Thursday, 29 July 2010

The First New Barrels Arrive!

The 2010 harvest must be close because barrel-maker Marc Le Grand was here today to deliver his new barrels to the Chai. He has come all the way from Palaçoulo in north east Portugal. The barrels are made with the finest French oak and the climate in the far north east of Portugal is perfect for the storage and drying necessary to make the barrels.

Petit Denis was very excited to see the new barrels; a cellar master likes nothing more than gleaming new oak in the cellar! We all carefully unloaded the barrels from the truck into the cellar – there is something magical to see barrels once again on the quai by the river even if they did arrive by road.

The barrels will remain wrapped up until the last moment to keep them clean and dry. Putting the new barrels in the cellar is a bit like putting presents under the Christmas tree and when the first juice of the 2010 harvest arrives at the Chai, unwrapping the new barrels will be like Christmas Day for Petit Denis!

With that done and Denis briefed on the next couple of days cellar work, I am off to Bordeaux airport for a late flight to Lyon. From there I will pick up a car and drive into Southern Burgundy to the town of Tournus in the Macconais wine region because tomorrow I have big tasting with Bernard Derain at his winery.


Friday, 23 July 2010

Just Like A Viognier

Woke up to the second day of rain here in Castillon but it’s needed right now as there is a tiny hint of water stress starting to show in the leaves of the vineyards.

Anyhow I am off down to the Midi today to Narbonne to prepare another new wine the Les Anges de Malassan. This is the 100% Viognier I made from the incredible 2009 vintage and for me definitely the star grape of the 09' Midi vintage.

It was raining from the first and quite a cold 16ºC all the way down until I passed Carcassonne which I call the ‘Gateway to the Midi’. Once through the door it’s a different world; it’s like going into Narnia! On the other side it was bright sunshine and a very warm 27ºC and I was dying there of thirst! I made my way to the small bottling plant in Sallèles-d'Aude a small village north of Narbonne which is split in two by the Canal du Midi.

The wine I transported here a couple of weeks ago has been carefully guarded by Jerome the cellar master who's been waiting for my final instructions for the bottling. I spent a good couple of hours tasting and briefing Jerome with what we winemakers call the 'final polishing' and bottling procedures.

It’s a very important time and all the hard work since last September harvest now hangs on this! The wine just tastes like a Viognier and just tastes like the terroir - but also tastes so good now! I have to now make sure the wine has the correct sulphur levels, CO2 levels for freshness, temperature, turbidity, balance and most importantly the actual physical movement of the wine where avoiding air contact is vital during the bottling.

So many wines are ruined at this stage due to oxidation, but with careful preparation I will perfectly preserve the wine until it that bottle is opened and fills the customer’s glass so they too can witness first hand what I have since last September.

After a long day it’s back to my hotel in town and a light bite to eat, happy that we are ready to go go go with the bottling first thing tomorrow!


Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Laithwaites Wine Merchants Arrive!

The five lucky Wine Merchants finally arrived in Bordeaux yesterday and to blazing sunshine and 35ºC heat! After an afternoons rest we threw a BBQ in the evening to welcome them and I did a tasting and explanation of some Chai wines. We tasted through the following:

Grand Chai Bordeaux White 2009
CY 2009
Condrieu 2008
Grand Chai Bordeaux Red 2007/08
St Emilion Grand Cru 2006 Cuvée Elegance
Un Vent de Folie 2008 (red)
Côte Rôtie 2007
Font Del Bosc 2005 Maury VDN

So after a good tasting and half a cow cooked up on the fire by Chai cellar master Petit Denis, everyone was ready and raring to go for tomorrow morning.

It was torrential rain this morning but I think it was just Castillon making the English Wine Merchants welcome! However the Chai was bustling like never before and the Wine Merchant team had changed their BBQ seats for Chai office desks and telephone head sets, and away they went selling Chai wines that they tasted first hand last night!

Meanwhile the 2009 Syrah de Folie was running right under their feet through our overhead stainless steel pipe which starts right of the door in the Grand Chai…..

……and exits to the left of the door in the Dordogne Chai connecting the two cellars together!

The Syrah from the overhead pipe was slowly flowing into the NASA vat from where Denis was rapidly filling barrels to begin the barrel-ageing process.

Today is also my mum's birthday so HAPPY BIRTHDAY MUM! And have a great day!


Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Wine with No Name

I’ve dubbed this wine the Comeback Chardonnay because it stopped fermenting way back last September leaving the wine with residual sugar. But it’s been a game of patience which has finally paid off after it suddenly started fermenting 7 days ago with the arrival of the warm summer weather and is now bone dry!

This wine has been tormenting me for months and the aromas and flavours have been a rollercoaster affair by disappearing one day then back again the next; then good aromas and weird palate then vice versa which is all due to the sugar masking the true fruit. But now that it is stable and free of sugar the fruit is back and wow what a wine!

The flavours take me right back to the vineyard in Carcassonne last early September and the luscious ripe melon fruit of the grapes that I tasted. It’s taken a while but that’s winemaking - just got to think of a name now!

