Thursday September 1
September blazes through the bedroom window, violently blue and full of sunshine.
“Another beautiful day”, Jan remarks gloomily.
Friday September 2
But the good news is very good indeed. The authoritative wine guide, granddaddy of them all, The Guide Hachette, has published its 2017 edition. And they give us a coup de coeur for our chardonnay, Odyssée, and a star for the mauzac, Occitania.
Then to top it all off, Holland’s most famous wine-writer, indeed the most prolific wine-writer in the world, Hubrecht Duijker, choses our Blanquette as one of his “finds” of the month. (He paired it with sushi, which is pretty much the “find” of the month for us too).
We’re enjoying all this kudos raining down on our heads …but if only it would rain rain.
She knows the region well, having had a holiday home here for 30 years, and probably knows better than anyone how it has changed in that time.
“There is some really great quality here … selling at prices much lower than would be charged in regions with more of a reputation”.
To read the whole thing, just click on the page shown here.
Thursday September 8
She says, “it builds up to an assertive conclusion in the way that a great Burgundy does … It has massive grip and then explodes with flavours”. And she gives it 17 whopping points.
Who was it who told us you couldn’t make a good still wine from the mauzac grape??
If you had asked us what our expectations were when we started on this adventure sixteen years ago, we would never have presumed to see our wines or our vineyard so highly praised by such a internationally respected authority. This is a magic moment for a mauzac, and a big, big event in the life of a small vineyard.
It never rains, but it pours.
Excepting of course that it doesn’t. Pour, that is.
In fact, we’re beyond the point of no return now. A downpour has become the last thing we want.
Friday September 9
In between all that excitement, we do a quick little night-time foray into the chardonnay to machine pick a bit of chardonnay for our Pays d’Oc, and then continue on with our harvesters to handpick some grapes for the fizz.
All the juice comes out with lower potential alcohol readings than we had anticipated. On the other hand, the sun continues blazing down overhead, which will push the sugar content in the grapes ever upwards.
It doesn’t feel like the beginning of the harvest, because it isn’t really. We won’t start in earnest until next Wednesday. Or will we? We continue tasting, watching, waiting. We don’t really say either hello or goodbye to our harvesters, it all seems a little unreal.
Sunday September 11
It’s Jan-Ailbe’s birthday, and we go to the beach for a seafood lunch. He’s pre-occupied, there seems to be something wrong with the compressor of the cooling system, which keeps the tanks of fermenting wines cold. It is very hot outside. We cannot possibly allow the compressor to go into meltdown.
We come home and taste and test grapes. Phone Christophe, who owns the harvesting machine. We decide to start on Tuesday, and continue with the hand-harvesting on Wednesday.
So we put the final touches to the preparations today. A last thorough cleaning with vapour of the barrels, drying them out and then putting them in place.
Roll on 2016! We are ready for you!
Tuesday September 13
Excepting that the cooling system that controls the temperature of the tanks has packed up. So we cancel the harvest, and get the technicians back. There’s no way out. We’ll have to rent one, and then replace it with a new one. But in the meantime? Outside temperature is punching above 30. We switch all the air conditioning on to high, and the local LeClerc supermarket helps us out with 50 kg of ice – but that is like a drop in the ocean. It evaporates in accordance with all the magically evaporating properties of ice, converting solid into liquid with effortless ease. Jan gets into the car and drives an hour to collect loaves of industrial ice, to get us through the night.
There never has been a vintage like this.
The Tuesday Talk Tour & Tutored Tasting today is a mixed bag of Colombians, Americans and Dutchmen. There’s no harvest, so there is time to lavish. They are oblivious to the gloom hanging over us, all they see is are magnificently neat, tidy and organized cellars.
“Your enthusiasm for this wonderful profession shines through” they enthuse. “How lucky you are to be doing this, in a place like this!”
But enthusiastic? Lucky?
Thursday September 15
Yesterday’s 12 ml of rain has freshened up the world, suddenly everything looks bright and beautiful again.
Today is the most beautiful day on earth.
Nothing can stop us now!
