Wednesday was the last day of picking with a full team at Eugenie. Fortunately, there was not far to travel after breakfast at the Domaine, as we were picking the village vineyard Clos d’Eugenie which is attached to the winery. This half a hectare plot is made into its own label, separating it from Eugenie’s Vosne Romanée village wine which is made from different vineyards in the village. The enclosed vineyard sits just five metres from La Tache and Michel believes the quality here is a step above what one would expect from Bourgogne villages.
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’.
I arrived in Burgundy bright and early where I met the ever smiling Burgundian Michel Mallard. Michel, as well as his own family Domaine in Aloxe Corton, has been producing top quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here in Vosne Romanée since the domaine was bought by Francois Pinault. Domaine Engel became Domaine Eugenie, and in terms of quality and reputation, the Estate has never looked back.
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.
Last week, in the heart of Oxford on the Summer Solstice, I attended a dinner with some of the top wines of Pomerol and was seated alongside Neal Martin of the Wine Advocate and author of the new book on the famous right bank appellation…”truly a wine book like no other” (Andrew Jefford).
Last week I was incredibly fortunate to attend a dinner with Mark Savage MW who had brought a brilliant line-up of Tertre Roteboeuf (as well as some Roc de Cambes for good measure). Held at the beautiful St John’s College in Oxford, we would be trying several vintages from the last 30 years, all produced by the great Francois Mitjavile.
In late April, I was returning from my time "down under" where I’d worked at some fantastic wineries and checked the quality of Farr Vintners' great New Zealand imports along the way. However, I will admit, I was pining for some Claret and arguably saved the best for last as I happened to be in Shanghai & Hong Kong for two fantastic wine dinners hosted by the ever-engaging Director of Cos d’Estournel, Jean-Guillaume Prats.
Having worked at Kumeu River and seen New Zealand's best Chardonnay, I headed down to the South Island to see where the country's most famous Sauvignon Blancs are produced. Churton sits in the stunning Waihopai Valley with rolling hills and vineyards as far as the eye can see. Sam Weaver came over to Marlborough, with his wife Mandy, from London over 15 years ago. He quickly established himself as a serious wine-maker and consultant at nearby wineries while planting his own vineyards on the North facing slopes behind his house. For many years he was a two-harvest-a-year man working in Europe at wineries in France (such as Comte Lafon) and further afield.
Chardonnay Vines on Hunting Hill On the press This week was the start of the Chardonnay harvest that will see grapes for all the Kumeu River labels picked, pressed and put into barrels ready for fermentation. I spent the start of the week working with Nigel Tibbits (cellar master here for 37 years), helping him to load and clean the two presses. As grapes enter the winery, they are forklifted into the metal cylindrical press which is lined with a bag and has sieves along the outside for the juice to pass through. Once full, air is forced inside, squeezing the bag.
Ben Browett with Pinot Noir stalks Following my stint at Château Latour working on the 2011 harvest (and then a few months working as a sommelier at Chez Bruce), I headed off “down under” for the 2012 harvest in New Zealand. First stop is Auckland, where I am working at the prestigious Kumeu River Winery, widely regarded as New Zealand’s finest Chardonnay producer.
With the harvest finished on Monday and the ‘Gerbaude’ festival on the Tuesday, we started working for the château in the fermentation rooms on Wednesday. We were now to learn and be involved in the winemaking process with the grapes picked and sorted; the turning of grape juice into wine!
With the harvest over, last Thursday we made some chateau visits in order to explore the Medoc further. First we went back to Lafon Rochet where Basile gave us a tour of the chateau, letting us taste the juice from the unfermented rosé (for their label Lafon Roset), which was delicious and very easy drinking.
This week we finished the Cabernet Sauvignon and with it the entire harvest at Latour. At 7.30pm on Monday 26th September the last grapes were picked, packed and sent back to the Chateau. After 15 solid days of picking, the team had managed to harvest the entire 2011 crop without a break, and there were exhausted smiles all over the fields. I imagine that not only was this one of the earliest harvest but also one of the quickest.
Last Monday the big Cabernet harvest started, which confirms that the harvest will be over by the end of September. We started by picking the young vines on Monday in weather more unpredictable than an England Rugby World Cup performance. On Tuesday we took on more pickers and carriers for the large number of Cabernet vines inside and outside the “enclos” which were deemed ripe enough to be picked.
Merlot Harvest at Château Latour
Last Sunday Ben and I went to visit Denis Durantou in Pomerol at his home, Château L’Eglise Clinet. As mentioned in my previous blog, I have a great fondness for his wines, due to the skill of wine making, and the freshness that all his wines have. We met Denis outside in the vineyard and we went walking through the vines as he was deciding whether it was time to pick the Merlot. This was a great chance to learn from a Pomerol master. The previous week he had picked the grapes for his ‘Les Cruzelles’ label from the younger vines.
This is the first blog from Farr Vintners’ "Boys in Bordeaux". Thomas Parker is, along with eighteen year old Ben Browett (the eldest son of our Chairman), at Château Latour to take part in the harvest of the 2011 vintage. They left London a week ago and, after a week’s preparation, were due to start picking Merlot grapes today, Monday 12th September. We hope to publish more blogs from Thomas and Ben as the harvest progresses.