le tasting room

Loire wine tours, tastings, day trips from Paris & short breaks organised by experienced English wine trade professionals.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The politics of picking

Feeling good today as we finished the harvest at Chateau de Pimpéan after what has been a hard but enjoyable week. This has been my first full harvest since we moved to France (Nigel's 2nd) and it has been good to participate on equal terms with other members of the team rather than just dipping in for the odd half day here and there.

The beginning of the day is always hard - it takes a while to warm up and get your eye in on the bunches, cutting quickly and moving on swiftly. Two members of the team tackle a row each, one on either side. You notice that some people work together better than others - chances are they have harvested together before, second guessing each other's moves well in advance. Cuts and grazes are fairly common for the first couple of days.

So this is where the competitive edge starts to kick in. As we move down the rows in teams of two, glances are cast to check who is going the fastest and who is lagging behind. It's irritating when you come in last and feels great when you finish first. And then we have the issue of emptying the buckets. Cries of 'seau' come thick and fast - just as you've got down on your knees again to collect some bunches hanging near the ground, the guy carrying the hod is after you again!

But any pressure you feel comes from yourself. In reality, the team works well together. Those that finish first come back and help those coming in behind. That way, everyone starts a new row at the same time. Sometimes you're first and sometimes you're last - it depends upon the time of day, how you're feeling and if your knees and back are bearing up to the strain well that day.

And what a great feeling at the end of each day to come away knowing that you've participated in one of the most important periods of the vineyard year. That cup of English tea has never tasted so good nor has the glass of two of wine in the evening after a long hot soak in the bath.

Tomorrow is our post-harvest party. Maryse will be lighting the old bread oven at Chateau de Pimpéan and we will be celebrating with a glass or two and some fouaces. We thought we'd take along a couple of bottles of Breaky Bottom from England to start off the evening. Will let you know how we get on.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Hand harvesting for Chateau de Pimpéan

On the face of it, joining in with a little hand harvesting seems like an easy option. Reality is of course somewhat different - it's hard physical graft and requires stamina and fitness. An hour or two is manageable but 7 hours a day for a week and one quickly realises that it's extremely tough. 2 people share the responsibliity for each row moving with real speed, darting in and out of the foliage, cutting the (thankfully very healthy) grapes off and leaving any unripe 'grappions' behind. Every 5 minutes or so, the chap responsible for the 'hod' arrives in order to chivvy you along and empty your bucket before returning to the row. This inevitably leads to an enormous amount of bending up and down, lifting and emptying, crouching over and then returning to all fours in order to make sure nothing gets left behind. When someone misses a good bunch, others are quick to point it out with cries of 'une bouteille ici'. Having had the weekend off, we return tomorrow to continue harvesting for Chateau de Pimpean. Despite having sore legs and arms, numerous cuts and scratches - we feel rested and ready to go again. There is a great sense of teamwork and satisfaction when the tractor drives off with a full trailer of healthy Cabernet Franc grapes. For us, it gives the opportunity to stay in touch with the reality of growing grapes and making wine at ground level. There's an awful lot of hard work going on in the vineyard during the year culminating with vintage. Then, we wait and look forward in anticipation to this year's wines - they should be good...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Harvest in Bourgueil with Pierre-Jacques Druet

Some pictures taken at the end of last week when we visited Pierre-Jacques Druet. Despite being inundated with trailors of grapes arriving, he still found plenty of time to give us an excellent tasting and explain the process of winemaking to our clients from San Francisco.

Cabernet Franc grapes arriving at the winery

Pump is primed ready to take the free-run juice straight to a settling tank for the rosé

An amazing amount of free-run juice comes straight from the trailor

Pierre-Jacques checks the juice with his refractometer - good news - 12.5

The harvesters still find time to select a few wild mushrooms for dinner, carefully stored in a trug balanced on the front of the trailer
Once the free-run juice has stopped flowing, grapes are manually pulled into the crusher destemmer giving the 'must' which is then pumped directly into tank

Care is taken in the winery to ensure everything goes smoothly

Tank full and ready for fermentation to start

Friday, 9 October 2009

Harvest in Savennières - Domaine aux Moines

Photos from Domaine aux Moines in Savennières yesterday. We arrived to find pickers selecting grapes for the 1er tri. Weather conditions have been perfect in recent weeks although potential alcohol is escalating which has meant picking must get underway. There is very little noble rot present this year as the weather has been extremely dry. What little there is will increase if current conditions prevail with foggy mornings and sunny dry afternoons.

The tractor reverses down the row to allow pickers to empty their small picking buckets.

The Chenin Blanc grapes are in excellent condition with Mme Laroche describing this year's harvest as 'très sain'

Pickers gather at the end of the rows to discuss the next parcel

Healthy Chenin grapes - these will be left a little longer but the shrivelling due to lack of water can be easily seen and some bunches contain severely dehydrated grapes that already have a potential alcohol of around 20

The tractor bringing in the 1er tri

Mme Laroche guiding us through a tasting of Domaine aux Moines

Tasting a range of vintages of Domaine aux Moines Savennières, Mme Laroche discussed the different growing conditions for each wine and this was borne out in the diversity of style and flavours that we found. From the more primary fruit, tight young wine of 2006 to the evolved complexity of the 1992, full of honey, grapefruit and minerals - these wines change so much over time.