March 2012: The wrong kind of right weather

We asked for winter last month, and promptly got snowed in.  Now we are almost afraid to ask for rain, because heaven knows what we’ll get –  but we do need it.  What we don’t need is this string of balmy, bright blue days pulling the vines joyfully into springtime … when, as everyone knows,  it is not yet time for spring –  not until there is enough ground-water wetting their roots, that is.  The vines may be confused, but so are we: a good honest downpour would be welcome.  But in the mean time, the weather is perfect to get on with the job at hand,  and all the pruning should be finished before the middle of March.  On a day like today, it’s no hardship being out there.

Thursday 1 March

The first step.  Some of the wine has been telling us quite vocally that it would like to come out of the barrel.  So out it comes, and Jan spends a happy day sloshing around in the sunshine, carefully rinsing the barrels and then cleaning them with a high pressure spray of boiling water.  Then we fill them with water and add a bit of sulphur to prevent any bacteria from forming, and put them aside until harvest 2012. Which will be upon us before we know it.

Pro Prowein
Tuesday 6 March

Germany’s big wine fest in Dusseldorf comes to a close tonight. Loved the beginning on Saturday, with the place positively popping with excitement and energy, as stands are hammered into shape by eternally cheerful standistes; and loved the ending tonight, when troops of exhausted but elated winegrowers pack their bags and troop homewards, positively pooped.   And loved the bit in between.

Above all, loved the bit in between .

Loved seeing a major wine and spirits importer, who recently bought a Bordeaux chateau and is seriously producing serious wines in a very hands-on manner,  standing on the ‘other’ side of his stand,  bravely weathering the trials and tribulations facing every winegrower trying to convince the world that his wine is exactly what it wants.  Chapeau! Now you know how it feels!

Well actually, it feels great when the world seems to like what you’re giving them to taste.

Loved the buyers who have left the companies they were buying our wines for, but still come by to say hello. Friendship as thick as wine, here.

And particularly loved the buyers who came by to actually buy our wines for the companies they work for!

Not enough time to venture out and taste other people’s wines, that was the only down-side.

Though that too could be considered  an up-side.

Friday 09 March
Vintage 2011 in the Making

Spent the entire morning tasting samples of wine, in the comfort of our tasting room.  There is something that is not quite right. So we troop down to the cellars and taste again every single barrel, one by one.

Got it!  The excitement of the hunt rises, as we close in on a couple of rogue barrels, the ‘false friends’ as we call them, that upset the balance of our chardonnay.  They are unceremoniously booted out of the blend.

We’re tired, and we call it a day.  Next session planned for next week.

Vintage 2011 judged
Saturday 10 March

If tasting a single cellar-full of wine is tiring, spare a thought for  Jean-Emmanuel Simond, of the prestigious French wine magazine, la Revue du Vin de France.  He came to Limoux today and was confronted with a battery of wines to taste. Including mostly barrel and tank samples, brand new not-yet-quite-ready wines, like the ones we were tasting yesterday.  And after working his way through hundreds of vins de pays, and an equivilent amount of AOC Limoux’s, both white and red,  he was told there were fifty or so wines from the Malepere region to taste as well …

This is all part of the magazine’s annual epic roundup of the best wines of the year throughout the country.  This same scene was played out yesterday, the day before and the day before that in other parts of the Languedoc.

But note the glass in his hand: white wine.  “The whites of Limoux” he told us, when he arrived on our doorstep after today’s exhausting marathon, “have really excelled.  2011 is an excellent year for Limoux white.”

Would he like to taste some of our previous vintages, we ask him?

He looked ready to bolt.

So instead we take him around the vineyard in a bracing breeze that gets him back up on his feet. And then he disappears in the direction of La Clape, there to meet the producers of that appellation’s wines.  And to taste a couple hundred of La Clape’s big, and bold reds, straight from their barrels.

Sunday 13 March
Party-time in party-town

Limoux’s carnival is unstoppable.  Yesterday 15,000 people trooped in to see carnival dancers from all over the world parade through the streets and around the main Place de la République – though what the scantily clad Brazilians thought of Limoux’s completely covered dancers is almost unimaginable.  Not to mention the samba versus whatever it is we dance in Limoux: something slow and stately and without a name. Today, another 10,000 or so came to watch Limoux’s own carnavaleers and their own bands do their own thing – all at the same time.  Complete cacophany, and not a Brazilian in sight.  Jan jr. and I poured bubbles – other people’s –  to fuel the official party: the Deputy and the Mayor of Limoux, the Mayor of Saint Martin, a troop of underlings, and a delegation of Belgian carnivaleers revelling in all they saw and drank.  “Limoux is the party-capital of the Aude Valley!” the Mayor boomed, and then quickly corrected himself: “No” he roared, “… the party-capital of the WORLD!”

Everyone applauded.

But you have to hand it to them.  Started in the 1600s, this carnival has survived the elements and battled through thick and thin for 500 years to be where it is today: the oldest, longest, and longest-running carnival in the world.  Hand-in-hand with the oldest sparkling wine in the world, of course.  In the party capital of the world.

Tuesday 13 March
Vintage 2010 judged

Cuvée Odyssée, our top chardonnay, came home today with a gold medal around its neck from the Chardonnay of the World Competition.  We are thrilled.

Nine hundred top chardonnays from 35 countries were tasted by 300 judges in the very heart of chardonnayland, the appellation Brouilly at the foot of Mont Brouilly in Burgundy.  Interestingly, three gold medalists were Limoux chardonnays, an unsually high percentage for an appellation that produces only 500,000 bottles in total.

