Friday, 17 December 2010

Montagne St.Emilion

Today I was in Montagne St.Emilion, which is called locally a St.Emilion ‘satellite’ – along with St.Georges, Puisseguin and Lussac. The satellites are situated to the north-north east of St.Emilion, and the drive up is really stunning as the view from Montagne looks out over all the other appellations.

However I was here not for the views, but to check on our first Grand Chai Montagne St.Emilion – and 2009 must be the perfect year to start! The vineyards are located on the highest point of Montagne and sit between the two hills that create Montagne. The vineyards are on the border to St.Georges St.Emilion and this area has the reputation for making the richest wines of all the satellites due to the micro climate.

Our 2009 is currently in barrel – all French oak – in an underground secret location! Once inside the cellar I soon got busy with the cellar master tasting every barrel. The wines have developed beautifully and the silky tannins meant we extracted perfectly during the vinification 15 months ago.

I decided the exact blend and that we will make the soutirage (taking wine out of the barrel to vats) first week of January 2011. I also tasted the 2010’s but these wines are still very young and extremely raw; but the good news is that the oak is starting to integrate into the wine, so it will be interesting to taste again in the New Year.

And with Remy’s new menu now up I couldn’t resist to stop by for lunch at Le Comptoir de Genès! It’s great and the menu is full of interesting dishes such as marrow bone, pigeon and deer, so if you’re in the area be sure to make time to stop off for lunch!


Thursday, 16 December 2010

Dans Le Midi

Just had a great trip down to the Midi – and it’s a great time of year as the reds are all showing their true selves, just as I planned back at harvest time.

I met up with Jean-Marc and Becca (Midi buyer) in Narbonne early afternoon and our first stop was to see Hervé and Laurent in Prat de Cest just south of Narbonne city to taste a range of wines from the Cotes Catalans and Roussillon such as the Chante Clair and Domaine Ginestiere. All the wines were showing lovely ripe complex aromas proving the 2010 is another all rounder vintage.

Extremely mild temperatures the following day at 19ºC whilst the north of the country was at 0ºC! We had an appointment at Chateau d'Aussières in the Corbières, owned by Baron Eric de Rothschild of the famous Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Pauillac. They have a magnificent project here in the Languedoc and are making some stunning wines, mixing an interesting mix of Midi terroir with Bordeaux winemaking techniques.

The property sits in the Fontfroide valley of the Pays d’Oc near Narbonne, totaling 167ha of vines. The Chateau has a long history of winemaking going way back to the Roman era. In 1999, when the estate was acquired, the vineyards were severely neglected and were all ripped up followed by an extremely precise soil analysis of the entire domaine. Once the complex information was gathered a large detailed map was drawn up and grape varieties were chose to suit each soil type.

The results are amazing, and at only 10 years old the hard work is paying off already by producing extraordinary wines from such young vineyards. We were shown around by Eric Kohler who is responsible for all the Baron's wineries and winemaking projects across the world outside of Bordeaux. We tasted the Corbières Chateau d’Auissières made using traditional Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, Carignan and Cinsault followed by the Vin de Pay wines (now called IPG if it wasn't confusing enough already!) made from an interesting blend of Midi and classic Bordeaux varietals.

A few nice eats in Narbonne and Carcassonne with some really good wines along the way. I had scallops with a good Midi Chardonnay, hare with fresh black truffles and tripe which went very well with a big ripe Fitou. I stole a bit of JMS's ris de veau (veal sweetbreads) and a slurp of Pic St Loup red which was heaven (even better as he didn't notice!), and all the homemade deserts including the chocolate mousse, apple cake, fudge tart went well with the stunning 1945 Rivesaltes!

Next day. First I was in Sallèles d’Aude to prepare the 2010 XV President for tomorrow’s bottling. The wine is incredibly fresh bursting with black cherries and a wine makers dream to get this in bottle so early!

Afterwards I continued on to meet winemaker Jeff Carel in Peyriac de Mer – a beautiful village situated on the edge of the old salt lakes, now a nature reserve and full of pink flamingos! Tasted through some 2009 and 2010’s with Jeff at his house and left for Carcassonne to meet my Aussie mate and winemaker Richard Osborne at Domaine Lalande. A quick lunch and tease about the cricket and we were straight back to the tasting room making the final blends of the Madame F white – a beautiful and unusual blend of Marsanne and Sauvignon Blanc.