Cellar Master Petit Denis finally started full time for us at the Chai today and he was straight into the thick of it racking the Comeback Chardonnay out of barrel and off the sediment and blending into a stainless steel vat.

The IT guys Jack and Nick are in the Chai linking the very complicated network of all computers and phone lines to each other and the UK. The exciting thing is that they have also created the work stations up in the newly refurbished Chai office for our first team of Laithwaites wine merchants. They arrive tomorrow for a two week stint at the Chai to get a first hand look at what goes on so they will then be ready to get the word out!


Thursday, 15 July 2010


The Chai is buzzing, the new offices are buzzing, I am buzzing, Libby, Clare, Ayme… The whole team are buzzing!

Why? Last Thursday we had the long awaited opening party for the Chai Au Quai, and what a night it was. To be honest I haven’t done a lot of winemaking this week! We spent most of the week, mainly cleaning, tidying, shovelling gravel and helping Libby the event organiser to make her vision come alive, and it certainly did!

The heat was unbearable on Thursday evening but the jeroboams of Champagne were perfectly chilled for the 6 o’clock reception. My glass of Champagne went flat and warm as I was so busy greeting, kissing cheeks and shaking hands of the arriving Chai family and friends!

Sitting to dinner with 100 people you personally know, live and work alongside was like what I imagine it being at your own wedding… this was certainly my happiest moment to date!

After the Champagne everyone went outside and walked the length of the Chai on the lovely new gravel to the new Dordogne cellar where Tony, Monsiueur le Maire, ribbon and a pair of scissors were waiting to officially open the new cellar. As soon as the ribbon had been cut everyone with tasting glasses in hand eagerly filed though the OxO line barrel tunnel and into the cellar where our new NASA-like rocket wine vat illuminated with blue neon lights took centre stage.

Around the cellar the Chai team were proudly pouring our range of Chai white wines and my word the wines were being well received! I still had my glass of flat Champagne as I was constantly talking, listening and answering questions from inquisitive winemakers, vineyard growers, barrel makers, vat builders and staff. The local caterers who had discreetly set up outside in front of the Chai began to effortlessly roll out trays of perfect canapés and, now that everyone was finally eating, I managed to taste my now very warm and very flat Champagne!

The winemaker’s office, lab and tasting room was open to all and we had a few special surprise wines on offer to taste. Everyone walked through the office that connects the Dordogne Cellar and the Grand Chai to a magnificent banquet that was ready and waiting!

I was sat on the Midi table with Midi buyer Becca, JC and Celine Duran (owners of the Vent de Folie vineyards), Aussie winemaker Richard Osborne, barrel makers Marc Le Grand and Jose Alcaide and winemakers Guilhem Marty and Laurent Mingaud from Limoux. The steak was melt in the mouth and the topping of fois gras divine; the cheeses were trying to run out the door but were of superb quality and went very well with the choice of Chai reds and Sauternes. The evening meal finished with my 2005 Font Del Bosc Maury nicely chilled.

Then the Grand Chai doors were finally opened to reveal the Dordogne and the deep blue sky was suddenly filled with spectacular fireworks, the river seemed to stop on purpose to reflect the colours! The coach then arrived and whisked everyone away to St.Emilion where I am sure a good night’s sleep was had by all! Quite an evening and thank you to everyone involved.

The following morning Libby was busy organising the clean up, and by midday I had the cellar back and it was winemaking business as usual.

Friday, 2 July 2010

It's Bob Dylan Time Again!

Mr Dylan and his Never Ending Tour were once more back in Europe this week and I decided to do my usual Dylan and wine holiday – it was also Libby’s first ever Dylan concert! The first concert was in the amazing Theatre Jean Deschamps a small open air amphitheatre within the medieval city walls of Carcassonne.

The weather was beautiful and Bob was in fine voice from start to finish. After the concert the Festival de Carcassonne laid on a free private wine tasting of local wines inside the theatre for all the spectators!

We headed back up to Bordeaux the next day in sweltering 35ºC heat to catch Mr Dylan in concert that evening. The temperature inside the concert hall was incredible but the atmosphere was very rock’n’roll indeed! Once again a great and very loud performance from Bob and his band, my friend Jam had driven up from Armagnac for his birthday and we celebrated afterwards with some good Bordeaux wines and matching them to Dylan songs instead of food!

The weather got hotter and hotter and I was back at the Chai on Thursday to bottle the La Grace de Côte Rôtie 2007 and the La Grace de Condrieu 2008.

Friday morning was the long awaited bottling of my Limoux Chardonnay the La Voute 2009. However the weather was so hot (39ºC!) in front of the Chai and combined with extremely humid conditions, the label on the bottling line would not stick to the bottles and cardboard boxes were becoming soggy!

However the wine was at the perfect moment to be bottled and the wine always comes first so I decided a change in the plan and to bottle the wine ‘T.B.’ or Tire Bouchon meaning corks only (no capsules, labels or boxes) and stacked in cages ready to label and box up at a later date. Then the humidity dropped and it was back to labels and boxes once again, so nature controls the wine right to very last moment!