Sunday October 2
(How much longer can we hold out?)
The grapes look beautiful, and they are basking in the sunshine, in no hurry to go any where very fast. So our harvest is on hold.
We all have our favourite weather forecast. BBC versus France Metéo, versus the Norwegian Yr. The Norwegian Yr has conveniently reduced the rain forecast for this week, so it is the current favourite. We need a solid week’s sunshine, no rain please: no rain, no rot – and that would be such a shame. Seldom have we seen mauzac so marvellously magnificent at this stage of the game. How dreadful it would be to lose it.
Tuesday October 4
Last year’s Occitania, harvested so effortlessly from mauzac that had read the textbook and followed it to a T, features in Hubrecht Duijker’s October wine magazine on his website: he being the most internationally known Dutch wine-writer, and Occitania being the most internationally known mauzac (thanks to KLM’s World Business Class). The lesser-known Jan Panman is pictured there, alongside the aforesaid, talking about a subject close to our hearts: white wine with cheese. Generally so much better than red wine! The trouble is, the article’s in Dutch – though there’s nothing like the language of trying it out for yourself for the proof of the pudding. Click on the picture for the article.
In the same edition, the emeritus wine-writer included our chenin blanc Dédicace 2015 as one of his ‘finds of the month’.
Well, that’s a good start to the month. A little light diversion from more pressing matters, so to speak.
Wednesday October 5
Cold today. Overcast. My forecast says 4.3 mm tomorrow. Jan’s says thirty mm. The TV says ‘severe thunder storms’ and ‘chance of flooding’. I’m plumping for the benevolent Norwegian forecast – though there is definitely a threatening echo of distant rumblings in the sky over our heads.
Heavy rain now would be utterly disastrous.
The day broke broken by a dark, ominous grey sky. Great slashes of lightening overhead. Simultaneous roars of thunder crashing around directly above us. Then the heavens open. I pray for the empty-nester mauzac vine photographed yesterday, the one with a perfectly constructed nest clasped to its very heart. And for all the rest of the vines waiting there to be harvested.
(And for us.)
In the end we got just over 10 mm, we can handle that. Friends in Limoux got hail: we could not have handled that.
Michele, our neighbourly purveyor of fresh vegetables, casts a weathered eye at the sky. “It’ll rain some more” she says. “Mark my words, it’s not finished yet.”
Friday October 7
And she was right.
In the end we got 15 mm: four times the amount of one forecast, and half the amount of another – too little to be a big problem, but too much to be no problem at all: so the harvest goes back on hold.
Well, it’s true. It doesn’t rain but it pours. Today we get the news that the authoritative Wine Enthusiast magazine has put up tasting notes on four of our wines, giving two of them the top distinction: Editor’s Choice. Another hallelujah moment at Rives-Blanques. And a great day for our chardonnay, Odyssée, and our mauzac, Occitania.
Sunday October 9
Weather forecast has changed again. Now they’re saying rain on Wednesday. So we phone around our long-suffering team to see who is free to come and harvest on Tuesday. That will be the last field … until we get around to the late harvest sitting quietly at the top of the vineyard, waiting to take all the elements full square on the jaw.
Tuesday October 11
A most gorgeous day. Hills and mountains behind sketched in Cloudy Bay colours. We are already feeling quite nostalgic. These are our last grapes. The last time we will all meet, shake hands, kiss cheeks with cheerful ‘bonjour’s’ before heading off into the sunrise, buckets and secateurs swinging. Breath rising like smoke in the cold air. The last time the tractors roar into life. The last time we get on our knees before the mighty mauzac and dive into its dense heart for the grapes. The last incredible back-aches. The last seau tipped into the last trailer. The last trailer pouring the last grapes onto the sorting table. The last press. The last cleaning of the press. The last supper.
Excepting it’s not.
Tomorrow we continue, because there’s still about four hours’ worth of harvesting left to do. We didn’t manage to get it all in. But we will get it in just before the rain comes, we think.
And then we can afford to relax and be nostalgic about Vintage 2016.
Wednesday October 12
The sun had some difficulty in getting going this morning, as did we. Never did the end seem so near; never did the end seem so far. The weather was bitterly cold, and clearly the rain that was forecast was actually intending to fall.
But not before we finished picking every last grape from every last vine in the field we call Jardin.
Then we went down to the cellars and had a celebratory glass of fizz together.
The harvesters wanted to know how their work was converted into wine, so Jan gave them a guided tour. Took them up to the press, took them around the barrel cellars. They stood at the sorting table and started helping take leaves out. ” I won’t leave so many next year” one of them promised.
Will she be there next year? You never know. Most of them have been with us before, some of them haven’t missed a beat in a decade. Some have disappeared from sight to places like Réunion, and then suddenly reappeared on our doorstep eight years later.