Being so close to Castelnaudary (official home of cassoulet) it was impossible to resist a REAL Castelnaudary cassoulet as there are so many fakes out there. This one though was the real thing and piping hot: good leg of confit duck, authentic Toulouse sausage in a wonderful organic white haricot bean tomato sauce – glass of ripe wild garrigue, 2008 Boutenac-Corbieres was spot on!

The mild temperature didn’t stay around long and the temperature plummeted for the trip back to Bordeaux – and early this morning the Chai was a Christmas card scene!


Monday, 6 December 2010

Mulled Wine The Winemaker’s Way!

Libby and I went to the Marche de Noel (Christmas market) in a freezing and wet St.Emilion on Sunday. The Marché was held inside in the beautiful Sales des Dominicains where we were greeted on the door by a very jolly and red faced man ladling mulled wine or 'vin chaud' into cups and claiming very boisterously that he made the best mulled wine in France because he used his top wine and subtle selected spices.

The idea of Mulled wine on a cold Sunday has always appealed to me but I have never enjoyed one before as they are always too sweet or too much cinnamon or clove – but this happy chap’s mulled wine actually lived up to his claims and tasted great. The merlot character still remained strangely but effectively enhanced by the well chosen spices – which gave me an idea!

On returning home full of festive spirit, out of the bitterly cold rainy weather and original Narnia episodes on the TV I began some experimentation in the kitchen to warm us up before our Sunday roast and since Midi is my favourite area I thought a Mulled Midi wine using my President XV 2009 would be perfect.

Here is my Mulled Midi wine recipe:

1 bottle of XV du President
110g sugar
1 vanilla pod split
1 clove
300ml of water
3/4 juice of 1 lemon
Zest of one lemon (peeled into strips with potato peeler)
1 bay leaf
1-2 juniper berries

Add all bring to boil, infuse for 10 minutes and ladle away!

After my experiments I can actually say that mulled wine makes sense: all the flavours used such as clove, vanilla, cinnamon can be found in oak barrels. Why not try your own version maybe with a Madame F or, if feeling flush, a Petrus?!

Tasted some nice wines over the weekend:
1998 Alsace Grand Cru Riesling from the Siegriest family – lovely with a spicy curried sea bass fillet
2005 Gemma Barolo – matched really well with Spanish baked cod and romesco sauce
Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2009 from Chile – fabulous with the simple Sunday roast chicken and sage stuffing


Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Yesterday Henry, Lee (UK vineyard manager), James and I braved the cold and the terrible Bordeaux traffic to get to the exhibition halls to visit the biggest winemaking show in the world, ‘Vinitech’.

The show is held every two years and exhibits everything from tractors, vineyard posts, vines and corks to cellar products and gadgets – you name it someone has made it. There are designs that are pratical and those bordering on madness!

Henry and Lee went straight to the vineyard hall whilst James and I headed to see the barrel makers we buy the Chai barrels from. It is a fantastic opportunity to taste some experimental wines that have been aged or fermented in a huge range of oak barrel types.

My interest was to taste some northern Rhone white Roussanne and Marsanne the same grape varieties as we have in the Chai to check the competition and steal/learn a few tricks of the trade to help us make wines next year.

The show is also an opportunity for the various manufacturers to show off new ranges and experimental equipment. My favourite was the egg wooded vat which I am sure if Salvador Dali was alive he would love!

After walking the seemingly endless halls of the show we headed into Bordeaux for a bite to eat. I stumbled across a lovely 2006 Pessac-Leognan from Domaine de la Solitude on the wine list for dinner. Pessac-Leognan is a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine from the south side of Bordeaux city, and from my point of view a very underrated appellation, but delicious none the less; and yes we make one at the Chai so do try our very own Grand Chai Pessac-Leognan.

This morning was absolutely freezing, and as I stepped out of my house I was startled by a beret-wearing French man and his Jack Russell rummaging around my garden under the oak trees! I suddenly recognized him and quickly remembered the last time I saw him was December last year doing the same thing. He was the local truffle man, sniffing out for rare black truffles which grow only on the oak roots in certain soils and conditions. Fingers crossed, hopefully tonight I will have a couple of truffles to taste!


Monday, 29 November 2010

Tapas, Tapas and More Tapas!

