A Burgundian harvest: part II
Sunday, October 22, 2006
We’ve been keeping ourselves busy.
The whites are now all in bottle. I’m not very good at having my camera
in my pocket at times when I would need it, so again, I have no action
shots for you. But I do have a picture of some of the bottles in question. We store our bottles unlabeled in metal crates that can hold 500.
prepare the wines just before we ship them. Different markets might
require different back labels for instance, so we cannot do this until
we know where the bottles are going. The US labelling compliance is
overseen by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), which
is hardly a humorous institution. As a European, the association of
alcohol, tobacco and firearms is rather a funny one and conjures images
of a Chicago gangster, cigar between his teeth, Tommy gun in one hand
and bootleg booze in the other. You can then understand the need to
repress such outrageous behavior. I was in Alsace recently and a
producer I am friendly with admitted –rather proudly, I thought- that
he had a label refused because it suggested "violence and pornography".
But I digress…
Following bottling, we worked on getting the winery ready, cleaning out all the tanks, pipes, pumps, etc. and sanitizing them. Everything is now squeaky clean and ready. Here’s a picture of the winery, with my father and I discussing something no doubt very important.
On that side of the winery, our fermenting tanks are steel, covered with enamel. They are open-topped and we load the grapes into them by gravity, using a winch. In most years, we leave the grapes whole, meaning no or little destemming. This year, I think we will probably destem a slightly higher proportion of fruit, but it is not yet time for the final decision.
We’ve also prepared all the buckets we us for picking, harvesting bins, clippers (oiled and sharpened), raingear that we hope not to need, picked up rental trucks, etc. We have also installed the tent that constitutes our winery extension. When my father built the winery, the Domaine was only 4.5 hectares (11.25 acres), producing about 20,000 bottles. We are now about 5 times larger and space is now a premium. The tent has proven a useful solution, a temporary structure we only use a few weeks a year and under which we can put our press and destemmer (which only gets so much use, as mentioned above) and there is plenty of room for us to maneuver our forklift. There’s a picture of the set-up here.
So now everything is ready and we are waiting for things to ripen. The weather has been good since my previous update, with only one rain and a small one at that. We have been pretty lucky. The grapes are ripening and we have sampled and taken measurements for sugars and acid twice already. Sugar-wise, ripeness seems adequate, with most of our vineyards coming in over 12%, but the acids are still really high and a few of my personal ripeness indicators (color of pips, lignification of stems, texture of the pulp, etc.) point towards slight under-ripeness. So this is turning into classical Burgundian vintage picking decisions: do you wait and risk rain for a little more ripeness, but, in the case of prolonged rain, a lot more rot, or do we start a little sooner?
I can’t tell you how much anxiety enters such discussions and it is miraculous our family is still on talking terms. We have finally come to a decision and hope the weather will not come spoil it. We are going to begin picking on Saturday 23rd with the vineyards that are definitely ripe: the Puligny-Montrachet, half of our Echezeaux, and some of the Chambolle-Musigny vineyards from which we purchase fruit. We will then pause on Sunday and resume picking on Monday, through the end of the week. We have about 10-14 days worth of harvesting, so if something needs to wait a little longer, we can leave it for the end and if the weather is looking great, we can slow down the rate of picking. Of course, that’s the plan. The story might unfold quite differently.
With everything ready to go, we are looking for distractions to keep us occupied and sane. Part of the team is labelling bottles for orders that will be shipped after harvest. Others are removing some leaves so that there is more airflow around the grapes making it less easy for rot to take hold and making it easier to pick. We don’t remove too many leaves earlier because Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are sensitive to sunburn and the leaves can also protect the grapes during hailstorms.
Next time I will write we will have some fermenting grapes in the tanks. In the meantime, send sunshine-vibes our way!