Harvest 2016: Picking the Pinot

Monday, 17 October 2016 by Ben Browett

Saturday heralded in the first day of the harvest with a full team of pickers at Eugenie so I was up before sunrise, boots on and secateurs at the ready. Following a quick coffee and meeting the team, who had arrived from different parts of Burgundy, it was straight off to Echezeaux. This 37 hectare Grand Cru site is split into different sections with more than 45 different producers owning a share. Eugenie’s 0.5 hectare parcel sits in ‘Les Orveaux’, a fantastic site just above Clos de Vougeot. Michel mentions to me that he’s excited as, for him, this is the main and most important stage of the production. ‘Once the wine is in the vat, there are little things you can do. But making sure you have the best grapes possible going into the tanks, that is the most important’.

Picking in Echezeaux

The selection process at Eugenie for all its wines is thorough; however Michel was using a more precise technique this year for the production of Echezeaux. Due to the bad weather that had affected some of the slope in April, the grapes were going into the vats ‘baies par baies’ (berry by berry). This arduous method involves cutting each individual berry from the stalk while still connected to its individual stem. This guarantees perfect selection with only the best berries going into the vats, avoiding any rotten, sun dried or botrytised berries. Additionally, there is no contact between the juice and the outside environment before the grapes reach the vat, ensuring optimal freshness with fermentation starting inside the berries. The use of this technique really shows the attention to detail with the winemaking at Eugenie. Mathieu tells me in the evening ‘Everything we do here is all about the quality’. The investment from Mr Pinault coupled with the modern, thoughtful winemaking from Michel is resulting in really high-quality, precise wines that are expressive when young but which I’m sure will stand the test of time.

Pickers destemming Echezeaux by hand

The next day was another early start as we headed off to Grands Echezeaux. Eugenie is the fifth biggest shareholder of this Grand Cru vineyard on a gentle slope just underneath Echezeaux. The grapes looked healthy and wholesome so Michel opted for 80% full bunch for this label this year. This tends to give the wines a little more weight and greater length when the quality of fruit and stem is good.  In the afternoon, I was working on the vibrating sorting table picking out any bad grapes. This proved to be a relatively easy job, with not much selection needed as the rest of the team picked Vosne Romanée village grapes round the corner in the scorching afternoon heat.

Grands Echezaux

These village grapes from ‘Les Vigneaux’ vineyard and the Clos Vougeot that we picked the next morning were subjected to the full Eugenie selection process. Again highlighting the precision that is used for production here, bunches are checked for any bad grapes by the pickers in the vineyard. They are then transported to the winery where a vibrating table discards any bugs, leaves etc. before the sorting table where 4-5 pickers check each bunch for any bad grapes that have made it this far. The bunches are then destemmed with the berries being deposited in a titanium vat. My job for much of the last two days was a final check, with two hands in a waterfall of Pinot grapes, picking out any bad berries that had avoided detection or anything green that had made it through the destemmer. Although tiring, it was a great way to see exactly what was going into the vats as well as the colour and aromas of the berries.

The sorting table at the Domaine

Most of Tuesday was spent at Clos Vougeot since this is Eugenie’s largest site. Sandwiched between the villages of Vosne Romanée and Chambolle Musigny, Vougeot was once one single 50 hectare entity whereas now there are approximately 80 owners. Eugenie has 1.5 hectares here, near the top of the slope and just off the road which leads down to Chateau du Clos de Vougeot. Greater selection was required here but Michel was happy with the return of grapes and the quality of those that went into vat thanks to the rigorous selection policy employed at the chateau.

Chateau du Clos de Vougeot

This was especially important this year as Eugenie is completely sulphur free for the first time. As a result, it was extra important to have only good quality grapes to limit the chance of taint or problems during fermentation. Cold metal plates inside the vats cool down the grapes and Carbon Dioxide is used to control the amount of oxygen. This makes sure that the berries stay fresh and fermentation starts problem-free only once the temperature is raised to allow the wild yeasts to get to work.

Fresh Pinot Noir grapes in the vat

It had proved to be a very productive day and we finished with a bottle of 2006 Clos de Vougeot, the first vintage of Domaine Eugenie. This was sweet and aromatic but didn’t quite have the same precision and length as the younger vintages I’d tasted on previous nights. Tomorrow we would be picking Aux Brûlées and Clos d’Eugenie, so I headed back to Mathieu’s to get some rest and wash the grapes out of my hair.

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