Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Back to the UK

I finally arrived in the UK late on Saturday after being stuck in a very (-8 degrees C) cold Bordeaux airport!

By the time I eventually arrived at our head offices in Theale on Monday morning, the snow had covered Theale vineyard in front of the offices. It's here where our English sparkling wine is made - and now not only does Theale Vineyard Sparkling Wine taste like a top Champagne, the vineyard looks like it's in Champagne!

I sent fresh samples of the Chai 2009 white wines ahead of me last week and thankfully they were waiting for me in the tasting room and I was able to give the staff a first glimpse and taste of what I have actually been up to since August!

More snow fell last night and things were a bit slippery this morning so I hope I can get down to Dorset for Christmas.


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The 2008 Laithwaite Merlot tastes superb

I would like to take it out of barrel before Christmas and bottle it in the first week of January to capture all the beautiful blackcurrant fruit.

Unfortunately wines have a life of their own and sometimes everything is ready at the same time! With a full week of cellar work already planned and 150 barrels to rack and clean – it’s all quite a lot of work to do immediately.

But the wine comes first so I have called in the expert French cellar rats Petit Denis and Jeff (the winemaking cavalry!) to give us hand. With their expert help I can efficiently empty and clean the barrels at the perfect moment for wine quality!


Friday, 11 December 2009

Clare and I went to see Caroline and Anwar Hussein, owners of Chateau Fontcaille Bellevue in the Entre Deux Mers today.

Clare, our Bordeaux buyer, discovered and has been buying from this great value little Chateau for our customers for many years, so I was delighted to go and have look myself.

The Château grows 100% black grapes made up of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon which is quite rare for the Entre-Deux-Mers. But due to their unique pocket of terroir the black varieties are better suited. We were met by Caroline and Anwar who introduced us to Jean-Louis, their Oenologue and the cellar master who keeps the vineyards and cellar in perfect order.

We were here today to get a first glance and taste of the 2009. We tasted the different vats and they were absolutely superb and a true example of the sheer quality of the 2009 vintage. This little Château is always consistent and never disappoints but my money is certainly on some of the 2009 already!

Caroline and Anwar very kindly invited me for lunch but due to the Chai being in full swing today, I sadly had to decline and rush back to help Chris with our mammoth task of blending the 2009 Chai unmentionables – including the CY, VC, JMS. I can now reveal that I have made an all new Vent de Folie Blanc – my big 2009 vintage secret is finally out. But you’ll just have to wait and see what grape variety it’s made from!


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

As we arrived into the heel of Italy early yesterday evening, the scenery changed dramatically.

It was like crossing a border to Greece and Tunisia rolled into one. We passed a big natural harbour, where fresh water springs mix with sea water creating a unique blend of water for the sea life of which we sampled last night at the 'La Barca' in Pulsano.

The restaurant was very special indeed! The seafood and presentation was out of this world along with a superb friendly, laid back atmosphere created Saverio Gallione the owner chef! The fish was so fresh and Saverio showed us some of the fish caught that afternoon that we were to eat tonight.

Keeping me company on the table was the director of the San Marzano winery, Filippo, Giorgio (our friend we make Alta Tierra in Chile with), JMS and Anne.

Saverio was placing dishes with a huge range of local specialities all over our table. We tasted some great wines by Filippo from very old vineyards. Filippo joked soon they will be putting "made from old winemakers" not "made from old vineyards"!!!!

This morning though I woke up with the Gulf of Taranto (the instep of the boot of Italy) almost on the hotel doorstep. Filippo is already up and once again raring to go! This morning we are going to the winery in San Marzano. On the way we drive through a maze of 400-year old olive groves and 60-year old vineyards trained on the locally named Alberelo method.

A thorough look around the winery was first on list. JMS and I inspected the facilities and tasted the vats with Filippo, then swiftly up to the tasting room where we met with the president. The tasting room is worth a mention as it looks like a hair salon! But the sinks and flexible showers are just beautiful over the top Italian wine tasting accessories!

The raw blending wines were very good indeed and we were soon through the whites and into the blending of the reds – including the 2009 "Edizione" and a brand new Chai project wine.

