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!


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