Friday, 29 January 2010

Well, what a week! The winery has been jam-packed with barely an inch to spare.

We have been doing the normal cellar work along with the added bottling of three wines in a 10th of the normal space. My cellar skills have been thoroughly tested this week but we have made it through and all the wines are safely in bottle.

The VC and CY are just stunning wines and have the newly passed appellation of Vin de France which replaces the old Vin de Table. The change allows us to now put the vintage and grape variety on the label just like the AOC’s.

Tony has long been discovering, making, buying and delivering to the UK customer, high-quality wines from the so called ‘lesser’ wine producing areas without the help of the complicated French appellation system. I think this long awaited advance in French regulations now gives justice to those fabulous wines which we have discovered and will continue to discover.

The builders have progressed significantly and nearly all the beams and walls upstairs have been sand-blasted clean of the 150 years of accumulated dust, exposing the most beautiful wood and local stone. I am also becoming accustomed to the daily routine of brushing down my desk from an inch of dust each morning!


Thursday, 28 January 2010

I had a great weekend as my friend Javier Murúa from Spain came to visit me here in Castillon.

Javier is the winemaker for his family estate Bodegas Muriel. One of the wines they are responsible is the Barón de Barbón – by far the most popular Rioja we sell.

Javier brought along many of his wines and we had a nice informal tasting at my house then we went for a bite to eat at the L’Envers du Décor is St.Emilion where Javier treated us to a most superb 2004 Flor de Pingus from Peter Sisseck’s Dominio de Pingus bodega in the Spanish DOC of Ribera del Duero. It was superb!

Getting the 2009 VC and CY wines ready for bottling today at the Chai and the builders seem to be in full swing already.


Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Had a fantastic evening with Daniel and Kathy Laffitte last night

Beautiful food and I was very lucky to taste some lovely old vintage Maury with pudding. This morning I awoke to the stunning vineyards outside of Domaine des Soulanes, situated in a very special part of the Maury valley called Mas de Las Fredas.

After breakfast I headed into the village of Maury to see Jean-Charles Duran and the Un Vent de Folie 2009. It’s still young but it is going to be a blockbuster again!


Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Finally arrived in Carcassonne late last night after battling through the rains of Toulouse

I soon felt at home as I was welcomed by the magnificently illuminated Cite de Carcassonne and a nice glass of spicy 2007 AOC Corbieres from Domaine Ledogar. Carignan is such a lovely wine when done well and I especially advise you to try some wines from this area.

I had a meeting first thing at Domaine Lalande with Andree Ferrandiz to re-taste some exciting new blends that we have been working on. My mate and the crazy domaine winemaker Richard “Aussie” Osborne was also supposed to be with us but couldn't make it because his car got stolen this morning along with his wallet, passport, house keys and wine samples. He said he only left the car for 2 minutes to buy a baguette – we later found out that he actually left the car with the door open and still running outside the Boulangerie!

After a quick check in the winery and a bonjour to all the cellar guys we got on with the tasting.

One of the wines included is a very exciting Marsanne/Sauvignon Blanc blend. I just love the Midi – so much to play with … it’s winemaker’s heaven! Look out also for our new Viognier as the 2009's are the best I have seen in my ten years in this region. Viognier is a difficult grape, it never does what you try to tell it to and certainly doesn't tell you what it wants to do!

The problem with Viognier is that the bunches – and even the individual berries in the bunch – tend to ripen erratically resulting in a mix of pea-hard berries and perfectly ripe ones. Therefore harvesting control is essential otherwise those unripe grapes will ruin the rest.

These strict harvesting practices are only generally carried out by the expensive Domaines but 2009 was so perfect that the Viognier ripened evenly. So one of my top tips for 2009 is certainly Viognier from the Midi!

Tasting and blending at Limoux this afternoon and then onto Maury tonight where I am having dinner with my great friend Daniel Laffitte of Mas Soulanes. He’s the main man when it comes to vintage Maury Vin Doux!


Thursday, 21 January 2010

Very tired …

It’s early. Mobile bottling plant is here, truck with empty bottles is here, builders are here, architects are here, forklift won’t fit in the cellar, it’s raining … but I don’t care because the new Baron du Roussanne 2009 – which I saw by chance in the Barons vineyard last early September – after being loved and cared for, is now in bottle and tastes absolutely wonderful. And that’s what winemaking is all about!

The Chai has been buzzing all day:

Outside the bottling

The carpenters upstairs

The demolition downstairs

The Architect and Chief builders first site meeting

Today’s bottling is over and the cellar is crammed full and I am now on the long drive to Carcassonne to spend the next two days in checking and blending the wines at Domaine Lalande, Limoux and Maury.


Wednesday, 20 January 2010

What a day!!!

I arrived early at Chai to let the builders in to start demolishing the inside of the Chai and was greeted by the most incredible sunrise almost announcing a new era!

Once the builders were underway we started work in the cellar. Today was going to be a huge day! David the filter man was already outside getting the filter machine ready, Chris was busy setting up the pumps to start blending and petit Denis was cleaning the stainless steel vats ready for filling. It looked like spaghetti junction but in actual fact, it was organised winemaker chaos!

We filtered and blended to the exact percentages (which JMS and I decided previously) of wine from one vat to the next. Every vat had to be spotless because the cellar is my kitchen and a clean tidy surface is essential!

