Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The fabulous weather continues here in Bordeaux and everybody is busy picking

Even Mr Dan Hartley, our accountant, was in the thick of the action this morning carrying the 'hotte' (a grape hod) for Henry's picking team!

I will have to miss out on another 5 course harvest lunch as I am needed down in the Roussillon to re-taste all the red ferments. The sunny weather stayed put during the drive south but became steadily hotter and hotter until I arrived in Perpignan in 33 degree heat - not bad for the end of September!

Today I am mainly assessing the levels of tannin that has already been extracted into the partially fermented wine from the skins. The extraction is controlled by the length and frequency of the 'remontages'. Remontage is when the wine from the bottom of the vat is pumped back over the top of the vat, onto the floating skins that have been lifted to the surface by to bubbles from the ferment.

At this stage there is still a lot of residual sugar and this masks the tannins, making them almost invisible to the palate so the tasting can be tricky. However a good, experienced winemaker should be able to see behind the sugar. The winemakers judgement must be perfect or once the sugar is no longer there, the tannins will stick out a mile and the wine will be hugely out of balance.

Once all the cellar rats know the next work programme I aim to leave for Bordeaux at midday tomorrow.


Saturday, 26 September 2009

Feeding Time at the Chai!

All the fermentations are starting to slow down at the Chai. This is due to the level of residual sugar and nutrients diminishing - and also the level of alcohol rising by the hour as the yeasts feed. The yeasts are now immersed in wine, not juice anymore, so they become stressed and start to fight each other for the remaining food!

Apart from sugar, the yeasts favourite snack is nitrogen. Nitrogen is found naturally in the soil and is drawn up into the berry during the growing season and stored. Different soils like granite, slate, limestone and clay vary considerably in nitrogen levels, thus dictating the natural level found in the fermenting wine.

We therefore add a little bit of nitrogen to each fermenting vat and barrel when and as it is required. The yeasts speak by sending out distress signals in aromas and the winemakers listen by smelling and tasting the barrels every day!

It’s Barbara’s birthday today and after a full morning harvesting in Henry’s vineyard, we had a little glass of Champagne and the first Chateau La Clarière lunch cooked by Olivier’s mum. Happy Birthday Barbara and thank you very much Bernadette.

Harvesting the La Clarière ‘Chai’ vineyard tomorrow…


Thursday, 24 September 2009

This morning I get to taste the first line up of XV du President and Syrah de Folie reds and as you can see, the colour is already phenomenal!

Each bottle on the table represents a different fermentation vat and after tasting through all the samples, I can then write out the cellar work notes for the next couple of days until I can get back from Bordeaux to re-taste.

I arrived back from the Midi to meet Jean-Marc who has come from Rioja to taste the Sauvignon Blanc in the Bordeaux region of the Entre-Deux-Mers. When JMS is in town it is like a whirlwind! We have to visit and taste everything before he leaves for London early tomorrow morning, so little time but he always has time to pose!

We then go inside to taste all the Sauvignons that have finished the fermentation to decide what we do next.

Jean-Marc, Tony and I met up late this afternoon to go through all the wines currently in the Chai. Still early days but the quality is already beginning to show.


Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Harvest 2009 'Un Vent de Folie'

Another long drive this morning finds me back in the Midi to oversee the harvest of the fragile 100yr old Grenache vines which make the Vent de Folie.

The vineyards are located in the most extreme and inaccessible places, high above the village of Maury and getting the grapes back to the village safely is quite a challenge.

We use small but strong interlocking food grade plastic boxes to keep the tiny bunches from being crushed on route to the winery. We cannot fill the boxes too much as they become to heavy to carry to the 4x4 truck which is waiting at the bottom of the steep rugged ravines. Carefully, one by one, the truck is loaded.

The heat, getting into the mid thirties and doing a well rehearsed double act with the crazy wind (the vent de folie), has been unbearable today but Jean-Charles' amazing charisma has kept everyone working efficiently and the morale high, like only a true Roussillon vigneron knows how!

The yields are so small they are bordering on ridiculous and once back in the village, we process the tiny volumes in a fittingly tiny winery!

