September harvest – a photo journal

September harvest – a photo journal

Posted by Gavin Quinney on 30th Sep 2022

What a momentous September. And we had a harvest to bring in.

We’ve sent out a news review or photo journal at the end of every month for many years but we can’t recall another month of events back home quite like this one. The travails in the vineyard rather pale into insignificance but the grapes are now all in and the wine fermenting away.

Time has slipped by since our August review, when we’d just started the white harvest, and it ended yesterday with the last of the Cabernets. Many thanks to everyone who kindly sent us a note about Margaux, our beloved terrier.

Here is a photo journal of the bringing in of the crop, designed for speed scrolling.

All the best

Gavin & Angela Quinney

September harvest - a photo journal

As with every vintage, there’s a lot of kit.

Briefing the team the night before the start. At least that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.

Every self-respecting vigneron should have a white van.

White vans can be seen all around the vineyards of Bordeaux.

And not only vignerons but vigneronnes. Here’s Angela with her latest purchase, a second hand Peugeot Partner. We have finally joined the club. On the right, I’m standing on top of a different type of vehicle.

An early start each day for Nelly and Daniel. This is our 24th harvest together.

We always harvest before the sun comes up as we like to bring the grapes in at the coolest time.

Whooah! Pavie takes evasive action.

Sauvignon Blanc grapes ready for the chop.

The machine approaches. It’s best not to stand too close.

In fact, unlike hand picking, the bunches are not chopped off.

The machine knocks the grapes off by vibrating the vines using these booms which shake the grapes off.

The Pavster checking that we’ve set the force required to knock the berries off correctly.

Despite the heat and the drought since the middle of June, with only a couple of showers since, the vines look remarkably healthy, in the main.

Harvesting as the sun comes up.

We planted this block of Sauvignon Blanc 15 years ago.

Royal blue where possible, obviously.

The first of the two onboard containers.

There’s a built-in de-stemmer.

With the sun now up Pavie can see what’s approaching, which helps.

Harvesting a sea of green.

It’s not a generous crop, but a good one.

The grapes and juice for our white sit in the outdoor chiller tanks for what we call ‘skin maceration’ or macération pelliculaire. Sounds painful but it’s handy for extracting just enough flavour. The juice is then run off before we press all the gubbins in the pneumatic pressoir.

We could pick all the Sauvignon Blanc by hand, as we do for the Sémillon for our Crémant (a legal requirement for Crémant) but as we squash the grapes as soon as they go into the winery, to release the juice, it seems unnecessary if the grapes are all healthy. As the late, great Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux once told me, ‘why treat the grapes like caviar if we then go and crush them?’

The machines do have to be set to the right level of pressure to avoid damaging the vines, especially the older ones. Sauvignon Blanc again, before and after.

Guy, from whom we’ve hired the machines for twenty years, is happy to show off how they work to a small group of visitors.

We didn’t have two machines on the go specially for the Commanderie de Bordeaux de Zürich but it was impressive nonetheless.

As you can see, it’s been very dry.

Lunch in the shade of the chestnut trees. The umbrella wasn’t for cover from the sun but to protect those guests who were at risk of (prematurely) falling conkers.

Group shot in front of the château.

A lot of glasses to wash by hand.

Not a Commanderie de Bordeaux but a company from Marylebone (also run by a friend).

Back to the hospitality of the vines, and tasting red grapes to assess when they’d be ready to pick.

With dark skins and higher levels of sugar in the Merlot, we had to choose carefully which parcels we use for rosé and which for making red.

Me collecting Cabernet grapes for analysis – sugar levels, PH, acidity and so on. On the left Cabernet Franc, with Cabernet Sauvignon on the right.

Despite the drought and the heat, a healthy and verdant ‘canopy’. These Cabernet are earmarked for making rosé from the start, and we’ve deliberately cropped them to have higher yields as we don’t want highly concentrated juice.

For making higher quality Cabernet Sauvignon for reds, the number of bunches per vine is sensibly lower.

