Friday, 25 September 2009

The Fog!

Since the rain fell we’ve had a permanent cover of fog that I thought would never leave. There was no point in starting to pick as I couldn’t find my vineyards!

Thankfully though, today it cleared in the afternoon just in time for another visit from the master of grape eating … Mr Sutre! Today I would find out what effect the rain had on the vineyards. After doing the tour it seems like the vineyards on the plateau have sucked up a touch of the rain but this has not really affected the flavour, just simply diluted the sugars a bit, which in the long run is good as they were beginning to get a bit too high!

The La Clarière vineyards at Le Bourg seem to have taken up more whilst also showing some astringency that would need time to disperse. The word from Sutre is that my Verniotte vines on the top of the plateau are ready to go … maintenant! If I leave it too late then I risk losing aromas and overcooking the grapes.

One thing I have learnt from these walks with Sutre is how to assess the finer flavours in the fruit. In cool years, it is often the case that the longer you leave it the better the grapes will become, despite unfavourable conditions. In hot years such as this, the hardest thing is to make the call to pick early to preserve finesse, despite the sun continuing to shine. A lesson I learnt with the very hot 2003 vintage.

So after a few phone calls we are going to start my vineyards tomorrow and Friday and then start La Clarière on the Saturday. The weather looks fine for at least 10 days and we should really aim to get all the Merlot in before the next rain as that would for certain start the dreaded rot!

So the plan of attack has now been decided; we’ll soon have our first grapes in tank after 9 long months of tending to these vines. Jusqu’au demain!


Monday, 21 September 2009

Serious Rain!!

Took Alfie (the dog) for a walk this morning after a weekend of storms and torrential downpours. I found my neighbour Jean Marie in a ditch trying to unblock a drainpipe that has filled with earth. He told me that his meter read 60mm!!

That’s quite a lot of rain. My first thought was that we’re probably going to have to push back our first day of picking to the end of the week, maybe even the start of next week depending on what Mr Sutre reckons tomorrow. Parents won’t be happy as I told them to get out here for the beginning of the week and they arrive tonight! But that’s vintage for you. Things change very quickly.

Back in August, I told all my friends and family to come out on the 26th. By the first analysis I thought I’d got this wrong by about a week, but it turns out I was pretty close ... never thought I’d be thankful for rain!!

The ground is very saturated and still very humid, but looking at the forecast it looks like we’re in for a week of brilliant sunshine, so this should dry things out quite nicely! Well, at least my Verniotte cellar is clean and ready to receive.


Friday, 18 September 2009

A Walk with Sutre!

Monsieur Bertrand Sutre is our vineyard consultant. He advises us on the growing season and basically what to do in the vineyard to get the most out of our terroir, and keep our vines as healthy as possible. He works with many great Chateaus in the region, most notably Chateau Ausone of St Emilion. So he must be good!

He walks down the rows of each parcel, tasting, chewing, thinking and then writing scores for each element of the fruit composition. The first time he went through my vineyards I was quite nervous; I felt like a school child who was awaiting his exam results, he might turn around and say ‘zis tastes like rubber!’

Thankfully he didn’t, and it turns out I have bought some pretty damn good vineyards ... Hooray! But anyway back to the analysis and it looks like that little bit of rain on Tuesday has held the sugar levels, and also helped to develop and release more tannins, which will need time to soften.

Although everyone is talking about a band of clouds coming in on Saturday that could yield more rain. Apparently it's something to do with the September equinox that always brings a period of rain this time of year! If we get too much rain (over say 25mm) then the vine tends to re-circulate its polyphenols, some of which are located in the leaf and stems. These can be astringent and make their way into the berries, which can then take a good 5 days to soften and disperse. So how much rain we get on Saturday will dictate when we start picking next week! It’s getting close.


Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Happy Birthday to me!!

Yes 29 today and once again a birthday in France. I much prefer late vintages like 2008 as it means I can get home and celebrate with family and friends, instead of spending 12 hours cleaning crushers and sorting tables!!

It is really starting to feel like autumn now. Night temperatures have dropped and we are getting fog in the mornings. When you step out of the house, you get that smell of leaves and mushrooms. It is by far my favourite time of year out here as you get cold mornings but it still heats up during the day so that you can sit outside for lunch.

I am still amazed that I haven’t seen one harvesting machine yet, as usually there’s always one person who cracks first!! Maybe everyone is learning to hold out until the last moment - no one wants to be the first to jump!

Today is the first day of real rain for quite a while. It will be very interesting to see how the vines react to it when we do the analysis tomorrow. If they are at all water stressed, we should see a change in polyphenol make up (tannin, colour) and maybe a reduction in sugar concentration. Will let you know!


Monday, 14 September 2009

Well it’s almost the middle of September and I’m sure some people are wondering how the 2009 Bordeaux harvest is coming along?!

Well I can sum it up in one word – glorious!!!

We’ve had an exceptional summer ... well as far as I can see! I’ve never spent a whole year in France before but July and August have been very hot with hardly any rain. The difference between the UK and here has been very notable. The only downside was we had a large hailstorm in May which wiped out nearly 2000 hectares of vineyard in Bordeaux. Luckily we escaped any serious damage, but many of our neighbours lost up to 80%.

So overall everything is looking exceptionally healthy, and the sun just keeps on shinning. I don’t want to count my chickens yet, but I reckon it’s already in the bag ... whoops!

This year I have focused on looking after all my new vineyards (Verniotte), whilst also taking over winemaking at my father’s place - Chateau La Clariere. Running the two side by side has helped me learn how to look after vineyards with the help of the La Clariere farmer, Olivier. I can also impart some of my experience in their winemaking areas.

So overall we are heading for a fantastic year, and everything is in place to make some exceptional wine!!


Friday, 4 September 2009

Today is an important day! The bottling of the very first Laithwaite Pere et Fils, vintage 2007.

This is a wine that we have wanted to do for a while, ever since I became interested in the same area where my father started 40 years ago ... Castillon. It brings together parcels of fruit from growers who my dad has known for many years, such as the local Mayor’s son Fred and Jean Pierre Seguinel, the man who kindly sold me his best vineyards at the beginning of the year.

The fruit was fermented at my Verniotte cellar in Ste Colombe, and we paid particular attention to maintaining its character by using the natural yeast to ferment, and techniques such as hand plunging to keep the wine soft, supple and very approachable. 2007 was not a year for big tannins, so perfect for this style.

Bottling is one of those processes that sound simple, but it is often where people can undo all their hard work in one fell swoop. Having heard bottling horror stories, I was extra careful to make sure the wine was perfectly prepared for its trip into glass format.

We use a local bottling company who do all the Chai au Quai bottling and have proved to be a real success. They turn up with their truck with everything on the back; fiddle around a bit, stick a hose on to my tank and off they go!! Talking as a man who has done countless ‘hand bottling’ operations with my very first wines, this was almost too easy!!