Here’s this week’s unmissable photo journal of what’s been happening here. Having finished the reds for making rosé a couple of days before, the first parcel of Merlot destined for our red wine came in on Friday 18 September. The last block of Cabernet Sauvignon is being brought in today, thanks in no small part to the grim weather forecast for tomorrow, 1 October, and the next few days.
Let’s backtrack to the beginning of the month when we were harvesting the whites and before Margaux had had her autumn trim. (Why Angela books Margaux in for a haircut at the end of the summer is one of life’s mysteries.)
The Merlot on the gravelly soils always goes into our red. Even if we wanted to, the grapes simply get too rich and concentrated for making rosé.
There are some parcels which could go into the red or rosé but we decided these Merlot above, in a plot called Montuard, would be too powerful and deeply coloured for rosé.
In contrast, the block of the same variety in front of the château was spot on for rosé, provided we timed it right. Basically that means picking earlier than for red as we want less sugar (and potential alcohol) and higher acidity for rosé. See the album and newsletter called ‘Rosé at dawn’ for more on that.
Speaking of red grapes and rosé, we forgot to mention the bunches from our few old Malbec vines went into the rosé. You can always tell Malbec because of the leaves. In fact, you can tell every grape variety from the leaves, but Malbec is an easier one to spot.
There are a few things finer than an old vine still being able to manage a reasonable crop.
Also rewarding is the handsome fruit from a block of vines which started life as Sauvignon Blanc and then we grafted over Cabernet Sauvignon instead. These are being picked today. To cut a long story short we planted white on these gravel soils in 2004 and it just didn’t work that well: the Sauvignon Blanc ripened too early and with things getting warmer, I decided to graft over to the later ripening Cabernet, which we did five years ago. Perhaps this deserves a chapter in a separate post under the heading ‘Seven ways to lose your shirt on a vineyard.’
Margaux survived her haircut and, to be fair, the first three weeks of September were dry and hot.
The Merlot really ripened well on the gravel and clay soils, especially after the August rain.
It was hot and dry for another spell of weeks on end, just like it had been for 53 days from 20 June onwards. Not that I’m counting.
Many younger vines on drier, warmer ground were suffering in the mid-September heat and drought, both here and across Bordeaux. That’s the new normal.
We began the Merlot harvest on Friday 18 September, in the dark of the early hours.
A reasonably civilised 6am start.
As ever, we like to bring the grapes in during the cool of the day.
It had been a very warm week, with every day in the 30s, and the Monday before hitting 35ºC.
Rain had also been forecast for the Saturday, so we thought it time to make a start. This block ripens before the other Merlots – seen with the dogs, above – and the grapes were ready.
If you’ve had a chance to follow our midweek missives, you’ll have seen enough by now of harvesting machines unloading grapes. Still, it’s quite clever and impressive, and pretty invigorating before the sun comes up.
Margaux as ever in attendance.
As she is for seeing the table de tri, or sorting table.
Of course, everyone is masked up, including our Sophie.
We have a sorting table for the red because whatever goes past now will be in the fermentation tank for about a month – skins, pips and all.
Probably the main things we remove are the stalky stems from the leaves (see bottom right) which sometimes get past the de-stemmer and sorter on the harvesting machine.
From the crusher and the pump above the grapes and juice go straight into the stainless steel fermentation tank, or cuve.
The cuve is one of 30 of different shapes and sizes.
We installed the temperature control system in 2006. There are a lot of tubes and pipes. The big tube for the grapes is secured using the latest technology, called a rope.
Here’s Nathan off to replace his dad as the driver of the machine. His chocolatine, or pain au chocolat, is safely stowed in an unusual position.
Coffee and chocolatines for everyone near the end of the shift. Henry our trainee, sitting in the middle, informed us later that day that he had to go for a Covid test -something to do with his wine school in Bordeaux – and would be off work for a week. Thankfully the result was negative, as we all assumed it would be. A lesson though.
The hounds and Angela.
The weather in Bordeaux, having been hot and dry since 28 August, changed on 19 September.
It wasn’t until a week later that we picked the last of the Merlot. The dogs and cat were ready to greet the sorting table team.
That early morning look.
Always on the ball.
Friday 25 September and an early start before the rain.
Sophie sporting her Bauduc apron.
Pitch black outside as the trailers arrive.
The last of the Merlot. Almost there.
As ever, the coffee and chocolatines make it all seem worthwhile. Now for the final Cabernet.
Pavie somewhat anxious.
Margaux witnessing the last load.
Well done to Guy and his drivers, and Daniel.
And Nelly, Michel and team.