Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Keeping VERY busy in June

Tuesday 16th June 2009

I have 3 hour journey to Cahors ahead of me this morning to bring back our new Chai Au Quai AOC Cahors. The drive is a fantastic one, winding through all the small South West Bordeaux appellations Montravel, Bergerac, Monbazillac and Cotes de Duras before finally arriving in the rolling hills of Cahors and the river Lot.

During the middle ages Cahors was named "the black wine of Lot" due to the inky black dominant grape variety Malbec known locally as ‘Cot’. The wines from Cahors were introduced to the court of England and became a formidable competitor to Bordeaux claret, even reaching the table at the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitane and Henry II!!

The property was lost high in the hills of Cahors where sadly most of the vineyards have been pulled out in recent years to plant on the easier lower flatter slopes. Luckily for us there are a few hardy growers left and here I was greeted by one – a very odd old man in a Jimmy Saville type shell suit (he even had a cigar). After a lengthy conversation and breathing in clouds of cigar smoke I was finally introduced to the young winemaker Germain who then told me the strange guy in the shell suit was in fact his dad, the owner and former winemaker of the Chateau!

As we tasted the wines and started the loading of my tanker lorry, he told all about his father (originally from Corsica) and his vineyards. He said that they had a special concentration as his vines were grown on the sea formed limestone (salty) rather than the lower fresh water lake limestone.

The wines are such a dark, deep red that they are almost black, with a long, velvety palate. Do look out for this new Chai wine.

Thursday 18th June

As the 2009 vintage approaches ever closer, the bottling of the 2007 prestigious grand cru wines begin to be ready to bottle – and today it is the turn of our St. Emilion Grand Cru.

The small chateau can be found in the tiny Pourret commune of St. Emilion, on the plateau between Chateau Clos Fourtet and Chateau La Gomerie. The wine was tasting beautiful and the eccentric owner was busy writing every movement down and then transferring the information to the incredible ‘doomsday book’ his family have filled in for generations. Not a computer in sight here!

Saturday 20th June

VINEXPO, the gigantic Bordeaux wine exhibition starts on Sunday so there are many people from all around the wine world arriving into the Bordeaux area. During the week of the show, producers try to sell they wines and the local chateaux encourage this by holding many parties, dinners and tastings to welcome existing buyers and merchants and of course to entice new ones.

This evening we (Libby, Chris, Henry and Kaye Laithwaite) have all been invited to our Cotes du Castillon neighbours, Chateau d’Aguhille for a Toga party! The day starts by getting Henry Laithwaite to persuade his mum to lend us some of her best white linen! Followed by a day of making the wreaths from laurier, trying out Toga wrapping methods and preparing the food for the ‘BYO’ barbeque.

By 7 o’clock we were finally in costume and nervously headed to the party. The main Chateau itself, owned by Compte Von Niepperg, is amazing set in lighted ruins and lawns. We had a great evening and a big thanks to Patrick the chateau winemaker for organising the evening.

Monday 22nd June

With VINEXPO in full swing, my house has become a winemakers B&B – with the exception of the nightly fee being the placing of a good bottle in my cellar! Stephan is the first to arrive from Priorato in Spain, then Malena from Barcelona, Norrel a winemaker Scot living in Calatayud, Brett from Australia, Nathan from New Zealand and of course, not one to miss a party, Jean-Marc!

Tuesday 22nd June

Everybody is off early to Bordeaux for the wine show but I am off to the Chai to rack (taking wine out of barrel) 100 barrels of the new Syrah de Folie. This is a 100% Syrah from the l’Agly valley in the foothills of the Pyrenees in French Catalonia. There is not much Syrah to be found in this area but after a bit of searching and talking to the locals, I managed to find some hidden vineyards planted on the inhospitable slate soils.

After 12 months in French oak in the Chai cellar the wine is now showing all its rich dark fruit and the palate has evolved beautifully to become silky and full of spice. The Syrah de Folie 2008 will be available to customers from mid September so keep an eye out.

Tuesday 30th June

I finally received the call I have been eagerly waiting for this morning. It was from Thierry Cazach, the director and winemaker at the Cave de Maury to tell me that the malo-lactic fermentation (MLF) has at last finished on the XV du President! Hooray!!!