Jean-Charles has all the necessary equipment in a converted garage under his house in the centre of the village. Once inside the winery, you can barely squeeze between the tanks and they almost touch the ceiling; now this is what I call being a garagiste winemaker!

It is so small we are forced to take over the entire pavement and half the road with the crusher and de-stalking machine!

I am staying overnight in the Roussillon so I can check the Vent de Folie vats tomorrow and also to control the second harvest of the mid-valley President XV vineyards. However it’s more driving tomorrow as I need to back in Bordeaux to meet Jean-Marc at the Chai late afternoon.


Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Rolling, rolling, and rolling!

As the ferments start to slow down, the level of CO2 in the wine reduces and the sediment begins to fall to the bottom. Therefore we need to roll all the barrels in order to put the sediment back into suspension.

The reason for this is to extract more flavour and to prevent the sediment from compacting at the bottom of the barrel. The sediment is mainly made up of dying yeast and the compaction sediment can trap live yeasts which begin to stress and start to produce H2S which is not pleasant. All 370 barrels need to be rolled so it has been a long day!


The vineyards fell into darkness at La Clariere today as a huge storm suddenly appeared with thunder, lightening and a huge downpour!

This is not exactly what was needed for the vines at this stage but not too much of a worry as the next 15 days are forecasted as being sunny and dry. Fingers crossed that the warmer weather following the rain doesn’t spark any botrytis bunch rot off or the whole year could be ruined!


Monday, 21 September 2009

Henry's Birthday!

We celebrated Henry’s birthday with a seven blind wine tasting. The theme was red Bordeaux and we did very well guessing the identity of the wines with Kaye Laithwaite getting top marks for her excellent tasting notes.

The favourite wine was Chateau La Couspaude but Chateau La Clariere stood comfortably with all the wines.

The Wines were:

2002 La Couspaude, St.Emilion Grand Cru
2004 Château Prieuré Lichine, Marguax
2006 Château Martaillac Graviere Pessac-Léognan
2002 Château La Clariere, Cotes du Castillion
2002 Château Acappella, Montagne-St-emilion
2004 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
2004 Château Desmirail, Margaux


Sunday, 20 September 2009

Lunch at St Genes

My superb Chai cellar team are exhausted so today I treat them to a well deserved lunch at the St Genes Bar.


Saturday, 19 September 2009

Le Chai is full to the brim!

It’s back to good old sweat and muscle today as the OxO cradles are at maximum capacity therefore the newly arrived Roussanne will have to go into barrels on traditional wooden ‘stillage’. Luckily I spent many a long day working with some old boys in Australia and France and learnt some great tips for the not-so-simple art of barrel stacking. There are two major factors to be respected: the practicality and the aesthetics. This is how it’s done:

1. Lay out the wood in rough positions

2. The foundations must be straight; crooked wood equals crooked barrels!

3. Get the spaces between the stillage correct.

4. Make sure the barrels fit. Too close and it could be very sore fingers for the rest of the harvest!

5. Cutting cross bars - not generally done but because we have water on the floor, I would like this to drain easily so there's no stagnant water stuck in between the lengths of wood.

6. Laying out the cross bars. They must be directly under the barrel or the weight of a full barrel may split the bridge.

7. Cross bars in place

8. First barrel on. Make sure the information branded on the head (telling you year, forest, type of toasting) is facing outwards, otherwise - with 700 barrels - you will forget!

9. Level the barrel across the bung hole, must be filled without any air pockets

10. So far so good!

11. Keep the barrel ends level too. This is done by eye, for aesthetics. A barrel is a beautiful creation so respect the builder by showing them off!

12. Onto next row

13. Et Volia! Ready to fill.

So, next time you look at barrel stack please give some thought to the artists behind it!

Meanwhile some GG 2009 barrels are almost dry (no sugar left to ferment) therefore the natural CO2 produced is no longer protecting the wine so the barrels need to be topped. We do this by siphon from the top of the stack filling the bottom ones.


Friday, 18 September 2009

Back in Bordeaux

This morning was quite fresh at 9 degrees so I got to the Chai early to open the doors and let the cool air flow in amongst the barrels to cool the ferments down. Cold nights will also slow down the sugar ripening in the La Clarière vineyards and allow the skins to play a little catch up.