The president mentioned that he was a keen fishermen and that the Gulf of Taranto had the best fish in all of the Mediterranean. After last nights meal I certainly agreed with him. Next thing we knew JMS and I had 3kg of line caught fresh sea bass, their eyes still glistening given to us! We divided the fish up, wrapped it in local newspaper and packed it in our suit cases! What a plan; I was going to cook fresh sea bass from the Med in London tonight for Libby!!!


Friday, 4 December 2009

Filippo is our great friend and head winemaker of Farnese.

He will be driving JMS and I around southern Italy tomorrow and Friday where we will be tasting and blending his wines for the Chai.

Had a great meal last night and we left our food choices in the knowledgeable hands of Filippo. He knows the food and what wine matches and his selections didn't disappoint.

The antipasti (starter) lasted for what seemed like forever, as small but endless dishes of fresh, uncooked, delicately marinated and thinly sliced squid, langoustines, gambas, sea snails, swordfish and slithers of red mullet were served, accompanied with fine sparkling Francecorte. The main was baked Turbot, roasted zucchini accompanied by Filippo's top Chardonnay 'OPI' 2008.

This morning was glorious, the sun reflecting from the Adriatic sea some 50 metres from my hotel window and behind me, the snow-capped mountain of Della Maiella!

After breakfast we head off into town to Farnese's head office which also happens to be a castle!

Valentino is in fine form and waiting for us with the tasting all prepared. I almost thought it was going to start on time but then I remembered I was in the south of Italy!

After lots of banter and coffee the tasting finally got started. We began with the 2009 whites; Trebbianos, Pinot Grigios, Pecorinos, Greco di Tufo, Passarinas and Fiano di Avalino. Then the reds, consisting mainly of Sangioveses and Montepulcianos.

We tasted and blended until early afternoon and once the blends were decided we made for the excellent restaurant 'L'Angolino di Filippo' on the sea front. Absolutely fabulous fresh pasta and seafood finished with a 'sorbeto' – a blend of sparkling wine and lemon sorbet, whipped up with cream into a sort of milkshake – perfect!


Thursday, 3 December 2009

Stunning views this morning of the snow-capped Alps

We flew over Switzerland into Italy, passing Genoa, taking a big left turn from the Mediterranean into Pisa airport.

Soon after landing JMS and I met up with one of our wine buyers, Anne Forest and we hurtled towards Chianti following the Arno river to meet Paolo Masi in Rufina north east of Florence.

Firstly we went to Paolo's winery to see the 2009s and after to the his amazing house on the hill, overlooking the steep vineyards, to taste his range of wines and to work on our special Chai Tuscan red wine – it’s going to be a beauty!

Paolo kindly gave each of us a bottle of his fantastic olive oil made from his own olive groves. At 6pm we made our way to the East coast and then directly 300km south, hugging the coastline down to Ortona, to stay the night and most importantly meet up with Giorgio Flessati and Filippo Baccalaro for dinner!


Wednesday, 2 December 2009

I am writing this on the runway at Heathrow waiting to fly to Pisa for a week-long Italian tasting trip.

Yesterday I collected and prepared 12 full bottle-fresh samples from the Chai of different 2009 'elements' of the Grand Chai Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnays to make the CY and Viogniers for the VC. I then took (or lugged!) these to the UK head office this morning for a blending session with JMS to decide the 2009 final blends.

The 'elements' consisted of the same wines but treated differently; some had malo-lactic, some had barrel ageing (different oaks or age of cask), ferment methods in tanks also differed (yeasts, temperature, lees).

Using all these various components in various proportions we can lift the nose, fatten the palate, sharpen the acidity or increase the palate length. We spent the whole day blending in the professional tasting room until we came to a decision, it takes time as we winemakers are always seeking for the perfect wine!

Sometimes it is good to remove yourself from your normal environment (in my case the Chai) and taste your wines away from home! By the end of the day we had agreed on the blend for the Grand Chai Blanc 2009, CY 2009 and VC 2009.

These wines are scheduled to be bottled in the first week of January so when I am back in the Chai next week I will begin the actual full scale physical blending operation. Blending 3-4 weeks in advance allows the different elements of the blend to be perfectly homogenised prior to bottling.


Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Burgundy Trip

Monday 23rd

A bumpy late flight got me to Lyon airport at 11:30 pm where unusually JMS was on time to pick me up! In the car was also Helen McEvoy and Becca Reeves, two of our wine buyers and we whizzed off deep into the Mâconnais arriving 100km’s later in the village of Tournus to stay at the lovely 'Le Rampart' hotel.

Tuesday 24th

After a quick breakfast we all met up to go for a huge tasting at Cave de Mancey with the incredible Bernard Derain! We had a look round the cellar first to see the winemaking facilities (very impressive) and barrel store.

We then found ourselves at Bernard’s wine shop and tasting room where Bernard led us through a wine journey of Burgundy, tasting glasses in hand we started with the whites, followed by the sparkling and finally onto the reds. It was a long but excellent tasting during which we were also entertained by Alain Roy. The 2008’s are superb throughout the whole region and below is a list of a few of what I tasted!


AOC Macon Villages 2006-2009
Cave de Mancey
Domaine Vercheres
Domaine Dupre
Domaine de Borie
Domaine Touzot

Chateau La Saude AOC Montagny 1er cru
Domaine Feuillarde AOC Saint Veran
Domaine Chataignerai La Boirier AOC Pouilly Fuisse
Domaine Michel Briday AOC Rully
Domaine Chambris AOC Haut Cotes de Beaune
Clos du Cronin Bitouzet Prieur AOC Mersault
Bitouzet Prieur AOC Mersault 1er cru
Domaine Vincent et Francois Jouard AOC Chassagne Montrachet
Domaine Vincent et Francois Jouard AOC Chassagne Montrachet 1er cru 'La Maltrose'
Domaine Vincent et Francois Jouard AOC Chassagne Montrachet 1er cru 'La Chaumees'

Red 2008

Domaine Chiofflet-Valdinaire Clos du Choue AOC Givry 1er cru
Domaine Labry AOC Hautes Cotes du Beaune Louis Laquin AOC Satenay
Domaine de Miex-Folout AOC Mecury 1er cru
Domaine des Chambris AOC Hautes Cotes de Nuits Bitouzet-Prieur AOC Volnay Domaine Jerome Sordets AOC Pommard 'Les Vignots'
Domaine Jerome Sordets AOC Pommard 1er cru 'Les Fremiers'
Edmound Cornu AOC Ladoix
Edmound Cornu AOC Ladoix 1er cru 'Le Bois Rousset'
Jean-Claude Belland AOC Aloxe Corton 1er cru
Christian Clergy AOC Chambolle-Musigny
Jean Chauvenet AOC Nuit St.Georges
Dupont-Tisserandot AOC Gevrey Chambertin
Dupont-Tisserandot AOC Gevrey Chambertin 1er cru 'Lavaux Saint Jaques'
Didier Chevillion AOC Gevrey Chambertin 'vieille vignes'
Jean-Claude Belland AOC Chambertin Grand Cru
Dupont-Tisserandot AOC Charmes- Chambertin Grand Cru
Dupont-Tisserandot AOC Mazis- Chambertin Grand Cru

Merci beaucoup Bernard!

We had a well deserved bite to eat and left at 14:30 with a car boot full of Magnums kindly given to us. We headed down through Burgundy and the Rhone towards our next tasting at Domaine de L'hortus in AOC Pic Saint Loup in the Languedoc.

We arrived at l'Hortus just before 6pm and were met by the charismatic Yves and Jean Orliac. We tasted some lovely 2009's including Roussanne, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc and Gris, barrel fermented Chardonnay, Syrah and Grenache.

Afterwards we tasted the whole range from the 2007 and 2008 vintages. These were absolutely stunning wines and are what we winemakers refer to as 'wines made purely in the vineyard' meaning that there is a huge amount of technical work in the field so that the grapes arrive in such perfection there is minimalistic work in the cellar.

Do look out for more wines from Domaine de l'Hortus – I personally recommend the Dolines de l'Hortus 2007. We said our goodbyes and began the long (450km) drive to meet Andrée Ferrandiz in Narbonne for dinner at the L'estagnol restaurant

Wednesday 25th

Just a short 100km drive today to Limoux to meet Laurent Mingaud and Guihellm Marty at the Sieur d’Arques winery to do a small 45 wine tasting! The tasting included Chardonnays, Viogniers, Mauzacs and a new Roch Lacour vintage, which tasted beautiful and is definitely going to be on my table this Christmas.

