May 2016: off to a great start …

Monday May 1

In January we were invited to present three wines for Jeb Dunnick to taste. Jeb Dunnick is the famous Robert Parker Wine Advocate Languedoc specialist.  He was confronted with a battalion of some 900 bottles when he got down to work here.  We are very pleased indeed that the “three beautiful whites” we presented managed to stand out in the crowd.  His comments accompanying the generous splattering of Parker points can be found right here.

Excellent tasting notes.  You really have admire someone who can do that. Which we do.  But also feeling pretty pleased with our wines …

And even more pleased that last year’s spectacular cull of Parker Points is repeated this year – continuity’s the thing, right?


Sunday 8 May
Afficher l'image d'origineFour nights and three days locked up in this hateful hotel, which rumbles constantly with canned music and a continuous undercurrent of  conversation, as if one of the Magnificent Mile’s shopping malls has been dumped in its lobby; and smells its own peculiar smell of stale air that is cycled and recycled, inhaled and exhaled by hundreds of lungs, until we all begin exuding that same peculiar fried sausage smell ourselves.

IMG_0788“Oh come on, it’s not so bad” Jan says, and indeed the beds are good, and so isDisplaying IMG_0791.JPGDisplaying IMG_0791.JPG the breakfast, and the staff are great. But overall, it is truly hateful, prison-like in architecture, institutional in facilities, and washed in a soulless light as grey as the carpet and the furnishings in our comfortable cell where we sit and smile weakly at a procession of potential buyers  – yet we emerge today into a sunny Chicago Sunday,   eyes blinking and tearing, lungs gulping fresh air with relief, and say exhaustedly to each other, “well that was pretty good, wasn’t it?”

“Good? No!  It was great!

So that’s the World Wine Meeting in Chicago over and done with: breakfast, Chicagolunch and dinner and every minute in between trying to persuade American buyers of the worth and value of our Limoux wines.  Some are really interested, some only consider the price-tag and not the quality, and some are there just for the ride (though quite why anyone would willingly take this particular ride is a mystery).   As one of the buyers said to us, “you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the Prince”, and boy, we’ve had some frogs.  But a couple of potential Princes as well, so we are happy.

IMG_0798We celebrate our liberation with a river tour of the city, and find Trump looming large, lustrous and apparently undiminished by the fact that this is Hilary’s town.  We grab our first and last genuine American hamburger accompanied by a horrible chardonnay in a horrible plastic cup, and then head off to Toronto …


Monday May 9

And in Toronto the sun is shining and the lake is gleaming, and our spirits lift.  We are shown into the inner sanctum of the LCBO (the Liquor Control Board of Ontario) and are surprised.  We expected to find listless, soulless paper shufflers and instead we are welcomed by an animated, knowledgeable and very savvy buyer.

Had I known earlier, I would have embraced the Monopoly instead of cursing it for being  an archaic system by which most of Canada and most of Scandinavia buy their wines.  But now we find it has a real heart which actually beats, and begin to understand the point of the whole thing.

Tuesday May 10

JA with DrsMeanwhile at home, Jan Ailbe is holding the fort.  Today he has a group of medical doctors to entertain.   The visit is right up his street: they ask really intelligent and genuinely interested questions about yeasts and things.

The only people who ever ask intelligent and genuinely interested questions about yeasts and things are scientists, other farmers and winegrowers … or doctors.


Saturday May 14

Went to bed at 9 pm last night, and fell asleep counting the trips we’ve made over the last two and a half months:  Zurich, Dusseldorf, Dublin,  New York, Houston, Zurich again, Chicago, Toronto, working flat out the whole time … Slept until 2 pm today.


Thursday 19 May



Trouble is, when you go away, things don’t stand still and wait for you to come back.  The vines have moved on: now there are the beginnings of little grapelings cautiously opening themselves out to the sun.  It looks as if flowering might start in a week, maybe two. From there we start the countdown to the harvest.



We walk around the vineyard and meet Ahmed, working on the young vines planted in April last year.   “Take away the branches under where the the string is tied to the rootstock” he says, “otherwise they’ll strangle themselves when they grow.”  His own two hands meet around his neck, graphically illustrating the point.

“Then take the best branch that’s started growing above the string, and twirl it around the string, like this …”


Training2015chardHe deftly twirls the tender tendril around a vertical string. “Now, leave a second little branch there for just in case.  In case  one gets hammered by the wind or something. And now, all  the rest of this stuff, you take it all away.” And he deftly discards any remaining branches.

“Voila! C’est tout” he beams, and moves on to the next infant vine, like a nanny doing the rounds in a nursery .

This work requires time.  And endless patience.  You simply cannot rush it.  “If you don’t do it properly” Ahmed says, “the vines will suffer  forever.  The first years are the most important.”

And he moves on again.  Only another six thousand to go.

Wednesday 25 May

Very pleased indeed.  Today marks the sixteenth consecutive year in a row that Chateau Rives-RVFOcc15Blanques is featured among the best wines of the previous vintage: this is quite a record.  In fact, crudely put, it is a record.

Every year the French wine magazine La Revue du Vin de France does the rounds of all the country’s appellations and tastes some 10,000 bottles so that they can sensibly discuss the vintage and recommend the bottles with the most potential.  This year their eye fell on our mauzac, the Occitania.  Click here for their comments and tasting notes, but it’s clear to see that they found limetree, angelica and pepper in this glass …

They also said that after three cool vintages, 2015 marked a return to Mediterranean sunshine – but with very good acidity.  Exactly our experience.



…/to be continued.