Thursday, 5 February 2009

January – the second busiest month of the year!

Most people think that harvest time is the busiest time for a winemaker. This may be true, but the month of January - which seems to have flown by - is a very close second!

There is still a lot of work to do in February so I will give you a brief post Christmas Chai news update:

Christmas back Home in Jersey

After the hectic and later than usual harvest, I was finally able to put the wines safely to bed (or barrels in this case) and take a short Christmas break to my home island of Jersey. The weather was great all week and lots of fresh fish was consumed at my favourite bar/restaurant The Old Court House in St. Aubins (also famous for being the preferred watering hole of John Nettles as Jim Bergerac in the TV series!)

New Blends Decided

The first week of January - Jean-Marc and I are very busy in the Chai deciding the final blends for the 2008 wines. We carefully tasted through every batch and barrel whilst making notes along the way. The individual barrels of wine are reunited for the first time since they were together in the vineyard back in September. To finally taste and realise the vision I had way back at the beginning of the harvest is exactly what winemaking is all about.

Bottlings Underway

We have now already bottled the VO 2008, JMS 2008, Bordeaux Rose 2008, VC 2008, La Gabare 2006, Laithwaite Sauvignon 2008 and the brand new CY 2008 which is a 100% lightly oaked Chardonnay from a single vineyard near Carcassonne. Next up is the Margaux 2007 which, after ageing for 12 months in oak barrels, will be ready to take out and blend at the end of this week.

Henry and Kaye Laithwaite Move To France

Tony’s eldest son Henry and his wife Kaye have just permanently moved over to France to be closer to their vineyards. So it’s cheers and all the best to them for the next year in France!

The Gabare Surprise

In mid January we had an unexpected visit from a typical Dordogne Gabare (barrel transport boat). The boat was using the Chai Au Quai’s deeper water and the winter tide to reach the quai in front of the cellar for some annual maintenance.

Arrival of the New Stagiaire

The New Year means lots of newly filled wine barrels and a therefore a new stagiaire. Our harvest stagiaire Alistair Nesbitt has now left and gone back to complete his wine studies. He came to know every single Chai barrel and it was sad to see him being prised away from the cellar! Alistair’s replacement is Jon Dowson who will begin the daunting task of getting to know and equally love the hundreds of Chai barrels over the next 4 months.

Freezing Weather and Snow in Castillon

January brought some of the coldest weather I have ever seen in Bordeaux with temperatures dropping to -11ºC in the Entre-Deux-Mers. Sure enough, I was in the Entre-Deux-Mers that very day to blend and transport the 2008 Laithwaite Sauvignon Blanc to the bottling line. The following few days brought snow and the vineyards looked amazing! But nobody was out working. This wasn’t down to laziness but the fact that the canes of the vines were too frozen for pruning. If a cut is made when the cane is frozen then it will split and the precious buds will be lost.

Laithwaites 40th Anniversary Party

This month also brought the 40th anniversary of Laithwaites Wine Merchants and it was celebrated with a huge party for all the staff. I was lucky enough to be flown over especially for the party. It was a great evening and I would like to thank Tony and everyone else who was involved.

Hurricane Winds hit Bordeaux and Surrounding Areas

I arrived back in Bordeaux on the very evening the storm started. Winds of up to 180km/hr and torrential rain hit the coast of Bordeaux, leaving a trail of devastation with trees down, power and telephone lines cut and many properties wrecked. The level of the Dordogne river rose dramatically and burst its banks in a number of places. Thankfully the widest part of river in front of the Chai stopped just short of the Cellar.

Barrels Off OxO

With the bottling of the 2008 white wines almost finished, there is now room at the Chai to receive the 2008 reds from all over France, including the Médoc and Midi. However, before the wines can enter the cellar, we have to take the old, 3-year-old barrels out and put the new ones in place. Every barrel has to be lifted from our special OxO system before the new ones are washed (with both hot and cold water) and put into the cradles. There are about 700 to move so careful planning is needed.

New Wines

The first wine to arrive at the Chai is the new Grand Chai St. Estephe. I travelled to the north of the Médoc, passing famous properties Château Margaux, Château Lafite and Château Palmer along the way until finally taking a left by “Super Second” Château Cos d’Estournel to our secret source just up the road. The wine is now aging in barrels at the Chai and will certainly be one to look out for after the summer.