August is supposed to be when everyone goes on holiday in France. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, and soon we’ll have the harvest. Forgive the long photo journal but if we don’t post the pictures now we probably won’t ever get round to it.
All the best
Gavin & Angela Quinney
The focus is now on the ripening Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon but an awful lot has been happening.
It’s as if Clarkson’s Farm is being re-enacted in South West France.
Nelly and Daniel have been hard at it as ever, though like all sensible French workers, they’ve taken a three week holiday – at different times, of course, so the whole place doesn’t fall apart.
If you’ve seen Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon Prime, a pre-requisite is lots of farm machinery, most of which is only used for a brief period each year.
It’s also important to purchase plenty of second hand equipment. August delivery, and not from Amazon.
My mother, Diana, had a ringside seat for watching the farm activities during her stay.
Among other things, we’ve been clearing out part of the jungle where the woods have encroached on the fields and parkland.
By far the best thing about August has been having Georgie home from London and Bugs from Montreal. It’s quite rare, and really special, for us all to be together these days. No doubt many families are in the same boat.
‘Earthworks’ is probably the quickest way to describe what’s been happening in our back garden. This was the scene yesterday – more on this below.
Likewise, more on the family side of things later in this missive.
Right now, all eyes are on the grapes.
And on the state of the vineyards.
We’ve had mixed weather in the earlier part of the summer. This was the first week of August.
There’s been a trail of bad news this month from around the world, of course, though I’d have to say that we ourselves, in our trivial vineyard bubble, haven’t had the ‘worst weather for 40 years’ as reported by The Times on 14 August. In fact, August has been pretty good and the grapes have benefited from the longish dry spell. As a guide, we’ve eaten outside every evening since the first week of the month.
The last fortnight has been glorious and precisely what we needed for the bunches, especially for the white grapes as they’re the first to ripen.
However, the weather doesn’t look great from this Friday. Fingers crossed.
6 August and the Sauvignon Blanc. Goose the cat, and Margaux, unperturbed by the clouds.
Fast forward three weeks to 29 August and the same block is looking green and verdant. Hooray.
Pavie is almost embarrassed at the generous yield, given how so many growers across France were hit by frost and, latterly, by mildew.
Daniel and Nelly have worked really hard to keep the mildew at bay.
Daniel trimming the rows.
29 August and the Sauvignon Blanc, left, and Sémillon, right, are ripening well. They’re not ready yet so we have to hope for the best.
11 August and véraison on the Merlot – the elegant word for colour change.
29 August and the Merlot has changed colour and is now slowly ripening.
It’s too hot in the sun.
This year is certainly a very mixed bag, and that’s putting it mildly. To say it’s uneven – or hétérogène (heterogeneous) – from one vineyard to the next is an understatement. With the April frost (we lost about 10% – and got off lightly) and the severe threat of mildew through the spring and early summer, Bordeaux will be about 30% down on the average, at a guess. Yesterday, I was speaking to Héloïse, the newly appointed director at a huge Bordeaux co-operative at Monségur, and her expression was hyper–hétérogène. I think that’s about right.
Spraying to fend off mildew had to be timed perfectly. With Daniel’s enormous experience and expert advice from our consultant Patrick, we’ve only got a smidge of mildew on some leaves on the reds.
How you want your bunches to look, a fortnight apart here in August. (Margaux is in the shade.)
Bunches ravaged by mildew in a neighbouring vineyard. There are many Bordeaux vines like this, sadly, and these ones are managed by a very competent grower. It’s been tough.
We’ve just leased some neighbouring vineyards. More on this anon.
We’ve taken out a lease with two different growers to enable us to make more white and rosé.
As a château and viticulteur, we are not allowed to simply buy grapes from other growers. For us to be able to make wine in our winery with grapes from another vineyard or château, we have to lease the vineyards or parcels themselves.
We’ve also purchased six more stainless steel tanks this month. These are temperature-controlled cuves for handling relatively small volumes of white and rosé, so we can handle lower harvest batches independently.
The cuves on the left are 50hl (5,000 litres) and the three on the right are 86.5hl (8,650 litres). Most of the tanks we use for white and rosé up to now are 100hl and over. The idea is to get more precision – if we want to vinify a parcel separately from others, we have more scope to do that. In theory.
