Hibernating this winter? Certainly not!

February 16th, 2008

In November the start of the pruning was finalised with the two Turkish gentlemen. They were extremely proud of the quality of their work last year, you remember we engaged several people last time, including the Monk and the Poles. This winter just the two Turks and some help from Fernand, the father of our old vigneron. Their price per vine agreed, a little high, but included cutting the ‘cornes,’ the old knobbly growth and burning the cuttings, trimming last years growth, selecting and leaving the choice new shoots and digging a shallow trench around each vine.

The work is nearly finished now, in February, and the vines look neat and tidy all ready to receive their new green shoots in a few weeks time. The skies are blue and the colours still muted but beautiful and the whole landscape is calm as if quietly gathering strength for the forthcoming efforts of the new growing season.

We put all our efforts into selling, going back and forth between London and Beaujolais. Making sure we have stocks of wine in London to supply our customers for the Christmas and New Year festivities. We presented our wine at a dinner, a finale to the Beaujolais Marathon, a regular feature in the Beaujolais calender. This year the Cru Beaujolais wines were featured at this event for fifteen hundred people. in the past it had only been a celebration of the Beaujolais Nouveau, a fashion that we think has had its day and on which subject I have spoken about with feeling in previous posts. So thank goodness for the opportunity to show off the superior Crus. We circulated among the guests offering our wine. There was some interest but the tasting started far too late and our marathon runners had already over indulged. We had to compete with the cacophony of the live cabaret…..we were exhausted! I have to mention though that one of the guests I met among the hundreds had been reading my Blog!!

In the next posts we go to Amsterdam and Paris. We discover new customers in London, take our wine to the Reform Cub, the starting point for Jules Verne’s 80 day adventure around the world, and dine at The Duke of Wellington ‘Gastro Pub’, recently receiving rave revues, and our Regnie on the wine list! We work with an artist to plan our bottle label for the 2007 vintage, and plan our website…….

Les vendanges Part 2: A top quality wine in the making.

November 19th, 2007

The quality grapes that had travelled up the tapis and tumbled effortlessly into the cuves began, if you remember, their fermentation process almost straight away, encouraged by the addition of yeasts and sugar. The deliciously developing juices had been tasted regularly, the first, an exciting moment as we had all felt so close to this year’s production.

Mr Dory continues to visit each day, rather like a doctor tending his patients, he tastes and makes notes.

The day before the pressing we were, amazingly, encouraged to tread the grapes!

This would help break down the sort of crust that forms of fermenting fruit and there is no better tool than clean bare feet! It was a strange experience of partial sinking and the feel of the grapes between our toes, legs and feet becoming quickly stained a wonderful vibrant purple. Apparently treatment for the skin better than any spa.

Now it was time for the pressing; exactly one week after each cuve had been filled with its bounty.

For five consecutive days the special vendange pump brought the contents of each cuve to the press while we helped spread by hand the heady mixture evenly into the bowels of the machine.

The alcoholic aromas were intense and overwhelming. The pressing for each cuve took about two and a half hours of carefully programmed turning and churning, the resulting juices returned to clean cuves.

The juice is now traditionally called le paradis and restaurants all over Beaujolais offer this fruity paradise to customers before their meal.

Each evening of the five days it took to press at Maison des Bulliats, the left over dried stems and exhausted fruit, like flattened raisins, called the genes was raked from the press into the trailor and taken to a designated dumping ground from where it would be collected and made into marc a sort of eau de vie that would not belong to us!

There will also be a sludgy substance at the bottom of each cuve called the lie which will too be taken away to make an even stronger brew!

There is a regional dish which is quite delicious, pork sausage cooked in wine on a bed of genes. I made this dish before and after the vendanges many times but using bunches of whole grapes instead of dried, adding a few bay leaves, served with wonderful Mona Lisa potatoes and green beans. The sauce that results is heavenly. Chris agrees.

The fermentation continued and M. Dory and our friend from Morgon are visiting regularly. The secondary fermentation known as malolactic is more subtle and this would take another week. This is the fermentation of the acids that can also be found in milk that are not so evident by taste. We were right to delay our vendange by a few days, to wait for more sun and north winds which developed and concentrated the natural sugars in the grapes and enabled this final fermentation to take place in good time.

Now, a few weeks later we tasted the young wine from each cuve. The cool of the cuvage made it difficult for us to be critical, we drew a bottle from each cuve and left it at room temperature in the kitchen, ready to taste with experts. What a difference this made, we could begin to appreciate its qualities and the exotic blend of fruits and minerals. It seeems we have the potential to win some medals. our protegy will certainly be entered for the forthcoming competitions at Macon and in Paris.

Celebration and one ‘grape’ year over!

November 10th, 2007

We had a fabulous party to celebrate the end of our vendange with family and friends. There were ten of us and ,of course we had the famous sausage cooked on a bed of grapes.

I stuffed fresh figs with goats cheese and ham for a starter and we finished with a selection of delicious tarts. Our 2006 Regnie was an excellent accompaniment to the rich sausage with its aromatic sauce. It was a splendid evening and all who were there were tired but happy with a very successful vendange!