At the end of the tasting we were treated to a four-wine tasting of the single vineyards from the Clocher range. The 100% Chardonnay Clochers wines are made from grapes harvested from the most exceptional plots in the four Limoux terroirs with each Clocher wine having the name of its village of origin and its winemaker. The star vineyards from 2007 that we tasted were:

De la Serpent
De la Digne d’Aval
De Tourreilles
De Cepe

For lunch we were all treated to the legendary picnic! Homemade quiches, salads, Spanish Omelette, hams, cheeses, smoked salmon; merci beaucoup Andrée!

After lunch we made our way 25km’s North to Carcassonne for the second of today’s three tastings. We were met at Domaine Lalande by our friend and winemaker Richard Osbourne who was waiting with another 40 wines for us to taste. Richard came to France 20 years ago from Australia for a 3 month flying winemaker contract and never left! He is very funny and kept us very amused during the tasting.

One more tasting to go! So we once again back in the car and retracing our steps to Narbonne to meet Hervé Sabadeil and Laurent Torres. We tasted 53 wines here which included 2009 white Colombards and Ugni Blancs from Gascony, Sauvignons and Chardonnays from the Midi. The reds were also 2009’s and there was some really lovely Grenache, Syrah and Pinot Noirs.

A little fatigued Hervé and Laurent lifted our spirits and invited us to dinner at the fabulous Petit Comptoir restaurant in the centre of Narbonne.

The menu is small but the food is to die for I went for the ris de veau with wild mushrooms matched beautifully with a glass of white AOC Corbières from Chateau Ollieux Romarins. After all the tasting today it felt strange not to spit it out!! Fortunately the hotel was very close by so no late night driving tonight.

Thursday 26th

On the road early back again to Domaine Lalande in Carcassone (getting to know the 50km stretch of road quite well!) to meet the owner Pierre Degrotte, Andrée and the cellar master Antonio to taste the 2009 Whites and the Pinot Noirs.

We tasted 40 wines consisting of Maccabeu, Bourboulenc, Vermentino, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mouvedre and Pinot Noir. Once tasted, JMS and I set to work on blending the 2009 Champs d’Etoile. The Champs d'Etoile 2009 blending components are stunning and this is certainly one to grab when it’s released!

Another Andrée picnic but a very rapid one! We all bundled back into the car and made the last 350km leg of our tour to Bordeaux airport for the 5pm flight to London.

Friday 27th

To finish off the week I went right to the north of the Medoc early this morning to check our 2006 Grand Chai Medoc and to prepare the wine for the upcoming bottling. Our secret source is located on the excellent terroir of Begadon just north of St.Estephe some very good neighbours include Chateaux Rollan de By and Chateau Vieux Robin. The wine was looking very good, really powerful aromas of cassis and spice with a silky palate.

Next week I am off to Italy!


Thursday, 12 November 2009

Today it’s my birthday and I am off to the UK for a Laithwaites customer tasting in Salisbury tonight followed by a birthday meal with family.

I was away early this morning to beat the notorious early Bordeaux traffic to the Airport. No such luck and a combination of yesterday’s public holiday and the pouring rain created a huge traffic jam! I made the flight by the skin of my teeth and was very thankful I was flying British Airways.

I arrived to very rainy UK but for once I couldn’t say it was better back in Bordeaux!

The tasting was really enjoyable and was held in the lovely big room Salisbury town hall where I showed the following Chai wines:

2008 Grand Chai Bordeaux Blanc
2008 La Voute
2007 Le Prestige, Cotes du Rhône
2008 Syrah de Folie
2006 Grand Chai Sauternes

Big thanks to the great customer turnout despite the torrential rain. My mum and dad also came along for the tasting, their top tips being the La Voute 2008 and the Andresen 8 year old port (glad they liked one that I made!)

Afterwards I was treated to a lovely birthday meal and enjoyed sharing a very nice bottle of Barolo, thanks mum and dad. Also a big thanks to Libby for adding yet another amazing cake design to her portfolio and it tasted great too!


