Tag Archives: harvest

Harvest Celebration with Gerard Bertrand

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Clos d’Ora vineyard 

Recently I was invited to come down to sunny Languedoc and spend a weekend celebrating harvest with Gerard Bertrand and his crew. And 299 others, mostly journalists, bloggers and importers from 14 different countries (though the majority came from the US; clearly the biggest market for Gerard’s wines). An organisational challenge but one that was met and executed brilliantly.

This is only the second time that I have visited the Languedoc; the first was about 6 years ago and involved far too much driving to and from wineries. It is not a small place after all. The Sud de France, which includes Languedoc-Roussillon, claims the largest surface area under vine in France but also the highest concentration of organic vineyards.

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Meat roasted over dead vines

Organics and, more importantly, biodynamics play centre stage in Gerard Bertrand’s operation. The former rugby player swears by homeopathy and his philosophy extends into the vineyard. At 500 ha, Gerard’s are the biggest biodynamically farmed estates in France, if not the world. Biodynamics is one of those subjects that causes controversy and debate. I have no doubt that it works because I have tasted the positive results many times. Though I, like many, also believe that what gives these great results is not just the rigorous application of preparations and processes in line with the biodynamic calendar but also all the extra time that invariably has to be spent in the vineyard.

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On day one we were treated to a tasting of 13 wines from the various estates, led by one of the winemakers, Stephane. In fact there were two tastings, one organised for the European group and one for the Americans, each showing wines deemed stylistically appropriate for each market, i.e. we got the more elegant ones and the US crowd the sweeter, bigger wines. I thought this was really clever and showed Gerard’s commercial aptitude. This (European) tasting helped to highlight the definite style of Gerard’s wines and what he is trying to achieve. Gerard is, as Stephane put it “looking to translate the sunshine of the Languedoc into the wine”. He wants very smooth and soft tannins in his reds. In the vineyard it was clear to see that he is pushing for sur-maturite and the style of wines reflects this – they are plush, velvety and without rough edges. But they also show a sense of place, none more than his top estate and wine, Clos d’Ora, which we visited on day two.

Clos d’Ora is a stunning estate in Minervois La Liviniere. It was first discovered relatively recently in 1997. Back then, it was planted just to Carignan, now 60-70yr old. The place is so serene, Gerard comes here sometimes to meditate. The lovely smell of garrigue follows you around the 8 plots (9ha in total). Here you will find two distinct microclimates – the south-eastern side is affected by sea wind and has mostly marl soils. The north-west side is cooler and drier with continental influence and hard limestone soils. The estate is planted mostly to Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Mourvèdre lives on stone terrasses where it can get the sun and long ripening time it needs, whilst Carignan is planted just below. The Carignan grape bunches are kept a little shaded as this variety is prone to sunburn. When we visited it was a root day (and therefore time dedicated to working the soil) and viticulturist Nicolas was busy tilling the soil with the help of his mule ‘Victorieux’ and his lovely, if a little shy dog Link.

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Vitorieux

The first vintage of Clos d’Ora was 2012 so it is a relatively young wine. Over the weekend we were treated to a vertical of 2012-2015. These were undoubtedly the best wines of the trip with a clear sense of place and that classic black olive, reglisse and wild thyme character but also those very soft, velvety tannins that Gerard is so fond of.

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A tale of Purley wine (part 2)

See A tale of Purley wine (part 1)

November 3rd was an important day in my wine calendar for it marked the start (and end) of the 2013 harvest of my grapes. After the perfect weather for flowering and fruit set back in July the grapes gradually swelled over the summer, enjoying the warm weather as much as we all did. My 2 large bunches and 5 rather smaller ones seemed pretty happy and other than the odd addition of fertiliser everything progressed nicely.

Young bunches of grapes…still a long way to go

As the long summer days turned a bit cooler my grapes finally softened and turned from bright green to a more dusky yellow/green. This indicates a stage called veraison when ripening occurs – and indicated that harvest wasn’t far away. Visions of the wine we could make loomed large – this wasn’t just going to be any Chardonnay but really rather top-notch Chardonnay. Chardonnay that would please my fellow monkeys.

Nearing ripeness

But I had forgotten the key facet of a winegrower’s year – its not over until its over. As great as the grapes may look on the vine all it takes is the weather to turn to change the whole course of a vintage. A winegrower’s eyes should be as much on the skies as on the vines.

Rain at and around vintage is the fear of winegrowers throughout the world. It can damage grapes in two ways – firstly by swelling the grapes and so diluting the flavours and potentially splitting the skins, and also by promoting the growth of both mildew and rot. Both of which can negatively affect both yield and quality and add off-aromas into the wine.

So the cool weather and rain in the run up to our harvest wasn’t ideal and meant we had a bit of rot to contend with when we did pick the grapes. Luckily when processing such tiny quantities of grapes, hand destemming and sorting is not really an issue – so we were able to easily remove the rot-affected grapes, though it did impact on our yield. Here follows a photo journal of the first stage of our harvest from picking, destemming, pressing, cold settling and inoculation.

Harvest time
Our grapes
Some of the rot affected grapes
After destemming and sorting
Into some old tights for crushing and pressing
The juice begins to flow
After cold settling in the fridge – note the layer of gross lees at the bottom
Racking with some straws and gravity
Clear juice after racking

As you can see we didn’t exactly get much juice from our grapes. Not so much micro vinification as nano vinification. But that wasn’t going to stop me. First up was a touch of chaptalisation to increase the potential alcohol of the wine by literally adding some sugar. 17g/l of sugar is enough to increase alcohol by 1%. and as we estimated the amount of juice at a mere 108ml, 1.8g of sugar was deemed to be sufficient. A touch under half a teaspoon. Next up was inoculation. Gavin Monery, winemaker at the new urban winery London Cru, had helpfully announced on twitter a few days previously that he had some open packets of yeast looking for a good home. So, I swiftly snapped up some VL2 yeast which should be perfect for Chardonnay. However, it turns out yeast packs deal in addition amounts per hectolitre….not per 100ml, so a sprinkling seemed like the best amount. Perhaps not the most scientific addition ever, but hopefully it will be enough.

And then we were off! Ferment has begun…

I’ll report back once the wine has stopped fermenting. Looking forward to the first taste already.

Emma