Guest Wines Tour de France
Now the harvest was over, our work moved into the chai at Chateau la Tour de Chollet.
Our first job was to prepare the barrels for the transfer of last year’s red wine, which involved lots of cleaning!
After this was done and the barrels were dried out we were able to attach a pump to the tank full of Merlot and gravity fill each barrel, making for a gentler transfer of the wine, only the last little bit of wine needed to be pumped through. It took some exact measuring to ensure the wine did not spurt out of the top of the barrel as it was being filled but unfortunately we got a bit cocky and on the second to last barrel Kel got showered in Merlot juice as we underestimated the flow.
The tank that was now empty so needed to be cleaned and prepared for the 2013 harvest, which involved climbing inside to scrub down the walls and give it a good steam clean. Kel had a bit of a sauna going on in there and was by now truly soaked!
Our next jobs involved looking after the newly harvested juice with daily tasks of checking the baume (sugar) and temperature levels, pump overs, punch downs or ‘pigeage’ for the reds and temperature control.
We introduced a South African technique to help us break the cap on one of the tanks of red, proving particularly difficult, that involved balancing a plank of wood across the tank (as demonstrated in the photo below) and sitting on it whilst spearing the ‘gateaux’ (cake), a description we were introduced to at Chateau Bertinerie in Blaye. This was always a two person job because of the escaping CO2 gases.
On one of the day’s when Paul needed to bring some juice to the laboratory for sample anaylsis, we were able to tag along and were given a guided tour by the lab manager. It was interesting to see the amount of equipment used to do various tests to ensure the wine is of good quality. Some of the apparatus is the same as that used in hospitals for human specimen tests, however in this instance these test tubes were full of grape juice rather than blood!
Back at the chai, Paul demonstrated the homemade cooling system that he had devised mainly for the whites and rose, this was an eduation for us as it enabled us to see exactly how this process works. Whereas the reds occasionally needed a little help with attaining a higher temperature, which involved taking a proportion of the wine into another vessel and placing what looks like a radiator into the juice, heating it up, then pumping it back into the tank, enabling the rest to increase in temperature.
Florent would call in once or twice a week to see how everything was going and would give Paul advice and direction on the fermentation process.
We were fortunate enough to still be around to see the Merlot complete its fermentation and then witness the leftover pomace or marc, leftover skins, be pressed by the traditional basket press. It was amazing to see how much juice could still be extracted but as this is highly concentrated it is always stored in a separate tank and can be used for blending in the final wine. Needless to say the clean up afterwards took alot longer than the pressing itself.
Once the grape skins have been pressed and squeezed of all their juices, the basket press can be dismantled revealing an impressively compacted ‘gateaux’ or cake. The ‘gateaux’ is collected and taken away to be used for the production of surgical alcohol. It’s good to know a lot of waste produce is recycled.
The fermentation was almost complete on the rose and so it was ready to be fined before being transferred into tank to be stored for winter prior to bottling.
The white had also finished its fermentation and was going to be left a bit longer on its lees, so we had a hand at ‘battonage’, which involves stirring the lees up into the wine, to help this process along.
This was followed by more cleaning and then our time in this winery was at an end. What we have come to realise about this type of work is that there is no room for mind reading! Careful planning and effective communication are essential to ensure that everyone knows their role and understands exactly what they should be doing.
It can be dangerous work!
Our final few days at Chollet saw us returning to the vineyard to remove old posts in need of replacement.
Although our 2013 harvest at this chateau was complete, we shall stay in the Bordeaux region for our next few instalments where we feature Ruth going back to school as well as exploring some of the lesser known appellations before we move out and onto the Loire Valley.
The winter chill has now arrived as the plants and flowers in the garden lose their leaves and petals fall from the last of the flowers. Dark nights have drawn in and it’s not just the plants going into hibernation mode, as we hurry home from work to snuggle up in our warm toasty houses.
One day the other week, my mum called me and told me about a bumblebee that was wandering around her garden. I was as surprised as her to hear that a bee could still be alive above ground in December, shouldn’t they be hibernating now? We agreed she had most likely landed en route to her hive but may have grown disoriented as she grew weaker, sadly at the end of her short life. My mum placed the bee under a tree at the top of the garden, sheltered and hopefully at peace.