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

With the 2008 Vent de Folie racked and blended from barrel last Friday, there is now plenty of cleaning and moving of the empty barrels.

The big Vent de Folie Grenache-based wine that has occupied the barrels for one year has absorbed a fair amount of tannin and flavour from the new barrels but there is still some top notch flavour left which will be perfect for ageing a more subtle wine.

However before they can be refilled the attention to detail must continue and even empty barrels need love and care! In order to keep every barrel in the best condition each one will be rinsed for 3-4 minutes with hot water to open the pores and remove as much of the wine that has seeped into the wood as possible, followed by a cold rinse to shrink them back closed.

The inside of the barrels will then be steamed for 5 minutes using our special barrel steamer (basically a very big kettle!). All barrels are then turned upside down, drained overnight, then a sulphur candle is burned in each barrel to stop them from getting vinegar aromas. So as you can see, empty barrels are almost just as much work as full barrels!!

Once the cellar guys are in full swing I hurriedly make my way to Carcassonne to check on the Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. They taste better and better each visit and the varietal character is really standing out now! All good here at Domaine Lalande so I leave to stay the night in Perpignan as I need to be in Maury tomorrow first thing to check the 2009 Vent de Folie.

It’s non-stop – no sooner has the 2008 been taken out of barrel than the 2009 is ready to go in! The drive down from Narbonne to Perpignan was horrendous as a very cold and strong northerly Tramontane wind was in fine form blowing at 120km per hour, causing havoc for the last of the holiday caravans and mobile homes returning from Spain! The wind had however cleared and swirled the cloud away allowing me to be greeted by the mighty snow-capped Canigou mountain, beautifully skirted by the Pyrenees' foothills.

Had a lovely dinner in the Vauban restaurant opposite the Castillet in Perpignan and tasted a stunning '2007 No.3 castelmaure' red wine from the Corbières.


Monday, 9 November 2009

First stop this morning was at the Co-op de Maury

The wines have all finished fermentation and malo-lactic but it’s not quite the same story at JC’s where he is struggling to get the wines through the malo-lactic fermentation. After a quick rummage around Pappy’s garage I came back with some blankets to make a skirt around the bottom of the vat and an old electric heater which should get the vats back up to the malo bacteria’s preferred temperature of 22ºC.

Once JC has been briefed and had got over the fact the big, strong Un Vent de Folie Grenache vats are wearing skirts I head back to Bordeaux. Along the way I start to notice that the gobelet pruning has already begun and the valley is slowly turning into a wintery lunar landscape.


Thursday, 5 November 2009

The big day is finally here, the blending of the 2008 Un Vent de Folie!

I have been waiting so long for the right moment and early this week I tasted through the barrels and was sure it was the perfect time to put the wine into bottle. The individual vineyards have been kept separate from the day it was picked way back in September 2008 and I have watched and learnt from the components that make the Vent de Folie blend.

The blend is made up from 104yr old Carignan, 100yr old Grenache Noir, 65yr old Grenache Noir and Syrah vineyards all with there own unique soil and micro-climates. I have filled a few bottles from the single barrels to put in my wine archive so that I can continue to learn how the wines will develop in bottle.

The wine has been in barrels for 12 months and during this time the sediment has slowly fallen to the bottom and gradually compacted into an almost jam like consistency, leaving a beautifully naturally clarified crystal clear wine behind. I have not used filters or fining agents once and with patience and good barrel husbandry the wine has naturally become what we call perfect bottle condition!

We therefore have to be careful when we move the wine so as not to disturb the sediment clouding the wine and this is done using a thin racking spear. The arrow screw on the bottom is adjusted depending on the thickness of the barrel sediment so that the holes that suck the wine sit above the sediment in clear wine.

You have to watch it like a hawk as the spear must be kept vertical at all times. If necessary you must adjust the screw on the spear as every barrel is different! Once the blending got underway the aroma from the wine filled the whole Chai and was so powerful you could almost taste it in the air!

The tasting of the new blend at the end of the day made me very proud and I can guarantee this is not a wine to be missed!

