Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Harvest at Le Chai - Part 1

Wednesday 30th September

 Bottling of a decade-old treasure

Today was an exciting day at Le Chai – the team arrived at 7am to greet the mobile bottling line. Not exciting in itself, but today our 2005 Font del Bosc vin doux naturel from Maury was going to emerge from a decade in barrel and be bottled. Ah – that is some wine. We had a glass of it in the winemakers’ lab to swirl and sniff all day – rich, dark, raisiny fruit, with hints of honey, mocha and big spice. Still really fruity and lush – this is a wine, in small bottles, to savour slowly with select company, a bowl of nuts to crack and a roaring fire.

A mere 4,200 50cl bottles of 2005 Font del Bosc were bottled – a delicious sticky

Not only that, Le Chai also took delivery of 33 one-year-old barrels from Château Valandraud. They might not be brand new, but they are still a hugely expensive item on the shopping list. They’ll be excellent for our Le Grand Chai clarets.


Over the last three weeks, all the whites for Le Chai’s wines – both Bordeaux and southern France – have been harvested, and in peak condition. The juice has been brought to the cellar and has been slowly bubbling away.

Bordeaux 2015

Let’s start with Bordeaux and it’s been a phenomenal year – wonderfully warm, dry weather since March; shorts weather since May and peaks of heat in June and some good rain mid September which saved the vines from totally shutting down. Not even too hot for the whites, we just had to pick sharpish. Some amazing storms, too, at the end of August, when the whole landscape, in typical French storm style, was lit up by sheet lightning. No rain, however, the clouds had dropped their load before they got to us.

So all the Bordeaux whites are in the cellar, some are even through their fermentation, with a few still chugging away.

With all that sunshine since May, the grapes are healthy and ripe and the berry size nice and small

Midi 2015

The east side of the Midi was equally blessed in 2015 too, with a great deal of sunshine and fine weather through flowering and on ‘til harvest. West side of the Midi suffered some flooding, but our Limoux vineyards, on the Océan Atlantique sector, are luckily t’other side.

Having spent a whole day taking samples from every one of the 59 barrels of La Voûte – that’s the Chardonnay from down there – I can tell you it’s smelling totally lush. Coming straight from wood it’s a bit creamy, toasty with some intense ripe apricot fruit and lemon character. Very, very promising indeed. One of the best ever for sure.

Thursday, 9 April 2015


A rather overcast start to a Monday morning but I was certainly looking forward to the visit at Penfolds iconic Magill Estate, now situated on the east side of the city of Adelaide. The historic estate has now been engulfed into the eastern suburbs and sits alone like a stronghold of times passed. 

It was here that the now-infamous Grange was born and some of the parcels that go to the blend are still made here today. 

The estate is old and charming and the 170yr old winery still does around a 200-ton crush. The estate is undergoing a number of refurbishments and wasn't looking its best for my visit.

Although Penfolds is now owned by the giant Treasury Wine Estates I still love the blends that Penfolds continue to make. It has been a while since I have tasted a Penfolds line up in one go and was not disappointed this time either, here are a few of the standouts:

  • Pinot Gris 2014 Adelaide Hills: fragrant yellow melon hint of fresh green herbs, zesty palate and long lime finish, good weight. 
  • Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 2012 Reserve Bin 12A: reductive hints, lots of peach, full palate, creamy oak, vanilla, nutty, lovely acidity, long, long finish! A really good wine, top of their game here.
  • Pinot Noir Adelaide Hills 2013: lots of Pinot character, fresh cherries, light green herbs, nice weight and ripeness, blackberry and forest fruit on palate. It's nice to see a weightiefuller style of Pinot Noir. 
  • Kalima Bin 28 Shiraz 2008: great herbal and blackcurrant nose, full bodied, lovely fruit. So fresh with a long blackcurrant finish. Very together and more to go. Great value for money and has aged beautifully. This blend has been used since 1959 and I can see why it continues to delight. 
  • Magill Estate 2011 Shiraz: very peppery, herbal green tea, peppermint, lavender, good acidity, blue berry and cherry, followed by dark plum and some raisin. Lovely wine from the 2.4ha city vineyard!
  • Cellar Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: only available at the Magill cellar door at $200, made from the Penfolds Block 42 in the Barossa Valley. An explosive nose of sweet Creme de Casis, super charged herbs and tight searing green pepper undertones. Beautiful structure and velvet tannins, long and luscious finish.

It is always nice to taste Grange I have been fortunate to enjoy a number of vintages but it is always better in Australia and of course at its spiritual home Magill Estate a first for me. 