The following day the phone rang and it was my mum. She explained in amazement how the little bee had made its way all the way back down the garden, walking and walking and walking. After several days of this, Kelvyn and I went over to her house and witnessed this resilient bee for ourselves. She slowly crawled past us before turning back up the garden, it was fascinating to get so close and see the fur on her body and how her legs criss crossed pushing her forward. She certainly wasn’t ready for that great beehive in the sky it seemed.
It was wonderful to see how much the determination of this bee touched my mum. In fact, it touched me too, reminding me of the force of nature and the cycle of life.
It made me think of cycles in the vineyard and how the vines are all now shutting down for winter conserving their reserves ready to grow again next spring. On our adventures this year we have witnessed fresh new buds appearing on the vines in Portugal; bud flowering whilst tendrils sprouted out reaching up to the sun in Southern England; the changing colour of the grapes as they ripened before swelling, juices almost bursting through the skins, ready to pick at harvest time in South Africa and France. However, the last piece of the puzzle we haven’t yet experienced is winter dormancy but more importantly the work needed to help ensure the desired crop the following season, winter pruning.
We hope to get a first hand experience of this highly skilled work this winter and will write more about it when we do, so watch this space!
Have you helped winter prune? We would love to hear about your experiences.
Sadly the little bumblebee that my mum grew so fond of could manage no more and after a week quietly went to sleep under the tree where she was first placed by my mum. But as we know, more bees will appear next spring, just as the world’s vines will provide more grapes next season, and so the wondrous cycle of life will continue.
Guest Wines Tour de France
After a good night’s sleep, we met Kirstie for our ‘induction’ tour of the Chollet vineyards and winery. It was a very foggy morning, which leant a rather ethereal and eery air to the surroundings yet it was atmospheric.
Kirstie walked us around the vines, which completely surround the house and winery. It was interesting to hear that the oldest vines are around 60 years old and new Sauvignon Blanc vines have recently been planted, so there are quite a range of ages. It was quite soggy walking around and we risked sinking into the sandy clay at times, wellies were definitely needed for the next day. The soil was quite different to vineyards we had worked in elsewhere but typical of this part of Bordeaux.
Paul then showed us around the ‘chai’ (winery) explaining how everything worked before taking us through a tasting of his wines.
Our following few days were spent in the Semillon vines, average age of 57 years old with extremely gnarly trunks, cutting out any bunches that were unsuitable for harvest, such as where there were any signs of rot as it had been a particularly wet period. Unfortunately, more rain was forecast, which provides ideal conditions for grey rot, noble rot’s evil twin! Needless to say we didn’t escape the wet as we pruned the bunches …
We finished our pruning with the Cabernet Franc on the day prior to the actual harvest.
Whilst pruning we met Florent Niautou, Consultant Oenologist, who has helped Chollet since the early days and provides great insight and advice on wine making techniques to suit each harvest. We soon came to understand that the 2013 harvest was being seen as something of a trickier one in Bordeaux, as well as across France, with producers seeing their yields reduced by as much as 50% or more and desired sugar levels difficult to attain. We also got to experience Bordeaux weather, one day hot and sunny, the next torrential rain and thunder storms, increasing the chance of rot. It will definitely be interesting to see how the wines from this vintage turn out.
It was still very dark on harvest day when we were up and ready to go at a pretty early hour, there was a distinct chill in the air. We were introduced to Joelle and Hugo who had brought their harvesting equipment while Paul’s neighbour was already out busy with the machine harvester. This was the first time we had experienced this up close and it was fascinating to see how fast the harvester moved up and down the rows shaking the grapes off the vines leaving their stalks attached. A job that would have taken a group of us the day to hand pick was completed within a few hours.
Once the grapes were brought into the winery, our work could begin. The white wine grapes, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, were brought in first, which we helped sort by removing unwanted pieces of debris before they were gently pumped into the press and finally into a stainless steel tank to allow the juice to settle before commencing fermentation.
Next to come in were the Merlot grapes as these were also deemed ready to be picked. These grapes were pushed through a destemming machine, which also lightly crushes them. Initially, a portion of the juice was ‘bled’ (known as saignee) from the grapes whilst they rested in the press, this was done in stages so that the colour could be checked at regular intervals to make sure the right level of intensity was reached for the rose. This juice was run off into a stainless steel tank to settle while the remainder went into tank for the red wine. Fermentation was kicked off straight away for the red wine must.