It’s getting colder here in Bordeaux and at last beginning to feel a little wintry. The temperature has fallen in the Chai too. My poor little Roussanne barrels that are still fermenting are slowing down due to the cold. However I have a trick up my sleeve! I will make a plastic tent over the barrels and use some electric heaters to create an isolated warm room. After I had finished, Chris came back into the Chai and when he saw the big square black tent his face lit up as he thought I had bought a Hummer as the new Chai work vehicle!!!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Very warm this morning

So before the roast dinner Sharon so kindly prepared, we went up to the 10th century castle with their two young sons James and William and the dog Robbie for walk.

We were kept excellently informed by the boys of all the historical facts (along with a few not so historical facts) of Calatayud – their knowledge having been acquired from the local primary school they attend. The views of the town were just stunning and you could see to the east the remains of the Roman city of Bilbilis and the bull ring and churches down below in the centre of town.

We left around 4pm and headed back home being greeted by torrential rain just after Pamplona all the way to the back to Bordeaux but I can’t complain as it’s the first bad weather I have seen for about 7 months!


Saturday, 31 October 2009

Up this morning at reasonable hour (for once) for some coffee on the terrace of the restaurant overlooking the Navarra valley

We said our goodbyes to Javier and Carlos, exchanged some wines and moved swiftly onto a tour of the winery with the cellar master Alex to taste the 2009 ferments. The wines looked great and the vintage is certainly a cracker here in Spain too.

No lunch needed due to last nights marathon tasting dinner! So we left straight for Calatayud to meet my friend and winemaker Norrel Robertson to celebrate his 40th birthday.

We arrived in good time for coffee and a look around the town before heading back to Norrel’s newly and stunningly renovated house. The house is situated in the old town and has the most stunning views over the Church and onto the Moorish castle that dominates the skyline of Calaytayud

Norrels wife Sharon cooked up some fantastic suckling lamb which has its own D.O. here in Aragon called Ternasco, which comes from the word "tierno" meaning tender – and I can safely say it was very very tender!! All washed down with some Chateau Pichon Longueville 2000 kindly provided by our kiwi winemaker friend Nathan.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Dinner at Pagos de Cirsus

I picked Libby up from Bergerac airport late afternoon and we headed straight for Navarra in Spain as tonight we are guests at Pagos de Cirsus hotel, winery and restaurant.

We arrived shortly after 9pm in Tuleda, Navarra after a 5 hour long drive from Bordeaux passing through Bayonne, St Sebastien and Pamplona. We finally turned into the valley where Pagos de Cirsus is situated and soon realised why there were no sign posts as you could see the huge magical castle tower illuminated miles away in the distance.

Approaching the castle was a like a Monty Python sketch as it seemed the more you drove towards it, the further away it became before suddenly popping up in front of us!

The long drive was soon forgotten as we were greeted by the friendly staff in the incredible hotel lobby – dominated by the extravagant staircase – and showed up to our magnificent room in the tower itself.

Pagos de Cirsus is owned by the Spanish film maker Iñaki Nuñez famous for producing films such as Basic Instinct and the hotel can boast some pretty impressive guests such as Jonny Depp and Sharon Stone. We freshened up and made our way down to the superb restaurant where we were greeted by Carlos, the funniest, maddest sommelier I have ever met! Followed by the equally talented and entertaining head chef Javier Luariz-Ayerdi.

We sat down and Javier came over and asked us what we would like eat, when I responded by saying “I will leave it in your hands” his eyes lit up and came alive with creativity! He instantly sat down at our table and flattened out a crumpled piece of paper upon which he scribbled out a personalised menu for us!

The 6 course menu included individual dishes of tempura prawns with orange, amazing white asparagus, local seasonal vegetables, wild mushrooms, hake fillet, and beef cheek ended with a local speciality dessert. Every dish was explained personally by the head Chef and matched superbly by the bull fighting-obsessed sommelier assigned to serve just our table, and with every wine served, a chest out matador stance followed! We tasted through a superb range of wines including:

Pago de Cirsus Chardonnay
Pago de Cirsus Chardonnay fermentado en barrica
Pago de Cirsus Cuve Especial
Pago de Cirsus Tempranillo
Pago de Cirsus Selección de familia
Pago de Cirsus Vendimia seleccionada
Pago de Cirsus Opus 11 selección
Pago de Cirsus Moscatel

I fully recommend trying checking out the Pagos de Cirsus seleccion Especial 2006 from Laithwaites and of course a stay at the hotel


Wednesday, 28 October 2009

A whistle-stop tasting tour and Sauvignon search

Once again another glorious day here in Bordeaux I am certainly not fed up of saying so! And the weather forecast tells me it's not over yet! Today was sunny t-shirt weather but no time to sunbathe because I was expecting a JMS whirlwind to be knocking on the Chai door at any moment!

