Monday, 12 September 2011

Château de Bel - 10 days in!

By Bryn Stephens

It was a pretty hot last day of my holiday, 43 degrees in Montauban at the peak. It was not the kind of day you would want to spend in a sticky, crowded southern franch train carriage, but the thought of getting to Libourne and starting my aventure properly quickly dispelled any thoughts of the inner organ penetrating heat. One word of advice to the holiday makers who come here and use the trains though; arrive at least half an hour early for your train if you have to order a ticket from the ticket office. The people who work there are great and give you all the information you might need... but apparently all the customers need to know every piece of knowledge the world has to offer, so it can take a while.

But anyway, arriving at Château de Bel was a very pleasurable occasion. Salutations, hugs and continuing arguments about who is going to win the rugby world cup were quickly dispensed with (I'm sorry Olivier, but it's not going to be France, mind you it's probably not going to be Wales either) and the rosé was even quicker to appear. The 2010 Château de Bel Rosé is the best I think he has produced. Beautifully light in texture, but so full of red berry fruit. For me it is the best rosé for under a tenner by quite some way and it should be with Averys at some point in the near future, but there is a bit of the 2009 Château de Bel Rosé beauty still around too. Olivier had another treat in store for me and a couple of his mates as the organic steaks appeared, cooked so that a skilled vet could bring them back to life, served with the wonderful garlic potatoes, and a starter of mussels that his wife Anne does so well! Also served were a bottle of Michel Gonet Champagne, Echappee Bel Blanc (a blend of Sauvignon and Muscadelle, insanely drinkable), and a bottle of 2007 Château de Bel 'La Captaine'. I was assured that its not always like this...

I soon found out that it really isn't like that all the time. The very next day I was whisked away to Pomerol with Olivier's vineyard manager, the lovely Veronique, to take the 2010 vintage Clos Du Canton Pomerol off its lees (to the people I have sold this wine to, you will most certainly not be disappointed). It involved an awful lot of barrel moving and in 30 degree heat, let me assure you, it's hard. Some work in Pomerol continued for the next day or two, cleaning and getting the cellar ready for harvest, followed by a sort of break day where we tidied up a massively overgrown part of Olivier's land. Mind you, it did give me the chance to play with some more boys toys...

On the 6th of September I spent a most interesting day with Olivier and a couple of his advisors, Luc and Stephane. We took a little walk around all of the vineyard plots at De Bel, St Emilion and Pomerol to discuss when the harvet might start in each case, and it was decided that Pomerol would start on Sunday the 11th. That was a bit of news, as we needed to get everything ready, disinfected and cleaned to a mirror shine before things could start. There started three hectic days of cleaning, hosing (I was going to write a whole blog on the reasons I hate hoses... but decided against it... for the moment) and wondering how the hell we were going to get the new shiny thing in the cellar door...

Mmmmm... shiny things
But this all passed without a hitch, and it brings me to today. I'm writing this after the harvest in Pomerol. A very early start this morning, to hand harvest the first parcel of Cabernet Franc and a bit of Merlot. The vineyard team was filled with family and friends and the team spirit was there in huge great lumps. Coffee and croissants were provided at the perfect moment, and we were done by about 2pm. A massive lunch was consumed with all present and enjoying the pleasant warm weather (thank god it wasnt too hot today)

Destemming begins
We have done a bit of work this evening in preparation for the harvest in St Emilion tomorrow, and its going to be another back breaking day. Despite the pain, the cuts, the ant bites, the splinters, the blisters and the desperate attempts to remember the French for 'that might need stitches' I am absolutely loving every second of being here... except Wales losing to South Africa... that sucked... (Wayne Barnes are you blind or something?!)

More to follow soon!

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