Harvest 2016: Chateau Grillet AOC
Wednesday, 5 October 2016 by Ben Browett
September is harvest time in France so I headed down to Burgundy and the Rhone Valley to spend some time with friends of Farr Vintners who also happen to make some outstanding wine.
First stop, Lyon, where I followed the Rhone past the many famous names of Cote Rotie and Condrieu to Chateau Grillet, the renowned monopole with steep slopes of Viognier perched high above the river.
Alessandro Noli, former Lyon lawyer, has been in charge here since 2012. This after previous stints at Chateau Latour and Domaine Eugenie - both also owned by Francois Pinault and overseen by Frederic Engerer.
For my first day here, I joined a group of 20 pickers picking grapes at the bottom of the slope which will be going into ‘Pontcin’. This is the 2nd label of Chateau Grillet which had its first vintage in 2011. This Cotes-du-Rhone, also 100% Viognier, has meant stricter selection and for Alessandro, an even more precise Grand Vin than was being produced in the past.
Picking here is enjoyable, since the rows of vines are short and compact. Even a small team can pick a whole plot in 10-15 minutes and then (after a quick coffee and cigarette break obviously) it’s off to the next plot. Very different terrain to the long rows of organised vines in Bordeaux.
The slopes at Grillet are so steep that tractors are not an option, so petrol powered buggys are used to transport the Viognier across the slopes where they are kept in a refrigerated van to maintain the freshness of the grapes. Once enough have been harvested, 1250kg goes into the press where the juice is extracted.
There was no picking happening on Wednesday, so the format of the day was testing the Viognier juice for density, ph levels, acidity levels as well as tasting the grapes further up the slope with Alessandro to check for ripeness. This is an important step in working out the best day to pick and we had some help from Jean-Louis Chave, who kindly popped up from Hermitage to lend some further expertise.
The vines at Grillet are an average of 40 years old, so the ones at the top of the slope have some serious age with long roots reaching down into the granite cliffs. It’s this complexity and minerality that these vines give to the grapes that Alessandro says he is looking for when deciding whether they are ready to be picked just yet.
We finished the day extracting the last of the Viognier juice into the tanks, ready to start fermentation in the next couple of days. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be there for that stage, as I had to make the journey up to Burgundy, via Lyon to the land of Pinot and Chardonnay.