The malo-lactic fermentation happens in all red wines – and some whites depending on the style desired by the winemaker – when the yeasts convert the malic acid (think of granny smith apples) to lactic acid (think of milk). Hence the white wines that have undergone this process become round and buttery like many Chardonnays and the reds become nice and silky. A good tip: even if you don’t like buttery Chardonnays then try one that hasn’t undergone MLF like the Chai’s own CY and you will find the wine will be much sharper and leaner like a Sauvignon Blanc.

The MLF usually happens straight after the alcoholic fermentation in October but the malo-lactic yeast need warm temperatures to start off the process. The reason it has just finished now (end of June) is that the harvest was very late this year, therefore when the alcoholic ferment was completed in November the cellar was already extremely cold.

In modern wineries you can warm the wine to 21 degrees (ideal for MLF) but in the old rustic places like Maury this is not possible so they just sit back and wait! Then, as spring arrives bringing natural warmth to the cellar the wines, MLF yeast comes back to life and completes the job, just like a Frenchman, late!


Monday, 15 June 2009

The month of May in France is just so French

It has not one but a total of four public holidays strategically placed on Thursdays therefore making the Fridays ‘no point in working’ days. Put these with a few well placed days in lieu and you have the perfect month to warm up for the fast approaching French summer holiday, more accurately called the month of August.

Wednesday 6th May

Luckily we had pre-booked the bottling line for between the public holidays many months ago, which will allow the all new Grand Chai Bordeaux Blanc 2008 and the La Voute 2008 to be bottled at the perfect moment. The Bordeaux Blanc has been made in the Graves style using Sauvignon Blanc with hint of oaked Semillon, the La Voute is a wild yeast fermented Chardonnay from the high altitude Limoux region.

The wines were bottled without labels and placed into cages, covered with black film to keep out light and stored in a quiet corner of the Chai for a couple of months to recover from the bottle shock.

These are the last of the 2008 whites to be bottled so be on the look out for these wines shortly.

Friday 8th May

The second bank holiday of the month and I have a few friends over for the long weekend which is the perfect excuse for a bit of a cook up and some wine tasting!

My cellar took a bit of a beating and the list below shows why!

2007 San Giovanni Castella Della SalaOrvieto Classico

2006 Toques Clocher Limoux Oceanique

1999 Vougeot 1er Cru Domaine Bertagna

2002 Savigny les Beaune Domaine Giboulot

2004 Chateau Pavie Macquin St.Emilion grand cru

2002 Chateau Gazin Pomerol

2001 Chateau du Tertre Margaux

2002 Pontet-Canet Pauillac

2006 Basciano 'vigna il corto' IGT

2003 Pieve di Spaltenna Chianti Classico Riserva

2003 Domaine Renou Bonnezeaux

1974 Cave Cooperative AOC Maury

Saturday 9th May

Another beautiful day worthy of another good breakfast, I had to mention this as Henry and Kaye very kindly gave me some of their first eggs from their new hens and the scrambled eggs and smoked salmon were amazing. Thanks guys!

Monday 11th May

Our prestigious Grand Chai Pauillac is finally authorised to be released from the appellation and we can now bring it to the Chai. All that stands between me and the village of Pauillac this morning is the horrendous early morning Bordeaux traffic.

This daily event is when they try to squeeze the entire population of the Gironde region over one bridge into the city centre between 7 and 9 a.m! So Chris and I set off as early as I thought necessary but by 8 o’clock I am stuck firmly on the bridge. When we finally reach the other side of the bridge, a very small, angry Gendarme is helping along the non flowing traffic beautifully by stopping every second car to search the boot and abuse the passengers.

Of course, we the Anglaise in a right hand drive car are perfect prey and get stopped. The small Gendarme rudely asks my passenger (Chris) whilst looking only at the inside of the brim his hat to wind down his window and present his driving licence immediately! He is not best pleased when Chris explains that he doesn’t have it with him. Before he can explode we make eye contact and he realises he is at the wrong window and at that moment turns and stomps around to my window and snatches my licence from my hand. After about 4 minutes of authoritative holding and enough reading to hold up the traffic sufficiently he shoves it back and marches off towards the next ‘late for work’ victim!

Finally the Medoc exit appears and once off the ring road there is not a car in sight. We make our way north through the villages of Macau, Margaux, Soussans, Moulis, Listrac and St. Julien passing some the most famous wine Chateaux in the world along the way.

