Thursday, 7 May 2009

A VERY busy March and April ...

Wednesday 18th March
I’m in sunny Cornwall today and the sunshine is just marvellous! I am in the beautiful city of Truro, our setting for a Laithwaites customer tasting. The evening was brilliant with lots of inquisitive customers having the opportunity to taste new things and ask questions. It is always a pleasure as the winemaker to personally present new wines to the customers and the highlight for me and I think the customers will agree was a sneak preview of the 2005 Font del Bosc AOC Maury that I had brought over myself this morning from the Chai.

This wine is very special and can only be made in the tiny village of Maury in the foothills of the Pyrenees in French Catalonia. It is a port-style wine with a difference - it’s very lightly fortified (5% vol of alcohol less than Port) and made from the Grenache Noir grape. I used to live in the village of Maury and I can always remember coming in from a full day’s work in the hot slate vineyards and being given an ice cold Maury by Papa Calvet who I worked for, so I decided to serve it to our customers nice and chilled just like the locals drink it! I would like to thank all the customers for a really enjoyable evening.

Thursday 19th
The day starts again with bright sunshine and before I have to fly back to Bordeaux I have just enough time for a tour around this beautiful area of South West England. Here is a photo of me with the lovely town of Falmouth in the background.

Monday 23rd
Barrels, barrels and more barrels! As the 2008 wine start to arrive at the Chai so does the delivery of new barrels. The next young wine to go into barrel is the new Folie de Syrah from the Languedoc, so watch out for this wine in 10 months time …

Friday 27th
John, our stagiaire, is finishing his 3 month cellar training period and is off to Spain to continue his winemaking apprenticeship. So today I am taking him for a slap up meal at our favourite restaurant, the infamous ‘le Voyageur’ in Castillon to say a big thanks for all his hard work.

Monday 30th
John’s replacement Chris Parkin (pictured left) arrived yesterday evening and is already amongst the barrels first thing this morning with plenty to do!

Tuesday 31st
The single vineyard Limoux Chardonnay which has been deemed to be extra special enough to go under the ‘La Voute’ label (last made in back in 2006) is finally ready to come out of barrel and to be blended. Extreme care must be taken today as there is a lot of sediment that has been slowly settling at the bottom of the barrels. I have kept the natural sediment in the wine over the past 5 months to infuse delicate flavour. The wine will now stay for a further 3 weeks in closed stainless steel vats to allow the blend to become homogenous before bottling next month.

Thursday 2rd April
This week it has been the Bordeaux ‘En Primeur’ which is when the Bordelais winemakers give you a first glimpse of their new wines.Sure enough, Jean-Marc is flying in for the most important thing, tonight’s en primeur party in the heart of Bordeaux city! Jean-Marc, Henry Laithwaite and I have all been very fortunate to have been invited. We arrive at the party which has been organised by the offspring of all the greatest chateau owners in Bordeaux and is being held at Matthieu Cuvelier’s (of Chateau Clos Fourtet, St.Emilion) impressive apartment. On arrival we are greeted with a glass each with our names on and kindly offered some vintage champagne.

There are about a 100 people in the flat and the ambiance is great, everyone chatting away and music blaring out from the DJ. There are bottles/magnums/jeroboams of wine everywhere and on closer inspection Henry and I realise that the bottles are a selection of some of the most incredible wines and vintages! Looking down the table all the famous names and Chateaux are there, kindly provided by the organisers. It was a great evening with lots of great people and wines. Even though Henry and I were slightly underdressed in t-shirt and jeans whilst mingling with the blazer, brogues and cravat wearing youngsters!

Monday 6th
Today we are bottling the 2nd edition of our fortified Grenache Noir, the AOC Maury Font Del Bosc 2005. The wine has been ageing in barrels for 4 years and is being bottled unfiltered straight from the cask. The wine will be labelled later as I would like the wine to rest in bottle for a few months before it is released to customers.

Tuesday 7th
It is certainly the month for bottling! And this morning I am in Lalande de Pomerol to bottle our new Grand Chai Lalande de Pomerol 2007. The wine tastes lovely after its months rest in the vat and it is perfect timing for the bottling.

