As if they know the game is up, all the vines are turning yellow and gold – a slow creeping fire that burns from the bottom of the leaves and works its way up. Autumn is a lovely time of year at Rives-Blanques, but as the month opens, it is also quite unnerving. For the first time ever, there are no grapes left to harvest – they are all safely home and hosed, and a sea of golden, glowing, and grape-less vines spreads itself out gloriously before us.
Saturday October 3
The truth is, the Guide Hachette is flawed. But the truth is, this doyen of French wine guides also does its best not to be. Jan-Ailbe was in the judging committee, and swears there’s no room for any shenanigans of any kind; in fact, he was full of admiration. But it’s still odd when a wine with 92 “Parker points” or 17 “Jancis Robinson points” or a gold medal from Decanter and the Great Wines of France competitions does not even merit a mention in the Guide Hachette.
And, for that matter, it’s also equally odd when a wine with a star from the Guide tastes quite mundane when poured at your own table. It does happen. ( Though not in this case, obviously …!)
There’s clearly no perfect formula – there are loads of other contributing factors like the mood of the tasters not to mention the mood of the wine – and the Guide still holds its reputation as the premier wine guide in France. So, when all is said and done, we’re pretty pleased that our Trilogie got a star in this year’s (2016) newly published edition
Monday October 5
A couple of months ago the two Jans jaunted off to Burgundy to talk chardonnay with Burgundian winemakers: for a chardonnay producer something akin to making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Lots of fascinating exchanges of information. And, even better, they returned with a carload of beautiful chardonnays, some of which we tasted today. Critics often compare our Odyssée to a Burgundy, but going through this little lineup, it’s clearly not. The Burgundians have a finesse and an elegance that we can hardly hope to achieve here, under our southern sun.
But then after the tasting, we tasted the wines again, blind, in black glasses, and smuggled Odyssée into the lineup. Now, that’s an interesting exercise!
And yes! You can understand what the critics mean. Have to say, quite proud to see how well Odyssée behaves in this elegant company.
Monday October 12
Most of the barrels have finished fermenting. Others are still at it: if you put your ear to the top of the barrel, you can hear the wine quietly bubbling away. The cellar smells divine. One or two are being a bit stroppy, fermenting rather too slowly. Stuck sometimes, you could even say, if you were being brutally honest. We are watching them like a hawk.
And we need to, because we are completely sold out of our chardonnay, Odyssée. 17000 bottles of Odyssée dispersed all over the world into thousands of homes, gone in a flash. We are desperate for our 2015 chardonnay to get itself ready… but wine does things in its own sweet time. Slowly.
Thursday October 15
Today a jolly group of sixteen Dutch wine lovers came to visit us. We gave them the full Rives-Blanques: a glass of bubbles in the vineyard right at the very source of the wine, a visit through the winery, and then a tasting of all the wines.
Jan showed them how the batonnage works, which is also quite amazing – all those lees swirling all over the place helping to add some interesting complexity to our wines. The only one who wasn’t really impressed was Bacchus.
But then he’s seen it all before
Tuesday October 20
Another meeting with producers of Limoux and the semi-government organisations that promote the appellation. A mere handful of producers, with the management of the cooperative dominating the scene at the high table. They wore suits and serious faces.
Someone asks the question: what is actually the minimum requirement for the amount of mauzac in the Crémant? 10%! one says. No, 20% says another. 15% someone ventures. The head of the Syndicat puts an end to the auction: 30% she says, wagging her finger. “No, you’re wrong! ce n’est pas possible!” she’s told. The grower next to me shakes his head. “It’s always like this” he says. “It always has been. It always will be. Pathetic. No one knows anything, the big players just go ahead and make the rules to suit themselves, and everybody else is too apathetic to know or even care about what’s going on.”
Thursday 22 October
Someone who really does know how to move and get things done is the man behind Cambridge Cuisine, a group of restaurants in the university city of that name, and the wine buyer of the eponymous wine merchants whose sweatshirt shouts its name out loud. They come and spend the day with us. Together they have lovingly crafted what is probably the best exclusively Languedoc-Roussillon wine list of any restaurant outside the region itself. They have brought the restaurant staff to Limoux because they know it’s the best white and sparkling wine area in the region, and they want their people to experience it first hand.
So we march them up to the top of the vineyard, and then we march them back down again. It’s freezing cold, but spirits are pretty high. Then we march them through the cellars and into the tasting room.
And then one of them asks brightly: what’s the percentage of mauzac in these bubbles …?
Hmm. Well, now that you mention it …
Tuesday 27 October
Bonfire of our rhapsodies
The vineyard is alight with colour, it is truly awesome. Eye-filling Autumnal fields of gold, absolutely breath-taking.
One of them suddenly declares that he knew he knew our name, yes of course! The Rives-Blanques Odyssée was the wine they had with their Christmas dinner! He was delighted to find himself gazing at the golden field from which it hails.
So lovely was it, that after they had gone I went into the vineyard to take some photographs and fill up my camera with burnished burnings of gold and yellow.
And found this. A bonfire of our rhapsodies: some of the oldest and first chenin blanc vines planted in the Languedoc and source of some our very best wines, waiting to be burned. We are busy today grubbing up the field and preparing it for the next generation. Their time’s up.
Wednesday 28 October
Email comes in today from the office of a Very Very Important Wine Writer, the genius behind the Very Very Important Wine Encyclopedia. They are having problems verifying the percentage of mauzac allowed/stipulated in Limoux white wines, can we help ….?
I go outside and consult the marvellous and mighty mauzac itself, but it doesn’t appear to know either.
Thursday 29 October
Another Magic Mauzac Moment
Speaking of which, today we get another order from KLM for Occitania, the mauzac. It’s the fifth, no, sixth time they’ve taken our mauzac on board. It won’t be flying until next April, but we are already celebrating … celebrating the originality and independent-thinking of their wine buyer, who dares to go for something different in a world drowning in Grand Crus and well-known brands. Another reason to go out into the golden day and have another chat with another mauzac vine. What a wonderful way to end the month.
…./to be continued next month.