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.
Picture this … Catalunya!
Day 6 in Roussillon
It was an early start today to tidy the winery ready for a group of American and French journalists who were arriving for a tour and a tasting.
Leaving Jonathon to host them, I went to see the 25th International Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan with Rachel, Georgia and Jill. The photographs are exhibited in various buildings across the city, some of which are not usually open to the public. So it is a fantastic opportunity to see some rarely visited places as well as beautifully shot photography although the images were often shocking and at times disturbing. I must admit the majestic Serengeti lions made up for the dark violence of human behaviour.
A lovely lunch at a nearby cafe gave us a chance to sit and have a break from the intensity of the exhibition after which we were ready for more.
Then on our way home, a caramel ice cream from Olivier Bajard was most welcome, possibly one of the best ice creams I have ever tasted!
picture sourced from http://ecole-olivier-bajard.skyrock.com
Back at the winery, I took a short walk around Troullias before settling down in the evening sun with a glass of Pierre Andre, Les Craies Bourgogne Aligote 2010, which I had bought at Les Caves Maillol and was planning on using as the mystery wine for everyone to taste that night.
The wine had a flinty, smoky nose with some tropical pineapple and passion fruit aromas. Both Jonathon and Georgia were impressed and we all liked it a lot, not bad for something under 10 euros. It matched extremely well with the barbecued duck, rice and salad that we had for dinner.
We were treated to Treloar’s Tahi and Le Secret as well as a taste of the co-fermented Carignan/Syrah that is still in barrel. What a powerful wine, beautiful voluptuous nose of violets, black and red fruits, spice, the gripping tannin is to be expected but should integrate and soften out nicely. I look forward to getting hold of a bottle of this next year!
As yet unnamed Carignan/Syrah
The wine was flowing and everyone was chatting, Jonathon got his guitar out and entertained until bedtime.
Join me for the final episode in my Roussillon experience next week.
Not Fair Game!
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.
Les Vignerons Des Aspres
Les Caves Byrrh Wine Fair, 7 Sept 2013
Les Vignerons des Aspres Wine Fair held at Les Caves Byrrh in Thuir, was the first of its kind to promote wine producers in the Aspres region of Roussillon. It was organised through the local tourist office in collaboration with Jonathon Hesford of Domaine Treloar and Andre Gil of Domaine de la Perdrix. They were very pleased with the turn out and I was certainly impressed as I wasn’t sure what to expect and underestimated the size of it. Twenty-two local producers set out their wines on tables lining one aisle of the huge Cave, either side immense oak barrels lead down to the piece de resistance, the largest oak barrel in the world, which holds 1 000 200 litres.
Georgia and I were tasked with manning Domaine Treloar’s table alongside Jonathon, providing tastings and explaining the wines to customers. I’m proud to say that this was all done in French too!
Rachel Treloar and Georgia prepare our table and Jonathon describes Treloar wines.
The cellar is a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard and produces a broad range of aperitifs of which Dubonnet and Cinzano are amongst the products made The Cave itself is very impressive, set on 7 hectares and with some 600 barrels is immense. We entered the site through what was once the railway station, designed by the architect Gustav Eiffel, it is extremely ornate giving you the feeling that you have stepped back in time!
picture sourced from http://www.justacote.com
The event was initiated with a procession through the main aisle where giant figures lead the local drummers band and human pyramid to stop in front of the great oak barrel and entertain the crowds.
A funky jazz band then played for the rest of the evening whilst the crowds enjoyed the wines on offer.
I managed to try a few wines from other producers, three of which really impressed me. Domaine Sol-Payre offered three reds with variations of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, all well made and striking wines. Chateau Planeres‘s Blanc Brut de Brut made from 100% Tourbat, also known as Malvoisie du Roussillon, was quite delicious and approachable. Domaine Trilles Incantation Blanc made an interesting white blend of Vermentino, Grenache Blanc and Maccabeu plus the Incantation Rouge from Syrah, Carignan, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre was fruity with good structure, one for early drinking.
