Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The 2013 Vinification Comes to an End

After nearly 3 months of tireless work in the cellar, the ferments have finished. All the barrels have been racked (taken off sediment) and put back to age gently over the next 6-12 months. Weather-wise, it’s like a switch was flicked here in Bordeaux. Ferments finished on Sunday, then snap: a typical -3˚C, frosty, bright and sunny Bordelaise winter’s day!

The marvellous 2013 La Voute is the only wine still being worked on daily and I am rolling the barrels, putting that lovely sediment back in suspension. My window barrel has been fascinating during the winemaking process. From the photo you can really see the sediment settling into layers and then the cloud-like movement of the sediment as it’s rolled.

The 2013 Bordeaux harvest has been a testing one for the winemakers and many of us have suffered with the weather. However there are many small pockets here and there which escaped the heat, the humidity, the hail and the waterlogged soil. The team here at the Chai are best placed to spot these small parcels early and can adapt our winemaking from our world-wide vintage experience. And despite the challenging vintage we are very pleased with the results. Here are some notes on a selection of the 2013 wines so far. I’ll be interested to compare these in some months’ time to see how they have developed.

La Voute: lemon curd and hints of white honeysuckle flowers with a brooding tropical fruit character. Taking on lots of spice from the new French oak barrel just now, but has a luscious texture and a limey acidity. Very early to taste and very young

Laithwaite Bordeaux Sauvignon: wow! Incredible aroma of limes and freshly cut grass due to the early harvest, palate has good acidity and the finish is slowly building with time in the stainless steel. Needs the cold weather.

Vent de Folie Blanc Vermentino: delicate, low alcohol percentage, this year and with full malolactic this is tasting really lovely and very Corsican in style! Delicate, lightly buttery with a classy finish.

Chardonnay: first time fruit from Beziers, a cooler year so a really mineral southern French character, gentle oak from the hogs heads. Will need another 6 months in barrel.

Garage White Chardonnay/Viognier blend: again the lower alcohol allowing early expressive aromas of violets and tropical fruits, palate is beautifully rounded from the partial malolactic fermentation. Just waiting for the trademark touch of spicy oak to appear.

Le C du Chai: A wet and humid year in Bordeaux? Yes indeed and perfect for the noble rot development on the Sémillon. It already has oodles of marmalade and orange peel, lovely acid as is common from Loupiac in such vintages, now waiting for the oak flavour to homogenise. Very young, this one is going to need at least a year ageing in barrel.

XV du President: the tiniest Grenache yield ever in Maury this year, we were talking berries not bunches. However quality is through the roof: inky black colour and fresh plum, black fig and cassis on both aroma and palate, going to taste good in bottle even early on. My advice for this vintage is drink immediately!

Secrets Des Etoiles Pinot Noir: no longer a secret but the hidden location of the vineyard in the hills above Montpellier still is and will remain that way as this was the star red grape in the Languedoc for me this year. It has everything, colour, depth, aroma, structure and length. It’s in barrel now and that’s where it’s going to stay for at least a year.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Harvest Finally Gets Underway

Last week, after an unusually long wait, the Midi harvest kicked in at full velocity. Due to the cold spring, the picking has been up to 20 days later than normal. However, after a good couple of weeks of sunshine and lots of drying wind we were finally happy to bring in the first Chardonnay. 

And the first vineyards harvested were in Beziers; lower in sugar than previous years and in turn will be lower in alcohol (not a bad thing) but still flavour packed. The Vermentino in Beziers followed days later; same scenario and more floral and perfumed than last year. Pinot Noir was next and the odd ball of the Midi this vintage being an earlier harvest than normal! Lots of colour and lovely Pinot varietal character. 

The Sauvignon Blanc harvest started back in Bordeaux two days ago closely followed by the Sauvignon Gris.It’s by no means an easy vintage but that’s exactly what Le Chai winery facilities and the winemaking team are for. And I can safely say some very good wines are going to come out of Le Chai in 2013.
Le Chai has been busy receiving the juice from the Midi, tankers pulling up alongside the quay ready for the fragile cargo to be emptied into Le Chai.

The cellar is already buzzing with ferments and Scott and Nadja are busy amongst the barrels all day everyday. I will be soon but I am still waiting for the La Voute Chardonnay vineyards in Limoux to ripen and the Sémillon in Bordeaux.  

That means I am doing my endless vintage yo-yo trips back and forth from the Midi to Bordeaux. I have to ensure the vineyards are picked at optimum ripeness and that the tankers are carefully filled for the trip up to Castillon. My car has become a typical mobile winemaker’s office with boots, clothes, laptops, office folders, grape-testing equipment, food larder, mini restaurant and much more! 

The Midi reds will start probably the beginning of next week but for the Bordeaux reds there are a few more weeks to go. However, with 30 degrees over the last 10 days and a good forecast, those growers who escaped the hail may just make some lovely wines. 

It will be early starts and late nights for the winemakers for the next couple of months but you get to see some great sunrises!

Friday, 13 September 2013

2013 Harvest in the Midi

Another harvest is upon us, although not as near as usual! Due to the abnormally cold spring the vineyards are approximately 20 days behind; unheard of. But quality is there. Beautiful set on the Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne, but strangely some of the reds like Pinot Noir are more advanced than the whites? It’s going to be a backward harvest but we are watching very carefully to get that perfect picking date.

I spent the last week with fellow winemakers: Richard ‘Aussie’ Osbourne in Carcassone; Thierry Cazach and JC in Maury; James ‘Kiwi’ Graham in Beziers; Patrick and Bernard ‘The Bear’ in the Corbieres; Vincent in Limoux; Katie Jones in Fitou; and Joseph Bousquet in Montpellier. With these talented friends and wonderful characters I managed to get a good idea of what the vintage was looking like.