Saturday September 17
We’re off! Crack of dawn, Christophe rolls up in his huge harvesting machine. It’s cool and overcast, not a bad thing at all for a day of machine harvesting. Xaxa and I are at the sorting table, Jan and Eric are ferrying the tractors back and forth, and Jan-Ailbe is walking around running the show. It’s impossible to keep up with Christophe, the grapes just keep coming in in tractor-loads. They look wonderful. If it continues like this, we’ll be on to a good thing. Round, sweet, unblemished … perfect. We pause for a cup of coffee. I’d like to take a picture of the whole family like this, the complete illustration of Jancis Robinson’s comment about “this intensely family enterprise”, but I’m too tired to move.
It takes a lot of good coffee to make a good wine.
It also takes a lot of patience. At 8 pm, a good 13 hours later, we’re still being an intensely family enterprise, still all together at the sorting table because our beloved first-born has apparently hijacked the press, and put it on the longest, softest, most never-ending pressing programme ever. It is pressing our chardonnay with tender loving care and infinite kindness until Kingdom Come.
And then when we’re finished, the whole place still has to be cleaned and cleared out. And someone has to put the press to bed.
Our beloved first-born, I guess.
And we still have to eat and put ourselves to bed as well.
Monday 19 September
Very cool and overcast today, in fact, it a downright cold nigh last night, but a good thing both for the harvesters and for the grapes. It’s a chardonnay day today, and the chardonnay looks pretty good. So does this porteur who is new to the game, but learning the tricks of the trade pretty quickly. Though we imagine he’s quite bright as he’s doing a PhD at Oxford.
Most of the team are old faithfuls. Christine and Danny have divorced since last year’s harvest, but they’re both still here, albeit separately. Jean-Paul is ill and can’t come, but his son Pierre is back again. Dylan is back too, who has been here on-and-off for the past decade, morphing from a thin, angular blond to a bulky dark lad. And of course, Ahmed is the timeless unchanging face of our harvest, year in, year out. There are a couple of wild cards, but most are old hands; we’ll see how it all pans out.
Tuesday 20 September
Wednesday September 28
Morning broke like the proverbial first morning: just achingly beautiful. If we can put all this magnificence into our chenin blanc, Dédicace, then we’ve really got it made. Mountains receding in opiate shades, the vines beautiful and bountiful, like a perfect illustration in a textbook, the chenin blanc grapes glowing in the soft sunshine of early morning. It is incredible. And the story repeats itself on the sorting table, there is simply nothing to sort here.
By midday, we’ve finished the Garden of Eden (never more aptly named). These vines have had their day in the sun. The party’s over now for them.
The sun rises high and beats hard on our backs as we attack the field called Ecurie after lunch. The vines were planted when chenin was first introduced into the Languedoc, and unlike us, they are not showing their age. I’d been walking around with a refractometer, to show the harvesters what a difference there is between a ripe and an under-ripe grape: they were fascinated, but there was no need for it. Everything is perfect. Everything can be picked. So we set to.
Early start tomorrow. So early to bed, to dream chenin blanc dreams, beautifully de-leafed, being picked like laundry from a washing line.
Thursday September 29
You can see the faintest glow of morning along the fringes of this pitch black sky fretted with ice white stars. Somewhere an owl hoots and there is the raucous shriek of some unknown other winged thing. Huge headlights of the harvesting machine throw the shadows of vines into the night, like pedestrians on the side of the road. Lurking at the end of the field are the waiting tractors, their revolving lights flashing with importance and urgency.
It is extremely cold.
We’re out there harvesting, by machine, the last of the grapes for the Pays d’Oc. They tumble along the sorting table like jade and emerald marbles. They are ice, but ice cold. After nine tons of them, your hands are utterly and absolutely frozen solid. I struggle to open the plug of the trailer with stiff, frozen fingers, and a shower of spitefully cold grape juice shoots down my sleeves and under my T-shirt … jeans become heavy and soggy with grape juice.
Definitely time for a coffee-break and a bath.
(Tales a lot of good coffee to make a good wine)
And in the meantime, the day has become magnificent. Somehow, the weather forecast has re-written itself into exactly what we want.
Then this “intensely family enterprise” heads off to finish hand-picking the last rows of chenin blanc left over from yesterday. Jan-Ailbe comes out of the cellars where he has spent most of the harvest, and Xaxa gets down on her knees, reverentially picking: an intensely familial brother-sister act.
And then there is the small question of the grapes. They look wonderful.
Friday September 30
We press ‘pause’ again and put the harvest back on hold. The day is magnificent, for once the weather seems to be playing into our hand. Or at least, the forecast is.
“I told you so!” one of us said. “We should have held back the whole harvest by a week…”