Monday, 17 October 2011

The Week That Was ... Rather Busy!

There have been busy weeks and there has been last week! Not only were the last of the reds being harvested in Bordeaux, but the first reds in the Midi were being pressed off. That meant a couple of dashes down and back to the Midi to start the week off, setting the pace that would continue for the next seven days.

The desired malo-lactic fermentation (MLF) was kicking off in the Chai, too and all but one wine had finished the alcoholic fermentation; a crucial time for the wines where careful monitoring is required. The last ferment, the dry botrytis project is now fully underway and Tony Laithwaite was in the Chai regularly to taste his idea and check how it was progressing.

The dry botrytis wine, now dubbed the ‘DB’ by the Chai winemakers, is something very experimental. It’s a blend of two very different styles of the Sémillon grape. The first is an early harvested Bordeaux Sémillon to make a crisp dry wine and the second is a Botrytis Sémillon from Loupiac to make a sweet desert style. The objective is to have a dry wine but with the marmalade aromas and taste of the botrytis, simple eh?


The first problem is that the two styles must be blended and fermented together as the sweet juice of the Loupiac alone will never ferment dry and therefore be too sweet to blend later on. The second is that these styles are harvested four weeks apart from each other!

So how do we do it? Luckily at the Chai we have wonderful modern equipment and our cooling system is one of the best. It allowed us to pick the first Sémillon at the very beginning of September and hold it at 4°C to avoid a wild fermentation for three weeks until the harvest in Loupiac was ready to start. The juices were then blended at Le Chai and we raised the temperature kicking off the fermentation! It’s very exciting and so far so very good!

Everyone was in town too, the Laithwaite clan and friends for the harvest along with a stream of various important visitors. First to visit the Chai and taste our wines was winemaking legend Dr Tony Jordon (responsible for wines at Moet-Chandon, Cloudy Bay and many more) followed by wine legend Hugh Johnson … no pressure there then!! The tastings went well and the wines were given the thumbs by Tony and Hugh!

We had a lovely end-of-harvest meal cooked once again by Bernadette at Chateau La Clarière-Laithwaite … special guests included Hugh Johnson and Edouard Mouiex. The chicken stuffed with cepes was excellent along with the 2005 and 2009 Chateau La Clariere.

The outbounders were also busy at Le Chai and it was the group’s turn to do a wine blending with the winemaker in our lab and tasting room. It’s hard work and a great deal of concentration is required but great fun … and they get to see just how difficult it is to blend wine.

On the Saturday I gave a mixed staff group from the UK and USA a full Chai tour and they were lucky to be the first to taste some of the now-dry wines. We had a lovely meal up at Le Comptoir and tasted Henry’s 2008 La Verniotte.

Next up for a visit was our team of global directors including Simon, Andrew, Glenn, Adrian, Rachel, Mike, Justin, Gary, Jay, Alex, Tanya, Lyn and Steve who were here at the Chai for a winemaking weekend organised by JMS, James and I. Everyone got stuck into some hard cellar work and learnt some important wine making techniques. In the evening Libby and Clare organised a wonderful meal in the Grand Chai cellar and JMS cooked some of the biggest steaks ever seen on the BBQ. Thank you and well done everyone.

We have also been very busy bottling some of our little treasures of Bordeaux 2010 Chateaux, including Chateau Grand Billard from Monsegur, Chateau Geneau from Blaye and Chateau Le Coin from Rauzan!

So apart from a hell of a lot of winemaking it feels like there has also been a hell lot of eating!

JMS and I are off to the South West regions tomorrow to visit Cahors, Madiran, Gascogne and Fronton to re-check the wines we make with Lionel Osman. Will it slow down?

A bientot!

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