My mum and Margaux checking on the new arrivals.
And a new temperature control unit for another tidy sum.
While the ‘upgrades’ are going on, we’ve had fewer visitors for obvious reasons.
Armelle and Murray Poole-Connor served our wine at their wedding on 4 August 2001 and wanted to pop by and stock up just before their twentieth anniversary. (They look so young! Must be the wine. Congratulations again!)
Our new best friends, along with the Brits, the Irish, the Swiss and the Dutch, are the Belgians. Chris and his family were good fun, and filled their boots.
Our other new best friends are the Australians and the Canadians, especially those (like Joe and Debbie) who live in Europe and are planning ahead for their wedding in SW France. (On the right is Max, son of some genuine best friends who live nearby, and his girlfriend Ellie.)
Old friends and customers since the year dot, Jeremy and Gilly Sleap collecting the maximum amount of wine they can take back to England UK-duty free, post-Brexit. 24 bottles each, plus a little sparkling wine or spirits. (French wine duty is 3p a bottle.)
We have to watch Margaux as she can shelter from the sun in dangerous places. Both vehicles are from Switzerland.
The drive from the winery down to the château. For those who popped down, the view from the château has changed a little.
We decided to plant some vines on the south facing slope below the house. Much as you’d imagine you’d just plant vines the parcel needed some work and profiling, before we would plant next year. There was some urgency because a long standing right/permit to plant a hectare is due to expire in 2022.
The earthworks began after the Tour de France in late July.
The terrassement of the planned vineyard in progress.
We took soundings, not least from the children, on whether the vines might block or spoil the view. The general feeling from everyone was that they would, so we’ve abandoned the idea of planting.
And then there’s the long standing plan, if it could ever come to reality, to build a lake at the bottom of the hill. Much like Churchill did at Chartwell in Kent (from 1929 to 1932). My photo is from a visit there several years ago.
So we started clearing the overgrown part of the wood that over the years had covered more and more of the field below the château and the vineyards.
One day there may be a lake, but it’s better that we’ve cleared the ground anyway.
Whilst we were at it, we took the opportunity to dig out the many tree stumps that had mostly stayed in place since the destructive storms of December 1999. We’d lost many trees in that storm, soon after we moved here.
The woods and pond to the right of the château. This pond is fed by one water source, and there’s another source near the winery. There’s more than enough water from these natural sources to maintain the future lake (we think).
‘While you’re here, guv, could you just dig up these two stumps next to the drive?’
The camping chair mum had used on the grassy knoll for the Tour de France has been most useful.
The hay bales went off to the horse stables nearby
The dogs and cat would look out for granny.
DQ stayed for most of July and the first two weeks of August.
Sophie’s birthday breakfast, 11 August. We now cook a lot with our exciting new plancha, including pancakes and bacon on this occasion.
Ange and Georgie the domestic goddesses.
A treat for DQ and us to host her great friend Ginny for dinner, out visiting her daughter Charlotte and her family who live near Castillon.
A joy having all four with us for a few weeks.
Granny’s job was usually to lay the table, among other things.
Dogs and all. Granny flew back on Friday 13th. (Special assistance at Bordeaux airport, and from English airports, have never let us down.)
The Quinneys took a three day break at Hondarribia in Spain, near San Sebastien. It’s a two and a half drive from us.
On the less than sunny day in San Sebastien a walk around the headland by the old town is a good way to work up the appetite for lunch.
Hondarribia is a port and old town on the border with France, on the Atlantic side. The best beach is at Hendaye, which you get to via a foot ferry from the Spanish side. (We much prefer the prices and food in Spain.)
Our lovely niece Harriet (Wilson) kindly agreed to dog/château sit for us. And took this great family shot.
We’re not too far from the Atlantic beaches for a day trip – this in Le Porge Océan, which we like because there’s less traffic than to Arcachon or Cap Ferret, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafés near the beach.
Sad to see Bugs off back to Canada and Georgie to London, but a lovely few weeks. As granny says, you only borrow your children.
Back to the grapes. And the upcoming harvest. Strewth.