Cabernet Franc for rosé.

Merlot for rosé about to be harvested.

A reasonably early start. The grapes go straight into the press.

Jumping clear of the machine, again.

The sun coming up on the Merlot in front of the château.

Higher yields for making rosé. The before shot…

…and after.

Not a great deal of movement from our guests in the farmhouse as the grapes were being harvested.

Mightily handy to have the winery right next door.

Merlot grapes being pressed. Meanwhile, white grape skins that have been pressed – now oxidised – are collected by the Distillerie Douence, based a few kilometres away. Not to be made into anything fancy, I’m afraid.

We hired a second press for the rosé as we can’t hang about.

Alcohol levels will be high for many reds in 2022, what with the canicules and sécheresses (heatwaves and droughts), but the Cabernet Franc (above) and Cabernet Sauvignon have lower alcohol – the estimate second from the right on Nelly’s sheet – for the rosé, thankfully. 12% alc is about right.

We have temperature control on nearly all of our 36 stainless steel cuves or vats.

Some plots of Merlot can go into the rosé or the red, depending on the conditions. Red this year for this block, rosé last year as it was cooler and the grapes less concentrated and full on.

A rot-free year. Clean as a whistle.

Even late on, the vineyards looked healthy.

These Merlot vines could really have done with some water but we’re not allowed to irrigate in AOC/AOP France. Them’s the rules. This year, Pomerol had special dispensation to water the vines under certain conditions.

Merlot harvest for the red.

Another lovely morning for it.

Seen from ground level.

But you get a better view on the machine itself.

This is not something we’ll be offering customers.

A good opportunity to see the vines from above.

How the birds can see Daniel and Guy having their chocolatines (pains au chocolat).

Spectacular views of the Bauduc vineyards all around.

Merlot in the foreground, Sauvignon Blanc down by the woods below.

You have to hold on, mind.

There’s a special flashing light to signal when the machine is ready to unload its cargo.

The advantage of the winery being onsite is you don’t need to hang around for a second load, and risk any oxidation and so on.

Clay, gravel and sandy subsoils here. Still, the vines coped well enough.

Eyes down on the sorting table. We check on the de-stemmed grapes for the red to remove any unwanted leaves or stalky bits, as we don’t really want those going into the fermentation tanks.

Merlot on the left, Cabernet on the right – for what it’s worth.

The Cabernet Sauvignon harvest in Saint-Julien, in the Médoc.

Cabernet Sauvignon: small berries this year.

The Romanian workforce.

The Cave Co-op at Saint-Émilion.

Queue of tractors and trailers.

Most of the grapes there are machine harvested, though some by hand. The grower for the bunches on the right told me the old vines were too fragile now – and quite low down – for a machine.

Although 2022 will go down as a hot and dry year, many of the vineyards looked remarkably healthy. This was Saint-Émilion last week.

The harvest near the village of Saint-Émilion, 21 September.

These are the vineyards of Château Le Prieuré.

Over the road, and an example of why it can be foolish to jump to conclusions about ‘low yield’ years like 2022.

Back to Bauduc and checking on the barrel-fermented Sémillon.

It’s only fair to grill a steak or four on the vines for the team at the end of the harvest.

We were joined by our neighbours Stéphane Defraine of Château de Fontenille and his wife Chantal.

Now it’s back to shipping wine and enjoying the fruits of the autumn. Though we’ve probably seen enough grapes for the time being.

Finally, on the family front, it’s been great to have Bugs back for a few days, in between finishing University in Montreal, and an internship in London soon. Tom meanwhile has followed in Bugsy’s footsteps by going to McGill University on the other side of the pond. We miss him but at least he’ll be back for Christmas.

Georgie, our eldest, was here in August and caught the start of the harvest, but flew back to teaching at a state school in north London. We even had a week off in Spain, though Bugs sadly missed out. It’s just us and Sophie now.

Onwards and upwards.