We had a busy schedule ahead of us so Clare picked me up and we motored off in the sunshine – roof down – to Arveyres where we met Olivier Cazenave at his lovely little riverside Chateau to taste some 2009 whites and reds. The quality is definitely there this year with some lovely dry Muscadelle too!

JMS and I then bolted over to Entre-Deux-Mers and met Ludovic Roussillon at his place in Rauzan. We checked out his 2009 Merlot and Cabernets and they certainly didn't disappoint – already deeply coloured with rich black fruit and silky tannins!

A "merci, merci" and a couple of "bientot's" and were up and away heading ever deeper into the Entre-Deux-Mers and the tiny village of Espiet with its not so tiny cooperative. In this region people tend to farm very large vineyard areas in comparison with Saint Emilion or Castillon.

Espiet is where we make an important element of the Laithwaite Sauvignon blend and Aussie winemaker John Lakey has been monitoring the wines very closely. The Sauvignon here is famed for its great acidity and pure grassy aromas and JMS and I are here to collect samples so we can start blending tomorrow first thing.

Once again back on the road, heading now for Sauveterre where we make our other Sauvignon blending components. Sauveterre is on the other side of the Entre-Deux-Mers and the Sauvignon is richer and rounder here. We tasted samples with winemaker Pascal but just before heading off I noticed an old 1970's aerial photo of the Co-op. As we stopped to take a look a young enthusiastic lady overheard us talking and introduced herself as Mademoiselle President of the Sauveterre Cave Cooperative. This was quite strange as normally the President of a Co-op is a very old man! The photo was fascinating showing the cellar before all the modern development and I also learnt that the now municipal swimming pool in fact was originally a large concrete basin used for drying prunes!

Then it was straight back to the Chai to run through some wines with JMS and prepare for tomorrow's blending when we will make a Sauvignon from all the components collected today.

Friday, 23 October 2009

A picture postcard morning and a day of topping up!

A picture postcard on the Dordogne this morning with a rising mist and a lone fisherman, but things are set to change with a weekend of rain forecast. The leaves on the vine are slowly turning and starting to drop … it will be time for pruning before you know it.

The cold weather has caused the finished wines to shrink and it is incredible how much topping up the barrels require. Today it has been non-stop and we have used almost 3 barrels worth of wine to 'top' 300 barrels!

We do not use pumps to top the wine so we have to carefully siphon the wine and fill each barrel with only gravity's helping hand.

The good news is that the Chardonnays are slowly ticking away. They still need to be monitored very closely and it’s been a long ferment but there is now a light at the end of the tunnel!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Pressing Time!

We are 'Pressing off' this morning chez Jean-Charles and once again, just like at harvest, we are spilling out of the tiny garage across the pavement and into the road!

JC and I drained all the wine from the fermenting vat early this morning to another clean vat leaving just the skins behind whilst ‘Papy’ (Grandad) assembled his ancient press (we're not allowed to!).

Once all the free-draining wine has been transferred, you are left with a big wet sponge of grape skins full of plenty more top quality wine. So we slowly open the door of the tank ready to catch the skins. As the door is opened the skins fall and, without hitting your funny bone on the vat behind, you begin to shovel the skins into the cage of the press and begin the pressing.

As we press the wine (or more accurately, gently squeeze the wine) I continually taste it as it runs from the squeezed skins. Once I start to taste the slightest bit of bitterness, usually from the pips splitting, I decide to ‘cut the press' and stop, much to Papy's bemusement!

Then we're off to Chami in St.Paul de Fenouillet to take the 'marc' for the distillery. The ‘marc’ is the pressed skins and they still contain good alcohol. When mixed with a bit of water and distilled, good skins, like JC’s, make excellent grappa or eau de marc. The skins have a value, not much mind you, but a few extra centimes are well worth the effort for these guys!