Barrels everywhere! I spent most of the morning tasting the ferments in the vats. Next task is to unwrap all the new barrels and allocate the different types and wood flavours to the correct wine – it’s like Christmas Day for a winemaker!

Once unwrapped, the barrels need to be swelled by putting water in the head of the barrel for 3 hours. This is done to tighten up the staves and prevent leaks once they are filled.

The VO Verdejo juice arrives from Rueda in Spain in the tanker that Jean-Marc loaded yesterday and the juice is a beautiful, bright luminous yellow/green!!

I am using a special yeast developed by the winemaking university in Rueda especially for Verdejo called WAM. The yeasts stays active at low temperatures and carefully protects and preserves the very individual aromas of the Verdejo grape variety.


Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Back into the 2009 XV du President harvest in Maury this morning

Some pretty impressive scenery of what I call the 'XV valley', deep in Vin de Pays Cotes Catalanes country.

I overheard some grape growers at the Co-op saying they were picking whites over the valley side in the Corbieres so when we stopped for lunch, I nipped over the hill to the Cave de Cucugnan to have little look at what was coming in.

I actually worked here as an emergency consultant winemaker back in 2000 when the original harvest winemaker was injured only 3 weeks into vintage. They have always remembered me and I get a bit of royal treatment when I turn up! Royal being offered a wine glass rather than a tumbler and a slice of sanglier saucisson!

This tiny forgotten village even has its own recognised terroir and they have the right to put Vin de Pays de Cugcunan on their labels. As you climb up the valley side from Maury and over into the Corbieres, you soon realise it has a much higher altitude than that of the XV valley, and the harsh slate changes into soft terracotta clay - absolutely perfect for southern white grape varieties.

After saying 'salut' and 'ciao' to everyone about 15 times, my hunger forced me in the direction of the next and even smaller village of Padern for a spot of lunch in the timeless cafe des sports. Apparently it hasn't changed one bit since the Second World War. Honestly, the photo is not a postcard - it actually exists!

The next load of XV grapes won't arrive until 4pm, French harvesters are always slower after lunch, I can't think why?!

I therefore have time to check the 2008 XV du President North of Narbonne, unbelievably being bottled on the same day as the 2009 is harvested!

Back to Maury and the grape growers arrive in numbers sporting some very old trucks in fine condition as most of them are only used one day a year!

Pickers have finished and flock to the cafe de Maury to party but lots more to do here in the cellar tonight. We have to do the first bleed or 'saignee', this is when we bleed off the first juice that forms at the bottom of the vat.

This happens due to the sheer weight of the grapes piling on top of one another, causing the lightest watery juice from the grape to be squeezed out first. Removing this lighter juice as soon as possible concentrates the wine. The lightly coloured 'saignee' can then be fermented cold like a white wine to make a style of rose.


Tuesday, 15 September 2009

That's the whites in!

Roussanne – the last of the 2009 white grapes – has been picked and while it is macerating on its skins, I am off to Carcassonne to load the tanker with the juice from the Chardonnay and Viognier grapes harvested on Friday morning.

I mange to catch up with my friend, Aussie winemaker Richard Osborne – a living legend in the Midi. He came for a harvest 20 years ago and is still here! He does as much running around as I do, so we rarely bump into each other these days.

A quick call to the Chai to inform John and the cellar team of the exact volumes, the ETA of the tanker and which vats I would like the juice to be put in.

Time to concentrate on the reds now! No time to waste so I go straight down into the deepest darkest Roussillon to check the Vent de Folie vineyards first. As always at this time of year, the wind is up and stronger than ever but the grapes are not be dried but shrivelled!

The bunches of Grenache are in fine condition and taste great but you need to look on the inside of the berry to get a full picture. The green pips, the pulp clinging to the pips and the lack of colour when the inside of the skins are scratched makes me think it’s a couple of weeks away yet. I also cross my fingers and hope the wind dies down a bit – otherwise by the time the grapes are ready, there will be only half the juice left in the berry.

Back to the Maury Cave Co-op as the first 2009 XV du President starts arriving this afternoon. The XV vineyards will be harvested over the next 15 days, starting with the hotter lower valley vineyards and moving up to the higher cooler ones. I hope to fill at least 4 vats by tonight.

