Monday, 28 March 2011

Time is a jet plane; it moves too fast

Last week went by as fast as a holiday. Here is why … what I got up to at Le Chai:

Monday 21st

First thing in the morning, we loaded the GG 2010 into the tanker for the very short 3 minute trip up river to our new bottling winery. No sooner had the wine left the vats, they were cleaned and filled with the 2010 Vent de Folie white Vermentino which had just been filtered. I left ‘petit’ Denis to finish this as I needed to empty the tanker and prepare the wine for tomorrow’s bottling.

After a quick lunch, we started on the racking of the 100 barrels of 2009 Syrah de Folie and as fast as I was emptying the barrels, ‘petit’ Denis was washing them. We managed to finish up 60 barrels by around 9pm … not bad going.
Early to bed.

Tuesday 22nd

Straight back at the Chai (had I actually left? dreamt of barrels probably!) to finish off the remaining 40 Syrah barrels. Loïc gave us an extra pair of hands today as we have 500 empty washed barrels waiting to be ‘mèche’ which is when you burn a small sulphur candle on the end of a wire hook and pop it through the bung hole. The candle gives off sulphur gas (takes about 10minutes to burn) chasing out the air and preserving the inside of the barrel until it is re-filled in a couple of weeks’ time. It’s a long job!

I left the guys to get on in the cellar as I had a 10:30 tasting with James Ryland (used to work with Andre Lurton) in the winemaker office. No time for lunch today because the 2010 Grand Chai Bordeaux white needed to be filtered and most importantly, all the components blended ready for the bottling next week. 19,000 litres takes some time to do and as the wine was too small of a volume to fit our 23,500-litre tank, it had to be put back to the vats it was in before filtration. Poor pump works his pistons off!

Once the Grand Chai Blanc was filtered, I immediately started the 2010 Marsanne/Roussanne so as not to waste the filter. A favourite winemakers’ TV saying around the cellar is “I’ve started so I’ll finish”. All went well and even a bit of luck as the wine fitted perfectly in our 10,166-litre vat, pump seemed to smile at me! On the way home I stopped off at the bottling cellar for a final check and taste of the 2010 GG before bottling begins tomorrow.

Wednesday 23rd

Bottling GG 2010 early morning and tastes great in the bottle, very pleased indeed. Back to the Chai where ‘petit’ Denis is now doing the monthly topping of the remaining full 500 barrels and Loïc is still burning sulphur candles …

Chai team meeting at 09:30. Always great to catch up with everyone and I can assure you the whole Chai team are just as busy as the cellar with websites, sales, tours, events, financial plans … the list is endless.

Just as things weren’t busy enough, JMS arrived with Cliff Roberson for a tasting of our Chai range!

The afternoon was spent finishing the GG bottling and straight after, transporting the Vent de Folie white to the bottling plant and preparing the wine for tomorrows bottling.

Dinner was in St.Emilion with JMS, Cliff and his winemaker Gavin from Western Australia. Francois at L’Envers served up some great food: I had lovely fresh crab to start followed by lamb cutlets. We tasted 1995 and 2002 Chateau Troplong Mondot.

Home to bed.

Thursday 24th

Early morning bottling of Vent de Folie white 2010 which tastes divine. It’s made with 100% Vermentino and could easily give the Corsicans (who I learned how to make this style from) a run for their money!

Then again back to the Chai to meet JMS who was with Stuart and Tash visiting from head office. We gave them a tour and tasting of the Chai and then whisked them off to show them Saint Radegonde and the Sauvignon Blanc Entre-Deux-Mers vineyards responsible for JMS’s very own ‘JMS’ and our Grand Chai White Bordeaux.

The next meeting was a lunch and tasting with Jonathan Maltus at his beautiful Chateau Teyssier.

Robert Parker had just paid his annual visit to taste the 2010’s at the Chateau so JMS was really keen to taste and see what he thought. Lunch was fantastic and we ate in the dining room next to the tasting room: avocado salad followed by perfectly tender homemade chicken Kiev’s and vast array of ripe cheeses.

