Tuesday, 28 October 2008

A busy few weeks at Le Chai

Saturday 27th
Every year, our UK staff have the opportunity to visit our French cellars for a weekend, and today a group of 30 arrive at Le Chai for a guided tour and tasting. Tony and I greet the very eager group and we all taste through the young 2008 wines that we have fermenting in the cellar. We start with the bright orange GG, the Sauvignon Blanc from the barrels, followed by a sneak preview of the big Roussillon Grenache soon to be released. After the visit we nip up to Chateau La Clariere and then to Tony’s house for a fantastic BBQ by Bridgitte.

I have to leave this evening for the Midi as I need to check the XV du President vineyards.

Sunday 28th
I wake up to blinding sunshine in the Roussillon. It’s 7a.m. and already 21 degrees! The view from the house down to the village is just stunning and I can’t wait to get down into the vineyards below. The XV Grenache vineyards are perfect so we will be picking first thing tomorrow.

Monday 29th
The XV Grenache starts arriving at the Maury Cooperative about 9 a.m. and vats are rapidly filling up by lunchtime. The vats here are not made of stainless steel but of concrete. Concrete vats work very well for fermenting wine as they naturally insulate the heat of the fermentation. This is important for extracting the colour from the skins of red grapes. By the end of the day I have 8 full tanks ready to be inoculated with yeast. This is a big job and I will require some help to make the wines and Benjamin is the perfect guy to keep an eye on the ferments when I am not here. He is a great cellar rat and can do a minimum of 5 jobs at the same time! Once Ben is briefed I am off to Bordeaux as the Chai 2008 Bordeaux Rosé is ready to be transported to the Chai.

Tuesday 1st October
A new month and a new wine for the Chai! The rosé arrives first thing and my stagiaire Alistair (now equipped with his new cellar knowledge) efficiently and carefully unloads the rose juice into the stainless steel tanks. The colour of the rosé is just incredible (a great rose must not be too deep red but be a vibrant pink/red) the fruit is already showing red summer berries, so the cooling is put on immediately to preserve these aromas until the end of the fermentation.

Friday 3rd
I am back in the south of France again and Ben has done a great job with the XV so we taste through together and plan the jobs for the next 4-5 days. The top end Grenache is being harvested today and tomorrow. I will put the grapes from these 100year old vineyards into much smaller tanks because I need to use different techniques to extract the maximum colour and flavour. The top end Roussillon wine is a blend of two tiny producers in the village of Maury so I am off to see one of them today. Jean-Charles Duran’s garage is where I make some of the best wine in the Midi, he has 5 tiny vats under his house and there is so little room you can barely move! His vineyards are 4th generation owned and are 100-110yrs old meaning have very low yields at only 1½ tons per hectare. He has already harvested his inky black Syrah and will be picking his Grenache and Carignan this weekend.

Monday 6th
Our Merlot harvest starts at Chateau La Clariere in the Cotes de Castillon! Everybody is here – Tony, Barbara, Henry, Tom … even Jean-Marc is on time! The grapes are handpicked into small crates and then carried to the trailer by the ‘Porter’. Once at the winery, JMS and I are being very French and needlessly discussing the same thing over and over with raised voices just to look good (this is very catching and once you get the hang of it is actually quite good fun!). The grapes are firstly hand sorted on a table by 4 people before the stalks are removed by the destalking machine. Once the berries are freed from their stalks they roll onto a vibrating table which shakes all dry berries, soil, wasps, ladybirds and bits of broken stalk into the tray below leaving immaculate black berries for the vats.

At lunchtime we have a huge workers lunch at the Chateau consisting of far too much pate and cheese but that’s all part of the French vendange, work a lot and eat a lot!

Tuesday 7th
With reds in at La Clariere and hundreds of barrels at the Chai to be cared for, we are now literally up to our eyeballs in wine! The amazing Indian summer continues here in Bordeaux and sun has been shining all day whilst we have been busy in the cool dark cellar of the Chai. After a hard days work we decide the best way to catch the last hours of the sunshine is a winemakers BBQ. I am in charge of the fire and John and Alistair the meat, we buy some doorstep thick ‘cote de beouf’ steaks for a traditional Bordelais steak frites.

Wednesday 8th
We have some very important guests at the Chai tonight. We are hosting a meal for the board of directors. Bridgitte and JMS have busy all morning hiring tablecloths, chairs, crockery etc. Everybody arrives at 7:30 p.m and the Chai is looking absolutely fabulous, the table is just perfect and the fire is roaring away. We start with some ‘Blanc de Blancs’ Laithwaite Champagne in magnums for apéritif followed by VO 2007 and GG 2007 with shrimps and salmon, then for the main meal of fire grilled steak the Grand Chai 2005 Margaux and 2004 Grand Chai Pomerol. We finished the dinner with chocolates from the famous Lopez patisserie matched with the 2004 Font del Bosc Maury. Once again the wines and company were fantastic and proves that the Chai really has something special and I think everybody felt it this evening. I think all the team deserve a pat on the back for organising a splendid evening and making the Chai look beautiful right in the middle of vintage.

Monday 13th
Today I find myself in Rueda in Spain choosing the 2008 Verdejo VO juice. The place is quite breathtaking and the sun is shining. They have had an unusually cool ripening period which is not so good for the reds but for the white Verdejo grapes, a superb vintage. A quick tour around the cellar to taste all the Verdejo juice with the winemaker and the decision is to take Tank 18. The tanker will be here tomorrow at 8 a.m. ready to be filled before a 7 hour journey back to the Chai.

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