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.