|A spring season soaked through the bone, combined with a hailstorm packing the punch of a squadron of Joint Strike Fighters, had caused the grapes to be in deplorable condition. All of wine-making-France was in uproar. The harvest was a total disaster! We demand government subsidies! Declare the state of emergency!|
|Fearsome of a fatal outcome, many winemakers in the Bordeaux region went ahead and harvested that what could be rescued as early as the end of September. But not us. Luckily our little grapes had narrowly escaped the hailstorm. They glistened in the autumn sun like perky purple pearls, and so oenologist Michel Rolland persuaded us to put the harvest off till the very last moment and let the grapes benefit from those final rays of sunshine. In this way they’d be put into the barrels at their very ripest.|
|When we begin the harvest at the start of October, the weather is glorious. In order to help us keep a team of seasoned local grape pickers in check, the local baker has kindly decided to supply us with some extra strength and has fortified the croissants with Viagra.|
|What we take in is, against all expectations, of excellent quality. The grapes look like they need to be photographed.|
|Voilà! The first glass. Château la Tulipe rouge 2013 is born! Rouge? Yes, rouge. Because it is during the fermentation process that the white jus will slowly turn red due to the grape skins in the tank. First white, then pink and then a deep Bordeaux red. In sharp contrast with the tear-jerking harvest reports from around the country, this first wine of the year turns out to be kissably delectable.|
We continue picking for three days, with a group of local labourers and we collect beautiful ripe grapes. But then we reach another part of the vinyard, known as ‘La Côte’, and he grapes turn out to be of a different order entirely. And to exacerbate things, the weather suddenly takes a turn for the worse.
With typical French temperament manager Paul shows us the length of the row of numbers that our bank balance will now be in the red.
|The wineboer seeks support for his broken spirit from a tractor (which, like himself, could do with a renovation). Not even the sight of his ever cheerful lover coming back from the vineyards carrying a crate packed with grapes can drag his dejected mind back in from the swamp of desolation.|
|‘Just throw the whole lot out!’ sighs the dispirited wineboer. ‘We have waited too long. The grapes have started to rot…’|
|But at that moment Paul butts in.
‘Non, Ilja!’ sounds his authoritative tenor. ‘This is pourriture noble! The good mildew! They’d kill for this in Sauternes. This mould, the Botyritis cinera, uses its spores to replace the structure of the grape with miniscule fungi that love grape juice. The slurp up all the acid and the water from the grape. The grapes then desiccates a little until it contains nothing but honey sweet juice. This is the best thing that could have happened to us!’
‘But, will that not make our wine way too sweet?’ the bewildered lord of the manor mumbles.
‘Quite the opposite! This will mean an excellent vintage for us! Thanks to these luscious syrupy grapes we can assemble a wine where we get to control the ideal balance between sweet and acidic tones. Perfect!’
Fortified by these uplifting words we rise early the next morning. Because of a fast approaching rain-storm we have decided to try to get the entire harvest in as quickly as possible. In order to achieve this, we have recruited the ‘Pellenc Winery’, the Ferrari of harvesters. According to our colleague Jean-Claude Berrouet, winemaker of Château Petrus, the PW does its job at least as well as a troupe of 30 human pickers, but at ten times the speed.
The accompanying Rock-Tractor was ready to rock, but the overly sensitive grape picking miracle-child itself gave up before it had even started so we had to wait two hours for a mechanic, who had to come from Saint-Emilion. Sigh…
|The Grape-Ferrari turns out to be beyond repair and a couple of hours later the Rolls Royce of harvesters is delivered (appropriately named ‘New Holland’ as a gesture to the homeland of the wineboer). An automated grape sucker with a built in sorting computer so it will only harvest those grapes that are completely ripe. Unfortunately, this monster machine comes inclusive of a driver that, according to the startled wineboer, ‘has never driven anything larger than a tricycle’.
‘Hey! Be careful with my @#$%! Grapes!’ He roars at the wine machinist as he rumbles past. But the chauffeur doesn’t hear him. Or else he doesn’t give a shit. That’s probably more likely.
Overcome by his emotions, the lord of the castle is about to assault the driver with two run over grape vines. But after these initial hiccups, the harvest progresses swimmingly and by the end of the day all the wine is safe and sound in the barrels, and the wineboer is being collected by the wineboer’s lover for a well deserved diner à deux.
Savouring each other, the wine and the landscape, the exhausted lovebirds behold how the sun bathes the vineyards in an apricot coloured light and then slowly disappears below the horizon.