On the other hand, Clos Saint Georges, run by an older French couple, were quite rude and seemed not all that interested in explaining their wines giving the impression that they spoke for themselves, which to me they did as I wasn’t very impressed. I think the owner walking off in the middle of my asking him a question was the rudest experience I’ve had for a while.
Jonathan certainly received plenty of compliments on his wines with several people returning to tell us that his selection was one of the best at the event.
Things started winding down about 10pm when we were able to pack up, although there were a couple of keen tasters reluctant to leave.
It was a buzzing evening and brought my French wine lingo swiftly up to speed, thankfully people were friendly and complimentary of my explanations.
Over 700 people attended the event and 670 tastings were purchased that only cost the customer a mere 5 euros to taste each producer’s wine. For the first fair of its kind in the Aspres region, I was really impressed by the organisation and amount of people there. I would certainly call it a success!
Tanks for the Memory
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.
It’s Picking Day!
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.
‘Later Harvest’ Domaine Treloar 2013
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.
Royal Tahi Found in Roussillon 2012
Kel’s experience lending a hand at Domaine Treloar in the Roussillon last year coincides with Ruth’s journey to the same Domaine a year later – this week in fact, so what better time to introduce this particular producer and tell you a bit about why we like their wines so much.
Jonathan Hesford and Rachel Treloar own and run this winery in a lovely corner of The Roussillon in the very south of France and make a range of wines to match.
Both gave up their New York City careers in the wake of the 9/11 event, living only blocks from the heart of the attack on the Twin Towers, they decided to change direction and head for a life making and selling their own wine. Initially moving to New Zealand, whereby Rachel can claim Maori Royalty in her blood, Jonathan spent time learning his trade with Neudorf Vineyards, becoming Assistant Winemaker, and qualifying at Lincoln University (NZ).
Moving to France in 2005, they found an old winery with parcels of mature vines in 2006, which is now established as Domaine Treloar and has enabled them to create for themselves the types of wines that they enjoy.
Domaine Treloar produces a complete range from white, rose, red and fortified. The wines have names that are representative of either the 9/11 events, Bruce Springsteen or Rachel’s Kiwi heritage, for example, their flagship red Tahi means “1” in Maori.
We have enjoyed all their wines with particular favourites:
La Terre Promise: Grenache Gris, Macabeu, Carignan Blanc – Medium bodied, dry white wine, well rounded and balanced with a fruity honeyed nuttiness (even a touch of wet stone) and mineral edge.
Three Peaks: Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache – Lovely deep ruby colour, red and black fruits, strawberries and blackberries, violets and chocolate, hints of rosemary underpinned with smooth silky tannins.
Motus: Mourvedre – Dark sour cherries, raspberries and blackcurrants, dark chocolate, notes of black olive and white pepper. Well structured wine.
Muscat de Rivesaltes: Muscat à Petit Grains – Late harvest, sweet Muscat, dried fruit aromas of orange peel, apricot and honey, rich mouthfeel and a nuttiness to the finish.
Kel arrived last year just in time to lend a hand with picking the Mourvedre, as the harvest had arrived earlier than originally expected. On the other hand, this year it looks as though it will be a few weeks later! However, we are sure that Ruth will be kept busy.
Vineyard downtime last year was utilised by constructing decking for the gîte holiday accommodation and by all accounts is still looking good too.
Also last year, Jonathan was experimenting with a batch of Carignan grapes, of which Kel had a go with punching down the cap the good old fashioned way by … feet. This has now been bottled under the title of Le Maudit which translates as The Damned! Something that we are looking forward to trying.
If you want to know what wines from the Roussillon are all about, then Domaine Treloar would be a good way in which to be introduced, as we think that they are a great example of how to make fabulous wines from this part of the world.
No doubt Ruth shall have a tale or two to tell when she gets home, including an update on all those wonderful wines.