September came to our plateau in October; the weather we wanted for the harvest rolled out and covered the vines in sunshine and light. Only trouble is, the harvest was basically over. And as if they know the game is up, the vines start turning yellow, slowly burning burnished gold over our fields. This promises to be a magnificent month. Exciting too, as the barrels start fermenting, and fill the cellars with the happy hum of wines splattering and chattering with each other. The perfect time to visit us. So the action turns inwards, as we evaluate and contemplate what the year has given us. And the action turns outwards too, as we start our travels to show our wines, not this year’s of course, but from earlier vintages: first in Paris at the Pavilion Kléber with the Vinifilles, the female winegrowers of Languedoc-Roussillon on the 23rd of the month. But before then, there’s still a lot of pressing business at hand, so to speak…
Tuesday October 2
Oh yes! The sky has cleared. The rain has gone. The mountains take a step forward and introduce themselves again. They glint: there is a pristine layer of gleaming snow on their tops. And shining with all its might is a full, fat moon (which is odd, because it is noon). Harvest-perfect weather. The team keeps up the pace. The grapes are great. It looks as if we’ll be done by Thursday or Friday.
Some people come by unannounced for a tasting. “Oh, I suppose you’re quite busy?” they say. Quite busy? They are unimpressed when the tractor rolls in with its load for the sorting table. My fingers are itching to get in there. No one sorts with quite the dedication and determination that I sort; can’t possibly leave the men to it, they just stand there chatting. Or at least that’s what I think. So I leave the visitors, to help get the tractor in place, the sorting table moving, things going. The grapes are so perfect that I can return to the tasting. And leave the men chatting.
“Yes”, I say, a little more calmly, “we are quite busy.”
Wednesday October 3
An amazing day today picking the mauzac for Cuvée Occitania. The mountains are covered in alpenglow, and throw shafts of light over the field as the sun rises. We’ll never get these 2 ha done today, we think. The harvest will stretch on into tomorrow.
They are old, gnarled vines on a steep slope. Picking is a slow, tortuous process.
We are wrong. Five o’clock on the dot, the last tractor rolls in laden with grapes. The harvesters gather in front of the winery and we share a couple of bottles of Blanquette. We all feel a bit stunned.
And suddenly, terribly terribly tired.
Thursday October 4
It’s like after after-Christmas. We hose down the winery, clean all the equipment, wrap it up and put it to bed for another year.
Friday October 5
And now the challenge to make the best, to the best of our ability. The gentle hum of fermenting wine has started up in the barrel cellar. The mauzac is being pumped into its barrels, to join the chorus. The smell is divine. In a day or two, the place will be alive with chattering, gossiping, singing barrels. Vintage 2012 is on its way! And as for us, we are going to slip into something pink, pretty and full of bubbles, sit on the terrace, and drink the sunset.
Saturday 13 October
The party’s over
“Time flies” Jean Paul says philosphically. He considers the stuffed guinea fowl. He looks at the bottle of wine infront of him.” Can you imagine that this time last year we were sitting here? Feels like yesterday.”
“And this time next year it will feel like today” Laurent chips in.
I look at him with renewed respect. Profound words.
Are we about to embark on a philosphical discussion? This bottle infront of us, this lovely, luminous, beam of brilliant sunlight shining from this very bottle, that’s last year’s sunshine on today’s table. And next year we’ll be drinking today’s sunshine. And eating the same stuffed guineafowl, for that matter. As we did last year. And another year will have gone by.
But no, we return to the matter at hand: winding up the harvest of 2012, saying goodbye, saying we’ll be back.