Wednesday 8th
It’s the 2008 Grand Chai Blanc’s turn to be prepared for bottling today and also the last white wine from the 2008 vintage left in the Chai, which usually means that the next harvest will be here before we know it! This is the first time we have produced a Grand Chai Blanc and it is made from 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Semillon grapes from the limestone plateau of Saint Radegonde in the Entre Deux Mers. This is certainly one to look out for and I am very pleased with the result. I will certainly be looking forward to showing our Australian winemaker John Lakey (who was a big part of this wine last harvest) next time I see him.

Thursday 9th
A brilliant surprise this morning is that our new wines from Hermitage and Cotes du Rhone are at last ready to come to the Chai. The transport tanker is planned to meet me at 8 am tomorrow in the famous Northern Rhone village of Tain Hermitage. Bordeaux to the Tain is a fair distance so I set off as early as I can. Not the best drive I have experienced as I finally arrived in Tain at 8 p.m. after driving across the vast Massif Central in a continuous April shower!

Friday 10th
The Hermitage and the Cotes du Rhone are safely loaded into the tanker this morning, sealed and sent on their way to Bordeaux where it will be met by Chris at the Chai. I however have to drive down to Perpignan to get the President XV 2008 wine ready for the fast approaching Vintage Festival in London. After a long day, the wine is now resting in Beziers where it will remain for a couple of weeks before the bottling.

Saturday 11th
The old Gabare boat that has been on the quai in front of the Chai over winter being cleaned and repaired is finally ready to be launched back in the Dordogne River. I have got to know Monsiuer Le Blanc quite well over the past 4 months and he is extremely happy today to be ready to launch his boat in time for the new tourist season.

Tuesday 14th
I am off to Italy this morning, flying into Rome from Bordeaux and the sun is out for a great flight over the Mediterranean. An interesting flight on a tiny plane with 10 Tuscan monks in full monk attire! But passing over Corsica suddenly gives me inspiration to visit there this summer for my holidays.

We land on time in Rome and after battling amongst the monks at the conveyer to get my bags, I am finally in my hire a car and heading towards the Chianti Classico village of Radda just south of Florence. I can safely say that some lovely local food and a great Chianti Classico wine is the perfect recipe to wind down.

Wednesday 15th
Not the best starts to the day as I am caught speeding by the Poliza Stradale! However, after a quick ride in the back of a Police car (who incidentally drove like a complete lunatic!) to the nearest cash machine 22kms away, my passport and car keys are given back to me and I can finally set off on a tour of the Chianti Classico DOCG region. I stop for lunch in Gaiole and then visit the villages of Lecchi, Panzano, Greve and Castellina. The countryside and the villages look identical to the amazing pictures that you see in Tuscan holiday brochures and the wine is just incredible with the Sangiovese grape adapting perfectly to the climate and soils.

Thursday 16th
I have a visit this morning to Castillo di Bossi in Castelnuovo in southern Chianti Classico. At last I find the well hidden estate (it seems Italians aren’t too fond of signposts) and I am greeted by father and son owners Maurizo and Jacopo Bacci. I am given a tour of their 650 hectare estate which includes vineyards, olive groves, wheat fields and a couple of hundred hectares of private shooting reserve thrown in for good measure!

I am then treated to a fabulous tasting of all their wines (they also own the Renieri Estate in Montalcino and Terre di Talamo estate in the southern part of Tuscany’s Maremma coast). The quality throughout the range of wines is amazing and you must look out for these wines, my personal favourites being the Brunello di Montalcino 2004 and the 100% Syrah called ‘Regina and Renieri’ (King and Queen). After the tasting I am invited to lunch in their impressive classic Tuscan farm house for a “quick pasta dish” as they put it. I am led to the kitchen which was everything you can imagine a Tuscan farmhouse kitchen to be with the enormous fire place, huge wooden table and hams and salami hanging up.

