Monday, 28 July 2008

June to July - Mark Hoddy

Monday 9th
Last week was a busy one and today is time to round up all of the tasting notes, decisions, blends, bottling dates, barrels to buy and confirm wines to be made for the fast approaching 2008 vintage.

Tuesday 10th
Out early to visit the Sicsoe bottling plant situated at the Bordeaux city end of the Entre-Deux-Mers. It is a good 45min drive but this morning is really bright and sunny so I get to drive through some lovely vineyard country. The Sicsoe bottling plant is one that we sometimes use for our larger volumes of wine. Bottling larger volumes here has the advantage of being much quicker and consequently there is far less of spoilage risk to the wines. I am here today to check on the 300hl of the 2005 Austrailian Mclaren Vale Laithwaite Shiraz and ensure it is ready for the bottling on Thursday. The bottling place is very clean as it should be and on entering the building I am given a white jacket and hairnet, not quite the dusty old Perpignan cellars I have been used to of late, but seeing some sparkling stainless steel puts and winemakers mind at ease.

I am shown to the tank by the in house winemaker Isabel Gonzalez and its tank number 8. The wine tastes great, full rich and a classic Mclaren Vale. I decide that it will need a movement (an ‘aller retour’ in French or ‘rack and return’ in Oz) before the bottling to slightly aerate the wine and coax out the aromas for the bottling. The next stop is the laboratory to look at the technical analysis including the pH, sulphur, acidity and volatile acidity which are all fine. I notice the turbidity is higher than normal but this is due to nothing other than the wine coming from the Mclaren Vale famed for its inky black shiraz. It is not a problem as long as I choose a large pore pre-filter just before the bottling. I only want to stop stones and flies and not the take out flavour and body of the wine! Once everything is ok and we agree on an 8 a.m. start on Thursday. I head back to the Chai Au Quai and for lunch at out favourite restaurant The Voyageur in Castillon.

Thursday 12th
Up really early in order to be at the planned 8 a.m. start at bottling plant to persuade the 2005 Mclaren Vale Laithwaite Shiraz into bottles. I need to be there to check filters and make sure they don’t cut any corners. After a 40minute drive through obscure villages and getting stuck in school drop offs, unfinished road works and behind tractors I finally arrive on time only to be told that the bottling is delayed for 2 hours (probably due to somebody getting there before me even though we agreed on the time!). I should have learnt by now ...

However, I use the waiting time to recheck everything through and about 9:45 the bottling is under way. Once the bottling starts the checklist is endless, some of things to check are: the bottle filling level with the current temperature of the wine, the pressure of the cork in bottle, the tightness of the label rolls, the alignment of the back and front labels and that the box is the right way up (upside down, as the boxes are stacked right way up but cork down). After few label errors all goes well.

Monday 16th
The first thing to do on arrival at the Chai is go straight to taste the 2006 St.Emilion in tank GV1 (it has been on my mind most of the weekend) and sure enough after tasting I decide that it needs to be racked of its lees.

This afternoon I make a trip out to Listrac in the Medoc to check on the wine that I first tasted on the 5th of June. It is now our baby so we have to take care of it.

On returning to the Chai I have a quick inquisitive taste of the Cotes du Roussillon Villages Grenache in barrel and wow! it has suddenly stopped absorbing the wood and needs a ‘rack and return’. That’s the job for first thing tomorrow, the much needed paperwork will unfortunately have to wait. Denis (our cellar master) is still doing barrel chores and so we run through the plan for tomorrow

Tuesday 17th
This morning is the racking of the 2007 Roussillon Grenache but before going anywhere near the wine we need to clean the 5000litre tank, a pump and some hoses. We are racking on this occasion to check the lees to see if they still have some flavour left to extract. The lees or sediment are very important in winemaking. They contain mainly dead yeast cells from the original fermentation, these dead yeasts will continue to give complex flavours to the wine for several months after they have died. In order to this we will stir the barrels once or twice monthly, mixing the lees back into the wine to extract these flavours. The most important thing is to monitor the wine regularly in order to decide how often, how long and when to stop the stirring. Once the barrels have been emptied you can simply turn the barrel and collect a glass of the lees to smell, taste and even feel them. If they are clean and tasty like they are today we can leave them in the barrels with the wine for a further few months.

Wednesday 18th
Having 450 barrels in the Chai consisting of 10 different coopers, 4 different years age, 4 forest origins, 3 thicknesses of staves, 4 different toasts and either white and red requires a fair bit of organization. Before each harvest the oldest barrels of 4 years are removed from our cellars. We feel that after this period of time the wood only gives dryness to the wine, many people who keep older barrels seriously harm the quality of their wines.