Then began the process of cleaning, so everything was ready to go again for the red wine grapes a few days later. Ah memories of our work in South Africa and Roussillon came flooding back, literally as the water flowed and flowed … you can’t have an aversion to cleaning in this line of work.
The Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon would still remain on the vine a few days more to allow sugar levels to continue to rise to a more suitable level for picking.
Prior to these being harvested we passed through the rows to remove any unsuitable specimens.
Ruth was off studying Bordeaux wine at L’Ecole du Vin in Bordeaux city when it was time to complete the harvest, so Kel represented Guest Wines with completion of the Chollet harvest. The Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were also machine harvested, apart from a small parcel of younger Cabernet Sauvignon vines that were handpicked.
Once all the red grapes were brought back to the winery, Kel sorted through them for debris whilst Kirstie and Paul processed them through the destemmer into the tank. The harvest was now complete and all the juice was safely in tank beginning to fizz.
The vineyard work was more or less over apart from a few days near the end of our stay when we ventured back out to remove old posts in the Cabernet Franc vines that were to be replaced with new ones. It was pretty tough work but as always a good workout. We were even entrusted with the Chateau’s quad bike to shift the old posts from the vineyard to the storage area, great fun and particularly exciting for Kel as he had not driven a vehicle for some 14 years! Though Ruth was a little bit more nervous about being the passenger in this case. Trying to manoeuvre one of these in reverse with a trailer attached was quite a challenge but we are pleased to say we succeeded – Hoorah!
It was a nice way to finish our stay at Chollet, as on these last few days we were blessed with lovely sunshine and warm temperatures. It was great to feel the sun on our faces in late October.
However, before we leave Chollet, we shall be returning to the winery to feature the process of converting grape into wine.
Guest Wines Tour de France
It was now time for us to stop and take root for a while amongst the vines at Château la Tour de Chollet in Bordeaux, where we would spend a month helping out with their harvest. We came across an advert in Decanter magazine, which invited interested readers to gain some experience of working on a vineyard in Bordeaux. We didn’t hesitate to contact them to enquire about what they could offer and only a few emails later, we had secured a month lending a hand at this family run chateau.
Our very own Tower!
Paul and Kirstie Rowbotham decided to change careers in 2003 and bravely gave up their jobs in the IT industry to move into the winemaking industry. After spending a year working on a vineyard in Cahors they decided that France was the place for them and started searching for their ideal location. They found Château la Tour de Chollet in 2006 after agreeing to go into their exciting new venture with Kirstie’s parents, Laurie and Linda. We learnt that Chollet is the name of the area and a neighbouring property and the ‘Tour’ in the name turned out to be our accommodation for the period we were there.
They were on a steep learning curve taking over a vineyard which previously sold its grapes to the local cooperative and deciding to convert all 20 acres to organic production but they have managed to do this successfully, building up a reputable business incorporating wine tourism as well as the production of a range of wines for which they have now received several awards, including commendments from IWC and Decanter. They sell their wines to various restaurants in England as well as to those who visit the vineyard for a tour or stay in the holiday accommodation.
It’s a lovely area to holiday in with plenty to see and do within driving distance and the Tower is well equipped with a lounge, kitchen, dining room and two bedrooms. Looking out your window everyday to row upon row of vines is quite spectacular and you can’t help but be seduced by the lifestyle there.
The vines surround the house and winery, which is known as the chai in French, and they grow Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, some of the vines are as old as 60 years of age. Their range of wines consist of two reds, one oaked and one unoaked, a rose, a dry white and a sweet white, which is no mean feat for a small producer.
The chateau itself is situated in the small commune of Les Leves et Thoumeyragues, only 10 minutes drive from Sainte-Foy-La-Grande. Ste-Foy sits neatly by the Dordogne river and is a characteristic fortified town, walking the streets you pass many very old looking timber buildings whose walls worryingly slope outwards above you almost arching across the street. The town has a welcoming feel and there was plenty of activity going on, in particular with sales of ‘cèpes’ on the roadside, wild mushrooms that were in some cases very large!
