friday, it’s the last harvest notes…

Update 10.11.2006(29.9.2006)billn

let them eat cakeFriday: As the harvest closes we can now take time out to eat cake!

There was a chance for some sorting on Saturday and Sunday, but given perfect harvest conditions in the last few days coupled with a forecast for rain at the weekend, people have worked double-time and are aiming to finish (probably late) today. So I won’t go this weekend.

Yesterday’s grapes from Charmes-Chambertin went through the triage table very easily, and today the Gevrey-Chambertin and Latricières-Chambertin likewise – and that’s quite an acheivement given that the grapes from this grower are not usually the best, but this year the Latricières was better than 2005. As I’m typing this the Chambertin grapes are being picked and should arrive at the domaine in the early evening – these will be the last arrivals apart for some Hautes Côtes de Beaune later next week.

This producer (at least) feels so much happier after the Côte de Nuits harvest than he did after the Côte de Beaune. He heard from a friend that August gave the Côte de Beaune three times more rain (100mm) than the Côte de Nuits (30mm) – this (we) he has to check – but if so, it amply shows why there was more rot in the south.

So 2006 in summary: Potentially very good whites. Côte de Beaune reds (the grapes) closer to 2004 than 2005 quality. Corton seems to have had excellent quality grapes of both colours. Côte de Nuits grapes (on average) slightly below 2005 quality, but in some places higher. For the wines we will have to wait a little. It was a mix of hot and cold during the year so this will hopefully provide a full spectrum of flavours – I can’t wait!
Cheers

PS What better post-script than to have the words of Aubert de Villaine:

Concernant les vendanges, nous ne sommes pas du tout déçus. Nous avons récolté des raisins à haute maturité (avec des teneurs en sucre parmi les plus élevées de ces dernières années) et nous avons réussi à mettre en place un tri proche de la perfection ! Je suis optimiste quant au résultat.

Or, if you prefer, my reprehensible attempt at translation:

Concerning the grape harvest, we are not at all disappointed. We collected grapes with high maturity (sugar contents were among highest of recent years) and with sorting we came close to perfection! I am optimistic for the result.

[EDIT] PPS – I also found these great posts by Jeremy Seysses of Dujac on the very, very nice Chez Pim site:

  • A Burgundian Harvest – Part I: September 19, 2006
  • A Burgundian Harvest – Part II: October 22, 2006
  • A Burgundian Harvest – Part III: October 23, 2006
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      There are 7 responses to “friday, it’s the last harvest notes…”

      1. voug29th September 2006 at 11:59 pmPermalinkReply

        Domaine de la Vougeraievougeraie
        Friday 29 September 2006
        Day eleven

        Les grands crus…

        At seven this morning it was still dark on the Côte with an unseasonably heavy mist threatening a wet day for the pickers, but it lifted with the first light of dawn. Today was set aside by our winemaker for harvesting some of the premier and grand crus, among the finest wines on the estate. Only four of the nine pickers we were expecting showed up to help with the work. Tomorrow, we are expecting four more.

        The team on the Côte de Beaune finished off our grand cru Corton Clos du Roi, which was of fine quality but which differed slightly from the others in that a significant number of bunches had patches of mold. It is always better to pick these over very carefully both in the vines and again at the winery to be sure the raw materials are always absolutely perfect. For the first time this year, there were also a few bunches which weren’t quite at peak ripeness, which we systematically removed.

        The Beaune Premier Cru Les Grèves plot looked better with ideal, tight little bunches, reminiscent of those from our other Beaune Premier Cru, Le Clos du Roi – these truly are a splendid couple of Beaunes.

        Over on the Côte de Nuits, the other team spent the morning on the little plots scattered around Gevrey-Chambertin, the village from which the family originates. After our ten or so hectares at Vougeot, this is where most of our appellations are concentrated.

        The afternoon was blessed by a wonderful harvest from the magnificent little vineyard of Les Bonnes Mares. This grand cru sits between Morey-Saint-Denis and Chambolle-Musigny and is the only appellation in Burgundy to straddle two villages. The vines are truly unique in that they are planted in a former quarry whose steep rocky sides hug the plants against the mountain, protecting them from the cold and wind. With its rows of gnarled old stocks, the vineyard is a feast for the eyes and basks in the sun’s rays reflected from the rock above. This year, the vines gave up superb little bunches with a great deal of millerandage. They still had to be sorted, but with less than 3% discarded, graduated triage cum laude across all categories.

        In the cellar, gentle murmurings can be heard from the barrels of Clos Blanc, only now beginning to ferment at 15°C (59°C), having spent the last five days in wood. This slow pace is an excellent sign for the quality of the future wine. However, the natural culturing of the cellar by multiplying yeasts will trigger fermentation in the next wines more quickly, creating a snowball effect.