And then we said the last goodbye.
Or did we?
Friday October 14
Stopped in my tracks at Schiphol airport by the guy from Budget who gets all misty-eyed about my driving licence. “Haven’t seen one of those in years!” he exclaims affectionately, “really, Mevrouw, you should keep it … it’s a museum piece!” The only trouble is, despite the fact it says it’s valid to 2019, it is not valid at all. Hasn’t been for a decade or so. Go to the police at Schiphol responsible for missing documents, they all look bored and unpromising. But this galvanizes them into action, and they cluster around my tattered driving licence, abandoning all the lost and missing passport people. But no, they cannot help me either. So that’s that, no car for Caryl.
We’ve come for a Meet the Winemaker Dinner in Katwijk, a seaside resort not far from the Hague. In the old days, these beach restaurants were pretty simple, straightforward affairs, offering a fried plaice and a glass of plonk at best. The KW106 is all together another kettle of fish, so to speak.
Five glorious courses to accompany five of our wines. Magic – and utterly delicious. Jan and I circulate among the 80-odd diners, enjoying the happy coincidence of loving to talk about our wines with talking to people who were happy to hear about them. Until I got to the table with a bottle of bog-standard red Rioja, because mijnheer doesn’t drink white wine, that is …
Then Jan went his way and I went mine, criss-crossing the country on the train. Fortunately Holland is small, and the trains are good. Who needs a car any way?
Saturday October 22
Some people read cornflake boxes at breakfast. As a child I read the upholstery of the empty chair opposite me. It was a copy of the Bayeux tapestry and the bit that was on the back of the chair facing me said, “Hic sedet Harold”, and there was Harold, throughout all my childhood, sitting on his chair with Halley’s comet whizzing past his head.
So the family was forced to stumble around in the dark some thirty years ago in a magic place called Fazenda Santa Helena in Campinas, not far from Sao Paulo, for a promised sighting of the very same Halley’s comet. The only time in our lifetimes we could see it!
But it was overcast. And Halley’s comet whizzed past unseen.
Tonight they’re promising us a shower of meteors. An astronomer says that they’re actually bits of the tail of Halley’s comet that fell off the last time it came here. The very same tail that was completely intact when the comet was whizzing around on the dining room chairs. So of course, we’ll tumble outside at dead of night tonight.
Sunday October 23
It was overcast. Not a trace of anything to be seen.
Monday October 24
This is what happens to your grapes when you leave them out in the rain.
The harvest is over, yes. But long live the harvest! We put aside a field of chenin blanc in the hope that we will get rot … which may become noble rot … which will produce the most wonderfully delicious wine in the world.
This looks quite promising. If it goes our way, we’ll be crying Tears of Gold.
Tuesday October 25
Incredibly high humidity. Mushrooms all over the place. Jan comes in with a basket full. Jan-Ailbe goes skulking around looking for Cepes and Rosé des Pres. It’s quite clear what we had for dinner tonight.
Just when we finish the meal there’s an urgent email from a friend who saw the picture on Facebook. “Are you sure they’re OK” she asks, “I’m checking with our local expert but I haven’t had a reply from him yet. Please don’t eat them until I hear. I have my serious doubts!”
Too late. All done. Feeling a bit queezy.
Wednesday October 26
But we survived.
Monday October 31
Just back from a marvellous weekend in Scotland, which was all play, no work, and our heads are still reeling … so to speak. One thing that came out of it, apart from lots of fun and hilarity, was the lophiodon, and the bad news that we have been misinforming ourselves with utter and absolute conviction, as well as anyone else who would listen, about the quality of our ‘terroir’.
No, our vineyard’s soil is not based on glacial moraine, as we have always believed (and been told). This news came to us from a geologist who once upon a time came to the vineyard to taste our wines, and then returned home to his native Aberdeenshire. Where we happened to find ourselves this weekend, making much revelry. At the time, he promised to ‘look into it’, and of course, we never imagined he ever would.
But he did, and he arrived at our hosts’ equipped with maps and analyses. Our soil actually dates from the Eocene period, when lophiodons inhabited our landscape, some 40 million years ago – way before the glacial period. It’s a rich, marvellous mix of sandstones, and lime muds and bands of conglomerates and gravels – with granites, and brown sandstones and green and black andalousite schites, black dolomite limestones, blue-purple metamorphic limestones and quartzites…
Wow! What a treasure chest! So full of minerality and wonderful drainage.
And no glacial moraine at all. However, the Ice Age did bring us torrential rains and floods that built terraces along the rivers leading from the mountains to the sea. Such as our very own Aude, and its high terraces upon one of which sits Chateau Rives-Blanques. “These terraces are the sight of some of the region’s best vineyards”, says James E Wilson, author of the definitive book “Terroir”.
Very good bad news, all round.
….to be continued next month .