture aspect in the fields properly, you're 90 percent of the way there. The best wine, in my opinion is one which is macerated, fermented, and aged in oak barrels. Wood, for me, is a very important ingredient in wine."

While some of the locals may walk past the Collectif's cave (cellar) in the pretty coastal village of Port Vendres a little too slowly, ogling the sight of a gang of self-proclaimed punks pushing the arm of an ancient wine press to the beats of Adam Beyer, the wine has gone down well both in the region and further afield.

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Photo by the author. Collectif Anonyme's individually designed wine bottles. Photo by the author.

"The response from the industry has been really positive," says Kris. "I think a lot of people around here thought we were crazy because they didn't understand our aesthetic, the way we lived, or the music we played."

The Collectif's wines may be getting snapped up by dealers in Germany and Belgium, as well as English tourists stopping by for a tasting session but their success hasn't been welcomed by everyone. The group is currently being threatened with eviction from their vineyards.

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"The mayor started a campaign to 'clean up' Banyuls and now they're trying to evict us. But we think it's a prejudice against our alternative way of living," says Kris. "We have different visions but he wants everything to be perfect so he doesn't want to see containers in field. They're trying to gentrify this area, so it becomes another Cote d'Azur. Lots of people live the way we do but now something's about to happen."

READ MORE: These Nomadic Winemakers Are Taking Over Europe's Vineyards

The group is now readying itself for a legal battle, arguing for their rights as agriculturalists to live on the land they own.

"What we've done up in the vineyards is really beautiful and interesting and we're really going to fight it," says Kris. "It's crazy that you can buy land and then be told out how you can and cannot use it."

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Collectif Anonyme's logo, a corkscrew spelling out A for "anonymous" and "anarchy."

What started off as a punk operation to produce natural wine could now end up smashing the system in a different way. It's fitting, then that Collectif Anonyme's logo is a corkscrew spelling out the letter A—standing for "anonymous" and "anarchy."

"At first it was a pain," says Kris, of the impending legal struggles. "But having to fight for it is important too. This is why we did the project. If we didn't step on any one's toes or piss anyone off, we wouldn't be here."