With winemakers twiddling their thumbs a bit on the picking front, it means we have been getting stuck into the cellar preparation. I can safely say vats and new barrels are ready and gleaming … normally it’s all such a rush!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Fiesta San Roque Day Two: Cowboys, Indians and Bull Fighting!

After a wonderful, albeit early-morning finish, we were all up and ready for the next day’s fiesta! Every year the Peña chooses a fancy dress theme which this year was Cowboys and Indians!

We all met back at the Peña head quarters where lunch and more Garnacha were served along with a lot of laughter at each others' outfits. 

However, I had to admire the guy who got the wrong message and came dressed as a Viking!!

After a typically mighty, long Spanish lunch we set off for the Corrida. It was my first bullfight and I certainly didn’t expect to be dressed as a cowboy for the occasion. The colours inside the bull ring were beautiful and the crowd and bands were in good voice.

Holidays over and so back to Castillon and where sadly hail has hit the vineyards. The Midi vintage is nearing so I will be heading down to the Roussillon first to check the vineyards and I hear the Muscat is already being picked, another harvest is about to start!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Peña Garnacha 2013 – Day One

It was that time of year again when I had to get to Calatayud in Spain to join my Peña  (club) to celebrate the festival of San Roque! This year I drove down with Castillon wine maker Vincent Galineau and he would be in for quite a surprise. 

We made good time and after a six-hour drive we were with my friend and winemaker Norrel in perfect time for a Spanish lunch. We headed straight to the El Ciervo: a family-run restaurant in the tiny village of Cevada de Canada.  The restaurant is the Spanish equivalent of my beloved Voyageur restaurant in Castillon that burnt down last year so I was ready for a real treat of homemade cooking, no fuss, no menu, and no choice! 

As always, we were greeted in the downstairs bar by Antonio who runs the place. Antonio also runs around like a madman, taking orders and setting up the tables upstairs, pouring beers downstairs and serving the wonderful food that his wife, sister and mother are making in the kitchen. 

We started with a crisp green salad with tuna and local olives to share before I was given a very tasty revuelto morcilla y pimento roja: finely chopped black pudding mixed in with scrambled eggs and roasted red peppers. The main dish of conejo con amandres, rabbit with almond sauce, didn’t disappoint and neither did Norrel’s dish of beef cheeks in red wine. A simple, fruity and cold bottle of local Garnacha from the coop San Gregorio was the perfect wine match. Dessert was homemade pana cotta and a drizzle of local honey, all in for nine euros!

Festivities were waiting so we headed back to Norrel’s place in Calatayud to meet the rest of the gang and to get changed into our Peña Garnacha outfits … and so the next 48 hours of madness began.

We all trooped down to our Peña where the usual suspects were already in full fiesta mode. Primitivo was jumping around, our band was in full swing and Oscar was in usual fancy dress. This year Oscar came as the infamously badly restored church painting of Jesus from the nearby village of Borja. If you haven’t heard then you can read more here.
Suddenly all the members of our purple army were ready and we headed for battle to the main square to see the opening of the festival and to meet the other Peñas! On arrival the scene was mayhem; foam, flour, eggs, paint, ketchup you name it was flying in the air with each Peña’s band playing and singing as loud as possible.

The statue of San Roque was marched up to the balcony and the fireworks were let off opening the festival. The task now was for everyone to get back to their Peña for supper via the small streets now super jam packed; it was like a mass game of ludo! 

Some three hours later, after crawling along dancing the charanga, we finally arrived to the wonderful smell of paella and the bar in full swing.  It was a rather special one this year as Norrel had made a wine for the Peña, sold exclusively to Laithwaite’s.

You really have to get some of this Garnacha; it oozes the fiesta ambiance and everyone was delighted that we had our own wine!

As normal, the fiesta continued into the early hours … kids and grannies included! Tomorrow’s fancy dress theme is cowboys and Indians…………..

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Dinner with the Rhône

For dinner last night I brought along a 2011 Sablet. Sablet is a small village situated at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail in the Côtes du Rhône wine region, west of Mont Ventoux.

This region has a long history with the Laithwaite family

and was one of the very first regions Tony bought from. The purity of fruit and softness of the wine went down very well and reminded both Tony and Barbara of many holidays and visits to the area. It also sparked Tony to tell the wonderful story of the Roux family.

The Roux family always had their wine estate but the driving force behind their relatively recent pioneering success was the eldest son Charles. Charles had left the area to study and then work as a pharmacist in Paris. Eventually, when he decided to return to Sablet, he revolutionised the winemaking, and general approach, by going for quality.

Charles’ son André, the dreamer of the family, then came to take over the château. Through his use of carbonic maceration (whole bunch fermentation), the wines became deeply coloured fruit bombs. And without the traditional use of barrels, André’s wines were silky and rich on the palate … just what was needed for the UK market at that time.

Last night we tasted one of his 1978’s and how right André was. The wine was still bright in colour full of fresh black fruits and a supple palate. Incredible wine!

André showed true character when – after some persuasion from Tony – he returned to his old Château as a flying winemaker aged 70+! (His family had forced him to retire years earlier). Sadly, I never met him, but stories of him sitting at the weighing dock during the harvest inspecting each truck and pointing the good ones into our vats whilst ordering the young flying winemaker up and down the winery sound like fabulous sights. And let’s not forget the quality of the wines he made.