Bordeaux is a great location, and we made the most of this with a quick drive south along the coast to nip over the border into Spain to spend Saturday night in the beautiful Basque town of San Sebastián. San Sebastián is the home of tapas and the vibrant energetic bars are teaming with incredible smells and flavours. Using some inside knowledge acquired from our Chai 2010 vintage winemaker and San Sebastián native Maitena Barrero Libby and I were in the best and most lively tapas bars in no time!

The fabulous beach front Londres Hotel is a favourite of Tony’s and I now know why: magnificent beach views, large grand immaculate rooms and great a great bar just as it would have been 60 years ago!

We moved from tapas bar to tapas bar, tasting some exquisite seafood and in-season dishes, such as langoustines and cepe mushrooms. Small tumblers of the txakoli dry wine of the region is a perfect accompaniment and poured into the glass from arm’s length, splashing in the glass and realising a lively fizz!

The evening we were booked into the Juanito Kojua Restaurant, and fortunately Spanish dinner time is 10pm as we slightly over indulged on the tapas! We had wonderful fish including fried hake and a dish of Mero de Anzuelo. Chose a lovely white Albarino from Rias Baxias called Terras Gauda.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Back From the UK

I arrived back in France today to a rather wintery scene here in Castillon!

I have been for a wonderful weekend in London helping out on Le Chai stand at the new Laithwaites wine show, held for the first time at Vinopolis in Borough Market.

And what a show it was, modern, exciting, colourful, informative, interactive and in a great location! Thanks to everyone who made the show possible and of course the customers who came along.

It was a fast and furious show but some of my favourites were:

Gunboat Pinot Noir 2009
Madame F Minervois 2009
André Dupuis 'Le Merrandier' Pinot Noir 2009
Andresen Colheita Port 1982

And my own little Font Del Bosc Maury 2005 which won a bronze trophy and stood up against the big Aussie boys! But Clare has to take the credit for a cracking pitch on the day!

I also must mention the great restaurant that I went to with Libby and our good friend Rioja winemaker Javier Murua, called St. John. Well worth a try if you are in town, and I also recommend the 2007 Savigny Les Beaune 1er Cru from Louis Chenu.


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Rain Rain Go Away!

In Bordeaux when it rains, it pours and pours and pours, and then just when you can’t take any more, it pours! Today started with pressing the last of the Cabernets, and the machinery wasn’t enjoying the rain either - but with enormous determination the day finally got underway thanks to Petit Denis, who got down to the basics and was ‘legs on’ in the winery!

Meanwhile I left for Chateau La Brande in Castillon to meet the tanker to load the first part of the 2009 Grand Chai Castillon. The rain followed me but was now joined by severe winds and the tanker was late but apparently lost. Finally a very grumpy driver, and an obviously hungry one at that as he turned up bang on time, just after lunch!

Finally we started the loading and then the thunder and the lightning began which was rather worrying when standing on top of a huge metallic tanker overseeing the careful filling of compartments 4 and 6! Once loaded we were off to our next Chateau just round the corner in St.Genes where I was greeted by a very wet berry wearing duo, Vincent Galineau and his father.

A small comedy moment lifted everyone as the now very wet and now even grumpier truck driver slipped and fell over in the rain and the skins from the wine press, fortunately not hurting himself but amusing the sniggering cellar hands pressing off the reds! We soon got down to business though and the tanker pockets 1 and 2 were filled.

Next stop was our very own Chai to pick up the final third of the blend that was racked from barrel early only yesterday by Petit Denis. Maitena was also back from the Midi and straight onto the job of loading compartment 6 whilst I made a warm cup of coffee for the driver that, now he stopped moaning, was actually a very nice man, and I now felt rather sorry for him!

Once the tanker was loaded we headed along the riverside to the bottling plant round the corner in Lamothe-Montravel and the rain continued to pour down. By now it was rather dark and cold as we started to unload the day’s collection into the safety of the stainless steel vats. I left Maitena in charge of finishing the unloading as I needed to meet James back at the Chai to taste and blend all the whites he had been sourcing all day in the Entre-Deux-Mers.


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Open Doors in Sauternes

This weekend was the turn of the famous region of Sauternes to have their ‘portes ouvertes’, which is when all the chateaux of the region participate in receiving the public through the open doors for tastings without the usual pre reserved and sometimes difficult ‘rendez vous’.

