April 2012: A Profusion of Confusion

Sunday April 1
No April Fool

Second on the left, front row: our neighbour – a retired grape grower who keeps bees. A very nice man, an old-world Languedocien. He has a field that for historic reasons lies in, but on the edge, of our vineyard, right between our two top chardonnay fields. He is not what you could really call a winemaker: he grows grapes and sells them to the Cooperative of which he is a member, and the Cooperative then blends his grapes with all the others to make their wines.

This same Cooperative had the brilliant idea of classifying the fields of their 400 or so Limoux growers, to separate the top ones for their Toques & Clochers auction, the most important auction of chardonnay after the Hospices the Beaune, which took place today. One of the fields they chose for this was Mr Bonaves’, now being farmed by his son-in-law.

Went along to the pre-auction tasting this morning and worked through a raft of wines before breakfast. Huge differences between them, most of them way too woody for my taste. Actually thought the wine from Mr Bonaves’ field was one of the best, but that could just be friendly prejudice kicking in. His amiable son-in-law, however, standing behind the table serving the wine, thought so too. We drift off to taste other wines and talk to the owner/growers of the vines they came from.

“What altitude are you at?” we ask another cooperative grape-grower, sitting behind a barrel sample of her wine, ready to pour for prospective bidders.

“No idea!” she says cheerfully, “maybe I can find out for you….?”

“What do you think of this wine yourself, different from last year?”

“No idea!” she says cheerfully again, “tasting’s not my thing.”

Oh well.

The top barrel goes for € 8,800, not bad going for 225 litres of chardonnay. The barrel from Mr Bonaves field comes to about three times the price of our Chardonnay du Monde gold medalist, Odyssée, from the two fields sandwiching his…

But it would be sour grapes indeed if we didn’t applaud the success of this fantastic marketing coup.

It puts Limoux right slap-bang in the middle of the world’s chardonnay map

Wednesday 4 April

Just had the insurance agent around, scaring the living daylights out of us.

“But you haven’t heard anything!” he exclaimed, ” I have a client, they came in in the night and opened all the taps of his tanks. Wine flooding all over the place…”

He sat back, arms crossed, smiling joyfully.

“And then I have another where they put chlorine in his barrels. Chlorine in the barrels!”

Everyone knows that chlorine plus wood spells disaster.

“And the one where because of some feud, they came in in the night and cut the wires supporting his vines. Just before the harvest.

Village politics, I tell you, village politics ….”

He lets this sink in, shaking his head sorrowfully. Sighing and shaking his head sorrowfully.

None of these possibilities had ever even occurred to us.

“But we’re so remote” we say to him, ” so far away from everything.”

He sits upright. “That’s exactly it!” he says, “I have a client just like you, and what did they do? They came when he was in the vines, and ransacked his storage area. Just mixed the whole lot up together: herbicides, pesticides, sprays, you-name-it. Thousands, he lost, thousands. Now he’s insured up to here”, he says, indicating the top of his head, with a happy smile.

“I tell you, I can tell you stories that would make your hair stand up on end …”

Easter Sunday.

Not quite enough for singing in, but so far this weekend 10 mm of rain have fallen. Not enough for the vines. Not enough to allay fears of an impending drought. But enough to encourage the wild flowers we sowed amongst the vines last week, which make such a splash every year.

Monday April 16
Midsummer in Mid-Winter

Bad bottling day. Wind howling. Rain threatening sleet or snow. Cold, oh-so-cold. And we’re bottling our chardonnay. Last week the printer told us he didn’t have enough paper, but ‘don’t worry, we’ll get the labels to you on Monday morning’.

‘Monday morning??’ I squealed, ‘but we’re bottling on Monday morning!’.

“Don’t worry, the labels will be with you before 08h00″.

Of course, they weren’t. And of course the printer’s press broke down and half of the labels were not yet printed at all.

“Don’t worry, we’ll have it fixed within two hours.”

And the capsule supplier, who had forgotten a portion of our capsules in his delivery last week, kept on not showing up. “Don’t worry” they had said, “we made a mistake but we’ll get the remaining capsules to you before 08h00″ on Monday.

Nine o’clock. Ten o’clock. Eleven o’clock. Just as things are getting critical a truck rolls up.

You don’t need stress like that on a day like this.

But eventually things settle down into their normal rhythm, though it remains cold, incredibly cold.

And off the line comes a beautifully dressed chardonnay, made especially for the two Michelin-star restaurant MidSummer House in Cambridge. Looking very good. In the midst of winter.

Wednesday April 18
Sowing the Seeds of Sexual Confusion

Rives-Blanques was the first vineyard in the region to use a pheromone called Rak, which sends out smells to confuse little Eudemis butterflies so that they don’t mate with other little Eudemis butterflies and produce larva that eat through the grapes, and open the way to botrytis and other grape diseases. That’s it in a single sentence. You can try blitzing them to smithereens, or you can try this way. This was our preferred way in 2009, but the trouble is, it’s way too expensive.

But now we’ve given a helping hand, and 50% of the cost has been subsidised. So our whole hill, that includes our neighbours at Begude and further down the hill, has banded together to make this a truly sexually confused zone. Bye bye Eudemis: now they can live and die, but not reproduce – and we don’t have to spray. It’s a win-win situation.

And it’s all part of Limoux’s biodiversity scheme, which includes a serious study of arthropods living around the vines, planting hedges, using dry stone walls … and sowing sexual confusion.

So today we got together with our neighbours and hung the ampules throughout all the vines. The sun shone, the mountains shone, everything shone … excepting for Eudemis.

Then we finished off with  a press conference in our tasting room, and hopefully now all the world will know about the lives and loves of Eudemis.

Thursday April 26
Vin with the Vinifilles

Wine tasting this evening for the wine clubs of Moussoulens and Ventenac-Cabardès ; two small rural towns rendered inaccessible if not downright invisible by a ‘déviation’ that didn’t seem to lead anywhere and certainly didn’t lead me back home in the dead of night. But gave me time to think and to muse, as the dark road fell off into a ditch on either side of this meandering deviation, with no sign of life or light either fore or aft showing the way.

It had been a typically Vinifilles affair. Very on-the-ground. Very hands-on. Very full of cheer and good will. Eight of us showed up to show our wines to the good members of these two clubs. You may well wonder why: these are not big buyers, the potential is limited. They were there to have a good time, to eat and drink, socialise and make merry. Not to spend money. We were there to sell our wines. The two would seem mutually incompatible.

But that’s the Vinifilles for you. This group of female winegrowers from Languedoc Roussillon is an unruly bunch of loud-mouthed individualistic soloists, who caper about doing a zumba routine at the drop of a hat. They laugh alot. Loudly.  They are resolutely cheerful.  They eat a lot.   They play a lot.   But there are many things they are deadly serious about; in fact, most things, I’d say. Things like sharing the spirit of winemaking with others (no pun intended). Explaining the agricultural way of life, that preserves customs and countryside alike. Working hard – very hard. (Extremely hard.) Sharing experiences with each other. Upholding the ethic and ethos of a rapidly disappearing breed: the honest, inspired, independent winegrower whose wines are as individual (honest, inspired, etc) and decent as they are themselves.

I doubt that any of us sold more than two or three cases.

But that really isn’t the point.  Or at least, not the whole point.

Not by a long shot.

…>to be continued.