April 2015: Bottling, battling, singing and selling …

The huge excitement this month centres on the purchase of a new toy.  It ploughs deeper, better, stronger than the old plough – or than the considerably cheaper one that is also on offer.  So that keeps half of us busy.  The other half is trying to grab time to enjoy a string of brilliant, beautiful days. Days that look like this ….while the vineyard is getting on with the stuff of spring: the vines are stirring and showing signs of life. This little video shows all – or some of it, rather.



Wednesday April 1

No April Fool’s joke here, but odd (though nice) to get two trophies in one go. One is for our chardonnay-chenin Pays d’Oc 2012, which won it in 2013; and the other is for our chardonnay-chenin Pays d’Oc 2013, which won it in 2014. And they both arrived today, in one go: a bit late, maybe but no less welcome for that.

They are copies of the only gold coin ever struck in the Languedoc – by King Jean le bon, at Montpellier in the 14th century. And they look very nice on the table in our tasting room.

Very proud of our entry-level wine for being such a good Ambassador of the Languedoc.

Saturday April 4

Amazing how the minute you turn your back, the vineyard jumps into action. Just five days away skiing in the Alps, we come home and find all the vines budding away, some even with tiny beginnings of leaflings unfurling like brave little flags. Vintage 2015 approaches!

Tuesday April 7

Speaking of which (as we were), today we bottled the last of the chardonnay-chenin 2014 Pays d’Oc IGP. A faultless performance, for which most credit goes to Didier our able and affable bottler, but also to the two Jans who got all the capsules, labels, bottles and wine to the church on time… including this special label for a Michelin star restaurant in Holland, called Lucas Rive – another star for the galaxy in which our entry-level wine shines.

Wednesday April 15

Rick Stein, the British celebrity chef, positioned himself in the front line for a life-long battle with me. A battle to the bitter end. A battle beyond boundaries or reason. The only trouble is, he doesn’t know about it. And he doesn’t even care.

Having said that, even if he doesn’t know, he’s condemned to march under a big banner emblazoned with the words Unforgiven and Unforgivable, there for everyone to see – for ever and ever. In my mind.

What did he do? He wrote in a cookery book inspired by a trip down the Canal du Midi just down the road, that white wines from the Languedoc have to be drunk within the year. They cannot be aged. He says.

Jancis Robinson, the most admired wine writer in the world, said our chardonnay, Odyssée 2013, should be drunk up to 2020. Now she knows what she’s talking about.

Another Master of Wine (of which there are just over 300 in the whole world) came by to visit us today. This is Rosemary George, a writer of great repute. We opened a precious bottle of our chenin blanc 2002 for her. That’s thirteen years old. And it was … stunning.

I didn’t say that. Rosemary George MW did, right here.


Thursday April 16

Some very pleasant Americans arrive for a wine tasting, but are left standing unattended as we pause to admire the new plough being lowered from the delivery-truck.  Unlike us to abandon a customer, but this is a big event.

“These disks” Jan-Ailbe explains to them with evident excitement, “is cutting-edge technology.” Cutting edge, indeed: they cut into the soil, rather than digging into it. He simply cannot wait to get out there and give it a go.


Wednesday 22 April

What a horrible thought: 600 tables, 2500 chairs, people from 17 different countries all smelling, swirling, and spitting their way through the Guiness Book of Records-breaking Competition of the Great Wines of France in Macon.

Well, the result of it is they found thirteen Languedoc white wines worthy of a gold medal. One of which was this: the Chateau Rives-Blanques Dédicace 2012, 100% chenin blanc.

On second thoughts, not such a horrible thought after all. In fact, quite a nice thought … come to think of it.

But still, we wonder.  Wine competitions are pretty hateful things: wine, like the people tasting them, can have an ‘off’ day, and people, like the wine being tasted, can have ‘off’ days as well.  And a wine can suffer from the consequences of the imperfect wine tasted just before it. Or from the fact that the taster him/herself is feeling sour. Or, dread the thought, from the pressures of power groups that need to win … or need their competition to fail. In a word, probably a waste of time.

Unless you win, of course.


Thursday 23 April

Madhouse at home.  Last night Caryl joined a Vinifilles tasting at the trendy Trinque Fougasse in Montpellier.  We entertained a bunch of journalists with our wines, and then sang to them: Quand tu chantes, quand tu chantes, ca va!; quand tu chantes, quand tu chantes, ca va!   The Vinifilles always do things a bit differently.   And there was a rock band as well – so no wonder I drove home through two hours of midnight macadam in the dead of night singing.