The barrels (around a 100) to be removed from the Chai will be replaced by brand new barrels. June is the only month of the year when 95% of the barrels are empty. We have to act quickly before the next barrels and wines arrive! All the barrels have to be taken off the 7 high racks on to the floor and sorted back into age, coopers, wood types etc. Each barrel is steamed cleaned for 6 minutes, rinsed and then put back in a logical order. It is a bit like Tetris! This job will easily take the up the next four-five days.

Monday 23rd
I have just spent the weekend in Calaytayud with a good winemaker mate Norrel Robertson (Scottish not Spanish). Norrel has been living and making wine here for five years and experiencing much the same way of life as I did during my years in deepest darkest Midi France. I have been looking around vineyards and getting a feel for the exceptional quality of Grenache based wines made here just as Tony Laithwaite did first, many years ago.

Calatayud is a small DO (3000ha) situated in the province of Aragon in NW Spain. Something Norrel and I have in winemaking common is the passion for Grenache wines grown on black slate (schist in french or pizarras in Spanish) soils.

There are not many areas in Europe that can boast of having old vine Grenache on slate soil. To my knowledge the three most famous areas are Maury in the Roussillon, Priorat in Catalonia and the Jiloca Valley in Calatayud.

The main strength that Calatayud has is its altitude, vineyards are grown at up to 1000m high and although the climate is still very hot the wines made here have an amazing freshness about them. There are two main soils the slate of the Jiloca Valley which produces dense, complex and mineral wines and the clay dominant Ribota Valley famed for its big, warm juicy reds.

Our first visit of the day is to the San Gregorio CoOp in Cervera de la Canada about 10km NW of Calatayud.

This is where Norrel makes most of his wines my favourite is his ‘Manga del Bruja’ (The Wizards Sleeve) a big deep black Garnacha wine much like our President XV from Maury.

After the tasting we go to lunch in the village. It is a very small village and people mainly keep occupied by playing cards, hunting for stag and the odd bit of top quality winemaking. But it does have the fantastic ‘Bar el Ciervo’ which translates to 'The Stag Bar'. It is packed with locals and we have a great course after course of homemade meals with some excellent local red table wine.

After lunch we head east to Jalon to see the Bodegas y Vinedos Del Jalon. Here the wines are made from the Schist soils and we taste some really complex wines the 2005, 2006 2007 ‘Alto Las Pizarros’ and Norrels other wine ‘Papa Luna’.

The people I spoke to in Calatayud this week regard Tony Laithwaite as the man responsible for putting them on the UK wine market map so do look out for even more exciting wines coming from this region.

A few stops here and there at smaller wineries in Aninon and Ateca and it’s a big 5 hour drive back to Bordeaux.

Thursday 26th
Our 2007 wines from Margaux and Pessac-Leognan are finally ready to transport today. I pass by our French office to pick up the loading forms for the customs and then straight off to meet the tanker at Soussans in Margaux. The 2007 Grand Chai Margaux comes from Chateau Haut-Breton Larigaudiere. The first thing to do on arrival (after saying bonjour, shaking everybody’s hand, drinking strong coffee and talking about life in general) is to taste the wine, look inside the tanker to ensure it is clean and check it is the right size for the amount of wine to be transported.

The tanker which will hold the wine is always chosen with the correctly sized compartments previous to the day of transport. It is not a good idea to put 9000litres of wine in a 15000litre tanker as the wine will be sloshing around on the 80km journey back to the Chai. The tanker has to be full right into chimney so as not to risk any oxidation on route. Once the tanker is full and the all the necessary papers have been signed I guide the tanker south to pick up our brand new Chai wine in the Pessac-Leognan region. Chateau Mancedre in Pessac is a lovely little chateau with good modern facilities , the wine is checked and the next pocket on the tanker is filled (6300litres). We then head back towards the city of Bordeaux and back to the Chai au Quai in Castillon

Once at the Chai the wines are carefully unloaded into tanks ready to put in our barrels tomorrow.

Friday 27th
Denis and I align the barrels in the tradition Bordeaux method and by 10 a.m. the Pessac wine begins to go into the barrel. Each barrel is carefully filled and then topped into the bung hole and sealed with a stopper.

Monday 30th
The same drill as Friday but this time the barrels are filled with the 2007 Margaux, 40 barrels in total.

Thursday 3rd of June
The 2007 Laithwaite Semillon is blended together and prepared for tomorrows bottling.

Friday 4th
Not a bad setting to arrive at work at Chai this morning!

The bottling truck arrives at 7a.m. and sets up outside the Chai and the bottling starts at 9a.m. on the dot.

After an excellent but long day we have 13000 bottles ready to transport to the UK.

I am taking my holidays from tomorrow so I will be fresh and ready for the start of the 2008 vintage in early August. I will however be doing some relaxed wine tasting in Spain starting with 6 days in the sherry region, then to see friends in the Priorat region in Catalonia and maybe a non wine week on the Cote d’Azur, it’s a hard life.

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