Stéphane GENARD – Cru de Rasteau… aiming for the stars!
At the ‘night of stars’ festival which was held in France from Friday 3 August to Sunday 5 August 2018, we met Stéphane GENARD, a man who is very involved in the Rasteau appellation who is also passionate about astronomy and has created a project called “Astro84”.
Aoc R: Stéphane, could you tell us a bit about yourself and especially about your love of astronomy?
S.G: I am a maths teacher and I have always loved the sciences and especially astronomy. During my training, I was lucky enough to do several internships at the Makes Observatory on Reunion Island and at St-Michel l’Observatoire in Provence. These internships developed my knowledge of astronomy and made me love looking at the night sky even more. When I began teaching at the secondary school in Sainte-Cécile-les-vignes, I started up a class on the theme of astronomy which I led for several years. Alongside another science teacher, Mr Gawronski, we really enjoyed introducing our pupils aged 11-13 to astronomy and showing them how to use a telescope.
Aoc R: You worked for 1 year at the “Maison des Vins/Point infotourisme Rasteau Bienvenue” … Tell us about that experience!
S.G.: Rasteau can be proud of its winegrowers and its Crus (in AOC Rasteau and Vins Doux Naturels). A lot of tourists visit the village each year because of them.
Apart from greeting and informing tourists, the sale of wines and wine tourism were a big part of my daily job. I was also in charge of promoting Rasteau; the village, the wines, the different players (winegrowers, traders and other tourism service providers) – and communicating about the events organised by Rasteau Bienvenue: visits of the village and the wine trail, events at the Maison des Vins such as “Histoire de déguster” (History of tasting) and “Tête à Tête avec le vigneron” (One-on-One with the winegrower”; and transmitting information about events organised by the local syndicate of winegrowers such as “Quand VIN le soir… Rasteau WINE bar”, the Nuit du VIN, the Afterworks of the Inter-Rhone taster clubs – But also the communication for the village’s big and small events: The village fête, l’Escapade des Gourmets, the concerts of Les Moments Musicaux de Cacharel, Claep cinema showings, etc.
What marked me most during this experience was the commitment and passion of the winegrowers. They really put their heart into their work and every time I had the opportunity to talk to them they were always very keen to share their know-how. I’d like to thank them for that in fact… Before talking with them I knew relatively little about wine, how it is made, and the work of a winegrower.
Aoc R: Do you think that there is a link between wine tourism and astronomy?
S.G.: Although they are difficult to set up, evenings on the theme of wine and astronomy are organised regularly during the summer months. Actually, I do think the two activities are complementary insofar as wine tasting awakens our senses to the pleasures of the earth’s produce and astronomy introduces us to the wonders of the sky around us.
Aoc R: You have launched a project called “Astro84”, could you tell us more about it?
S.G.: With Astro84, I want to offer all beginners an initiation into astronomy and above all to teach them how to use a telescope by themselves. On ‘standard’ evenings, we usually just look at the stars through a telescope with guidance from an astronomer. These evenings are very interesting but can be frustrating for those who want to try out the telescope themselves. But even if I have been initiating youngsters for several years, it is the first year that I offer this activity in a more touristic context. It is aimed at all beginners from 11 upwards.
Aoc R: What are the best conditions to really benefit from what the sky has to show us?
S.G.: Astronomy is an activity that depends very much on the weather. That’s definitely another thing it shares with winegrowing. The best conditions for admiring the sky are no clouds, no wind and no light pollution. In June, the nights are often too short and it is also better to avoid the period around the full moon which lights up the night sky too much. On my website, I have listed the best periods for observation throughout the summer months.
To offer the best possible experience, I lead groups of 4 people maximum.
This is not so much to improve the quality of our discussion because it is possible to have good discussions with bigger groups. It is above all to ensure that all the participants have enough time to try out the telescope and that they don’t have to wait too long to do so.
Aoc Rasteau: Why did you choose to offer this activity in Rasteau?
Stéphane GENARD: Although I didn’t grow up in Rasteau, I have lived here for several years now. I have my own observation equipment and it is not good to transport it too often over long distances. What’s more, the vineyards of Rasteau are an authentic and natural setting well-suited to observation. So, it was logical to look for a site in Rasteau to launch this activity. Laurent Robert, from the Domaine Combe Julière, very kindly agreed that I could use one of his magnificent plots located high up in the village and looking out at Mont Ventoux.
Aoc Rasteau: Imagine that I am a tourist visiting Rasteau and interested in astronomy… what does Astro84 offer me?
Stéphane GENARD: This summer, I propose two options: a“Discovery” optionoffering a basic initiation into astronomy and how to use a telescope. This option can be organised during the day or in the evening. During the day, it is focused more on the techniques for adjusting and using the telescope. (€20/pers)
An “Observation Evening” optionwhich lasts a little longer for those who want to learn a bit more about how to use the telescope or who just want to have more time to appreciate the marvels of the night sky. (€30/pers)
These two options differ in terms of the duration of the session and the detail of the techniques of use of the telescope.
For both options, I use a Dobson Skywatcher 200mm telescope. It is solid, offers very good optical quality, and is quick and easy to get to grips with. It is the telescope I use with my pupils at school and it is used in many astronomy centres because it is ideal for beginners.
Aoc Rasteau: Do you think that there is a link between wines and the stars?
Stéphane GENARD: It is scientifically proven that the sun and the moon have an influence on plant growth. A lot of winegrowers take this into account in their production method and do certain work at specific times or during specific periods of the lunar cycle. So, for me, there is definitely an influence on the wines made according to these practices. However, it is only one factor out of many others such as terroir, blending, aging, the work of the winegrower, the climate conditions, etc. It is the sum of all these factors that will determine the specificity and quality of a wine.
Aoc Rasteau: What are your plans for Astro84?
Stéphane GENARD: I have already been asked to take part in events organised by the local players in accommodation or winegrowers. It is a possibility but I don’t have enough equipment for the moment. I would need at least 2 or 3 telescopes to be able to offer an interesting activity. I am also thinking about starting an “Observation evening at home” option for which I would take my equipment to people’s homes for an observation session on their doorstep as it were.
Aoc Rasteau: Which Rasteau wine do you think most symbolises the link with astronomy?
Stéphane GENARD: I am not enough of a specialist to answer that question accurately. But I would say that the wines produced according to biodynamicpractices which take into account the cycle of the sun and the moon would best symbolise the link between wine and astronomy.
Aoc Rasteau: Do you have a favourite Rasteau wine?
Stéphane GENARD: There is a food pairing with a wine that really blew me away! In the past I never ate blue cheese because I wasn’t a fan. But during a “Histoire de déguster”tasting event at the Tourist Office and Information Point “Rasteau Bienvenue”, I tried out the pairing of “Vin Doux NaturelRasteau Grenat / Fourme d’Ambert cheese”. It was a real revelation for me and made me appreciate this type of cheese.
Thank you, Stéphane, for sparing your time for AOC Rasteau!
You will have the chance to observe the stars (while tasting the wines of the appellation’s winegrowers!) during our annual event La Nuit du VINheld on Tuesday 14 Augustat the heart of the village of Rasteau. Detailed information is available onour Facebookpage.