        In wooden vats in the vinery, the red grapes’ thick skins are beginning to give their color to the juice. Each vat receives a gentle pigeage every day to break up the cap of skins and pips, and is pumped over when necessary. The pace has speeded up now and in order to keep the momentum going, the team has split into two and mealtimes are staggered to make sure the grapes are dealt with as they arrive and not kept hanging around.

        The vibrating table we use for shaking the grapes is now fixed, after several failed attempts at repair. This is good news, as it no longer emanates neither a worrying burning smell nor a fearsome noise that drowned out all attempts at conversation or listening to music, and once again, we can hear ourselves think.

        In the afternoon, the weather warmed up to 20°C (68°F) with sunny spells.

      2. voug30th September 2006 at 11:59 pmPermalinkReply

        Domaine de la Vougeraievougeraie
        Saturday 30 September 2006
        Day twelve

        The delights of Gevrey.

        Today is a fruit day in the lunar calendar, offering ideal conditions for harvesting our precious grapes. With this in mind, our pickers descended on the village of Gevrey-Chambertin, reputed for producing some of Burgundy’s finest reds.

        Work began this morning with harvesting the grand cru Les Mazoyères, a fine plot at the heart of the Charmes-Chambertin. The grapes were superb despite almost 10% of the crop having unfortunately been damaged in a springtime hailstorm. The vines healed well and the affected berries dried and dropped off, thanks to the intervention of Thierry Jeannin, our specialist in biodynamic preparations, infusions and other natural potions used in the homeopathic treatment of our wines. He sprayed the damaged plants with a tansy-based remedy at the ideal time of four days after the storm, and again ten days later. When we harvested the grapes today, we found extremely concentrated bunches, and only 4% was discarded, giving us great hopes for a great wine, worthy of its name.

        Several other small plots in the village were also harvested today, including the very original vines of Gevrey-Chambertin Les Evocelles in the area known as La Plante. We are particularly attached to these vines as they were the very first of the Estate and today we harvested the densely planted and high-staked areas. These vines require a certain amount of athleticism because there are some 36,000 plants per hectare, compared to just 10,000 per hectare for a ‘normal’ vineyard. Even the most experienced pickers need to get themselves into some unusual positions to reach the grapes here. Despite there being only two bunches per plant, the harvest takes a while as the pickers have to find the elusive fruits, hidden in the almost-wild foliage. The section of the vineyard on high stakes is further below and is made up of young plants producing remarkable bunches that are so small and concentrated, one would think they came from old vines. These are exactly the qualities you need to produce great wines.

        Then it was the turn of the Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Corvées Pagets in Premeaux, on the edge of the forest at the top of the estate and in the southern part of the appellation. The grapes were extremely high quality here too, and many were figué, the berries having a low water content and a particularly high concentration of sugar. This extreme ripeness will translate into a wine with a ‘warm’ character. Once again, just 4% was discarded.

        All these fine qualities are tipping the balance this year in favor of the wines of the Côte de Nuits, where the raw materials seem generally superior to those from the Côte de Beaune. But don’t forget that our systematic sorting of the harvest allows us to correct nature’s whims.

        Lastly, we did the daily harvest of Musigny, with just five boxes today since the ten picked yesterday were a little trying for the morale of those whose task it is to remove the berries from the stalks by hand. Today, Irish rock band The Corrs accompanied the task, perhaps in homage to Siofra who leaves this evening – a festive send-off is on the cards.

        On the Côte de Beaune, the red grapes on the large plot of Beaune La Montée Rouge were partially harvested, with a little mold carefully picked out.

        And at 5pm, the storm which had been threatening all day finally began to rumble, signaling the end of the week for the weary pickers and a welcome day of rest for all but a small team who will spend a couple of hours in the winery tomorrow morning.

      3. voug1st October 2006 at 11:59 pmPermalinkReply

        Domaine de la Vougeraievougeraie
        Sunday 1st October 2006
        Day thirteen

        A serenade to wine

        The fall has arrived in all its glory and the sweet, childlike voice of young French electro singer-songwriter Emilie Simon mourning the changing seasons, serenades the vats of wine. Nothing could better this dreamy lament for bringing together the natural elements, the symbiosis between the earth, the fruit and the contemplative atmosphere of this Sunday morning not far from the Cîteaux Abbey – like a hymn to the forces of nature. Simon was like an ephemeral muse to our changing wines on this chilly autumnal day, with the smell of fungi and leaf mold in the air encouraging wistful thoughts of open fires and crackling logs.

        The winery is kept deliberately draughty, and today, a small eight-man team gathered there to spend a few hours carefully tending the fermenting tanks of wine. As usual, Pierre met with them first thing to sum up the work in progress and the morning’s tasks. The daily meeting is like an educational briefing, delivered with calm confidence by this young winemaker who runs the estate and commands respect through his reassuring competence.

