Friday, 26 February 2010

After a long week JMS arrived chez moi directly from Spain

JMS brought with him about 80 beautiful bite size lamb cutlets and of course, some melt-in-the-mouth Spanish jambon!

I decided to open, for the first time in a year, one of my six remaining 2002 Domaine de La Pertuisane bottles made with my own fair hands from my own vineyards in the Roussillon.

It is quite a feeling to open something that close to my heart and as the cork came out and I smelt the first aromas, all the memories of the blood, sweat, tears and laughter whilst making it came flooding back! It still tasting great and has many years left. Only my 2008 Un Vent de Folie, now made in the same village, is on par for me.

Even though it was rather windy and cold we made a fire from vineyard canes to barbeque the lamb on. The lamb was cooked to perfection and the Grenache-based wine was the perfect match.


Thursday, 25 February 2010

He’s Gone (But only for a moment)!

Just when I thought things were finally calming down after the 2009 vintage and Spring had arrived …

I hadn’t realised the sudden change in season had also encouraged the mighty JMS to migrate south from London to his home town of Bordeaux since the New Year!! But I have learned and after 4 years, I was ready and waiting!

So with not a moment to spare, 2010 was underway with meetings, tastings, down to the Chai, back to La Clarière, Château visits, lunches, dinners, lists, more tasting, more visits, more driving fast, back again to the Chai, more meetings, more lists!

No time to write up the blog over the last 2 days but we finally finished tasting the last of our 60 Bordeaux wines from a batch of 2009’s at 7pm. No sooner had JMS’s tasting glass touched the table, he was dashing to his car for the drive to Toro in Spain, and he was gone – phew! Seems the whirlwind never stops! But he will be back tomorrow evening so I have the day to recover and organise all the notes and ideas.

During the week we visited some very small hidden gems in our home appellation of Côtes du Castillon. JMS has been here for 17 years and still couldn't find some of the unknown 'petit château' that we had whittled down from a huge blind tasting of contenders for our soon to be released Castillon 09' Chai primeur offer.

First a great discovery at Château Tertre Bel Air. The wines are from a true viticulture stock and when there are no signs – not even on the Château itself – you get that exciting feeling that it might be an amazing find!

It was an amazing find. The father and son team are experts in the vineyards and take 3 generations of experience and the ripe, aromatic, velvety taste and mouthfeel points straight to high quality grape growing.

Next up was Château Peyrou situated at the opposite end of the Côtes du Castillon towards St Emilion, where the limestone begins to meet clay creating supple and fleshy wines. The wines were amazingly expressive of the area they and certainly a wine ready to drink a little earlier than the ‘Plateau wines’.

Back in the car and back towards the limestone plateau where the opposite happens and clay now meets the limestone. The wines from Château Roque Le Mayne are just like the soil – there is supple round fruit but with a backbone structure coming from the more mineral and complex limestone soil. Incredible!

The last Château we visited was Château Mangot with vineyards that lie on pure limestone the result is very structured and tighter wine with great ageing potential. They also had lots of pieces art around the cellar including this superb barrel sculpture!

So that's four different wines all within 3km of each other! And it is a mind blowing thought that every grape-growing area, from the biggest to the tiniest in every country all over the world, has this subtle diversity and that is exactly why wine discovery is so exciting!


Monday, 22 February 2010

The Truffle Shuffle!

We had a fabulous weekend and my truffle dinner on Friday was out of this world – although I learned something rather funny at dinner with my neighbours the following day.

As you may know, I travelled by car last week on a 9 hour round trip through wind, rain and snow to the remote village of Lesquerde in the Pyrenées to buy some rare black truffles. Truffles are rare because there are only found in tiny places which have the perfect soils and a certain type of oak.

During dinner I began to tell my search for black truffles tale when one of my neighbours suddenly said “do you know there are black truffles on the oak trees here in St Colombe and in your front garden is one of the best?!”

I haven’t been living here that long so I was unaware that every year some local truffle hunters pop by with highly trained dogs and sniff your oak tree roots and then split the precious find with the land owner. Ironically the truffle hunters came last weekend whilst I was in the south buying expensive truffles!! And so my truffle story bombed as everyone at the table had been enjoying free truffles at home all week from the front garden!

I was very lucky to taste three highly recommended fine white wines over the weekend all made from Chardonnay, proving to me that it is one of the greatest grape varieties in the world.

The first wine I tasted was a very complex 2005 from the bargain Burgundy A0C Monthelie ‘les toiseres’, followed by a classic Meursault another Burgundy AOC which, with 10 years age, was just stunning. However the most impressive the and best wine tasted was the 2002 Clocher ‘De Villar-Saint-Anselme’ from Limoux vigneron Maurice Lautard. Absolutely outstanding and certainly gives pricey fine white Burgundy a run for its money.