The region of Sauternes is only an hour away from Castillon, but the terroir, wines and countryside is very different indeed, so Libby and I decided to take a trip to out to see what was going on the other side!

As we entered the region, many Chateaux were still harvesting so we couldn’t resist stopping to taste the noble rot berries still on the vine.

Although the extraordinary Baguette vending machine we came across in the village was tempting it wasn’t enough to entice us and we headed to the reputed Le Saprien restaurant in the centre of Sauternes village instead!

A nice glass of Domaine Monteils 2005 and a 2003 Chateau Arche whilst sat in the sunny conservatory looking out over the vineyards started the lunch perfectly! Sauternes is actually a very versatile wine and certainly should not be drank as just a dessert wine. The rule is once you start with Sauternes you should continue with Sauternes and the veal with morilles mushrooms and scallops for Libby were very diverse dishes, but both a very good match indeed.

After lunch we wandered up the Maison de Sauternes, tasted a few more wines and treated ourselves to a 1998 Chateau Caillou, I like this wine as it is made in the very traditional style with a lot of acidity perfect for savoury food matching, try out our 2006 Grand Chai Sauternes as it is made in this style.

Before heading on we stopped at a few of the top Chateaux including Château Rieussec where they were busy harvesting, Château Rayne Vigneau, Château Filhot and finally Château Yquem.

The gastronomic weekend continued, and there are not many things better than eating the oysters of the Bassin d’Archachon whilst in Arcachon! The best months to eat oysters are those ending in ‘r’ (or ‘e’ in French). The November oysters are small fine, and crystal clear. To burn off the over indulgence of quite a few oysters we climbed the magnificent dune de Pyla that rises spectacularly to 110m up from the Domaniale de la Teste Forest.

Once again it was back to the Chai in the evening to check on the young wines, after which James kindly brought a 2006 Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc to go with our organic chicken. It’s been a while since I tasted it but was soon reminded what a wine, explosive aromas and balanced palate – fresh as daisy too, I love screw caps!


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance!

On Friday the Marsanne finished fermentation and confirmed by our Foss analysis machine to be 0g/l sugar – bone dry.

This leaves only the Limoux chardonnay, which is slowly fermenting, to go. It was 7.7g/l residual sugar last Thursday, 7.1g/l on Saturday and today 6.7g/l. The fermentation is very slow and activity is disappearing. I will warm the wine to 19ºC and stir up the lees where the yeasts have settled, but this is the last chance, and if no signs of life by tomorrow we are going to do what we call in France a ‘pied de cuve’, which is a rescue yeast culture to kick start the ferment again.

A rescue culture is not easy, especially at the 7g/l sugar level, as the alcohol already in the wine kills off the new yeasts before they become strong enough to resist. The wine is also currently without sulphur, so open to the other worries of oxidation and volatile acidity during the movement of the un-sulphured wine.

It is Cepe season at the moment and we managed to get hold of some of these magnificent mushrooms to cook up.

I used the classic Bordeaux recipe of butter, garlic and parsley matched with a lovely simple half bottle of 2007 Graves from Chateau Lehoul.


Friday, 29 October 2010

Cold Irons Bound

Autumn is really setting in here in Castillon with vineyard leaves turning different colours and exposing the varietals summer disguise. The mornings are also beginning to get rather cold at around 2 degrees but James and I are still in shorts! And no sooner than the harvest has finished the vignerons are already back into the vineyards ploughing between the rows whilst their precious crop ferments back in the winery.

By midday however its back up to a lovely 18 degrees and the sun gently warms the Dordogne river during the day so that the following morning there are spectacular mists rising from up from the river creating an amazing sunrise.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon about 20 miles out of town in the Entre-Deux-Mers finalising the 2010 Laithwaite Sauvignon blend. The cool summer nights and James’ New Zealand winemaking has created an incredibly grassy aroma backed with subtle citrus fruits ... one of the best yet I reckon!

The continuous and tedious task of rolling and stirring the barrels in the Grand Chai cellar is starting to pay off as the first wine to emerge after what winemakers call the ‘closed period’ is the 26 barrels of Vermentino which goes under the name of the white ‘Vent de Folie’ label. The wine has suddenly started to express itself by re-releasing all the beautiful aromas found in the grape way back in September, and now they are backed by a luscious palate built by stirring the sediment daily.

