January was pretty cold: a number of days and nights below 10 degrees, but not in succession, thankfully. Cold is good for the vines, but even they can have too much of a good thing. But no rain, which is what we really want. It seems that much of the traditionally dry parts of the Languedoc have already received their annual quota, whereas we haven’t had even one-tenth of what we normally get at this time of year. Is this shaping up to be another “interesting” harvest?
Friday February 3
Back in Dublin to meet the sales team of our new importer, Alken Bros, and to visit some outlets. Jancis Robinson took this picture of a great wine shop cum bar called 64 Wines, where we had a really good tasting, so we’re following a big footprint (no allusion to her shoe size). There are really interesting wines here: proof that Dublin is as sophisticated as it says it is.
So it’s puzzling that the Irish are in such danger of losing their palates altogether to the most depressingly uninteresting, manipulated, industrially produced beverages that go under the same name, and can be found on nearly every restaurant and hotel wine list in the country, when the real stuff does exist and can be found in places like this.
Friday February 10
Our cooper came by today to taste the results of the harvest. If there is one thing a French cooper knows about, it is French oak. And if there’s one thing the French know about, it is how to manage oak plantations: they have over 4.5 million Ha of them, which roughly translates into about 40% of all European oak plantation, and makes them the continent’s Number One producer. The wonderful 14th century King Philippe le Bel was the first to formalise the administration of land and soil (proving that the French talent for l’administration also goes back a long way), but it was Colbert in 1699 who really got things going during Louis x1v’s reign. He planted Sessile oaks (Quercus Petraea to some) primarily to supply the navy with boats with nice straight masts to fight the British off the high seas.
The French revolution of 1789 took these well-managed forests away from the Crown (along with the Crown itself), and some 40 years later the State established an amazingly far-sighted Regime Forestier: biodiversity had to be protected and respected, and timber sales could only be done in rhythm with the harvesting programme.
The result? France makes the best barrels, and will go on doing so until kingdom come. There is no shortage of oak, nor of know-how. And while the wines are being tasted from the barrels, our Monsieur Seube affectionately pats one on its rump and says, ah this Quercus Robur (clear-coloured and wide-grained from the Vosges forests) gives such finesse to your chardonnay, whereas that one (pointing a finger at the Quercus Petraea from the Allier forests) has so much more substance …
And it’s true too. There definitely is a difference.
Sunday 26 February
As always, the weather conspires to be absolutely stunning just as we drive off, smiling a sort-of “wish you were here” kind of smile at us as we set off on to the road to Zurich.
Half a day later we park the car outside a nice old-fashioned hotel with wide corridors and a traditionally dour concierge, in Lausanne. Tomorrow we have the Outsider wine tasting in Zurich.
But tonight at midnight I am suddenly hit by the most terrible stomach cramps, and spend the rest of those silent black hours being violently sick, and plagued by the prospect of not being able to move ever again.
The inconvenient memory resurges of the last wine event in Switzerland with the Vinifilles, when one of the ‘Filles’ became violently ill – to the point of being in mortal danger. A quiet panic sets in as I contemplate this prospect – that, and the possibility of being forever condemned to the Hotel de la Paix with its wide corridors and its dour concierge.
Monday 27 February.
We pull ourselves together and set off. The Newmarkt in the old part of Zurich is charming. The venue is truly delightful, but the leader of the Outsiders, the indomitable, infatigable Louise Hurren, is yellow around the gills and feeling sick. So that makes two of us.
But the tasting gets going, people stream past, people swill, spit, consider and contemplate, and all seems to be well in the world – though not with us.
Tomorrow we have another tasting with our Zurich importer. Hmm. Home seems a long way away. Not ideal for a winemaker on an occassion like this not to be able to look a glass of wine in the eye …
to be continued….