Friday, 19 February 2010

Spring Is Here?

Just when everyone is fed up with the cold, right on cue the weather changes. And what a change – it was as if someone had flicked a switch!

Woke up to15ºC sunshine, a far cry from the freezing temperatures earlier in the week. By midday the first batch of migrating geese flew over in ‘V’ formations, the last rows in the vineyard had been pruned, the damaged posts and wires all replaced and now the tying down can begin.

Tying down or ‘attach le baguette’ refers to bending the new fruiting cane left by careful selection down and tying it to the bottom wire. Sounds easy? Not quite! All the canes must be tied down before mid March for two reasons: firstly, as time goes on, the cane lignifies and become brittle therefore very easy to snap. Secondly before bud burst, as the tiny new buds are so fragile, the slightest movement will knock them off and the result is simply no grapes this year!

The tying is made using flexible stretchy string that will allow some movement so the cane, vine, wires will all move freely with the wind.

I must have been in France too long as whilst I am eating lunch and I am also looking forward to dinner tonight! This evening I am going to cook up a storm, making dishes based around my precious black truffles that I bought last weekend in the Midi.

My truffles have been locked in and air tight container along with 6 organic eggs all week, the reason being is that the pungent odour of the truffle unbelievably infuses the eggs through the shell, giving you truffle eggs and transforming a simple scrambled eggs or omelette – perfect for breakfast tomorrow!

The dishes I will be making tonight are also very simple. My Primi is a classic from Norcia in Central Italy called ‘Spaghettini Alla Nursina’ – fresh spaghetti with garlic, anchovies, garlic and black truffles. For secondi ‘Fettuccine Al tartufo’ fresh fettuccine with butter, parmesan and fresh truffle shavings and if my memory serves me well I have a cracker of a Chianti Classico in my cellar to match it!

Bon appétit et bon weekend!



Thursday, 18 February 2010

The Dust Has Settled

Now the dust has settled and new skylights have been put in, the beams and walls can now be seen, probably for the first time in 100 years!

Downstairs the builders are starting work on the new Dordogne barrel cellar and they have already cut the trench which will house the stainless steel drain.

Not very exciting for most as the drain is something you don’t really think about when you set foot in a magnificent wine cellar. But for us winemakers a good drain is vital to the function of a working winery. Therefore the precision must be absolutely spot on as a badly drained winery can lead and has led to many a winemaker tearing their hair out!

The ‘cellar window’ has also begun to be knocked through and I got the first glimpses of the Grand Chai from the upstairs office and what a view! It will be like a live winery TV show for staff and is certain to inspire anyone that looks into the ‘cellar window’. Although JMS and I will have to find a new place to hide!


Wednesday, 17 February 2010

On a Cold and Frosty Morning

It’s Laithwaite Sauvignon Day again and a typical -7degrees this morning in the Entre-Deux-Mers!

The transport truck arrived at bang on 7am. First thing to do is check everything – tanker right size, all is clean, vat is correct number, wine analysis is all ok, tastes good, take a sample..... it’s a bit like before an aircraft is allowed to take off! Finally the careful loading begins.

When the sunrise finally came it revealed a rather frosty scene indeed!

As soon as the tanker was full I was straight off to the other side of the Entre-Deux-Mers to check the other part of the blend and with a bit of good organisation and rare French punctuality, I will meet both at the bottling plant in the middle at Midday! This will continue this afternoon and tomorrow until all the elements of the blend are brought together and when all is blended, I can start to prepare the wine for bottling.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Back To The Midi Part 2

No sooner had I arrived back from the Midi it was time to return the following day. For once I am going not for a wine fair but a truffle fair, not forgetting to take Libby to Perpignan for Valentine’s Day!

No snow on the way down which was a relief as the return journey yesterday was horrendous between Narbonne and Toulouse. We made good time and arrived in Perpignan early afternoon. The weather was so lovely and sunny we decided to head to one of my favourite summer spots, the seaside fishing village Collioure, to show Libby the spectacular vineyards of Banyuls, the other great Vin Doux Naturel wine to Maury.

We headed back into the city of Perpignan to check in to the Hotel and get ready for dinner. I had booked a table at one of my favourite restaurants, Le Double Y . The place was in full Valentine’s Day mode… balloons….I better order some aperitifs quickly I thought!

The meal started with two good dishes; Mediterranean tempura style gambas for Libby and a superb grilled Rouget (red mullet) on a light cherry tomato tart for me. Mains were a perfect fillet of beef and a lovely tornedos of margret de canard. The wine of the evening was most definitely the rare Clot de l’Oum 2007 white Roussillon made from Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Roussanne, Muscat and Vermentino; really superb (the red is much widely available). Libby chose to accompany the chocolate dessert with a Mas Amiel Maury and I went for a Banyuls from Domaine de La Tour Vieille.