Oh and Petit Denis says ‘he knows a gardener of a very posh, huge Chateau in the Dordogne that is so proud of his work that every morning he cleans all the water hoses and irrigation system garden with a fresh, clean tea towel provided by his wife…….’


Monday, 25 October 2010

We have all now fully recovered from Friday night’s ‘Gerberbaude’, the name for the official end of harvest party

We all celebrated ours at Le Comptoir in St.Genes and it was a fabulous night with 130 winemakers and owners attending.

Bottled a little beauty this morning and a steal for the price, the 2009 Chateau Bellevue Favereau Bordeaux - another little find we made from tasting at Le Chai.

Whilst I was out and about I decided to start the rounds at Bertrand Massonie’s chateau where we make our Grand Chai Lalande de Pomerol. I checked the 08 for bottling next week (a really lovely wine), the 09 in barrels (still needs time) and tasted through the 2010, still on skins in vats, great fruit this year, and again like 09, the satellites such as Lalande de Pomerol will be bargain wines!

After doing the right bank red rounds I finally ended up at the Chai to taste through all the whites and with our Southern whites and reds harvested and almost finished (bar one naughty young vine Grenache ferment!) the Chai cellar is now back to full strength with Maitena from Spain, James from NZ and of course our own Petit Denis.

Which reminds me, Petit Denis says ‘he knows a bloke who found a German Soldier skeleton in the Dordogne and that the whole top of the skull had been repaired after a shell attack with a metal plate…….’

Anyway back to the wine, most of the ferments are now dry except the Marsanne and the Chardo from Limoux which were picked the last. We are now busy confirming that the wines are sugar dry by analysis and then adding some sulphur to protect the wine before putting into barrels and beginning the daily task of rolling and stirring. With 500 barrels to roll and stir it is quite a task and seems to never end!

Tomorrow I will be doing the 2010 Laithwaite Sauvignon rounds with James, but tonight I will trying out the 2009 Chateau Bellevue Favereau with roast organic guinea fowl.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

And I’m back In the Game!

Well what a vintage ride it’s been. I started on August 29th down in the Roussillon with the Grenache Gris and it hasn’t stopped since!

Immediately after in rolled the Sauvignon Blancs of the Entre-Deux-Mers, Chardonnays of Carcassonne, Viogniers of Beziers, Vermentino from Languedoc, an all new Marsanne, then Roussanne, Sauvignon Gris back in Bordeaux, Chardonnay from Limoux, and whites done.

Midi red harvest kicked off with not a moment to spare. Languedoc Pinot Noir, l’Agly Valley Syrah, Roussillon Grenache and Carignan, Minervois, Fitou, Corbieres more Grenache in the high Schist of St.Paul de Fenouillet, the Negrette’s of Fronton, Cotes de Castillon, Pauillac, Margaux and finally our Grand Chai St Emilion yesterday with perfect berries rolling off the sorting table.

Not to mention the Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, English, Frenchies, the Spanish, Bernadette’s lunches, Le Voyageur restaurant, 20,000kms driven, a few speeding tickets, JMS, dinners at Le Bourg, Le Comptoir at St Genes, boiling hot weather, cassoulet, Sir Michael of Windsor, the Laithwaites, film crews 2 or 3?, our UK buyers, UK team conferences, 80’s fancy dress parties, Chai dinners, tours, wine advisors from the UK, Chai Keyholders, Monday markets and of course our own Petit Denis!

Oh and Petit Denis says ‘The new huge 100 ton Chain draped over the refurbished Castillon Citadel entrance used to be stretched across the Dordogne River to stop barrel laden Gabare boats getting through to Bordeaux tax free and he knows a bloke with a toe for thumb’…..

We’ve all gone slightly mad but with all the grapes in and most of the whites already finished, their sugar sanity is back and the next step of winemaking can begin. We now have nearly 500 white wine barrels to be daily stirred or rolled on the OxO in order to mix back the sediment for palate weight, crisp Viognier and Sav B’s to rack off lees and keep fresh and reds to pump over precisely to extract the perfect amount of tannins.

Oh and a stuck ferment in the Midi, there’s always one isn’t there! Will keep the hire a few more days ... fingers crossed

And a big thanks to Libby for her patience with me over harvest!