The local E.Leclerc supermarket proved to be a great place to shop not just for our daily staples but impressively for wine too! It was the ‘Foire aux Vins’ whilst we were there, which is one of the times of year supermarkets in France discount a large amount of wine and you can access many famous Chateaux second wines at very reasonable prices, a taste of what the top guns produce! We found a second wine by Chateau Talbot, Connetable, 2009 and 2010 for less than 20 euros but without the help of Bruno, the wine advisor on duty, we might not have found the other delights that we did. He was so passionate about wine and pointed out a number of good value finds and he also spoke brilliant English, which was even more helpful although we were getting by not too badly with Ruth’s French.
Bruno, our helpful wine advisor!
You can read about quite a different ‘Foire aux Vins’ experience that Ruth had recently in Roussillon here.
On our days off we explored the region as much as we could, eager to learn more about what makes Bordeaux so special. The differences in landscape and soils were quite noticeable between areas, such as the sandy clay found here.
On one such day, after a nice Sunday dinner, we ventured out for a walk around the vines bathed in the early evening sun, which gently settled on the horizon as if performing a grand finale for us. A hot air balloon floated by in the distance, horse riders passed by whilst out for their evening trot, we even disturbed a wild deer that ran across our path, which all made for what was almost an idyllic moment apart from the occasional gunfire that could be heard as it was now the hunting season. This commences directly after harvest has finished, where local boar, deer, hare and a particular speciality the palambra (a type of wood pigeon that migrates at this time of year) are the targets, various lookouts and traps are erected in the local woods in order to catch these birds on their migration, it seems to be quite an event on the annual hunting calendar but we could think of other ways to pass our time.
Our month quickly passed and on our final night we were treated to a curry with the Rowbotham family, needless to say one or two good Bordeaux wines were a fine accompaniment that helped wash it all down. This rounded off our Bordeaux experience as the following day we would be moving on to the Loire Valley.
However, before moving on, we have more tales to share of our Bordeaux experience and our next blogs will feature in a little more detail our time in the vineyard and winery as well as exploring some of those lesser known Bordeaux appellations.
My Last Day in Roussillon
It’s dark at 6am and then still dark at 7am but I managed to drag myself out of bed to set off with Georgia to collect grape samples again. Typical though it rained whilst out, so the grapes were a bit wet which could skew the results. Nevertheless we took them back for analysis.
After a couple of hours work, by 9am, my tummy was ready for breakfast, so I popped along to the Boulangerie for a pain au chocolat and picked up some fresh, juicy strawberries from the local market that had a floral sweet touch. Yummy yum!
So here’s a brief guide to sample analysis:
- Squish the grapes in the bag to get the juice flowing, every single berry must be squished
- Pour the juice, preferably without bits, into a glass
- Use a pipette to drop juice from each wine in turn on the Refractometer and look through the lens to read the alcohol level, clever stuff.
- Wipe the instrument clean and do the next juice.
- Check the pH level using the new nifty pH meter, stick it in the juice and wait.
- Check the TA, titratable acidity, for the acid level, by filling 10ml juice in a glass and adding 5 drops of indicator, which will react with the reagent that is added to the juice turning it blue/green, once the colour changes read the reagent level and divide by 1.9 to give the acid level. Simples!
At that moment in early September, the alcohol levels were not quite right for picking and the skins still a bit too tough. The conclusion was that we would need to wait.
My afternoon was then spent doing something quite different from sample analysis. I joined Jonathon at the local Intermarché supermarket for the ‘Foire aux Vins’, a promotional wine event that is common at this time of year, known as ‘la rentrée’ when schools go back and the long summer break is officially over. Jonathon had a stall and was trying to entice the French public for a taste of his wines.
The stalls were outside, creating a French market feel where people could wander around, taste the wines and chat to producers. As well as tasting the wines, which were then to be on offer in the store, customers could try some meats and hot food from a pop up kitchen. However, the rain kept falling and eventually everyone was forced inside.
Most of the customers had driven to the store and seemed to be in a rush plus it was still the middle of a week day. We were also placed next to a rather energetic sausage selling lady near the entrance/exit, which admittedly made trying to attract people’s attention to taste our wine a bit of a challenge.
Customers were also offered the chance to enter a competition to win their weight in wine and were encouraged by the man with a microphone who wouldn’t let them leave until they did so. Strange indeed but an eye opener into French supermarket sales techniques.