At last we arrive in Pauillac and find the Chateau where our wines have been safely kept since the harvest. I taste the wine from the tank whilst Chris gives the tanker a thorough check. Once a blanket of CO2 gas has been placed in each compartment to protect the wine during the loading can begin. We are back at the Chai by 2 p.m. and the Pauillac is safely put into a vat, ready for its next step of barrel ageing.

Tuesday 12th May

I was woken up at 4 a.m. this morning with what sounded like hundreds of golf balls being dropped on my sky light. Upon further inspection outside, I discovered that my garden and the neighbouring vineyard were covered white with gigantic hail stones!!

The following morning I went to inspect the La Clarière vineyards and gave Henry a call to try and asses the damage. We had been very, very lucky. The storm had arrived from the West and due to our vineyards being on the East of the Castillon plateau, we had missed the full force of the hail.

I quickly learned that many parts of St. Emilion had 80% damage and that the Entre-Deux-Mers was being announced as a ‘catastrophe’. A quick visit to the St. Emilion area west of Castillon called Sarpe confirmed the rumours. Nearly all of leaves and tiny unformed bunches were on the floor and what was left on the vine was shredded and slashed.

Some vineyards were worse than others and all the vine growers were out frantically spraying copper to salvage what was left. Summer hail storms are usually followed by very hot weather causing a steep rise in humidity and mildew thrives. Copper is an age-old remedy to stop the fungus forming in the wounds made by the hail but spraying can prove difficult to apply as the weather is very unsettled with lots of wind and very soggy soils.

Wednesday 13th and Thursday 14th May

Once again it is the time of year for the London International Wine and Spirits Trade Fair. It’s a great event where professionals can taste wines from all over the world – but more importantly, it’s a good time to meet up with all my friends from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Chile which I rarely get the chance to see all together.

The first night, we are all invited by Myliko Wines to a Bollywood party! This was great fun as it incorporates Indian cuisine, wine and a tutored Bollywood dancing session! Two of which I adore …

Friday 15th to Monday 18th May

To make the most of being in the UK, I will be showing my Chai wines as part of the Laithwaite Shop Festivals over the next 3 days.

I meet up with Eddie at his Theale shop along with all the other producers and we pile into his minibus and head to the Coppid Hotel for the Binfield and Theale Shop Festival. The wines tasted wonderful and the customers made it a great evening.

After the tasting all the producers go for dinner in the hotel. Tonight though we have very special 50th birthday for our Port producer Fernando of Anderson Wines. We have a surprise party waiting for him, including an awesome Abba-themed ‘can you hear the drums Fernando’ drum-shaped birthday cake (well done Libby).

After dinner we had the pleasure of the classic comedy double act of Fernando and Carlos (his colleague), quite simply the Morecambe and Wise of Portugal! Swiftly followed by a trip to the disco downstairs where we were all treated to some slick disco dancing from Fernando himself, and not to forget the classic French moves from Patrick.

Saturday 16th May

The lunchtime tasting for the Hersham and Surbiton Shops is being held at Sandown Racecourse. We finally arrived after a bit of a GPS mix up (stick to cake baking Libby) and the sun was shining and it was a lovely setting for a wine tasting.

Next stop is the Selsdon Park Hotel for the Croydon shop tasting. The Selsdon Park Hotel is a huge country manor house with a labyrinth of rooms and corridors. The tasting was very busy with Carlos and Fernando’s Port table about five people deep at the end! Eddie who had been driving the minibus last night was raring to go and had very kindly brought some special wines for dinner from his vast personal cellar. My favourite was the 94’ Tyrells Vat 7 Hunter Valley Australian Semillon, absolutely superb! Thanks Eddie.

Sunday 17th May

The last leg of the tour! Everyone looking tired this morning (probably due to Eddie’s amazing selection of New World wines). The Port team and Patrick head off to the Beaconsfield tasting with Eddie and the rest of us leave with Libby for the Solihull Shop in Birmingham. After another minor GPS incident and a lot of traffic we make it to the tasting in the nick of time.

After a thoroughly deserved curry, I make my way to Gatwick to be ready for the first flight back to Bordeaux.

I would like to say a big thank you to all the event organisers, producers and customers for a brilliant weekend.

Tuesday 19th May

Our Bordeaux Grand Chai is now ready to be collected and blended but the wine has to be picked up from three very different areas of Bordeaux. Taking wines from different Bordeaux areas to blend is an age old wine merchant art which is becoming rare these days as it is very time consuming. However we feel strongly that in order to make early drinking and balanced wines, this way of blending is essential. Though after travelling all over the Bordeaux region to get the wines, it suddenly dawns on you that Bordeaux is one hell of a big place and there’s still a lot to discover!