By 17:00 we had filtered the necessary wines and now we needed to put them all back into the original vats – so they were once again full into the chimney necks to prevent the wine from oxidising.

Bottling the La Roussane de Baron tomorrow so that has yet to be set up along with 100 old barrels from the Dordogne Chai to be loaded before we leave so the builders can start in morning!

I will let you know tomorrow how I feel…


Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Last week we emptied the Dordogne Chai red cellar ready for the renovation

This morning the builders were in at 8am on the dot to start work (French builders are very good at finishing on the dot also). I have also been cleared out of my tasting room and laboratory and am now literally in the cellar with my desk amongst the vats and barrels. It’s a bit cold but I am not complaining as there is certainly nowhere else I’d rather be!

It’s that time of year again when the new vintage of Laithwaite Sauvignon emerges ready for blending and bottling. This afternoon I have been on my weekly rounds checking our vats of Sauvignon in the Entre Deux Mers.

At this moment in time what we call ‘reduction or reductive character’ can be a problem. The reduction occurs when the fine sediment in the unfiltered wine settles very quickly in the cold temperatures and compacts on the floor of the vat causing the wine to have a rather strange, struck match aroma thus masking the natural fruit. If you’re not on the ball it could stick like that forever!

I have therefore been following the wines very carefully and have been ‘sparging’ (a method of bubbling from the bottom of the vat) regularly to prevent the sediment from compacting. The proof is in the pudding as the wines are as clean as a whistle with fresh vibrant grassy citrus aromas.

It was a glorious day here in Bordeaux today and whilst driving through the Entre Deux Mers region I noticed lots of eager growers out, busy catching up on their vineyard pruning. The delay mainly caused by the very cold weather – but plenty of Christmas parties would have helped too!

At the moment everyone is pruning by selecting the healthiest cane (single or double) as close to the main trunk as possible which that will become this year’s new fruiting arm. The second job is to ‘tirer les bois’ – meaning to pull out the unwanted wood from the vines – and ‘bruler les sarments’, when the canes are burnt in a wheel barrow burner.

Anyone who has done this job will know it is not easy. The tendrils grip the wires very tightly and when snapped, you learn why it’s called a cane! The selected canes are then left waving in the air waiting to be tied down to the fruiting wire later on.


Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Absolutely freezing this morning! At 6am, the car temperature read -8ºC

I am on my way down to the Chai to meet the mobile bottling truck to put the 2008 Laithwaite Merlot into bottle. The bottling got off to a rather slow start as during the washing of the bottling line, we also managed to create a decent sized ice rink along the road in front of the Chai.

We quickly diverted the traffic via the old Quai, the first of which just so happened to be the local Gendarmerie! The officers were not too keen on exiting their warm police van but after a few phone calls a truck with salt and grit arrived to save the day and we finally got the bottling underway.

The 2008 Laithwaite Merlot comes from a little Château in the amazing but tiny red Bordeaux village of Grezillac, only a stone’s throw across the river from the Chai. It was discovered by JMS and I a couple of years ago during one of our rambles around the region (probably looking for a restaurant at the time!). Since 2008 we have built up a great relationship with the vineyard owner and now have a great source of consistency.

The wine has seen plenty of French oak barrel and aged for 8 months in at the Chai. We are very proud the rich cassis fruit and silky tannins and it is one not to be missed.


Monday, 11 January 2010

Our UK based team of directors including Abi, Rob, Julian and Georgina arrive today

They’re here to have a first peek at the new 2009 vintage Chai wines and see the future plans for the Chai.

Tony is also busy in the Chai this morning with a film crew, and of course, where there is a camera there is JMS too! Lunchtime arrives very quickly and we all head to the local Voyageur for a traditional French lunch where the indoor barbeque and homemade soup are a warm welcome after the brisk and extremely cold walk from the Chai, up through the village, passing a rather frozen fountain along the way!

The afternoon is taken up with a great tasting of Côtes du Castillon red 2009 wines, kindly organised by Anne-Marie and the local vignerons at the Comptoir de St.Genes wine bar and restaurant. From this tasting we have been busy selecting some exceptional 2009 cuvees which will be made available to customers later on in the year so keep a careful look out for their release.

Later on that evening a fabulous dinner was held for us and all the local vignerons of Castillon. I met some newcomers and long time established winemakers and certainly learnt more about the diversity and sheer quality of the Côtes du Castillon appellation – I can clearly see why Tony has such a passion for the area.


Saturday, 9 January 2010

Well we are all back into the swing of things here at the Chai and it has been very busy in the winery!

Not as much snow as the UK but we had some snowfall in the first week of January which brought the vineyards and countryside alive again for the first time since the green and red leaves finally fell early last November.

The cold however has really set in and it has been -7ºC most mornings which is actually great for the vineyards. The freezing conditions kill off all the fungi spores that will cause various mildew problems in the forthcoming humid summer months.

There are going to be some big changes at the Chai starting on the 18th of January as the rest of the Chai (currently unused) is to be completely renovated including a new ‘Dordogne Chai’ – which will be devoted to the production and barrel ageing of red wines – an open plan office and tasting rooms on the second floor and most excitingly for JMS and I, a brand new spacious winemaker’s tasting room and wine laboratory!!

The next 3-4 months will certainly be a challenge for the Chai winemaking team here as we will be operating as normal amongst the busy builders, tradesman and architects. I will be keeping you up to date throughout the building work and with a lot of hard work we should be back on track by the end of April and open to our customers.