It proved to be a long hard day and certainly one of the more challenging wine fairs I have worked at.
Once back at the winery I felt a bit wiped out, the early starts and late evenings were catching up on me a little. However, a glass of Treloar One Block Muscat and La Terre Promise perked me up before dinner.
It was interesting to try the wines that Jonathon had picked up on promo at the ‘Foire aux Vins’ at Intermarché today. A 2009 Bordeaux from Chateau Picardy at 2.86 euros surprisingly wasn’t too nasty for that price and the Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Louis Chavy, 2010, was pretty decent at 8 euros but unfortunately the Mercurey 2010 Pinot Noir was corked.
I thoroughly enjoyed my week at Domaine Treloar and feel I learnt many new things about life running a vineyard and winery. Although participating in the harvest was my original goal, in some ways the delay turned out to my advantage because I was able to do more of a variety of jobs and learn about those all essential jobs in order to prepare the winery before the harvest. Each trip so far this year has provided me with new skills and experience of another aspect of the wine making process, so it is all fitting together nicely like a jigsaw puzzle.
Thank you to Jonathon and Rachel for looking after me.
Day 5 in Roussillon
A Sunday lie in didn’t really happen this morning, if anything I was awake earlier, lots of noises disturbed my slumber last night. The chickens were bloody lively so I hope its chicken for dinner today, sweet revenge!
I got up for a coffee and decided to make the most of a bit of down time to write up my notes. I can now see the bruises developing nicely on my arms and legs alongside the scratches, ah the signs of hard work!
So far, it’s been an interesting experience at Domaine Treloar. I’ve certainly learnt a lot in a short time and had the chance to do a variety of jobs already, all very important in learning how to run a small winery. It’s nice to know my French is coming in useful too, helping with customers and sending out messages to the pickers. Rachel and Jonathon’s lives are certainly pretty hectic but its really not a bad lifestyle at all.
The town of Troullias seems like a nice little place, on my first day a couple of ladies out walking said good morning and commented on the heat, which came as a welcome surprise in contrast to my frequent visits to the small town of Ceret where I have visited my sister for near enough 12 years, possibly as Ceret receives so many foreign visitors each year.
As picking was still delayed, more grape samples were required so Georgia and I headed out to the vines.
Sample taking was easier today because it was overcast, so was much cooler, however, the trip out was a tad less peaceful than usual when a single and very loud gun shot rang out across the vines scattering a flock of birds sky high. I nearly jumped out of my skin and not for the last time as the shots continued to shake the air.
It was very unnerving not being able to see where the shots were coming from, they sounded too close for comfort a couple of times. In the Grenache vines on the hill three grouse flew out as I disturbed them, flipping heck I wondered if I would end be the next target. Further down the hill, in the Syrah, the shots felt very close over head and a hare ran past me, terrified. Again, I thought I might get hit if the hare was the target. Then I noticed a man standing behind camouflage at the tree line, rifle in hand, who was responsible for the shooting.
Sam, Domaine Treloar’s dog, seemed non fazed, which was good in a way as I was jumpy enough and glad to head to the next parcel out of the way of gun fire. Nevertheless, Sam got his comeuppance as something startled him in the vines, Georgia said she might have seen a snake, yikes, maybe that spooked him but whatever it was made him yelp and run like the wind. We frantically shouted for him hoping he hadn’t run into the road but there he was, tail between his legs at the end of the row. Silly pooch!
Back at the winery, Jonathon checked the alcohol and acid levels of each sample. Still none were ready for picking yet, as the acids were high and skins not quite ripe enough, further delaying the harvest until after I leave, which is a shame.
The next job to be done was to transfer the white juice we pressed on Thursday from the steel tank to barrels, these needed washing out and then rolling under the concrete tanks. This was not a nice job and was made even nastier when each tank had to blasted with CO2. Jonathon looked on the verge of fainting. We stuck our noses in it and it smelled very strong with a burning sensation like peroxide up your nose.
After filling the barrels, it was once again cleaning time! With a slight wobble, I climbed the ladders up to the top of the tank to hose it down. Just when Georgia and I thought we might have finished for the day we then had to re-rinse a couple of the concrete tanks, detach the sluice doors and clean out the gully, making sure all pump hoses were rinsed thoroughly and detached. Phew, done by 7pm.