Jacopo’s father carries in a huge hunk of estate cured wild boar ham (still with the hair on!) and begins to carve off slices of the ham for the antipasti. He then tells me about his passion for shooting and due to it being a private reserve only himself or his guests can hunt on the estate and therefore he has to kill around 200 boar and deer per year to control the population. The next course ‘primi’ is fresh pasta made from the home grown wheat in a tomato/chilli sauce washed down with a Bossi Chainti Classico. The next dish ‘secondi’ is estate wild venison in olive oil and rosemary which was absolutely fanatastic! Next was an impressive version on a vino santo, their 1999 Vin San Laurintino (meaning Holy Wine) from Trebbiano grapes that are dried in the loft for 5 months and then spend a minimum of 8 years in cask. We finish off with the strongest coffee on the planet and some home made Grappa! After a nice stroll in the grounds, Maurizo learns that I will be in Montalcino tomorrow morning and invites/insists that I visit … after today’s lunch how could I refuse! I say my goodbyes and head back towards my hotel.

Friday 17th
Lovely sunshine today and I am looking forward to the drive down to the prestigious DOCG of Brunello di Montalcino to visit Casanova di Neri who are famous for scoring a perfect 100 out of 100 points for their Brunello in Wine Spectator. The estate is situated just under the hill top village of Montalcino above rolling hills of wheat fields. I am met by winemaker Giacomo and given a tour of the underground winery and a tasting of the wines.

I am staying tonight in yet another picturesque village called San Quirico d’Orcia about 5 km from Montalcino. To finish off the day I have a lovely simple dinner of fresh pasta and truffles at a small local Tratorria in the heart of the village.

Saturday 18th
I am heading back North today to meet up with winemaker Paolo Masi at his estate in the village of Rufina in Chianti. I arrive about 11 a.m. after getting very lost (thanks to more of the non-existent signposts) and am taken into the vineyards by the ever smiling Paolo. He gives me a fantastic tour of his vineyards and olive groves which are high in the steep hills overlooking Rufina.

Rufina is a special part of Chianti as the climate is slightly cooler due to the Northern location and steep valley sides where the Sangiovese grape produces long lived reds. Paolo’s wines are excellent and I must recommend his 2006 Renzo Masi Chianti Riserva and his super Tuscan ‘I Pina’. Then just before I leave, Paolo insists on loading up my car with wine and olive oil!

I then head into Florence as tonight I am ending another wine region tour with a Bob Dylan concert (it is becoming a bit of a habit!).

Monday 20th
Bit of a busy day ahead today as I need to be in the Midi tonight because tomorrow I am overseeing the blending and bottling of the 2008 President XV. After a 3 hour drive to Rome, a 2 hour flight back to Bordeaux and 5 hour drive to Perpignan I am finally at the hotel and ready for an early start tomorrow!

Tuesday 21st
I meet the tanker at the cooperative in Maury at 7am and load up the wine which is to be transported to Beziers for the bottling. All goes well and I manage to leave Beziers about 5 pm to drive back to Bordeaux because I fly to London tomorrow for the Sunday Times Vintage Festival!

Wednesday 22nd
Back in Bordeaux the bud burst is truly underway and the sunny weather has advanced the shoots, but with rain forecasted it is a nerve racking time for the growers as it is now that the buds are most susceptible to mildew. I make quick stop at the Chai to brief Chris, taste and check everything and then straight to Bordeaux airport for my flight to Gatwick.

Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th
The Sunday Times Vintage Festival gets underway this morning and our French team of Clare, Helene, Henry, Patrick, Jean-Marc and I are on hand to present a range of wines to our customers on the Chai Au Quai stand. We have an estimated 5000 people visiting over the next two days during 4 sessions where doors are open for 3 hours at a time with a break in between for us and our customers to recover!

In classic last minute style Jean-Marc decides we need nibbles for the stand before the opening. I soon learn that Jean-Marc’s idea of nibbles amount to more than a bowl of peanuts, as we whisk off in a taxi into London. First stop is the celebrated French bakery Poilane in Belgravia, then Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden to get some cheese and after a little tasting we decide on 10kg of 2 year old parmesan, utterly delicious!

We arrive back in Westminster and we know we are near as we pass the huge line of people eagerly waiting for the doors to open for the first 3 hour session. I would like to say thanks to all the hard work put in by the events team and staff and most importantly - thanks to our customers for making the weekend a huge success!