Tuesday, 28 June 2011

VINEXPO Bordeaux

Last week, one of the largest Wine Exhibition Fairs was held in Bordeaux. Called VINEXPO, the fair is held here every two years and attracts thousands of winemakers and wine buyers from all over the world, hoping to buy or sell wines.

Almost everybody in the wine trade attends and fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, that means A LOT of friends in one place at the same time. After a long day’s gruelling tasting, walking up and down literally miles of stands, every evening is time to get together for some food, wine and to talk about our recent and past adventures.

I had the pleasure of my best winemaker buddies Norrel and Stefan from Spain to stay. Both, like me, are Grenache devotees and Tuesday we went into Bordeaux centre to the ‘G-Night’, organised by the Grenache Symposium. I’ve signed up to the club! It was full of excellent Grenache wines from all around the world and I hope to present the Vent de Folie and GG at the next event!

The heat wave has also struck here in Bordeaux and temperatures rose to 40°C by midday, last night was unbearable at 28°C! The vines are continuing to advance and are still on for a 3-week-early harvest.

With all the Chai 2010s now in barrel and bottling of the 2010 whites done, it is the winemaker’s quiet time in the cellar. Therefore I am making the most of this period and will be taking my Summer holiday when we’ll be heading to Northern Spain and Portugal. Keep up date with what I discover by twitter!


Monday, 27 June 2011

Midi, Midi, Midi Part Two

Thursday 15th
Stayed over at JC’s place last night in Maury and was up early … but not as early as JC! I didn’t even see JC this morning as he started in the vineyard at 4am. The hours here are dictated by the wind and the heat so a normal working day is 4am to 11am.

JC has a tractor problem and can’t afford to fix it right now so he is back on foot with a back pack sprayer. He was spraying some dry sulphur on to the vines this morning and the early start is critical. It’s the only time the relentless Tramontane wind calms down enough to allow the job to be done efficiently, otherwise it blows over someone else’s vineyard.

Even by the time I awoke the temperature was already 27°C and after 11 am it is physically too hot to work! I met up with the others at La Cave de Maury where I make the XV du President and guided everybody to more remote, hot inhospitable Grenache vineyards to have a look!

Lunch was ever-looming so we got a shift on and made our way to Latour de France. This is actually where the old border between France and Spain existed and the remains of this period can still be seen, as can the Spanish influences. Hervé and Laurent met up with us to show us into the Cabalié vineyards.

No time to waste; lunch awaiting us in Limoux! We drove 'the long and winding road' west from Maury to Limoux, temperature dropping dramatically in the gorge and it is gorgeous! A good 10 degrees cooler than in Maury and we are only 50 odd km’s away.

Good old Laurent and Guilhem were waiting for us in downtown Limoux, a lovely little square and a great lunch menu at the 'Le Concept' restaurant. We tasted 2009 Roche Lacour white and rose – lovely – and a 6% vol sparkling Mauzac with natural sugar, which was perfect and so refreshing.

Once the food was ordered Laurent pulled out from nowhere a great treat, six 2009 single vineyard Chardonnays two from each of the terroirs of Limoux. I was especially excited as this is what gave me the inspiration for La Voute which is also a single vineyard Limoux Chardonnay and I think we have done better (sorry Laurent!), try it for yourself!

Afterwards, we had a look round the sparkling wine cellars, walking warily around the gyropalettes. These metal robotic cages hold the sparkling bottles and move automatically to encourage the sediment from the natural bottle ferment to slide into the neck. However, they don’t warn you before springing into action … it’s almost like having a cellar full of evil Edna’s!!

Carcassonne for dinner and bed.

Friday 16th
We trekked back across into the Minervois to meet Hervé and Laurent at the Peyriac co-op and taste Domaine Genestieres 2010, delicious and lovely rose (speak of colour). It was great to be back in the Minervois and lunch at the Meulieres cafe in Minervois La Liviniere village was simply perfect. With a lovely little Sauvignon for apero, local lucques olives, then an unknown local white from Gastou family, anchovy salad and pork cheek for the plat du jour! Tony chose the red (served chilled) with the 'pork cheek'. He remembers the Piccinni family from the early days and now with their own property, Domaine Piccinini, the 2009 was a fine choice.

The dusty heat of Midi vineyards didn’t do much for my windscreen and finding my screen wash empty after lunch in the vineyards I had no choice but to use sparkling Perrier water. What a result … and the ‘pope mobile’ (the Chai car) seemed to like it too!

With the Minervois explored we headed to the hotel in Narbonne. Great place, Narbonne, and the Novotel downtown is fine with a good pool. Very important after a long day in the vineyards and without any Perrier!

Dinner was Hervé’s choice and only a quick 10-minute drive out of Narbonne. We were in the hills of La Clape, some great wines made here. If the Midi did get organised (unlikely) this area and some others we have visited would be in their premier cru. However, it’s not very organised and I like that!

The restaurant ‘Le Souquets’ was just amazing, perched in the hills amongst vineyards and garrigue with the Med a stone throw away. All outdoors, big open grill, fresh whole fish presented at the table to choose from and the finely sliced duck breast (marinated in five spice, chive, onion and finely chopped garlic, flash fried on the planxa and served cold) was to die for.

