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Harvest at Château Latour #1

Monday, 12th September 2011 by Thomas Parker & Ben Browett

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.

Week 1 in Château Latour and Bordeaux

Moving barrels into position in the cellars at Latour

Ben and I set off to Château Latour bleary eyed last Sunday morning in darkness, ready to work in the 2011 harvest of the Pauillac first growth. After a full day on the road we were shown to where we would be staying for our time in Bordeaux. Our flat kindly organised by the Château is situated perfectly between Latour and the town of Pauillac, near the vineyards of Lynch Bages. We spent no time getting ourselves ready to sleep, as it was only a few hours until we would start our work at Latour.

We arrived for work on Monday, ready to do some preparation for the harvest, hearing that it would start at the end of the week or the beginning of the next. We were both made to feel instantly welcome by all the staff, and the walk into the courtyard at Latour sent a shiver down my spine and put a smile on my face. I was sent to work outside to prepare the vineyards and fields ahead of the harvest. To say we had mixed weather is an understatement. We have had heavy and constant rain on some days, sunshine on others, and on Friday I experienced a real summer heat from the sun whilst clearing the vineyards of any plants that weren’t vines, felt like 30 ̊Celsius at least. The vineyards are now ready for harvesting, and just as well, as we start on Monday. We will begin by picking the Merlot, with a team of roughly 50 pickers and carriers. Ben and I have both been assigned as carriers for the first day, though we will get to experience both the carrying and picking sides during the harvest. While I have been outside this past week, Ben has been working in the Château, and has written the following to inform on the preparation from a wine in an unlabeled bottle to cases being packed and shipped to countries around the world:

Cheese or Wine Labels?

Since the reason for our visit to Latour was to pick the harvest and witness the first stages of a wine’s journey from vine to the table, I was glad to be given the chance to see one of the final stages in the distribution side of the château where the Grand Vin, Forts and Pauillac are transformed into the final product. Since Latour bottles its wine 2 years after the harvest, much of the wine I was handling was the 2009...so I was being very careful! Although this is a chateau with a long history and traditions, it is also one that is moving with (and sometimes ahead) of the times. Modern, hi tech machines, clean and dry each bottle before capsules are fastened on and the bottles placed in wooden cases. Each bottle from 2007 onwards has a unique identity chip so it can be tracked wherever it heads to in the world and almost nullifies the problem of forgeries and counterfeits.

Ben Browett learns how to wrap up a bottle of Latour

The amazing team which Latour has in this part of the château made me feel extremely welcome and were very helpful. None more so than Jean-Maurice Faure, the 5th generation of his family to work at Latour! I also spent a small amount of time down in the barrel cellars where preparations were taking place ready for the 2011 vintage. The arrival of 600 new barrels for the upcoming vintage meant that several had to be moved around to make room and only the sight of the cellar master sipping his coffee from a Reidel wine glass got me through to lunch. It has been an eye-opening and exhausting first week seeing how one of the world’s greatest châteaux operates at such a busy time. Messieurs Engerer and Pistre have assured me that it only gets tougher.

Freshly wrapped 2009

We are both excited to be starting the harvest next week. The coach is ready at the château to take the pickers to various vineyards, and we will arrive at 8am on Monday to eat some breakfast before heading out for a day with the vines. It will be tiring work, but to learn about a product I have long admired, right from the grapes growing on the vines, means that I cannot wait to feel the exhaustion at the end of Monday with many days to come. Then to see how the château turns fruit into First Growth Claret! To come back next spring and taste wines that I have been some small part of will be satisfying indeed.

Very Healthy-looking Grapes. Nearly Ready to Pick

In the meantime, Ben and I plan to visit Denis Durantou at his Chateau L’Eglise Clinet on Sunday. I am very much looking forward to the visit, as his range of wines is amongst my favourite in all of Bordeaux. Having tasted the 2009s recently with Farr Vintners, I have already made plans to add some to my (small but growing) collection.

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