The love affair between creepy crawlies and organic wine
At the end of September the grapes are completely ripe and have turned deep purple. Satiated, their skins stretched taut with sweet juice, they’re relaxing on their vines basking in the warm autumn sunshine.
The summer has been good to them. The rain-gauge has been barren for weeks, something that grapes appreciate, while deep below the surface of the earth, their feet can still enjoy the final leftovers of springtime rain water.
|During this period we constantly check to see whether we can start the harvest. Every day we pick a couple of baskets of grapes and drive them over to the lab at Saint-Emilion to have them analyzed. It’s the sugar levels we are most interested in.
But there are other ways to check the sugar levels: just pop them in your mouth and taste them. Which is exactly what the winegrower’s son and assistant winemaker Shipley are doing here.
Formerly, when it came to predicting the weather, we used to cast a searching glance heavenward and stick a wet finger in the air. But these days our wine giant Régis carefully examines satellite photos of our various plots and compares and contrasts the climatological situation of the different terroirs.
The grapes on the east face of the hill are ripe, but with all that good weather ahead, they can stay put and soak up an extra week of sunshine.
But the grapes on the south face are ready to be picked now. Régis is sure of it, alors: ‘On attaque!’
|The morning of 2 October starts with a stunning sunrise in glorious autumnal hues. If the Dutch master Ruysdael would have visited us today, he would no doubt have painted over all his seascape canvases.|
At this early hour it’s still chilly. The winegrower is ready to blow the battle horn but his most important picker mates are nowhere to be seen. Then he hears the crackling of a wood fire burning from the grape pickers hall…
Keen like treasure hunters we set out and we were rewarded.
|The harvest was rich; the grape bunches were full as women’s breasts and their juices sweet as queen bee honey.|
|Picker Magalie is delighted: ‘Jamais vu des grappes si jolies!’|
|Even the young lord of the castle is surprised by the result. His chiseled countenance, often burdened by the heavy load of obligation, creases into something that resembles a smile.|
Dump the freshly picked grapes straight into the barrels? NEVER! Grape stems contain tannins, which will give an acrid taste to the wine. That is why, when the bunches arrive at the cellar, they’re first stripped of their stems. But even after that they are not allowed access.
First the grapes have to present themselves via a ‘Tapis roulant’, French for a conveyer belt, to the merciless judgment of the Food Standards Agency, in casu: the winegrower himself.
The winegrower, even though he is not a man of large stature, which means he has to augment himself with a sagging plastic bucket, pursues a superhuman degree of perfection.
‘Son’, he orders his offspring, ‘turn down the belt a notch. I nearly missed this little green leaf here!
The winegrower’s son, well familiar with the foibles of his predecessor, grimaces with anticipation as he turns the knob instead to ‘Max’.
At once the castle elder is buried under a torrent of grapes.
|‘Stop!’ the grape snatcher booms. ‘I can see something wriggling!’ Risking his life he gropes about wildly amid the trundling grapery. ‘Stop!’|
The machine grinds to a halt. Proudly the oenological nitpicker displays his open hand.
‘Look’, he whispers emotionally: ‘Not only did I save our wine, I also saved a grasshopper’s life!’
‘Wooaaaah!’ roars maître de chai Philippe. ‘A grasshopper? You stopped the belt for that? Hahaha! This might yet turn into a very long day indeed!’
|The winegrower’s son enters the scene. ‘Here’s another customer for you!’ He has rescued a spider the size of an adult table tennis ball from among the grapes.|
But no winegrower worth his salt is derailed by mockery nor by disdain, and at the end of the long harvest day once again it is clear what a blessing organic wine cultivation is. Both for the wine and for the evening meal.
Cliquez ici for the recipe for ‘Escargots à la Bourguignonne’.
|After a long day of heavy labour the usually timid winegrower starts to get a little overconfident.|
|But wine giant Régis brings him back in line: ‘Knock it off! Stop mucking about. Come on, clean up this mess and keep moving!’|
|Voilà: the first part of the harvest 2015 is behind us. Wet, cold and hungry but proud the winegrower and his lover seek refuge in the warmth and comfort of their castle.|
|You can’t see it, but behind the stainless steel of this ‘cuve’, a battle for life or death is being fought out. The famished yeast bacteria who live on the grape skins, have pounced- grunting wildly- on the fruit sugars in the juice.
After weeks of prolonged and bitter combat, the attackers have finally consumed all the sugar and pooped it back out in the form of alcohol. Exhausted they breathe their last breath and then…the grape juice has changed to wine.
When the war has been won, the fledgling wine is carefully transferred to oak ‘barriques’. There, in the peaceful ambiance of the barrel cellar, it can rest, recuperate and become endlessly flavoursome.
But we’re not there yet. During this fragile period just after the harvest, the wine is constantly being subjected to inspection, analysis and tasting sessions, over and over again.
|A newborn wine like this is rough and reckless like a young stallion. That is why after her forceps delivery, she is tasted first by the most intrepid wine warrior of all.|
|We undertake blind taste tests as well. To make sure the winemakers can concentrate fully on the structure of the wine, on what is known as the ‘ossature’, the skeleton.|
|Sniffing, slurping, gurgling and spitting. Every day again. Not only an onslaught on the nose, tongue and cheeks, the drain too is doing overtime.|
|Every now and then the wine is allowed out. To see how her colour holds up in daylight.|
|Stamp of approval.
2015 is an exceptionally great wine year. Into the barrels.
And now we wait.
For twelve long months.