DIARY OF A VINEYARD: November 2016

Tuesday November 1

raspipav2016Kids are winding up their  trip to Canada today, promoting Rives-Blanques wines to the Quebecois.

The Economist talked about “nice cuddly Canada” last week – but the Canadian customs officers were not.  Perhaps they had been primed and knew that there was a big wine fest going on, or else they were simply miffed about the sudden hitch in the CETA deal.  What ever the reason,  Jan-Ailbe and Xaxa were stopped with an unusually steely eye and uncompromisingly firm fist.  And the 12 sample bottles they had declared and were taking through on the request of, and as a “gift” for, our importer, were confiscated without so much as a “by your leave”.

“Are you wine growers?” they were asked, accusingly.

In a case like that you have to say yes.

Meekly.  Apologetically.

But “yes” none the less.

And that was that: end of conversation.  Not a good start.  In fact a very bad one, that went from bad to worse, with threats of confiscating ipads,  and the hard reality of  whopping import duties on wines  we made ourselves and had  absolutely no intention of selling.

But as the custom’s officer inferred with infinite politeness: when you cross a border, you do as you’re told.


Wednesday November 2

At home Autumn has us in its soggy embrace of mist and mellow fruitfulness, and we fear for our late harvest still hanging out there bravely.


Friday November 4

Jan fils returns and Jan pere leaves, for the south of Holland for a wine tasting at Colaris, one of our first and oldest importers.  He has a couple of so-called gift bottles in his suitcase…

(When does a winegrower ever travel without bottles in his bag?)


Saturday November 5

caryl-xaxa_postesmallrAnd Caryl is packing wine into her suitcase as well, ready for the flight to Amsterdam to meet up with Xaxa at the Rijks Restaurant,  in the beautifully restored Rijksmuseum, where producers will be pouring the wines on their winelist, to celebrate its hugely successful first two years.

So wake up the Nightwatch!

(And woe betide anyone who tries to take our bottles away …)


Wednesday November 9



Monday November 10

img_1773The biggest bestest moon ever shines brightly in the sky tonight.  We won’t see another like it, in our lifetimes, they say.

To me it looked pretty big and pretty bright.

But to the vine it all looked quite normal, apparently.


Tuesday November 15

Very odd to be having a harvest meeting today, ticking all the boxes:

  • Small press to be delivered
  • Sorting table to be connected
  • Trailers to be attached to the tractors
  • Secateurs, buckets and hottes to be brought out
  • Harvesters confirmed
  • Weather forecast good.

Then we talk about the logistics of the thing.  How long will it take us to do the field?  How long to fill one trailer? How many trailers – or parts thereof –  to fill the press? Can we rely on the harvesters to do a proper job selecting the grapes?  Or should they cut everything and we do all the sorting? Where in the field should we begin, given its steep slope and the difficulties for the porters?  How will we transfer the grapes from the sorting table into the little press? And so on and so forth … All great imponderables, because late harvests are unlike any other.  And one just never knows.


Wednesday November 16img_1751

Hang in there, you beautiful, botrytised chenin!  Just one more day to go!


Thursday November 17

What an amazing, golden day to be harvesting gold at Rives-Blanques! img_1792 Snow on the mountains, blue sky, golden, glowing vines.  Absolutely beautiful.  Absolutely perfect for a wine called Lagremas d’Aur (tears of gold).

And it all went swimmingly.

In fact, it was perfect.

So back to the sorting table, rigorously rooting out any green grapes and just letting the ones with noble rot go through.  It was difficult in the field to estimate what percentage  noble rot there was, and impossible to estimate what the final yield would be.  Now we can guess that there’s less than one sixth green grapes … enough to do another separate press, or not?  You don’t know until you know.

img_1795Jan-Ailbe has the job of tipping the sorted grapes into the dinky little rented press, ours being too big for the job.  We have manage to fill two trailer-loads with grapes – which after sorting, translates into two presses.

Which translates into 5 hL of juice.

Which translates into 500 litres.

Which translates into 1000 50 cl bottles.

Not much from almost one ha. of vines.  And not very much to go around.  And not much to justify all the work.

But still, if it becomes what we hope it will become, it will be wonderful.  Enough to make us all cry tears of gold.


Wednesday November 23img_1877

Rives-Blanques looks as if it’s going to burn itself out.  As far as the eye can see, there are luminous vines glowing gold,  and swatches of tawny red and burnished brown thrown across the horizon in a glorious tweed.  It is an incredible Autumn this year.  You just cannot get enough of it.


Enough to make you cry tears of gold.


Friday November 25

Still feeling pretty tearful and extremely depressed after an evening spent with a bunch of elderly”vanity vineyard” owners.

One of them was quite persuasive about the low yield of his high quality vineyard in Bordeaux.   “We make only 100,000 bottles a year!” he said proudly, “very low yield of about 35 hl per ha.”

“How many hectares did you say you had?” we asked, truly puzzled.

“Six!” he replied.

“Oh”, I said, “you must have magic vines”.

He didn’t understand the comment.



Monday 28 Novemberimg_1887

Jan-Ailbe spent much of the weekend blending the chardonnay and chenin blanc for our Pays d’Oc. The first sip of vintage 2016 in its final form!  It will sit in its tank waiting for the bottling in early January, and then we will be able to truly taste the proof of the pudding.

(The other wines are quietly doing their own thing, or not.)

img_1890Less quiet was our carpenter and general handyman, Eddie, who came with a mate and a cello, plus his own guitar and made himself at home on the top of the tanks.  There they played “I heard it from the grapevine” to all of us having the first sip of our Pays d’Oc in the cellars.

A bit of a celebration at Rives-Blanques tonight.  In Limoux they’re touting 2016 as The Harvest of Hope.  I call it The Harvest of the Headache.  But today’s little tasting with assembled colleagues and friends gives us hope indeed.



…/to be continued next month