Harvest - a photo journal, Sept 2023

Harvest - a photo journal, Sept 2023

Posted by Gavin Quinney on 30th Sep 2023

Yesterday we finished the Merlot for our red, with the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon to follow soon. We started picking the whites for our Crémant and our Sauvignon Blanc way back on 28th August so it’s been a fairly long haul.

Visitors often ask us how long it takes to get the harvest in. Well, there’s no rush as we wait for the different types of grapes in the various parcels to ripen, and because we have several styles of wines it can stretch across five weeks or more. This year we’ve brought the grapes in on 22 mornings out of 35 – it’s a much longer stint than for the vast majority of vineyards here that produce just red.

More importantly, we’ve been lucky enough to have both quality and quantity this year. Now we just have to make sure we don’t mess it up.

All the best

Gavin & Angela Quinney

If you missed the August missive of the hand harvest of some of our whites, here’s the link. Our monthly reviews are also on our website in the news section.

This is the lip-smacking Merlot we harvested yesterday morning.

We’ve been tasting the grapes and waiting for the right moment.

Our yields have been generous this year. I can’t recall a bigger crop – 2004 perhaps? But much better quality than that.

Many years ago, James May came here with Oz Clarke and asked me, on camera, why I’d wanted to leave London and become 'a bucolic Frenchman'. I was reminded of that yesterday morning as the sun came up.

A harvest machine is a fantastic vantage point, provided you hold on tight. That’s Daniel driving the tractor.

With an onboard de-stemmer and sorter, the grapes are shipped to the winery close by effectively – if they’re healthy. They don’t really need to be treated like caviar if we crush them soon after arrival.

Nelly, René, Sandra and the guys on the sorting table yesterday.

On Thursday I slipped up to the Médoc, to the north of the city of Bordeaux, to see how the harvest was going. Many of the top châteaux – and their harvest teams – are perfectly accommodating if you want to see the action, though you have to ask nicely before going up close and especially to take any photos.

This is Cabernet Sauvignon harvest at Château Lafite Rothschild in Pauillac, left, and at Château Calon Ségur of Saint-Estèphe, right.

Harvest workers at Château Cos d’Estournel in Saint-Estèphe. All smiles.

It’s been sunny and warm all week, with the last rain just over a week ago.

And that, of course, was when the King and Queen came to France on a State Visit.

Forgive the aside, but ITV’s Good Morning Britain got in touch and came over for a quick chat late on Thursday afternoon for a clip for the Friday morning show, shortly before the King and Queen arrived in Bordeaux. Many thanks to Kate the producer for spelling both Château Bauduc and Quinney correctly, right next to KING IN FRANCE. Toot toot!

The locals made quite a thing of the Royal visit.

We were invited by the British Embassy to meet the King and Queen at an event in the Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux, along with a few others in the Franco-British community. (When we say a few others, it was a few hundred.)

These are some of my photos, along with the one on the right of King Charles III and a glass of Bordeaux in The Times by Samit Hussein of WireImage. It was quite hard to actually meet the King as there were so many security people and press photographers.

We attended with our friend Sally Evans of Château George 7 in Fronsac, who didn’t give up on meeting HRH and managed to do so just before he left. After the Bordeaux city event, the King visited the vineyard and winery at Château Smith Haut Lafitte, so there was a positive wine theme to the Bordeaux stage of the State Visit.

A selfie with friends Jane Anson, the wine writer and critic, and Jon Ellis, owner of HMS Victory and The Houses of Parliament. (As in the Bordeaux pubs, not Nelson’s ship or the buildings in Westminster.) We’re not all involved with the booze trade here but there are, unsurprisingly, some strong links.

So, back to the harvest at Bauduc. Alongside the manual harvest of the grapes for the Crémant, we machine picked the Sauvignon Blanc over 10 mornings at the start of each day.

Then came the reds for the rosé. After two weeks of harvesting the whites we brought in some Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon for our rosé, some 10 days earlier than the same varieties for making red wine.

It’s a vintage of quality and quantity. The Sauvignon Blanc was in rude health, and extremely tasty.

It wasn’t just the younger vines (which we planted in 2004, 2007, 2008… ) but the old ones had a good crop too.

Likewise the reds from older vines.

A good, healthy crop.

But 2023 is a vintage of mixed fortunes in Bordeaux. The haves and the have-nots – these are bunches in a neighbouring vineyard that succumbed to mildew in June and July.

More than ever, we had to harvest by machine in the very early hours to avoid the heat of the day.

Few growers wanted to harvest after 11am so it made sense to book the early slots.

Daniel and Nelly worked all hours.

And at weekends. In fact, it was only on the first Saturday in September, I think, that we harvested after 8.30am for the dry whites and the rosé. It remained relatively cool for much of the morning that day.

It was often too warm during the day for picking. Anyone who watched the rugby World Cup matches in Bordeaux in the first fortnight will remember the daytime temperatures in the mid-30s.

Nelly’s log for each trailer shows the date and then the time. Then the number of trailers for the parcel followed by the density of the juice and the probable alcohol. Then the temperature. Early starts!

There is something satisfying though about harvesting in the early hours.

Maybe I need an iPhone 15 pro-max thingy.

Harvesting under a full moon might sound rather more romantic than the reality.

There’s little doubt that the juice tastes terrific.

Sauvignon Blanc bunches moments before the machine…

...and after.

Having the winery in the heart of the vineyard makes a lot of sense.

It’s a simple enough process, as long as everything works.

Sauvignon Blanc going straight into our skin/juice maceration vats.

We leave the skins and juice to macerate for 8 hours before running off the juice and gently pressing the skins.

The Sauvignon Blanc has been cool-fermenting in stainless steel vats. They all taste terrific. The French oak barrels too, either as a small cuvée or as a tiny part of the overall blend.

For the rosé, we pre-selected plots of the high yielding Merlot as we’re not looking for riper, concentrated fruit.

Likewise for Cabernet Franc, left, and Cabernet Sauvignon on the right. We usually prefer a blend of Merlot and Cabernets for the rosé as the Merlot alone is too full, and the Cabernet rosé a little firm and crisp on its own.

The Merlot by the château goes into our rosé these days.

A long drive to the winery. About 100 metres.

To be fair, I made the guys wait until the light came up just enough to take these photos.

Like the whites, the reds for the rosé are harvested at a ridiculous time of day. See the second column.

None of this would be possible without the efforts of Daniel and Nelly, and our harvesting contractor and old friend Guy, on the right, and his driver Benjamin.

And Nathan, Guy’s son, pictured yesterday morning.

The red grapes go straight into the press for the rosé, and we only use a light pressing to keep the juice fashionably pale.

Again, it’s a simple enough process, if you have the right people and the kit. Not least the right temperature control facilities, and plenty of stainless steel cuves (tanks) of varying sizes.

In some cases, we can’t make up our collective minds whether to make red or rosé out of a block. On tasting this one, above, we split it down the middle, with a 10 day gap in harvesting dates.

Pavie earmarked this young Cabernet Sauvignon for red.

The chickens meanwhile provide a good indicator of when the grapes are ripe. Just like the deer.

Cabernet Sauvignon for the red (even if the grapes look more navy than ruby) is the last variety to be harvested here.

Yesterday’s Merlot.

Another crop in. Back to square one.

So as well as making the wine, we now have to find a way to stop the wild boar ripping up the lawns…

Onwards and upwards.