And then to complete our day, we see the blog of Rosemary George, Master of Wine. She writes about her Master Class of the Great White Languedoc Wines in London, in which she included our top blend, La Trilogie; this comes hot on the heels of an article about the Vinifilles. We read this carefully.  Our unoaked chenin blanc 2011 is “absolutely delicious”, says this recognised world expert of chenin blanc.

Hmm. This gives food for thought.  We’re still hovering between blending it, or bottling it as is.

Wednesday 14 March
The sum of the parts.

Back at the blending today.  We talk about the un-oaked chenin.  Rosemary George’s ‘absolutely delicious’ weighs in: should we bottle it after all, a small, select, very limited edition of pure pleasure?

We’re closing in on the chardonnay blend for Odyssée.  Everyone knows, ever since Aristotle, that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, and blending wine is a true illustration of that.    Some of us (me, actually) push (hard) to use only the very best chardonnay barrels.  So we do that, just to keep me quiet.  And it is way too woody.

By the end of the morning we think we’ve got it.  But Pierre is meticulous, and insists on adding just 1% from a different barrel, and 5% from yet another to a blend we’ve basically all agreed on.  He’s right.  Habemus Odyssée!

The day after Odyssée 2010 gets its gold medal, Odyssée 2011 is done and dusted.  Now we need to prepare for the bottling.

Wednesday 21 March
Pumping chardonnay

Back in the cellars today.  It’s a hive of activity.  Some of us are packing and getting ready to head off to Sweden, others are pumping chardonnay from the barrels into the tanks, bending them and blending them into Odyssée 2011.

Then the barrels are taken out and thoroughly cleaned and stored, waiting for vintage 2012 to come our way.

But in the meantime, vintage 2011 is sitting pretty in this tank, biding its time until bottling.  We can’t resist, and put a glass to the tap.

Sniff, swirl, sniff, sip, spit.

Sniff, swirl, sniff, sip, swallow.

Yes, this is a true Odyssée.

Thursday 22 March
Hej ho, hej ho …

… it’s off to work we go!  One day to get here, one day to get back, and one day Stockholm.  We arrived after midnight on Wednesday, to find the hotel was overbooked, and there was not a room to be had in the whole of Stockholm.  Nor was there much of an apology.  Back into the taxi and a sedate race Swedish-style through silent, wide, and very dark streets to God Knows Where.  I took a picture the following morning so we would know where.  It’s called Saltsjobaden, and when we woke up, we thought we’d fallen, like Alice,  down the rabbit hole.  It was a bright Swedish sun that slapped us awake, unveiling  a watery panoramic paradise – a Swedish paradise, but paradise none the less.   In the extreme comfort of an extremely comfortable, chandelier-ridden, old resort hotel – where the leather sofa’d library was quietly resounding to  New Wave music still bravely  piping ‘Silent Night’ – we seated ourselves behind piles of Swedish pancakes for breakfast, and wondered where on earth we were.  It was as if we had been randomly dropped to earth by Google Maps.

Back in Stockholm for the wine tasting organised by our importers, the famous Swedish brewers, Spendrups, who have gone into wine in a big way.  Hundreds of restaurateurs pour in and file past.   It’s a huge impressive building, Stockholm’s premier conference centre, but our friend Per Karlsson, photographer and Swedish wine-writer, who materialised out of the crowd, tells us the building is his old school and we are actually in the gym.

By dinner time the crowd has gone, and the wine producers or their reps. file out for dinner with the Spendrup wine team.  We head to an enormous place called Berns, which used to be Strindberg’s favourite watering hole. Not surprisingly, nearly everyone starts off with a beer.  The food is unbelievably good.  The vin equipe of Spendrups are very nice people.

We feel we are in very good hands.  It was a long way to go for a single afternoon, actually quite tiring. But worth every minute.  Not forgetting the pickled herring I forced myself to eat at breakfast before our very early start back home.

Sunday 24 March

We’d heard it had been ‘bucketing down’ while we were away, but actually it was only 16 mm worth.  We need about ten times that.

But the vetch planted between the rows of vines has really taken off.  It’s thick and lucious and so inviting.

And of course adds nitrogen to the soil, keeps the weeds down, gives traction to the tractors, makes a happy home for a myriad of instects  … and looks pretty too.

Saturday 31 March~
All eyes on Limoux

Today’s Volkskrant, a leading Dutch newspaper, carried an article by its wine/gastronomy writer, Onno Kleyn about our new AOP Limoux blend, Le Limoux. The day is sunny enough as it is, but this certainly adds a certain something to it.

The Outsiders had a brave stab at coming up with Alternative Tasting notes recently, when we invited people to describe our wines with pictures.

Onno Kleyn goes for music.  “Do I hear Mozart?” he asks.  “No, it’s Poulenc!”

I can’t say that Poulenc,  once famously described as being ‘half monk half thug ‘, was the first composer to come to my mind, but these tasting notes, in which he describes Le Limoux as being like a Burgundy “with so much on board”,  were certainly music to our ears.

The music in Antugnac today, a small village outside Limoux, was complete cacophony, closer to the thug part of Poulenc if you’re talking about  pure  assault.   A band on every street, good will and bonhommie overflowing as Antugnac ushers in Limoux’s famous Toques & Clochers auction of chardonnay tomorrow, the second biggerst chardonnay auction in the world, with this street party to end all street parties.

…/to be continued in April.