By Pierre Hivernat
Vincent Hurpeau has to be ranked at the top of the champions of zen attitude table. Rain or shine, he takes nature has it comes. It must be said that when one has fought for four years for the Espelette chili to be classified as AOC and as much as AOP, it makes you a weather- and time-philosopher.
The village of La Bastide-Clairence, 700 years on the meter and 1,000 full-time inhabitants is a perfect place for tourists, and it’s understandable. The Basque village is like in a movie. The day of our visit to the producers shop, it is Vincent Hurpeau who is in charge that day, straight as an "I", not a word louder than the other, insensitive to the pressure of demand for information and tells the ignorant people wearing flower shorts of the subtleties of Ossau-Iraty or Itxassou cherry jam.
"I like doing those shifts, they are a very clever way of distributing our products. On the one hand we put resources in common and it's cheaper for each producer and as we work by appointment, we are always sure of the quality and of the talk that helps the sale of the products. "
Let's also say that it helps him more than the others because he could easily sell his two commercial stars in a one-square-meter shop. On one side the Espelette chili powder and on the other the pureed version in a small pot of 50 grams, and this is what the economic life of Vincent can be summarized into. Well, not exactly.
"My parents were in Bordeaux, not at all in the farming industry, I myself followed horticultural studies in the Lot-et-Garonne and then worked in sales. At one point in my life, I wanted to come back to the land, to put my hands in it, and I settled in Espelette in 1999 by chance. I built my first greenhouse for horticulture and to sell the plants on site. At the time I was a tenant of half a hectare and it worked well right away". But beware, the half-hectare in question was at the back of his house, almost in the center of Espelette and it must be a bit nerve-racking, as the village lives 100% around its eponymous chilli production.
Vincent then snapped and tried the local monumental plant himself: the Capsicum annum var Gorria, in Basque gorria means red. And as the guy is as serious as you can get, he straightaway preferred quality over quantity. "I never abandoned horticulture and by diversifying my business model, I can play both on land rotation and the income supplements. The sale of Espelette is constantly increasing. The production is limited to ten municipalities classified AOC and AOP and I could easily increase my performance, but I especially care for quality".
Three kilometers down the road from Itxassou and we find ourselves in the plot that Vincent bought, three hectares where the neighbor’s horses frolic since obviously part of it is unused. "The principle is the rotation of the earth, so that the chili is good, we need the soil to also be and we know that monoculture over several years does not work. So I alternate flowers and vegetables with chili. There, as you can see we'll start picking (we're late in August), by hand, of course". We notice a withered plant that does not seem ready to provide any chili.
"It is a fungus, is not clear, but it happens that we lose a plant in this way, within 24 hours. So we just try to isolate it, but I do not want any protection products on my plantations". And the absence of any foreign product, preservative or additive, rule is also true until potting after natural drying for three weeks. 10,000 plants, four tons of fresh chili that will be therefore transformed into powder, all this with the help of only sun and water.
Vincent Hurpeau’s chili is actually a bit more expensive than the others but his production style induces a surprising subtlety of flavors that makes many of his competitors’ produce seem like just a slightly spicy powder. And as Vincent is such a perfectionist, he goes right to the end: "We actually gave ourselves a set of quite strict specifications, we also label by hand to control the quality of the paper and glue".
Ferme Uste Gabea
125, Kaminiko patarra
Tel. : 06 81 37 16 76