A bottle of the 2009 Grange – a blend of four regions comprising McLaren Vale, Barossa, Clare Valley and Magill Estate – was opened in front of me and cork I might add (first time I have seen an Australian use a corkscrew since I have been here!) was popped. A quick swirl and intense blackberry, ripe plum, rum and raisin, dark chocolate, green herbs, garrigue and peppermint aromas opened up. On the palate more liquorice, fennel, dense blackcurrant, violets, barrel spice, big but lovely tannins, black fig, white pepper with a lovely freshness. A very nice wine but $785 :(

I finished the tasting with some fortified, the Father Grand Tawny 10yr showed almonds, coffee, caramel, dried apricots and a lemon lift. The Grandfather 20yr had wafts of iodine, caramel and a nice alcohol heat, coffee with a rum and raisin finish. 

I had a great time at Penfolds. I enjoyed the wines and I hope that the blends and winemaking continue to be so good for the future. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Philbo: a Wine Legend

Phil(bo) Christiansen, owner of Longwood Wines, is a living legend in McLaren Vale.
As a born and bred child of the Vale, he remembers the place being very different indeed before all the investment and wine hype.  Phil started work as a trainee cellar hand at Hardy’s local Tintara winery but it wasn’t until Hardy’s appointed Steve Pannell as head winemaker back in the 90’s that things would change for him.  

Through Pannell’s inspiration and great cellar communications, Phil learnt how to make wine commercially and how to develop exciting wines for himself. Philbo was a big part of Tony Laithwaite’s highly successful RedHeads movement and today he has his own winery nestled high in the hills above McLaren Vale where he makes his own range of exquisite wines alongside contract winemaking for other talented growers. 

I have known Phil for many years from his frequent visits to Bordeaux to help with the harvest. I now find myself here in his home town and working for his mentor Steve Pannell who has returned to this part of the world to set up his own winery.
Phil in his winery
Phil and his wife Lauren have kindly put me up at their place for a few days after the madness of harvest. Now I can get to see a bit of the Vale before heading off. And I can taste some of Phil’s exciting wines like his Adelaide Pinot Noir, a superb Cabernet Sauvignon and old-vine Grenache.
However, first things first in true Australian fashion: “let’s go and see a mate for a beer”. That ‘mate’ was Philbo’s school mate Drew Noon … another living legend in the Vale. 

Drew is a quiet, interesting and charming character. A winemaker of great experience, he is also one of the very few in Australia to pass the Master of Wine and now runs his small Noon Winery just down the road from Phil’s place. Drew has quite a following and all his wine is sells out pre-release … he even has a waiting list!  The cellar door opens on only a couple of weekends in November where wines are available to buy in limited quantities … these usually sell out within the first Saturday!
Drew and Phil ... living legends of the Vale

Therefore it was great to have a little look around, meet Drew personally to chat about his winemaking and how the 2015 went.  Drew unscrewed an old-vine Noon Eclipse Grenache for us to taste which was really lovely and superbly balanced. We also tasted/drank a bottle of his limited 150 bottle 2014 rose instead of a beer!
Tasting Drew's old-vine Grenache

Sunday, 5 April 2015

A Visitor in the Cellar

The winery was hugely busy throughout harvest but amongst the organised chaos this little bearded dragon was spotted in the winery. We took him back to the safety of the vineyard but not until he had a full tour of the cellars and met everyone!

Friday, 3 April 2015

A Battle of Grenache

One of the reasons I am out here is that South Australia is home to some of the world’s oldest Grenache vines and I wanted to see and learn how they do things out here. I have already seen similarities between Grenache here and at home in Maury but new methods, ideas and techniques can only enhance the perfection in my Grenache wine that I aim for.

I have been working with Stephen Pannell for the last 4 weeks solid, absorbing all his energy, ability and passion for wine. Stephen Pannell is a winemaker of enormous reputation and has worked at the highest level for some of the best wineries, making some of Australia’s most iconic and most expensive wines. Steve is also twice winner and current holder of the prestigious Jimmy Watson Trophy.
S.C. Pannell Cellar Door
However Steve has returned to the Vale to set up his own winery, driven by his love for certain varietals including his beloved Grenache! 

We had a great night with Steve and co at his S.C. Pannell cellar door and restaurant and were seated out on the ‘deck’ as they say down under!
On the deck

I knew Steve’s love of Grenache so I sneaked in my own 2012 Vent de Folie I had brought in my suitcase from home alongside his highly rated Grenache. 
Two Grenaches

Steve loved the Vent de Folie and it was talk of the winemakers’ table. I am thrilled about this and after many years working with old-vine Grenache it is always a pleasure to have great compliments and enjoyment from one of the most respected winemakers in the world.  Honestly, the Vent de Folie stood up to Steve’s Grenache, shoulder to shoulder. It may not have won hands down, but don’t tell Steve. My Vent de Folie does however win hands down with the price,a complete steal at only £14.99!!