Monday October 15
And now the fun begins …
If you click on the picture, you’ll see that the party goes on. All the barrels are humming away in happy fermentation. This is one of the most exciting moments of the year. We all keep bumping into each other in the winecellars, singing along with the barrels …
Wednesday 17 October
Up to our ears
The wild flowers are at it again: growing taller than the vines. Today’s there’s a meeting about biodiversity in Limoux, but we’re right in the middle of it here, and it’s taller than some of us are. Yvo and Dorith Paagman, of a wonderful shop called Sjatoo Fijn & Wijn in Holland, take one last look at the chenin still hanging hopefully on the vines, waiting to be harvested into a late harvest wine – and no sooner have they left, than Derek from Norwich appears with a group of customers, also to admire this profusion of spring in the middle of autumn.
Very diverse, our biodiversity. And later in the day we see a film taken by the stop-motion infrared camera in the vineyard, of a wild boar going on a little walk through the flowers with her brood of baby boars.
Thursday 18 October
La Vie en Rose
Or rather, a real red-letter day. This is incredible. Jancis Robinson, the world’s most famous wine writer, universally trusted and respected, has come up with a list of must-taste Languedoc Roussillon wines. Top points for the whites? Our Limoux blend, La Trilogie! Top points for the rosés? Our Crémant de LImoux, Vintage Rose! We are over the moon.
And then France’s leading wine magazine, La Revue du Vin de France falls on our desk with a plop. They have just tasted all the gold-medal winners of the competition of non-Champagne French sparkling wines. And who was right up there at the head of the list? No, it’s not true. Oh yes it is! Top points for Vintage Rose.
The interesting thing is that both Mrs Robinson and the RVF basically say the same thing about our pink fizz: that it is soft and seductive, but firm in character. The tasting notes can be found here and here.
Tuesday 23 October
Vinifilles make the Scene on the Seine
Fifteen of Languedoc’s female winegrowers signed up to take Paris by storm at the Pavillon Kléber today, bringing a whole range of wines with the sunshine in them to Paris. Most went by rail (the slow way to travel fast). I decided to go by air (the fast way to travel slowly). The wines went independently, by truck.
The wines made it to the Pavillon Kléber on time, but I did not. A two hour traffic jam in Toulouse even before the sun had risen, meant I arrived 30 minutes after my flight had left. However, this being air travel, it had not. The plane was sitting on the tarmac, waiting patiently. In fact, it was delayed another two hours.
“You’re giving me alot of good news and bad news in a single breath” I told the ground stewardess.
But the air-traffic controllers’ strike, which was at the root of this good news/bad news, meant that even if I did manage to get to the Pavillon Kléber only halfway through the party, I would not be able to get back home again after it. The wines would just have to do all the talking themselves.
So I turned the car homewards, going boo-hoo-hoo all the way home. And I was back home even before the flight I had left to catch five hours before, had even taken off.
Friday October 26
Manon and Aden, who live the closest by, arrive late. Pretty much true to form. Danny barks at them: “Late again!” He’s the kind of guy who is always on time. Brings his own equipment too, won’t trust anyone else’s secateurs. And bosses everyone around. The funny thing is, everyone accepts it.
It’s still dark when we start. The chenin blanc is hanging on the vines like dirty laundry, shriveled and disfigured by noble rot. The forecast is for rain, sleet and worse. The time has come to bring in the grapes. Quickly.
The wild flowers between the vines are taller than some of us. The morning breaks, with some red streaks across the sky Cel rouge, bente ou plouge (or words to that effect), a universal dictum as true in Occitan as in any other language. But despite the shepherd’s warning, the weather holds, and we’ve got the half hectar picked before noon. The grapes look truly unappetising, but a taste of them explains why we do this – delicious!
As we’re picking, the small borrowed wine press rolls up – ours is too big for the minimal amounts of juice we can expect from these black, shriveled grapes.
Enough. Maybe even three barrels-full. That means 3 x 225 l = 800 bottles, give or take.
And the sugar content? Well, it looks like around 22 degrees potential alcohol, which is 22 – 14 = 8 x 17 = 136 gm of residual sugar. Give or take.
A sweet finish to the sweet harvest of 2012.
Saturday October 27
And today the temperature plunged, the wind howled, the rain fell.
…./to be continued