There will be another day of picking tomorrow but I will have just enough time to load the Roussanne in Beziers early on, before the first full lorries start arriving at the Co-op.


Monday, 14 September 2009

In early to the Chai this morning to get on with the organised chaos of barrel filling.

The empty barrels in the Chai may all look the same but on closer inspection, you will find that the barrels are all very different and individual. Some of the main factors that give the barrels their unique flavours include: the age of the oak, the forest it comes from, how it has been cut and the length of time the wood has been dried for. The cooper also has his own way of building the barrels and so the thickness of the staves and the toasting will vary considerably.

So what I actually have here at the Chai is a huge spice rack! And I have 400 spices to choose from. This morning I will taste all of the juice currently stored in the Chai and match this with the best mix of barrels to enhance - but not ruin - the natural flavour of the grape variety in question. Physically this means pulling the barrels of the stacks and replacing them in new batches; a lot of hard work, believe me!

Once I have decided upon the oak to match the juice, I will set off to the Midi to harvest the Roussanne in Beziers. Roussanne is one of the principal grape varieties used in white Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

This will not be taken to the Chai until Wednesday morning however, because I am allowing what we call 'skin contact' to occur. This means that the juice and skins are left in contact with eachother for 6-12 hours (sort of a marinade) in order to extract flavour and light tannins.

The reason I am doing this is to create a 'backbone' to the wine, since this juice is headed for new barrels. New barrels are very powerful and if the wine is too weak, it will be drowned in woody flavours. With a bit of backbone however, I am sure the wine will be able to stand up to the new oak.


Weekend in pictures

Very busy at the moment!

Tankers of juice from the Midi waiting at the Chai

Friday night at St.Genes bar opening! Simon flew in especially and I bet he was glad he did as it was a great evening, big thanks to Anne-Marie.

Early Saturday and some tired faces around the Chai but the Vermentino juice has got to go into barrel with the yeast. Party hard and work hard!


Friday, 11 September 2009

Harvest went well last night as I flicked from winery to winery to keep an eye on things.

I'm back in Beziers first thing this morning where New Zealand winemaker James, shows me straight to the vat holding the freshly pressed Vermentino juice. The immediate cooling has worked like a dream and the sediment has fallen quickly to the bottom of the vat leaving crystal clear juice above.

The transport tanker arrives promptly at 8am. The first thing to do is check the tanker is clean and then drop a scoop of CO2 dry ice to protect the fragile juice from oxidation (when juice turns brown – think of a cut apple after 15 minutes) whilst filling.

The CO2 works because it is heavier than air, so lies on the surface of the juice as the tanker is filling, forming a protective blanket against contact with oxygen. Next job is pumping the wine from the racking tap (the 2nd higher tap on the vat) in order to take the clear juice and not the settled sediment into the tanker.

Once the first compartment on the tanker is full to the brim and a sample is taken, the lids are sealed tight and the lorry is ready to depart for the 2 hour journey westwards to Limoux, to pick up the La Voute Chardonnay juice.

I have a quick stop at Selleles sur l'Aude to check the unloading and bottling of the XV President. Tankers are arriving, unloading, filling, leaving, it’s mayhem and I am up to my eye balls in tankers!

I manage, however, to beat the other tanker carrying the Vermentino to Limoux and taste the Chardonnay juice with Guilhiem Marty (winemaker). I am very, very pleased and I know already that the 2009 La Voute is going to be a stunner! The juice is loaded into the tanker under the same conditions as the Vermetino and as soon as the tanker is full, lids are shut tight. Once the small task of filling in all of the of French paper work has been completed, the tanker can finally make its way to the Chai.

I now head for Carcassonne to re-check the CY Chardonnay and VC Viognier vineyards with Antonio. The grape maturity is a little bit behind the other areas due to a much cooler air flow and more acidic soils but now I taste it is ready.

I decide to harvest the Chardonnay tonight and the Viognier early tomorrow morning. Another long night but after I am happy with the juice. I will leave early to meet Jean-Marc in Bordeaux to look at Sauvignon Blanc vineyards and then to help the guys unload the Vermentino and Chardonnay from the tanker into the Chai.