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Chai negociant business is in full swing

The first wine to be bottled from JMS’ eagle eye and quick selection (backed up by myself being ‘on the ground’ to make sure all is well at the winery) is a little 2009 Bordeaux gem from Chateau Bellevue Favereau in the village of Pellegrue in the Entre-Deux-Mers.

This wine will soon be in the UK and on the Laithwaites wine list, so for all those Bordeaux fans out there keep an eye out for this little beauty.

Apart from the pressure of the ever closer harvest here in Bordeaux, the other most important news is that the cold mornings have meant Le Voyageur restaurant have served the first homemade soup starter since last winter!

Madame Mimi’s homemade soup is also the catalyst for the first ‘Chabrot’. Petit Denis patiently talked virgin Chabrot taster James from New Zealand through the process rather like an air hostess doing the safety talk before the flight begins!

Chabrot is a traditional Dordogne ritual when you leave the last of your soup broth in the bowl, place your spoon upside down in the liquid and pour in red wine – diluting the soup but NEVER covering the spoon – then slurp away!

As you can see from the photos, Henry demonstrates and executes the very difficult but obviously satisfying act of ‘Chabrot’ perfectly!

The grape harvest is such a wonderful thing and every year it brings together the permanent Chai winery staff and the ‘flying’ winemakers into a close family as we are together morning, midi and night. This also brings the usual running cellar jokes, sayings and favourite songs.

At the moment the current trend is the “Petit Denis Says” stories. Petit Denis always has a story or fact on the tip of his tongue and I would like to include a small “Petit Denis Says” quote in the blog throughout harvest, so here are two Petit Denis classics to get the ball rolling:

No 1 “Petit Denis Says”:
He knows the best driver of a machine grape harvester in Bordeaux and apparently he is such a good driver because he was also the personal driver for The Queen of England for 10 years………..

No 2 “Petit Denis says”:
The root of the word ‘Chabrot’ comes from the Latin word capreolus meaning ‘to drink like a goat!’

Meanwhile back in the cellar and after a bit of in depth research I am doing something all books tell you not to do, exactly what the Chai is for!

Firstly I am purposely oxidising a small part of the Chardonnay juice until it turns tea brown called ‘hyper oxidation’ followed by adding two different yeast strains. If the theory works it will be one hell of a wine, fingers crossed!

2010 XV du President begins harvest tomorrow so it’s another trip down to Maury.

Tasted some great English ale over the weekend too – Will Laithwaite’s very tasty Abingdon Bridge kindly brought by Henry in the car from the UK.


Monday, 20 September 2010

After a busy day in the cellar and just before I thought it couldn’t get crazier, JMS took me to IKEA to help him get furniture for our Chai office

It was honestly like accompanying a tornado as I watched him ripping through the store, grilling the useless staff for lack of information. More tiring than the cellar! Anyway afterwards we ate calmly at the superb Chiopot and tasted a fantastically youthful 2001 Fleur Cardinal St Emilion Grand Cru.

Back in the cellar early this morning and with ferments checked JMS, James and I headed for Sauveterre in the Entre-Deux-Mers to taste the first juice from last night’s harvest.

From here I went on to the Midi stopping in Carcassonne to check the Chardonnay vineyards. After a good walk up and down the rows tasting and assessing the berries, I give the go head to harvest tonight. The grapes on the edge and I think this is as far as a can push them before the predicted rain turns the vineyard into a disaster!

After a bite to eat at our winemaker base just outside of Carcassonne (which was some pan fried duck breast accompanied beautifully with a glass of 2007 Gevrey Chambertin from Marc Rougeot-Dupin) we were back to the winery for the arrival of the first Chardonnay grapes.

Soon enough the presses were full the juice was being carefully pumped through the cooling pipes and within minutes, the juice was in a vat at 3 degrees to settle out the largest of the sediment.

After a few hours sleep we started the Viognier harvesting by machine. Harvesting by machine nowadays is very efficient as it is very quick, can be done at night or in the cool hours of the morning, takes berries only and most importantly is always on time! With dark clouds looming and laden with the forecasted rain, we harvest the last row just in the nick of time as the drops started to fall.

My good Aussie friend and head winemaker Richard Osbourne was in good form this morning considering his company car got stolen last month when he nipped into a boulangerie to get a baguette!

