Thursday, 6 October 2011

Warm greetings from Bordeaux....

Hi folks and a warm greeting from Bordeaux. I use the word warm because it has been mightily hot here recently, although I read it's been the same back in Blighty so I cant gloat too much.

We harvested the final parcel from the three properties that Olivier has on Saturday the 1st of October and I thought I would give a quick overview of the vintage as a whole and what we have experienced here. Starting with Chateau de Bel itself:

Chateau de Bel - Firstly, excellent quality, but the spread has been rather strange. Different parcels, despite being only a few metres apart in some cases, have ripened at massively different speeds. Both the merlot and Cabernet Franc have excellent qualities and it shaping up to be a very good vintage here. There has been some isolated botrytis but nothing to worry about.

St Emilion (he makes a number of different wines here) - It is dificult to call this one as were not quite through tasting and evaluating properly, but from what we have done, its going to be a matter of the blend. Tim Atkins has called this one 'A Master Winemakers Vintage' and he is not wrong in that. Much like Chateau de Bel, certain parcels ripened very early and others very late, so its not going to be simple to make brilliant wines like 2005, 2009 and 2010. All the ingredients seem to be here though. Our Cab Franc in Taransaud oak has a simply amazing fruit and colour, the Sansaud oak Cab Franc is less overtly fruity but is deeper and richer. The first Merlot we harvested there is awesome but just a little unbalanced. So this one is going to be down to Olivier's skill as a blender, but having seen him in action, I have no doubt that it will be a brilliant wine.

Pomerol - Clos Du Canton des Ormeaux - We were a little bit worried about this one at the start. There was a fair amount of botrytis and burning of grapes on both parcels, and after maceration and a few days of fermentation, the juice was seeming a little flat and utterly uninteresting, but like a phoenix from the ashes, the fruit appeared. It is not a vintage of the century, but there is a wonderful finesse about the 2011 Clos du Canton that we are very, very happy with indeed.

But now back to the heart of the matter, what have I been up to over the last few weeks? Well as I have said the harvests have been small and spread out so there hasn't been a two week period of carnage that I was expecting. It has actually been pretty relaxed (comparitively speaking). The 14th of September saw the arrival of the other person helping Olivier out this harvest. His name is Giovanni Canci and he studied Viticulture at the university of Perugia. He has a small vineyard in central Umbria and arrived just after his own harvest!

So most days Giovanni and I have been sent off to St Emilion to do various things. Olivier ferments a lot of his St Emilion in open barriques and these require constant care and attention. Twice daily at the beginning we have been doing punch downs (pigéages), pump overs (remontages) and various readings of density and fermentation speed in all the different wines we are making there. After a few days of monitoring and constant tasting, we calm this down once the juice has started taking a bit of tannin and colour. Even Olivier was surprised by the speed of one or two of the fermentations, 4 days in one case!

If anyone is wondering why im wearing a glove, its because I managed to drive a screwdriver nearly clean through my hand. A course of antibiotics and a tetanus jab later and its healing quickly!

I have become quite confident here in the cellar at St Emilion, and I am slowly getting to grips with the whole process, although I am of course still making a few rookie errors. But having Giovanni there is a constant learning experience. I tend to crucify myself a little when I make a mistake, however basic, but Giovanni was quick to remind me that if I were working in a bigger Chateau, I wouldnt be doing anywhere near the depth of work that I am doing here. Apparently normal interns really dont get to do much apart from occasionally push a few buttons and look at some things, so I constantly remind myself that even though I am making mistakes (it is my first time after all), I am actually learning things other interns wouldn't get to learn!

So all this leads to today as I am writing this blog (Sunday 2nd). This was the final parcel harvested from the three properties, and we were all here early (after the France Tonga game of course), and when I mean all, I mean all. Extended family, children of extended family and even a small film crew doing a film about Chateau de Bel were all present. Now for those of you who dont know me, I am quite a big man, both in height and weight, and I have to say that harvesting by hand is one of the most painful experiences I have ever put my body through. Imagine squatting as low as you can go for five hours and you will pretty much have it. For people like Veronique (tiny and conditioned for this work) she was clearing vines of their grapes at a speed I have never seen, but for me, it was pretty grueling. Having said that the cameraderie amongst the pickers was excellent and we had the parcel cleared in 5 hours and in the barriques by 3pm ish.

So its just a case of waiting now until we think the various different parcels are ready for pressing!

Some of you might remember from my last blog that I have been in a constant struggle with hoses, and I was very close to writing a whole blog entry on why I detest hoses. I decided against that, but I will leave you with a little Haiku I composed on the subject...

I just hate hoses;
They never do what you want.
Damn them all to hell!

More to follow soon!

p.s. - Its funny the things you miss... I have a desperate hankering for Marmite!

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