The next day we were up very early indeed especially for a Sunday but the best truffles go early! The drive as always from Perpignan into the Fenouillèdes was as spectacular as ever. We passed Rivesaltes, Espira d’Agly, Estagel and unbelievably didn’t stop and went through Maury and finally to the tiny village of Lesquerde.

On arriving, people were already queuing. You barely see more than two people at a time out here but today, ‘truffle day’, was like the January sales on Oxford Street! I managed to push myself to the starting blocks ready and waiting for the grand opening whilst Libby had a look around the other stalls in the fully functioning but a little worse for wear Cave CoOperative.

The truffle hunters were situated around the edge inside the cold barn fiddling with scales and calculators whilst displaying their precious truffles in baskets on bare wooden tables. The heady perfumed aroma that filled the barn was incredible! I am sure I was a bit slow off the mark because of it and I ended up behind some ‘gobelet’ vine sized locals. Although I couldn’t reach the truffles, I had a perfect view over their heads of what was going on.

It seemed you had to choose a couple of truffles that you think look good, have a touch, have a sniff, ask what terroir they were found in, politely say ‘can you weigh them and give me a price’ and finally put them straight back with horror at the figure you just heard, say thank you and move on to the next table!

This ritual goes on and on from table to table until you either find a bargain you’re happy with or you are so cold and weirdly inebriated by the truffle aroma that you pay anything for one! After a hard morning’s work I left very happy with two beautiful black truffles, can’t wait to cook something this week.

The whole ambiance of this tiny local fair was great and everyone was enjoying themselves. Music was provided throughout the morning by three eccentric musicians and other local products – and the farmers themselves – were equally fascinating with wine tasting, rustic breads, flavoured almonds, sheep cheeses, biscuits, apricot jams, saucissons, oysters, pink garlic, vegetables, walnuts, hazelnuts, dried meats, poultry, game and even whole geese!

After a bitterly cold but truly enjoyable morning we headed downhill for the sanctuary of the Café de Maury for the perfect glass of local rustic wine and a hot meal.


Thursday, 11 February 2010

Back To The Midi

I hopped in the car late afternoon yesterday and set on my way towards ‘La Clape’ near Narbonne to meet Tony and co at Gerard Bertrand’s Chateau l'Hospitalet. The beauty of knowing the Midi so well is I timed my arrival bang on time for the aperitif before dinner!

Up early this morning and the extremity of the weather in this incredible region certainly didn't disappoint! We had 70 mile-an-hour winds, then snow, -3ºC temperatures and then suddenly sunshine and clear skies!

Luckily our friend and photographer Yves Gellie was on hand to get very cold but fantastic shots of Becca, Tony and I in the snow! Check out Yves website of some of his simply stunning photography .

We are spending the day here at the chateau though to do a photo shoot for our brochures and customer mailings. People seem to be amazed that I have clothes other than dirty jeans and my Aussie Blundstone boots! However the novelty and glamour of my first photo shoot soon wore off as they made me stand still (quite difficult to do for me!), sit on cold steel stairs (for ages) and then outside in just my just shirt! I think I'll stick to winemaking!

Everybody arrived for lunch and a big tasting and of course, more photos. There was a huge spread of real Midi food including roast lamb, hams, wild boar saucisson, numerous types of pâté and it was great to catch up with everyone

After a long day we were invited to dinner with Gerard Bertrand at his restaurant. Before dinner Gerard gave us a tour around the Château – I now realise why it is the third most visited place in the department as it’s not just a winery. There is plenty to see from the restaurant, the most incredible fossil collection, art galleries and of course, the amazing barrel cellars and tasting.

The evening meal and wines were fantastic throughout. We started with fois gras melting on ravioli matched with three Chardonnays; l’Hospitalet, Cigalus (family home), and an AOC Limoux. Main course was a rack of lamb served with a 2001 Minervois and a 2001 La Clape – both tasting great and rather Bordeaux-ish in fact! The meal was finished with a chocolate fondant and a Banyuls Vin Doux Naturel. Tomorrow I have to drive back to Bordeaux.


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Rains Came Tumbling Down!

The day started bright and sunny but by 10am the most incredibly dark rain cloud had appeared down river towards Bordeaux. Once again the Chai was plunged into another glorious setting with bright sunshine up river in the east, a giant rainbow to the north and the ever closer black clouds to the west!

The dark clouds finally arrived at the Chai after meandering all the way up river from Bordeaux and the heavens opened. The Dordogne River seemed to fill up like a running bath but even when it rains here you don’t mind because it’s so spectacular whatever the weather!