Pierre Degroot, the owner of Lalande, wasn't so impressed but did give him a new car. But the hilarious thing is it has a big photo of Pierre on the side! Richard though with typical Aussie humour says "I'm sure he's punishing me by making me drive round in this bloody car mate!" Richard showed me some of the Chasselas he was going to harvest tonight. It’s a really hard grape to use for wine but is a great blending component.

No time to waste and I am off straight to Beziers to check the settling of the Marsanne and Vermentino whilst the Viognier and Chardonnay settle out in Carcassonne which I’ll be checking later this evening.

From Bezier we followed the Mediterranean Sea towards Catalonia and into Perpignan just in time for the lunch menu at the Double YY (always time for lunch!) and to see my friend Benoit who runs the place. He knows his Roussillon wine inside out and always something interesting up his sleeve and let us taste. This time it was a very interesting Grenache Gris/Carignan Gris from Domaine Clot de l'Oum.

Lunch over and we are soon in the heart of the Roussillon meeting up with Vent de Folie vineyard owner Jean-Charles Duran. We all climbed into his 4x4 and motored off into old vine territory. The slate soil and old vines produce next to nothing and the knarled vines are bent to the ground from the Tramontane wind.

The old vine Grenache grapes are awesome and we predict next Wednesday for the harvest. I told Maïtena our flying Spanish winemaker that this place was insane but it is only now she is actually here that she really believes me!

Not finished yet and as promised it's back to Carcassonne and the juice from last night and early morning has settled beautifully ready for tomorrow's loading and trip up to the Chai. The separation of the sediment and the clear juice can be seen clearly through the sight glass on the side of the vat.

Back late and a lovely glass of Pic St Loup and some fresh tuna steaks picked up on the Med coast this afternoon was a great way to finish off a very satisfying day. All that's left is to get all the hard work safely back to the Chai tomorrow!

Meanwhile even my mum and dad are getting a good crop in Dorset! We will have a taste off at Xmas!


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The typical autumn mist and fresh mornings have started here in Bordeaux

The mist was effortlessly rising off the warm river this morning and it was very strange but nice to enter the Chai and taste first the southern warmth of the 2010 Grenache Gris juice here on the banks of the Dordogne!

Inside the cellar the ferments are all underway and the air is full of an array of aromas from the different yeasts going about their business, transforming the juice into wine. The Chai is very busy and James and Denis are up and down ladders, on the catwalk that links the vat chimneys together and preparing barrels for the next batch of juice to arrive.

Every morning at 7am and every evening at 7pm all the vats and barrels are tasted by James and me whilst Petit Denis takes a sample to check the sugar level and temperature.

The sugars are monitored by using a hydrometer which is an instrument used to measure the Specific Gravity (SG) of the density of sugar in the juice. Pure water is defined as having a SG of one so, for example, a liquid with a density twice that of water has a SG of two.

The hydrometer is made of glass with a lead shot in the bulb end to weigh it down. It’s gently lowered into a tall measuring cylinder of grape juice until it floats freely. A paper scale inside the stem allows the SG be read directly and the point at which the surface of the liquid touches the stem of the hydrometer is noted in the fermentation book.

The aim is to ensure that the sugar is falling and at a consistently slow rate with good temperatures to allow yeast survival but to keep aromas preserved. Therefore looking at the SG daily the sugar can be easily seen to be dropping normally, too slow or too fast.

This is a quick and useful tool which allows the winemaker to act quickly and decide the best form of action to help the fermentation. However not all problems can be spotted with the SG and further to this, each individual fermentation is tasted and smelt so that any vats or barrels that may be struggling and showing yeast stress in other ways can also be helped.

I have also been up and down like a yo-yo from the Midi to Bordeaux and I now have precise harvest dates for this week. In Beziers the Vermintino will be cut tonight and the Marsanne on Wednesday evening, in Carcassonne the ‘Caillou’ Chardonnay Vineyard will be picked early Thursday morning followed by the Viognier. The La Voute Limoux Chardonnay should be sometime Friday but I will make a decision for the exact time of harvest on Friday morning.

With this news now in Petit Denis has been frantically swelling up the new barrels so the wood staves tighten up to avoid leaks and they are all now gleaming in place on the OxO barrels racks. Great work Denis!

Meanwhile the reds grapes are having what winemakers call ‘hang time’ in the vineyard. Hang time is a game of risk when the best winemakers begin to play against the elements and try to let the fruit hang on the vine as long as possible for that extra special maturity. The more you play the better you get!