Saturday 17th

Back on the road, this time to another breathtaking appellation called Pic Saint Loup and Domaine de l'Hortus, lodged high up in between the actual Pic (peak) of Saint Loup itself and the l’Hortus mountain (a huge square wall of granite). These two mountains create a remarkably unique micro climate in the valley below, perfect for the sun worshiping Mourvedre on the south-facing slopes and Syrah on the North facing cotes. Whites do well here too, Roussanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Gris and even some experimental Petit Manseng. We make the Dolines l’Hortus cuvee with the Orliac family – 2008 tasting fab – so unique and the taste describes it better than any photo!

We rounded off the trip with a stunning lunch at the restaurant of Domaine de Baumes recommended by the Orliac family. There are no signs to this place until you actually crash into the drive way … but I would try and find it if I were you!

Have a look at my map; I reckon it’s all you need to discover the Midi along with some of my restaurants tips! No point taking a proper map as there is only one way to be in the Midi and that is lost … otherwise you'll never find anything!


Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Midi, Midi, Midi Part One

Tuesday 14th

I left Bordeaux early last week along with photographer Martin Crook for our big tour of the Midi.

I had a few things to do in the Minervois before we could actually kick start the trip. It was already hot in Bordeaux and as we headed down to Toulouse … the outside temperature was steadily rising and the inside air conditioning was slowly lowering!

We made good time and managed to stop off for lunch in a lovely little village called Trebes. Trebes is right on the Canal de Midi and a popular stop off for narrow boat owners. After a little bit of tapas we carried on into the Minervois to meet Andrée Ferrandiz to taste some wines.

Cave Rieux is the great little co-op where I source the Madame F with Andrée and the new Chai Syrah, the ‘SY’ … drinking well right now and lovely when chilled. The Minervois has such delicate, spicy and floral Syrah and the mix of wild herbs that hangs in the air shows wonderfully in the wines.

Once the wines were tasted we headed back towards Carcassonne, battling our way through the route barre and deviation signs, driving my GPS bananas! Carcassonne was as beautiful as always and I tasted a lovely Carignan Blanc from Calce in the Roussillon; gives me an idea …

Wednesday 15th

We met up with Cat, our new Midi buyer, head of wine Justin and Tony in my second home ‘Le Roussillon’. Our first stop was Tautavel for a BBQ put on by the local vignerons of the village. The setting was spectacular, up high in the wild Roussillon garrigue overlooking the valley de Verdouble. The oldest remains of man found on French soil were found here … dating back 45,000 years!

The Roussillon style lunch started (as is the norm here) with lots of banter, smoking grillade and some lovely wines from the area with food pouring out of the little ‘casot’ (vineyard hut). After quite a long time, the old Rivesaltes Ambre Hors d’Age sealed the end of the meal.

Poor Cat had been trying all day to meet us and after trains planes and automobiles she finally arrived in a very hot Perpignan at the new station ‘El Centro du Mundo’ as named by artist Salvador Dali. Next stop was my adopted home village of Maury to meet Jean Charles and Celine Duran, owners of the Vent de Folie vineyards.

JC is quite a character, always smiling and joking even though it’s tough times being a grape grower here in Maury. The yields are ridiculously low and everything is done by hand on crazily planted steep vineyards. But the people are just like the black slate soil: hard as rock … and they never, ever give up! After 10 years of working together we now use all 10 hectares of JC’s vineyards to make Vent de Folie.

The visit started at his tiny cellar under his house and when I say tiny, I mean tiny: only two people can fit inside at any one time! It’s a basic winery but does the job: some fibre glass vats, two hoses a pump and bucket! The 2010 wine is now ageing in barrel at the Chai in Bordeaux. JC did age some wine years ago but barrels were everyway … even had them in his hallway, so he and especially Celine are very pleased to age the wine at our cellars!

We then went to visit ‘JC’s’ old vines before dinner at his dad’s place in Maury. Pappy Pierro, as he’s known in the village, is the master of the ‘cargolade’ (snail bbq)! Pappy catches snails and raises them on the local wild herbs (fennel, rosemary and thyme) which flavour and purify them. Then a dot of lard is added and simply grilled on the open fire. Great with a drop of aioli and a slurp of Vent de Folie!

We ate down in Pappy’s garage amongst all the tools. There were a few intriguing palates of wine down there too … JC’s wine from before the Vent Folie days. He popped a couple of bottles … delightful stuff 2004, 2005 and 2006, what a find!


Thursday, 9 June 2011

Back in the Chai

Well, it’s been quite a busy return to the cellar since Le Voyage. Getting back into the Chai has been like boarding another ship, but with my own crew and, of course, Captain JMS! It’s also that time of year again where I have to now start thinking about the 2011 harvest along with counting spaces for new barrels.

JMS and I have to go carefully through each wine we are going to make. Using our experience, we predict the possible style of wines and yields that this vintage may produce so we can buy the correct barrel wood types and toasts to match the wines.

Already this year has been far dryer than 2010 and the low rainfall and sunshine has accelerated the vineyard here in Bordeaux by two weeks. Harvest will be early and there will probably be less tannin in the reds. The Midi has had more rain in the Roussillon so quality and yields are looking very good indeed. Thunderstorm and hail in the Languedoc have devastated some vineyards and I will be assessing that area during next week’s trip down to the Midi.

I couldn’t resist mentioning the bizarre Sunday party held in Libourne where we attended the 6th year of the Giant Omelette party! Apparently 3011 eggs were used and five grown men spent all morning stirring a giant pan with what I am sure were boat paddles! Only in France!