The leaves on the vines started to change their colour early this year, from an October full of vibrant shades of burnt umber, ochre’s, gold, deep pinks and vivid reds, to now in November only a few left, a frail faded yellow awaiting the first strong winds which will expose the gnarled brown vines.

The willows lining many of the roads in Beaujolais, whose stems can form the most elegant of baskets and in the past were used to tie the vines, are turning a rusty red. I love the way they form majestic landmarks in the autumnal landscape here.

Our first grape year has come to an end. The vines must be pruned again as soon as the last leaf has fallen, around the middle of November. We have already engaged the two Turkish gentlemen who helped us at the beginning of 2007, they arrived a few days ago to discuss the trimming, bearing a plate of sugary Turkish sweetmeats and little pink jewels of Turkish delight!

We turn our thoughts to competitions and finding new markets for our wine, we have great hopes to expand in Canada where we managed to find a few days exploring and meeting new potential customers. We will enjoy following the progress of our 2007 Regnie. It has to pass its cru test soon but we do not have any worry there, and by March or April of next year it will be ready for bottling.

Some still in this region are selling the primeur the young wine that was for a time a big fad and fashion and is less so now. This will be on sale very soon to the worlds wine drinkers. We feel that this Beaujolais Nouveau has somewhat damaged the reputation of the cru wines. They deserve better press. These wines are so compatible with good food and have such character and complexity, and can be kept for several years. The world should rethink these jewels from southern Burgundy and re visit them, especially ours of course!, and also get to know the beauty of this region in all seasons.

Vendanges a retrospective (part 1)

September 21st, 2007

Up at 6.30am monday 3rd sept. The Turkish team of grape pickers would be arriving at 7.30 and all the paperwork must be filled and faxed to the Social Security Centre in Lyon before anyone starts work. The identity and health insurance cards photocopied. Unfamiliar names and complex spellings and worn numbers difficult to read made the task more arduous and it all had to be done before the first grape is picked. Four Bulgarians had arrived but they needed special work permits so were turned away.
Clean buckets and Plastic bennes, that I was going to become very familiar with as the week progressed were put in place amongst the vines.

Fred and I a few days earlier had walked the length and breadth of our property to mark the extremities of our vines with red and white tape tied to vines at each corner, of each parcelle or patch so there would be no mistaking which were our grapes.

Chief Turk arrived with team in a variety of ‘old banger’ vehicles. Secateurs and serpettes [a special scythe shaped tool for cutting the bunches] were handed out, I was going to get used to washing these every evening ready for the next day together with sticky buckets and bennes.

With our family helpers as much needed extra help, the morning went quite smoothly and it became evident that the team picked well, sorting the grapes and cutting everything but only putting the very best in their buckets. the problem was that there were not enough pickers, the team that was promised was too small and they were to get used to our help which did not bode well for later on in the week when Fred and I would be on our own.

There were two types of days during what turned out to be eight and a half days of the vendange. Half our grapes if you remember were to go to the Cooperative not a huge distance away but a significant drive with the landrover pullig our 100 euro trailor with twenty or so bennes each filled with 50kg of grapes….

The first day all the grapes picked were to go to the co-op, where it was up to us to unload the containers into huge wagons that we pushed into a weighing bay where each load was tested for sugar content and quality,I have to say that all our grapes received ‘category one and we were saving our very best for our wine, which brings me to the second sort of day.

On tuesday it was this sort of day, the tapis as it is called installed in the cuvage where our wine would be made feeds the grapes tipped into its hopper at its base and the conveyor belt transports the grapes up and over into the vat or cuve.

As the grapes are tipped from the backed up trailor into the hopper we had another opportunity to sort and select, getting rid of leaf and substandard grape. Many people it seemed in the area had the dreaded josmine a type of fungus that could make wine turn to vinegar, we had none. Our vines had been looked after so well during the year, we have been lucky, our land and fruit are envied, we will certainly make another excellent vintage!

The weather was superb, blue sky ,hot sun by the middle of the day and the team picked fast, but they were not loading the bennes onto the trailor or even taking the heavy heavy bennes out from amongst the vines, so this was done by us. Thank goodness for our family help it was becoming difficult to keep up and we only had 50 bennes the Turks kept crying out for more as we took time feeding the loads into the cuves. Daniel was our man in the cuvage who had been one of our stalwart workers during the previous months. As the cuve gets fuller and fuller large rakes are used to distribute the grapes evenly and when each cuve is full we start another.

I escape when I can to prepare food for us, we have been up since 6.30 and everyone is hungry tired and very sticky. The palms of my hands and forearms are black with the stain of grape juice from pushing the huge piles of grapes from the hopper up the tapis.

A journalist arrives in the middle of all the activity, I had forgotten completely that he was coming. From Linformation Agricole he had phoned to ask if he could write an article about us and our vendanges experience…. Luckily the Turks were having their lunch in the shade of the cherry trees and we had a few minutes spare.

The grapes are beginnig to ferment, sulfite must be added to each filled cuve to protect the juice from unwanted bacteria. Then the yeast is added, a yeast that has been developed from the natural yeasts that form on grapes.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the choice of yeast has an important part to play in the resulting aromas and flavours of the wine. We ha
ve used three different types of yeast between 5 cuves. When the wine is finished we may well mix cuves to achieve the very best blend of structure and fruit.