As the sun set and the clouds have cleared, the sky was once again blue. The grapes will welcome the sun and heat now.
We were treated to a Sunday dinner of beautifully tender lamb shank with roast potatoes and green beans! Along with a bit of Domaine Treloar’s Motus, 100% Mourvedre, and Domaine Trilles Incantation Rouge, it went down a treat.
To hear what happens next don’t forget to follow the series.
Days 3 and 4 in Roussillon
My next job was to start sweeping the tops of the concrete tanks and top floor of the winery ready for washing down. Wow, Cinderella eat your heart out! Broom in hand, surrounded by clouds of dust I brushed and brushed and brushed, until the place looked clean.
We just about had time to get changed ready for a trip to Perpignan and a wine merchants called ‘Les Caves Maillol‘, where Guillaume, the shop’s owner, and his wife were hosting an ‘English wine tasting with Jonathon’. A good number of people turned up early and enjoyed the tastings and nibbles. I’m sure once the word spreads this will grow.
Back at the house, two mystery wines were brought out for tasting. It turned out they were both Malbec, one from the Languedoc, which I honestly would not have guessed, the other from the South West, a Cahors, which I almost got. Blind tasting really isn’t easy but it was very interesting.
I have been waking up with the village bells at 6am each morning and the chickens across the road are usually in full clucking action then. Saturday was the first morning I woke up to grey skies and the forecast for thunder storms was spot on, it started raining at lunch time and just got heavier and heavier.
The grapes need rain at this point just before harvest, even though it makes them swell it won’t dilute them too much as they will revert to what they were before. It’s the skins that need the water, as they are dehydrated and may not ripen fully if they lack fluid. At the moment they aren’t quite ripe, which is partly why the harvest is late, the hot topic of discussion in the wine community at the moment is that it’s been a strange harvest so far.
Today the tank cleaning needed to be finished, which meant actually climbing down inside each one – there were four to do. With the ladders lowered in and safety light tied on Georgia was first to disappear into the hole. It felt a bit like an Indiana Jones adventure finding some long lost cave and lowering yourself down into the unknown. I was a bit apprehensive but thankfully okay once in the tank and not claustrophobic, phew.
We cleaned two tanks each, which involved brushing the dry tank to get rid of all the bits, then rinsing it down with water. A cleaning solution was then pumped through the system.
It took the day to get the 4 tanks done and there was more still to do but we were due to head to Le Cave Byrrh in Thuir for Les Vignerons Des Aspres wine fair. So after a quick shower and change, off we went.
Keep following the series, read more here about the wine fair at Les Caves Byrrh and much more.
Day 2 in Roussillon
Up early in the dark … Yes, it’s dark in this part of the world at 6am, all the French pickers had arrived so Jonathon and Rachel got everyone registered and off we went to the vineyard. It got light pretty quickly and by 7.10am we were off picking the Grenache Gris, which is the most wonderful dusky pink colour, and some of the Grenache Blanc.
The vines are called ‘Goblets’ because of their shape, they aren’t tied to any wires or trained, which I thought would make it hard to pick as you have to bend down and kind of hunt under the vines greenery to find the bunches but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Two people work together on either side of the vine and put the grapes in a bucket. Once the bucket is full you empty it into a crate at the end of the row.
Bunch selection was explained as it’s important not to pick bunches that look diseased, are not fully ripe yet or are hard and underripe, known as ‘grapillons’. The Roussillon has plenty of snails I noticed and it’s equally as important that they don’t end up being picked with the grapes.
Once we all got into the flow, we worked through the rows quickly and the group worked well together. A couple of the slower pickers got teamed up with me and Georgia, not that we were especially speedy, but more to help gee them along a bit and it worked. The first parcel wasn’t too difficult and we were done by 9am, ready to go to the next vineyard.
The sun was heating up now and the vines at the next vineyard were much larger in comparison with plenty of greenery to wade through and huge bunches of grapes, so we had to be careful not to snip a finger or two off, which would not only be a painful loss to myself but could have added some interesting flavours to the wine! It’s satisfying knowing these grapes will make La Terre Promise 2013, so when I drink some of that next year I’ll know I had a hand in making it, a wonderful feeling!