This morning I am off to fetch the first part of blend from the tiny village of Greziallac on the Dordogne River, followed by another village called Le Tourne, situated on the opposite side of the Entre-Deux-Mers on the banks of the Garonne. A trip across the Entre-Deux-Mers area gave me my first look at the devastation that the giant hailstorm had made. For part of the journey I drove through acres and acres of vineyards without a single leaf in sight! This certainly means that there will be a fight to get Sauvignon Blanc grapes this coming harvest.

Wednesday 20th May

The last of third of the Bordeaux Grand Chai blend is way up in the Blaye district, one hour north from the Chai on the right bank of the Gironde across from St. Julien in the Medoc. Blaye is a lovely place and the soils are similar to St. Emilion so Merlot is the dominant grape, helping to make the blend supple.

Tuesday 26th May

I set off late morning for the Midi to oversee the transport and bottling of the 2008 XV du President. As I pass Toulouse and cross into the Languedoc I can feel the warmth of the Midi fro the first time this year. I arrive in Perpignan around 6 o’clock and the Tramontane wind is in full force so I decide to take shelter in one of my favourite restaurants, the Double ‘Y’ for some classic Catalan food.

I start with marinated anchovies from Collioure followed by filet de rouget à la planxa and for dessert a Mel i Mató (honey and ice cream ricotta), all washed down with a local biodynamic Grenache wine from Clot de l’Oum. If you are in the area be certain to try the restaurant
8, Rue Jean Payra
66000 Perpignan
04 68 34 51 16

Wednesday 27th May

I wake up to a very windy but beautiful, sunny Perpignan and make my way to the home of XV du President, the village Maury. I haven’t been to Maury since February when the valley looked like a lunar landscape with moody skies and dark Gobelet vines sat on the black schist. Today however, the valley bursting with new green foliage and bright sunshine!

I get talking to a few of the old vine growers and they tell me that the start to the growing season has been perfect unlike in Bordeaux. 2009 will be my 9th harvest here and my theory is that when Bordeaux has difficulties, the l’Agly Valley does exactly the opposite. So lets hope 2009 will prove my theory correct!

Once the tanker is full I follow it to the small bottling plant in Salles-d'Aude north east of Narbonne. Salles-d'Aude is a lovely picturesque sleepy village situated on the Canal du Midi, with holidaymakers relaxing on their narrow boats and barges in the shade of the overhanging trees.

Saturday 30th May

This weekend the Chateau La Clarière house has been hired out by 10 girls for a hen party. The lucky bride-to-be is Kate Diggle, the Media Relations Executive for Laithwaites. But even luckier is Chris and I as we will be doing the BBQ and providing the entertainment for them tomorrow!

Sunday 31st May

It’s the day of the hen party BBQ and I take all the girls to the Libourne market to buy some Cap Ferret oysters, 2.5kg of côte de bœuf and some exciting cheeses from the charming fromager Pierre. The best way to barbeque the cote du bœuf is using oak barrel staves for the coals, so Chris and I get busy smashing a used red wine barrel for the girls. When the barrel finally fans open the smell of oak and red wine is quite something!

The BBQ was fantastic with Champagne, beautiful oysters and the burning oak staves imbued in red wine, flavouring the meat perfectly! I hope everyone had a good time and I wish Kate all the best for her wedding day.

June 2009

Saturday 6th June: 40th Birthday Party

After a very busy week of last minute preparations, the Chai Au Quai was finally ready to host the Laithwaites 40th birthday lunch for 160 customers.

Enormous thanks to super heroes Libby and Chris for making it all happen in such a short period of time but even their powers couldn’t stop the rain! Due to the rain, the mornings tasting was relocated to the impressive Chateau de Pressac in St. Emilion where the customers could try a huge range of wines presented by the producers themselves. The Chateau was bustling and the customers, poised with a million curious questions, were chatting and tasting along with the winemakers.

The time flew past and suddenly it was time to head down to the Chai Au Quai for the big birthday lunch. It was marvellous to see the Chai Au Quai come alive with customers seated in between barrels and vats and having a great time. Tony made a few speeches and caught me unawares by asking me to make one as well!

A great time had by all and I certainly look forward to being able to see more customers at our beautiful Chai Au Quai in the future.