The harvest (vendange) began on Friday August 21st with a small parcel of Muscat grapes as described here. The next few days saw further preparations for the main harvest, for example clearing space in the barrels of the solera system for this year’s grapes. I shall write more about the solera later in the year.
So, it was Thursday 27th which was the start of the real vendanges with parcels of white and Syrah grapes collected from La Garrigue. This day was described here.
Friday 28th saw more Syrah being harvested, this time the Syrah of Metaierie usually referred to as Sainte Suzanne by Jeff. This is the vineyard of Vin Des Amis though options are always open. The pickers, led by Carole and Julien, worked through a cloudy morning to collect some high quality bunches.
Michel transported the cagettes back to the cellar as quickly as possible. The cagettes are about two thirds filled so as not to overload the grapes in there which might damage them.
Upon arrival at the cave the cagettes are quickly taken for triage, sorting through the grapes to select only the best quality. Foreign objects such as snails and spiders are removed as are unripe grapes, any damaged or rotten grapes. It is important that only the best goes into the wines to keep them fresh and at the high quality we expect from Mas Coutelou. Two people sift through the cagette, removing any inferior grapes for further sorting by a third person. Jeff, Cameron and I took these roles on Friday. It is hard work, on your feet all day and lifting, carrying and sorting requires physical effort and also full concentration. There is, happily, also time to chat and laugh.
Cameron is from Melbourne, Australia and has been living and working in London as a sommelier for four years. He decided to learn more about the winemaking process and to “get his hands dirty”. He is already proving his worth and is a great addition to the team.
Meanwhile, the grapes which had gone to vat (cuve) have to be taken care of. Fermentation has started and the wine is already producing material which needs to be removed to keep the wines clean. They are, therefore, pumped out of their original cuve into another to allow the waste to be cleaned away and the fresh, juice ready to settle for its longer journey of fermentation.
And at the end of the day the cleaning work is intense. Everything is cleaned throughout the day but at its end another full clean takes place. This removes the risk of contamination from dirt or damaged fruit which would ruin the wine. It is laborious but necessary.
Analysis of the Syrah showed that the alcohol level was around 12.7% with medium levels of acidity. Later picking would have added more sugar and more potential alcohol but would have lowered levels of acidity. The skins are essential to the quality of the wine as they contain the colour, tannin and much of the flavour of the wine. These were in excellent condition according to the analysis, good news.
There have already been some concerns expressed by winemakers and analysts that the heat of 2015 might affect the quality of wines around France especially regarding acidity. The decision to harvest the Syrah was therefore the right one, fresh, cleansing acidity is a hallmark of Jeff’s wines. Many winemakers have been waiting to start harvest as, on August 30th, the moon is at a perigee, the time when it is closest to Earth in its orbit. As it begins to wane and move away from Earth many winemakers will start their harvest. Jeff has chosen to put the quality of the grapes first rather than principles about biodynamics.
Saturday 29th was a work day for the cellar and the pickers and saw the harvesting of Cinsault grapes from my favourite vineyard, Rome. The grapes were big and juicy though some were uneven and needed more careful sorting. Clearly these were precious grapes as Icare was guarding and watching over them assiduously. The harvest was not as big as many years and so the pickers moved onto Sainte Suzanne again for more Syrah grapes whilst yesterday’s grapes have begun to ferment already.
Icare, connoisseur and guard dog
September 1, 2015 at 4:09 pm
I often wish I had done a harvest, even now as several friends are down in Burgundy and Beaujolais doing just that. Admittedly I’m getting a little stiff but it would shake off some lethargy. Still, fascinating seeing photos of it.
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September 1, 2015 at 4:52 pm
I was reading your comments about the Burgundy pickers on winepages. As a 56 year old believe me it is hard work, yesterday was really full on for example and I was dog tired, covered in bites and stings from insects and yet very contented and all was well with the world. Definitely worth doing. This is my second time around so hopefully I have learned a little too and so I’m more able to help.
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September 1, 2015 at 5:37 pm
Dog tired having done something you love is a wonderful feeling. Until April my work involved much time spent in a chair, typing and reading. I still spend plenty of time like that, writing the Blog, but at least it’s more fun, and it has been interspersed with a lot more wine-related activity.
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September 1, 2015 at 6:13 pm
Exactly David. Today, September 1st, was the first anniversary of our arrival in Margon and it is a timely reminder of how much I have loved my time here. Especially as it was also the day of return to school here and in the UK and my former colleagues would be getting ready for the year ahead. I loved being a teacher but no regrets about early retirement and the hard physical work of harvest.