Busy afternoon today as I am working on the final 2009 Grand Chai Bordeaux white and there are a lot of elements I can use to achieve the perfect balanced wine. I have many individual Sauvignon Blancs in the Chai, all originating from the diverse Entre Deux Mers region including Sauveterre in the south east, St Radegonde in the northern reaches and La Sauve in the south west.

During harvest each of these wines were divided up further into small batches and made differently with some in barrels and other parts in stainless steel. The barrels used range from 6 years old to brand new, for less or more oak flavour. Each batch has a varying amount of sediment and frequency of stirring to increase – or purposely avoid increasing – the body of the wine.

The same goes for the batches made in the stainless steel vats. There were varied amounts of sediment, ranges of fermentation temperatures, different yeasts … the list goes on! But the exciting thing is when the winemakers can at long last get a sample of all these different batches from the same wine, on the same table for the first time since they started together in the vineyard way back in September 2009 and blend away!


Libby and I were invited for lunch by our friends Anne-Marie and Vincent on Sunday.

Anne-Marie owns and runs the excellent Comptoir de St Genes wine bar and restaurant and Vincent is a winemaker and vineyard owner in St. Colombe. They live just round the corner from us in a beautiful house with the most stunning views over the vineyards of Cotes du Castillon.

We had a great meal starting with oysters fresh from Cap Ferret matched with the very first outing of the new Chai 2009 Baron de Roussanne since bottling and it showed superbly!

For main Vincent grilled some enormous magret de canard on the open fire in the kitchen. Vincent like me is a huge fan of wines from the Midi and we tasted some lovely wines from Domaine Gauby, absolutely perfect with the duck. The lunch was finished with a stunner of a Chenin Blanc dessert wine from Bonnezeaux in the Loire Valley.


Thursday, 4 February 2010

We have been racking the 2009 Grand Chai Blanc barrels this morning ready for the blending and bottling at the end of month.

With this many barrels I have called in ‘Petit Denis’ the cellar master extraordinaire to get some serious barrel moving done! Henry’s also in town so that means lunch at ‘Le Voyageur’ in the heart of Castillon.

We book a table for five with Madam Mimi as we enter the front bar, all eager to see if there are ‘frites’ today. The chips from here are simply the best in the world and our chip world hinges on the big red light in the corner! If the light is off it means chips are on the menu but if it’s on it could cause tears because it signifies that it’s peak price hour for electricity and therefore too expensive to plug the chip fryer in! And it’s ON!!!!!

Fortunately we have Petit Denis to entertain us and explain the French table etiquette of ‘la trilogie’. La trilogie – meaning the trilogy – is the art of keeping a proportional amount of bread, wine and cheese in front of you so that every mouthful you take you have the perfect marriage of some wine, cheese and bread. The object is that your last piece of cheese is consumed with your last crumb of bread and your last sip of wine, leaving you with an empty glass and a clean plate. It’s not as easy as it sounds, try it! Anyway after our lunch time trilogie dilemma and some lovely succulent chicken heart skewers, we were soon back in Le Chai rolling more barrels.

Dust, dust and more dust but it’s all progress at Le Chai. It’s becoming exciting as the dream winemakers tasting room is starting to take shape!


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Libby Arrives!

After an overnight ferry crossing and long drive from St Malo in the very north to Bordeaux, Libby arrived in our little village of St Colombe today to start her new job at the Chai and a new life in France.

We celebrated by going for dinner at the L’Envers du Décor in St Emilion where we had a fantastic meal including some amazing duck with a absolutely stunning 2002 Chinon from Catherine and Pierre Breton.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Had a visit from my friends Beth and James who popped up from Bas Armagnac where they live

They love food and are great cooks so I took them to my favourite butchers in Castillon. As you step inside the doorway it is like going back in time 80 years – all the furniture including the chopping tables and the till is from the 1920s!

There were a few people in front of us but no one seemed to mind the wait as watching the jolly butcher tell stories of old, carve and prepare every order – from fillet of beef wrapped in fat to our sublime rabbit – right there and then in front of you was truly an experience.


Monday, 1 February 2010

The bottling finally finished last night

Although we bottled well into the dusk but we hardly noticed the hard work and the cold due to the yet again, incredible and ever changing colours of the Dordogne River outside the Chai!

This morning Chris and I loaded all the weeks pallets of wine onto the truck headed directly for the UK. It has been a tough but very satisfying week now knowing all the hard work since harvest has been captured and preserved in a bottle for all to taste.

Handcrafted wines like these are so good because they always reflect the mood of the harvest and people involved whether you realise it not. Personally I can’t wait to taste one with friends tonight and be reminded of the memories of all that went into that wine!

This afternoon I went into the Entre Deux Mers for a nosey at some Sauvignon Blanc vineyards and certainly wasn’t expecting the vineyards to be full of sheep. Unless sheep like grapes, it’s a very good idea to keep the grass mown!