In the meantime, Xaxa was pouring our wines at a trade wine tasting held in the Residence of the French Ambassador in London. She got home to Oxford at the same time as I got home to Cépie, on the Oxford Tube … but not singing.

And up bright and early today to prepare to go to Chicago tomorrow and the onwards to Monreal.   Xaxa arrives home au domaine a few hours after we leave, to take care of some visitors. Jan-Ailbe, who’s with my last night’s journalists somewhere in Montpellier right now, leaves for Belgium a few hours after Xaxa arrives, to do a wine tasting there.

But it will all come together OK in the end, as all the ravelling becomes unravelled: we won’t see Jan-Ailbe before we leave tomorrow morning, but at least he returns from Belgium a few hours before Xaxa returns to Oxford a few hours after we return home from Canada.

Oh well, quand tu chantes, quand tu chantes, ca va ….

Saturday 25

You think you ll scream if this goes on for one more day … and it’s only Day 1. There is still Day 2 and Day 3 to come. The hotel optimistically bills itself as the Embassy Suites Lakeside, lulling you into the happy thought of a lovely suite overlooking the azure waters of the magnificent Lake Michigan, but no. No Lake in sight. Instead, something that is a cross between a prison and college digs, a whole world unto itself, three blocks removed from any water – and we are in one of the hundreds of office/sleeping spaces that are linked by an outside walkway … the whole contained under a glass roof, so that even if we could, we wouldn’t be able to fly away. It is, as the French say, hallucinant.

We meet our partners with whom we are sharing one of these offices: Brigitte Mestreguilhem of the Saint Emilion Grand Cru Chateau Pipeau, and her son Jean. We have never met before, but we are going to be spending an awful lot of time together in very close quarters, conquering the American wine market. By the end of it, we will either be very good friends, or lifelong enemies. Every 45 minutes a new potential buyer walks in, and we spread our wares for him to taste – she her red Bordeaux, and we our white Limoux: clearly we are not competitors at any level.

At lunchtime, there is a lunch break, and at dinner time there is a dinner break, and both are spent with the aforesaid buyers, sized up with a surreptitious, shifty, slanty-eyed look at the name/place tag hanging around his neck. Should I sit next to Bob from Kalamazoo or Bill from Little Rock?

By the end of the day we are dead, and fall into deep sleep with the happy thought that tomorrow will be another one.

Sunday 26

At breakfast I see a tweet from one of our UK importers saying what a wonderful time they had at Rives-Blanques with Xaxa, and I choke on my easy-over: they’re not supposed to be there until this afternoon! But of course , this afternoon’s already been, in the real world.

We escape after lunch and briskly stride three Chicago blocks to admire the indeed stunning lake Michigan.

And then back to business.

Ending with an aperitif in the lobby after a Languedoc masterclass for the buyers. The speaker has said some very complimentary things about Blanquette de Limoux, so everyone flocks to our table for a glass. Viktorija Todorova, Chicago’s food and wine guru, who is responsible for this mini stampede, is as bubbly and frothy as the wine she says she loves so much.

This is all actually rather good fun.

Monday 26
Jan escapes at 04h00 when our whole glassed-in world is still fast asleep, and heads off to Raspipav, an important wine event in Montreal, Canada, while I remain behind to sweep up the remains of the Convention. By now Brigitte can tell the whole Rives-Blanques story backwards, and I can recite the saga of Chateau Pipeau. We field the last buyers, and then sit down over a glass of Blanquette to decide if it was worth it.

Well, what do you think?
Really good!
Will you go through this pain again next year ?
Probably, yes.

And we say goodbye. “I’ll come and see you when I’m in the South of France,” she says, “I understand you have the most beautiful vineyard in the world!”

Jan and I meet for dinner in Montreal with our Canadian importer, the talented winemaker of Pillitteri, and a female sommelier who had spent 14 years as a truck driver.

He’d had a great day.

I’d had a great day.

Life is good.

Tuesday 27

At the Pierre Trudeau AirPort in Montréal , behind a glass of Camplazens from La Clape, one step closer to home.

Tired, yes, but there’s nothing like the taste of the Languedoc to pick you up!



…/to be continued next month