January 2012: Roll on the new vintage!

This sunset was too awesome, too prophetic, too full of promise and portent to be captured by a humble little Samsung, but here it is, closing the first day of the first month of the new year;  the view from the tasting room was so stunning that we all piled out and gaped open-mouthed at the sky’s promise of a glorious tomorrow.  All our glorious tomorrows! Of course we’re optimistic about 2012 – how could we not be?

Tuesday 3 January
Good Start

Get down to work today, behind closed doors, with Eric and Pierre: final blending session for the country wine, and the last tasting of the fizz – Cremant and Blanquette 2011 – before it settles down into its second fermentation in the bottle for a year or so.

And it’s a good day’s work, all done in a single morning.  We try and test the blend of the country wine, and emerge all smiles.  We think we’ve got something good here.

Bottling mid-month, and then we’ll know for sure …


Thursday 05 January
Bon Apetit


You forget about the grandeur of Paris, the sheer weighty magnificence of it, until the next time you’re there again.  And then it knocks you out with a hammer honed by Hausmann exactly for  that  purpose.

No wine tastings this time. Not even a single visit to a single potential or existing customer. We just devote our time and energy to devouring the museums, hitting the pavements hard, and eating ourselves silly.

And crying in our cups.  Three days in Paris, that makes five proper meals to speak of, and only two Languedoc wines discovered on the Parisian wine lists.  Conservatively speaking, that’s  two wines out of about 150 to 200 from other regions.  But Australians and New Zealanders fared even worse.

Tuesday 10 January
Bonne Continuation

Amazing how much you can get done when you start early.  The moon was absolutely, perhaps even violently round early this morning: round and ice white, perfectly  cut out of a midnight blue sky.  Owls hooted and the vines slumbered.  Absolutely beautiful.  Then the mountains stepped forward  out of the dark, covered in alpenglow, burning so bright it seemed they might extinguish themselves and gently drift Spainwards in soft spiralling flakes of carbon.  But the day took hold and got itself together; and so too Ahmed, pruning the mauzac.  “We’ll be done by February” he says.

It’s unusually warm and unusually dry this year.  Too warm and too dry.  But the nights are cold, and for those who were up early, morning broke covered in a carpet of frost.  Which is important, if you don’t want your vines to get the wrong idea in their heads and start thinking that winter’s already been and gone.

Friday January 13
Outsiders to the Outrance

Vinisud, the big wine fair of Mediterranean wines, is breathing down our necks – it takes place next month, but it’s already very much here, throwing its impending presence around, a bit the way Christmas does. No use burying our heads, we’ve got to get down to organising ourselves. So it was an early morning start to get to the lovely Domaine Sainte Rose in Servian, where Charles and Ruth Simpson make a wide range of great ‘affordable luxury’ wines… And where the Outsiders had agreed to meet to plot their Vinisud plans.

We’re going to do a wine tasting like a wine tasting has never been done before. ” Isn’t it funny,” Ryan says, “how the mouth is where you taste wine and where you speak about it. But actually the wine and the words apply to totally different parts of the brain?”

Can’t say I’d ever thought of it that way before myself, but there you go.

“We normally describe wine in words. But why can’t you describe it graphically ? Or musically? “

Why not indeed?

So Louise hauls out some pictures: Munch’s “Scream”, easily identifiable even from the other end of the table, a couple of possible Old Dutch Masters, a wedding cake … and a pierced nipple.

I’m not sure I’ve got it right. “What’s that in the top right-hand corner?”

“A pierced nipple” she says.

And goes on to persuade us that where one person  “tastes” a wine as The Scream, another will find a Rembrandt in his glass. One man’s Old Master is another’s headache, so to speak.

But if anyone describes my wine as a pierced nipple, I swear I shall positively freak out.

Monday January 17
What’s in a name?

We have bottled our wines three times a year for more than a decade, so things should go pretty smoothly.  That’s what we think every time.  Nothing can go wrong this time.  And quite honestly, nothing can go wrong this time: the weather is perfect, the bottlers are in good form, and the wine … well, the 2011 chardonnay-chenin, filling the bottles like liquid gold, is a dream. We inhale deeply, swirl, inhale again, sip, spit, smile.  We like it, let’s hope others do too.

At any rate, the wonderful chambre d’hote La Manufacture Royale, a converted old tapestry factory built by the famous Marshal Colbert, likes it.  Bart and Marieke have ordered another pallet with their own Manufacture Royale label, and they are here to see their babies … err bottles come off the line.  They have a first taste, and yes … they like it too.

That’s step two of today’s exercise successfully executed. Now for step three.  We watch the chardonnay-chenin come off the line with our own label on.   In goes the wine, on go the capsules, on go the labels, into the carton they go, down the ramp comes the carton, onto the pallet … oh no!

“Why does it say Pays d’Oc on the carton?” I ask Jan.

He blanches.  “Does it?”

Yes it does.  But what we are bottling is Haute Vallée de l’Aude, not Pays d’Oc.  Incredible how the bottling gods always conspire against us.

… To be continued