We were very fortunate to taste:
2010, 2008, 2007, 2003 ‘Le Dome’
2010, 2008 ‘Les Astéries’
2010, 2008 ‘Le Carre’
2010, 2009 Vieux Château Mazerat
2010, 2009 Château Teyssier
2010, 2008, 2007 Château Laforge
2010 Clos Nardian
2010 Pezat

And a big thanks you to Jonathan and Neil for the fabulous lunch and tasting.

Next meeting was at another St.Emilion Grand cru, Chateau Mangot where we were greeted by only Yan as on this occasion, his brother Karl had done a JMS and missed his flight. Another great tasting and good to see comparisons of 2010’s. It’s ‘En Primeur’ here next week and by my first glimpses of the 2010’s. There are going to be a lot of black, wine-stained teeth and lips around at the tasting venues! Chateau Mangot, De Lisse, la Brande, Quintessence tasting amazing and the Mangot ‘Todeschini’ 2008 was just out of this world.

I went back to finish off the bottling and to check the Chai (Loïc still burning sulphur candles …) whilst JMS picked up the food for we were cooking tonight at Chateau La Clariere for the guests and winemaker friends. It has been beautiful weather and 22ºC all week so we decided to get the BBQ going!

Friday 25th

No bottling today but Denis and I are now left to clean up the untidy aftermath always left by such occasions. Lunch at the Comptoir, great food again, Remy the chef really using his new customer exposed planxa to its full. I had battered oysters with wasabi mousse and an ‘entrecote’, superb. We tasted two Cotes de Castillon, the 2008 Domaine de l’A and 2004 Chateau d’Aguilhe both lovely but very different styles.

The afternoon was spent with my soon to be Captain for the ‘Voyage’ from Bordeaux to London in May and after crushing my hand, Captain Howard Lucas promised he can never afford to take non-working passengers!

And that was my week! But if you want to get perfect wine into the bottle you mustn’t miss a trick!

This week is rather similar. Bottling three wines, filtering three wines and a lot of barrel moving ready for the 2010 reds!


Monday, 21 March 2011

Friday morning, Bordeaux

Once again an early battle through the Bordeaux traffic but this time on my way to collect a tiny amount of our superb Margaux that will go into our final Grand Chai blend. The wine has finally passed the strict tasting tests and been awarded Margaux status and can now be aged in barrel at the Chai. We only have six barrels but to get wine of this standard in such a great year is truly great wine detective work and therefore I am not going to tell you where it came from. However, I will say the VERY close neighbours are one certain Chateau Giscours, Chateau du Tertre and Chateau Issan!

When I finally get back to the Chai, a petit Denis is very pleased to see me and eager to show me his work over the last two days. He has singlehandedly managed to rack 89 barrels and blended the 2009 Syrah de Folie from barrels in the Dordogne up and through the connecting stainless steel pipe under the feet of Magali, Libby, Amye and Helen in the upstairs office (unbeknownst to them) to the Grand Chai and into the largest vat!

The 2009 Syrah is just superb and all those black olive, black fig and garrigue notes so dominant during harvest and fermentation are right back. Delicious stuff indeed and will be bottled in ten days time.

Last night Libby and I were invited to a ‘soiree privé’ at the Comptoir in St.Genes for the opening of a wine and art exhibition. The superb paintings were by Sigweis von Neipperg’s and the wines from her husband the Count von Niepperg, of his estates we tasted:

Enira from Bulgaria’s Bessa Valley
Clos Marsalette 2008 (Pessac Leognon white)
Clos de l’Oratoire 2004
Chateau Canon La Gafeliere 2007
Chateau Mondot 2002

And my friend and Château d’Aguilhe winemaker Patrick Honef presented a vertical of Château d’Aguilhe from 2000 to 2008.