Jonathon and Ruth next to the last trailer load of grapes for the press
Whilst the rest of the gang continued picking, Georgia and I headed back to the winery in the Land Rover … and I’m pleased to report there were no driving incidents! We headed back to load the press, firstly emptying the grapes into the destemmer, which Georgia kept an eye on, whilst I had the joyous job of washing the crates out as they were emptied and restocking them ready to load in the lorry to go back to the vineyard. We completed 3 loads of grapes and then the Champagne 2000 press was kick started into action. The juice from today’s picking went into one of the temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.
One thing is for sure so far I’m pretty dirty and soaked most of the time, it’s hard work but there is great satisfaction in getting it all done.
The work didn’t finish there though. After lunch we had to make sure everything was washed down so no grape juice was around for fruit flies to be attracted to. Boy that felt like an age, the press must be spotless and it feels like you’re just pushing the grape skins around but never removing them. So much water gets used, something I was highly aware of in South Africa too, I believe the water goes into the river here, hence the need to take care what goes down the drains. Any stems or grape bits that end up on the floor are swept up and taken to a specialist recycling centre, not washed away.
Finishing around 7pm, we could relax and have dinner. My body was telling me it needed to lie down but after such a buzzing day, I got a second wind once fed and given a glass or two of Le Ciel Vide and Three Peaks.
Read more in the next in this short series when I get down and dirty in the tanks that will soon house the red wine.
Day 1 in Roussillon
When I was told the harvest in the Roussillon was likely to be around three weeks late this year my heart sank as I was meant to spend early September at Domaine Treloar, Trouillas, specifically for this purpose, so the question arose as to whether I should go or not. However, having booked my flights an age ago, and not being able to change them without charge, I hoped that cancelling was not an option. Thankfully there was plenty that still needed doing in the winery and around the vineyard in the run up to the harvest, and Rachel and Jonathon were happy to have me come over.
It was a scorcher the week I was there, hitting at least 30 degrees in the height of the day and it just got hotter. Was this really September and the time kids were heading back to school? The only nip in the air came from the occasionally bolschy winds that whipped down the valley on a couple of nights, boy are they competition for the North Easterly winds we are subjected to at home.
My first day at the vineyard was spent with Georgia, an Australian intern spending 8 weeks at the Domaine, she is studying viticulture and oenology in Montpellier. Luckily we hit it off straight away as we were to share a room for the next week.
The sun was shining and the sky was blue as we set off on our slightly rickety bikes to find the vineyards for my first job of collecting grape samples. This was done by walking up and down selected rows of vines counting a number of paces so as to get a good spread and only choosing 5 grapes from each bunch. Wearing shorts wasn’t such a good idea as I came across many spider webs stretched between the vines.
The wasp spider will bite if disturbed but isn’t as deadly as it looks, thankfully!
It became very hot work by midday but surrounded by vines with the mountain ranges rising defiantly in the distance, it was truly breathtaking. I felt like I was floating on cloud 9, sun, heat, vines, mountains and peace!
Back at the winery with our bags of grape samples, we squished each berry so we could drain the juice into glasses for testing the alcohol levels. The colours of the sample juice really struck me as the Syrah juice is so pink, whilst the Grenache is cloudy green like apple juice, yet both have black skins. One of the Grenache plots is referred to by its Catalunyan name of Lladoner, which is a new synonym to me.
After a tasty lunch of leftover curry and salad cooked by Jill, who was over from New York on holiday, Georgia and I helped Jonathon clean the winery and get things tidied for the start of the picking the following day. I just loved the Champagne 2000 retro yellow press that is suspended on the upper floor of the winery.
We had to dust all the equipment down and wash it, something we would become very familiar with doing. Bloody hell, power washing the floor was enlightening, the black mould vanished leaving behind a light coloured concrete floor, it looked like Mary Poppins had worked her magic. The picking crates arrived and sat outside waiting to be stacked and sorted on the tractor’s trailer, déjà vu of cleaning these crates at Koopmanskloof Winery in Stellenbosch came flooding back.
After all that we were ready to go picking the next day. So thankfully it seemed I would get a taste of the Roussillon harvest after all.
Read more in the next of this short series when I shall be picking in the vineyard.