Mr Sylvain Dory begins his visits after the first cuve has been filled, and a little juce can be released from a tap at the bottom of each cuve. We will be filling one and a half cuves per day but in between we have to supply the co-op with its agreed quota. Mr Dory is our Oenologue or wine maker who is well known in Beaujolais and we are very lucky to have him working with us this year. At first his serious, rather reserved, manner is a little disconcerting he has a charming smile but gives nothing away. During the last ten days or so I have become fascinated by the way he tastes and considers each cuves developing wine and I am learning and experiencing so much as we taste it with him. The question often asked about wine making is how much is science and how much is art or talent and intuition? I think the answer is a bit of all those ingredients and certainly without good grapes we can not make a great wine. The slight adjustments he makes each day are very subtle and temperature in the early stages is important and the addition of natural tannins help the wine keep its colour and body.

The days are incrediblly long and exhausting as there is very little time to take rest. It gets worse for us when on the thursday T and M have to leave, helping lift fully loaded bennes and trips between co-op and cuvage right up untill their moment of departure. Friday was a cuve day, the grapes were coming from field to cuvage, we lost no time unloading at the co-op, where by now we were receiving star status due to the article about us in Linformation Agricole and the photo identifying us to all! Fred and I had managed to get all buckets and bennes cleaned and stacked for the next day, and I had even managed to prepare a special dinner, saussices cooked on a bed of grapes that we would share with some Dutch friends visiting Beaujolais who were customers last year and who had been so hospitable to us when at the wine fair in Utrecht in April. It was not the best time but we enjoyed seeing them in spight of our exhausted states!

But Saturday, I have called it Black saturday…. It was a co-op day and Fred and I were hard pressed to load the full bennes onto the trailor, unload and get back with the empty bennes.

The picking team downed secateurs at one point as they had no empty bennes to fill, it was crazy because if they had helped load ,the operation might have gone more smoothly but they were pickers and their team had got smaller as the week wore on and they, being paid by hectaire and not by day, wanted to just get the grapes picked as quickly as possible. And they picked well we have to say but it was all too late to give new instructions although we insisted that they brought the full bennes out of the vines so that we could load more easily but we had to straddle ditches at times, lifting the 50 plus kg containers between us. We loaded and unloaded that day about 120 bennes, and finally,Turks finish at 5.opm, we finished late in the evening and could hardly raise our well earned glass of Regnie to our lips!

Pascal, our old vigneron, had seen how difficult it had been and on sunday when he was not working arrived like a knight in shining armour with the tractor and the huge bac or container behind it and between us with the trailor and Pascal with the tractor we made up some time and the pickers at last were not crying out for more bennes! Fernand, Pascals father, also borrowed more bennes from a cousin who had finished his vendanges, they were oval in shape with metal handles sticking oot each side which were quite painful on the hands…. why didnt I put on some powerful barrier cream? I dont like wearing gloves, but it is only now that my hands have stopped feeling sore and my fingernails are still quite grubby.

There was a great feeling of comradery that day and it was so hot and the sky an incredible blue and the colours in the vines were unbelievably beautiful.

We had more help from our other son too on sunday and monday, it was all more manageable but the team of pickers was smaller every day and it was becoming evident that there was some serious internal squabbling going on between chief and chiefs brother concerning remuneration…..We were paying the chief, he was paying his team, but how much to each and was it farly divided? We did not get involved in spight of the, by now, furious brothers attempts to get us to intervene.

Back in the cuvage the 5 cuves are full and, picking finished at last on tuesday morning the first cuves grapes are ready for pressing where the raft or stems will be separated from the juice and we are another step further to our 2007 Regnie which I have to say feels totally ours. We have taken part in every step, have learned an enormous amount and know that we will have an even more superior wine to give we hope a lot of people a lot of pleasure. How to manage our vendangeurs? Yes we will do things differently next year!

8000 green bottles, standing by the wall…

September 16th, 2007

The bottling took one long day, on our property but carried out by the company ‘2000 Embouteillage’, this allows us to put ‘Mis en bouteille au domane’ on our label.  We have always used this company who have an excellent reputation in this area.

In the morning the wine is fitered through degrees of fineness of silica, the last, and finest, like powder.

In the afternoon the wine is put into bottles and corked

then stacked against the wall in our cave where only a few months ago we had our 2005 Regnie.

I remember looking at the quantity of bottles thinking how will we ever sell this amount of wine? In fact we only have about 3000 bottles left from the 20 thousand bottled!

We are very pleased with the quality of 2006 and I am sure it will go as fast. The new label looks great and already the pile against the wall is reducing in size.

One of our sons and a friend arrived, count down to V day. The vendanges will start on sepetember 3rd and they are here to help us, we have a weekend of calm before the storm! Our grapes are looking good and their sugar content is going up each day. The north wind that is blowing is drying out moisture and concentrating the sugar. Getting it right so the grapes are ripe but not too ripe is tricky and requires experience, good judgement and just a little bit of luck!