Thanks to Anne-Marie for yet another lovely evening at the comptoir.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Lincoln Tasting

I managed to scrape through the horrendous Bordeaux morning traffic (seems to be getting worse) to take the early flight to the UK for this evening’s tasting in Lincoln. However being a winemaker from Jersey, not only do I have an extremely poor geography of England but if a place doesn’t have a vineyard appellation I begin to struggle with its location.

Consequently, I foolishly (I keep falling for it!) asked Jean-Marc where Lincoln was because he lives in the UK. He said “oui, it iz very ezee – just above London”. I soon found out ‘zis waz not zee case’ and that Lincoln is a good three hours from Gatwick! Merci, JMS.

I was soon on my way from King Cross, northbound on the Leeds train. Lovely train journey, though and kind of weird to be travelling through countryside without a single vine in sight. After a few changes along the way – and the train eventually whittling down to single carriage on the last leg into Lincoln – I finally arrived.

And what a great sight Lincoln is, with its wonderful and enormous cathedral on the top of the hill! The Cathedral I have heard of, but that was due to watching the Tudors television series and not from paying attention to my school history lessons!

The tasting was held in the County Assembly Rooms and of course my giant portable/mobile Chai picture followed me there, as always. It’s a bit like a caravan, starts to be a 'home from home'!

As always, I met lots of enthusiastic customers and thoroughly enjoyed talking and tasting the Chai wines with everybody. Big thanks to all the customers who came along and to Will and co for organising and helping with the serving.

Once again the 2005 Maury Font Del Bosc was the star of the show.

Then it was straight back to Bordeaux. I need to be in Margaux for 7:30 am!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

What a week that was!

This week Denis and I have racked 250 barrels, blended and stabilised the 2010s including Un Vent de Folie Vermentino, the all new Marsanne/Roussane, GG, Le Grand Chai Bordeaux Blanc, the JMS and the VC.

Harvest is thought to be the busy time but in fact, it doesn’t really seem to slow down at all. Once again the Chai was turned upside down during the week, hoses, barrels and pumps everywhere. ‘Petit’ Denis was on fine form and moving around the Chai rather like Droopy the cartoon dog: every time I got to somewhere whether it be the top row of barrels six deep in, or down at the bottom of a vat the other end of the Chai, he was there waiting!

Just for good measure I also managed to bottle the 2010 Laithwaite Sauvignon Blanc! Next up this week is the JMS and the VC so plenty of wine heading your way very soon indeed. I'll let you make your own minds up about the 2010 vintage which I can assure you was a triumph here at the Chai.

The 2010 Sauvignon Laithwaite got the first test ‘chez moi’ on Sunday. Outside on the terrace with what for Libby and I is simplest and best accompaniment to do this wine justice: fresh oysters from the Basin d’Arcachon, bread, butter and a lemon!

I am off to the UK first thing tomorrow to present Le Chai wines at the Lincoln tasting. I am showing some very exciting wines and I’m looking forward to seeing some of you there!


Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Laithwaite Sauvignon 2010 Bottled (and maybe Spring has arrived?)

We have had beautiful sunshine for the last 5 days and today – albeit -2ºC this morning – turned out to be a warm 19ºC. And with the endless ‘V’ formation geese flying overhead, it felt the buds on the vines would burst any moment. But vines are clever and will wait before rushing into the first rays of sunshine … unlike us humans!

This morning the Laithwaite Sauvignon Blanc – our earliest sign of spring here in the cellar – was the very first of our 2010 white wines to be bottled. Sauvignon Blanc in this incredibly aromatic style is the most fragile of all our wines and to keep the grassy asparagus fresh notes locked in we get it into bottle as soon as possible. The bottle closure is also very important on this style of wine with screw cap being in our opinion the best. Before screw cap it was very rare to be able to capture these fresh aromas that we winemakers smell everyday from harvest and throughout the fermentation.

I have been watching this wine all the way and the meticulous winemaking has paid off. I can only relax once the last drop of the vat is safely in bottle and I can definitely assure that you will not be disappointed, enjoy!