Proverbial April showers, proverbial April flowers, proverbial April birdsong – the place is full of proverbial April, positively burgeoning, blossoming and blooming – and it is wonderful. Seldom seen an April like it. Even the drabbest, deadest, most dour looking vines are full of fecundity, and positively exuding hope and eternity. Rives-Blanques is alive and singing.
Saturday April 1
But no proverbial April Fool. In fact, quite the opposite.
The world’s most maligned/revered and certainly best known wine writer, Robert Parker Jr., once gave Holland’s Emeritus wine writer Hubrecht Duijker a rating that hovered between 99 and 100 points: “to the best wine writer in the world”, he wrote across the title page of a book he gave the Dutchman.
Robert Parker seems to have taken a step towards retirement, but Duijker writes on with undiminished proliferacy. (In fact, he is the most published wine writer in the world). We got an email from him today, telling us that our humble entry-level wine, the chardonnay-chenin Pays d’Oc, was one of his “Finds” of the month.
Well, that’s a nice way to start the day.
And he wrote very nice things about it too (follow the link).
In fact, a nice way to start the month.
Wednesday April 4
We spend the day today behind closed doors in the cellars tasting the 2016 wines that are slumbering happily in their barrels. This is the first wake-up call. The bottling is planned for the first week of June, and there is work to be done.
Will we make a Trilogie this year? We don’t know yet.
And wow! What a difference between the exact same chenin blanc in the Vosges barrel standing right next to the chenin blanc in the Alliers barrel ! It’s incredible.
Then we troop up to the tasting room to test the dosage of the 2015 Cremant. Much deliberation: should we go for zero? How about 1 gram? We try various options, going right up to 4 gm, which none of us liked. In fact, we all rather like the zero dosage, but settle on 1 gm. So at least that’s one thing we’ve achieved today.
And then refreshed, we return to the barrel cellar for another re-taste of some of the barrels. Pierre is thinking hard, he has a photographic memory when it comes to remembering taste. Clearly we’ll have to continue next week, because like Bacchus, we’re beginning to flag.
Saturday 8 April
Cépie, our village down the hill is a place of a few hundred souls, a Church, a school, a post-office and single general convenience store. Recently, the village has grown and crossed the road to accommodate a butcher, a hairdresser, our printer, and an organic shop. But nothing could ever prepare anyone to imagine this village filled with over 30,000 people, yes, thirty thousand people, revelling riotously and flowing through its tiny unmanageable side streets like an unstoppable tidal wave. In terms of a per capita population / visitor ratio, this must surely be the biggest street party in the world.
Every year the Limoux wine cooperative celebrates its Toques & Clochers auction, the second biggest chardonnay auction in the world after Burgundy’s famous Hospices de Beaune. And the night before, the celebrations begin in the village whose Church has been renovated as a result of Toques & Clochers fund-raising. This year is Cépie’s turn, and its Church, which really was in dire need, has been spruced up to look like something properly placed on a Tuscan hilltop.
A procession of beautiful maquettes of all the 28 restored Churches passes behind a 30-child strong band of drummers. Two of the Churches have loudspeakers installed in their tiny naves, valiantly playing the Ode to Joy: are these pro-European communes, or is it just a coincidence? Everyone is smiling.
Then street bands strike up on all corners of all narrow, winding streets, wine is poured, food is served, oysters are opened, and the party gets going until deep in the night. Our Mayor looks both relieved and happy, and so he should: he’s smiling from ear to ear. The whole thing went off faultlessly.
Monday 10 April
All of Limoux heaves a great sigh of relief. The 28th Toques & Clochers event closed without incident and now the cleaning up starts. The Cépie street party on Saturday night counted well over 40,000 people, some say 45,000: staggering by any measure. The chardonnay auction broke all records (as it does every year), with 50% of the barrels going overseas – buyers from Brasil, Australia, South Korea, Spain, USA, China, Germany, Holland and other far-flung corners of the globe will have a lot of overweight to pay, from pockets that have been made considerably lighter … the top barrel went for over €7000, and the average price was just over the €6000 mark. Quite a big sum for 300 bottles of chardonnay. One Dutch buyer alone bought 26 barrels – an immodest portion of the total. But then the Dutch are expert dyke builders and will know how to keep their feet dry, in the face of this tidal wave of chardonnay rapidly rolling towards – and possibly even over – the lowlands.
Tuesday 11 April
We just love the chenin in the new Vosges barrel.
Then Jan-Ailbe blends samples from all the barrel types, and we spend a happy afternoon playing around with the samples.
Trouble is, the beautiful Vosges barrel just doesn’t work, it breaks up the harmony of Dédicace.
So we decide we’ll bottle it all by itself, just for us.
Unless we change our minds at the next session, which is also possible.
Saturday 22 April
Black Friday yesterday as the Aude tots up the damage and reaches a figure somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 ha lost to frost, the worst since the legendary frost of 1998.
The area that was hit on Thursday is huge: it runs from the west of Carcassonne right down to the coast, passing through the great vineyards of the Minervois and the Corbieres. Then the frost came back for a second attack the following morning, with temperatures of minus three to minus five degrees, and this time Limoux was hit as well. A real double whammy: some people who weren’t hit, got it the second time round, and others got hit twice. Some got hit by so-called white frost (caused by radiative freezing at night), others got hit by black frost (caused by low-lying masses of cold air), and some got hit by both.
And some didn’t get hit at all – like us.
but that’s cold comfort. Even if you have been totally wiped out by frost, you still have to go through all the motions and tend your vines as if they were full of fruit. And if you’ve been partially wiped out, you can’t increase the price of your wine because the market won’t accept it – plus, of course, there are lorry-loads of cheap Spanish wine crossing the border at an unstoppable rate, all too happy to step into the vacuum.
Sunday 23 April
The bees humming in the wisteria, the sun singing in the sky, the vines shouting hallelujahs, the birds chirping joyfully in the trees: the conspiracy of silence at Rives-Blanques is always so loud when it’s time to pack our bags and head off into the other world.
Boston here we come!
Maine here we come!
New York here we come!
(But with a certain degree of regret …)
Tuesday 25 April
The drive from Boston to Lenox in the western part of West Massachusetts is quite long: 3 hours there, and then 3 hours back. That gives us plenty of time to talk to Michael, one of the people working with our Boston importer. And we learn that:
Boston has the oldest public school in America
It has the first University in America (Harvard, of course).
Its museum houses the biggest collection of Japanese art outside Tokyo.
Its museum houses the biggest collection of Egyptian artifacts outside Cairo.
It has the longest highway in America. Actually, the one we’re on (which will take us on to Washington State if we’re not careful.)
It has the richest fish bank in the world
It has the oldest constantly running restaurant in America
It has the oldest constantly running hotel in America
It has the oldest still-commissioned battleship in the world.
It has the first and oldest constitution in the world
And it has the biggest Big Dig in the universe (man-moved earth for a tunnel project).
Oh well. We’ve got the first and oldest sparkling wine in the world. And we’re pouring it today in Lenox, a small provincial town full of attractive wooden houses and more restaurants than you would expect. Everyone in the room seems to speaking French: vive la sommellerie francaise! Even here, right on the edge of the Appellation trail, err, that is, Appalachian …
To be continued next month …