        The pickers are resting today. With no grapes arriving, there was time to give the wine some tender loving care. The program was the same as yesterday – gentle pigeages and pumping over, without removing the juice from the vat to avoid any superfluous oxygenation. Each vat underwent the process once and Pierre watched the movements of the seasonal cellar workers, dedicated to their painstaking labors. They listen carefully to his detailed explanations and follow his course of action to the word.

        The delightful, smiling Julie, took the temperatures and measured the density in the tanks for the first time. It’s a whole new world for her that Pierre his number two Amandine analyze with a practiced eye. A slightly more mixed style of music suits Xavier, our pony-tailed biologist and king of French pop – Claude François, Polnareff, and Michel Berger – and he sings along with gusto.

        Last night’s leaving party for our shy Irish friend Siofra – a Scottish name with Celtic origins pronounced ‘Shee-fra’ – left its mark on the young ones who took the opportunity to sample Beaune’s nightlife, but they were able to rest this afternoon. Siofra wants to come back next year with a group of friends, but next time she wants to participate in all the harvests and stay right until the end of vinification. Between now and then, she plans to improve her French so no Froggy jokes will pass her by.

        After a welcome break for croissants at 10am, and two more hours of hard physical graft, climbing up and down the ladders leaning on the open tanks, Pierre produced a little surprise for his team. He offered them a dégustation of a secret treasure – a fine or brandy made from Le Clos Blanc 2001 – to warm up the body and spirit. “That’s just what I could have done with to keep out the cold,” said Siofra. The fine certainly leaves you with a warm feeling. Then they tasted a tiny sip of Le Clos Blanc, whose gas can hardly be felt on the palate, becoming first privileged few to sample the fruits of their labor. The still-cloudy liquid may still only barely alcoholic fruit juice, but it was a special moment nevertheless. There was silence and contemplation as they religiously sampled this sacred monster.

        Pierre thinks the vendange will be complete by Friday and no doubt that will be the date for the Paulée, the famous Burgundian farewell party to celebrate the end of the harvest. Five days to go…

      4. voug2nd October 2006 at 11:59 pmPermalinkReply

        Domaine de la Vougeraievougeraie
        Monday 2 October 2006
        Day fourteen

        Scenes of daily life

        We are now into the last week of the vendanges. Only nine of the estate’s 34 hectares are left to harvest, three on the Côte de Beaune and six on the Côte de Nuits. This morning, our two valiant teams were ready to get down to work, knowing that by Friday it will be finished and the Paulée festivities will begin, marking the apotheosis of the 2006 campaign. The weather was mild, reaching 20°C (68°F) in the vines during the afternoon, but the wind got up and the rain came down in the evening.

        It was a busy day for everybody in the vines.
        The pickers returned to the Côte de Beaune Les Pierres Blanches to harvest the reds, six days after gathering the whites – a clear demonstration of the difference in maturity between chardonnay and pinot noir. Pierre was pleased with the condition of the grapes, but the crop was picked over nonetheless, to remove the pinkish berries lacking in maturity.

        Over on the Côte de Nuits, the pickers returned to Gevrey-Chambertin La Justice to harvest the grapes on the rows planted on earth. The rows growing on gravel were harvested four days ago. The grapes were in wonderful condition and Pierre was glad he’d waited.

        And four pickers took care of the daily Musigny harvest, delivering ten crates to a team of some ten égraineurs who carefully removed the berries from the stalks by hand, handling them reverently like a string of precious rosary beads. The Musigny attracts both attention and amazement. The latter being the case for a hapless Japanese cyclist who stumbled into the courtyard by accident to clean his shoes, clogged with our fine Burgundian soil. He was welcomed by a friendly ‘konnichiwa’ from Julie, her hands dripping with grape juice and Edith Piaf playing in the background. Perhaps he is still in shock from the scene – was it a surrealist vision or simply a tableau of an everyday Burgundian vendange with a sound track of La Vie en Rose – a perfect cliché?

        There wasn’t a moment to lose for the pickers today spelling a busy afternoon in the winery. They finished off the lowest plot of the Clos de Vougeot, and the grapes arriving in the winery were truly superb, leading Pierre to declare that the Clos de Vougeot has the blessing of the gods this year. This is not the case for the Côte de Beaune. The voices of the teams sorting the newly-arrived grapes could clearly be heard, declaring ‘Oh, Côte de Beaune – we’ll have to sort them” and “Phew, Côte de Nuits – a little respite!”

        The vats of Bollery and Savigny-Lès-Beaune Les Marconnets enjoyed an aerated pumping over to oxygenate the yeasts and encourage alcoholic fermentation to begin.

        The wines in the cellar have taken their time to start fermenting this year – around five days on average – but all the whites are in full swing now and are gradually bringing up the temperature. We will have to wait and see what the reds have in store for us, although for the time being, they are only just beginning to stir.

        The day ended early for once, around 8.30pm, after the winery received its daily scrupulous cleaning. The our stalwart cellar workers headed out into the chilly night, the strong winds and torrential rain driving them quickly into the warm for a nice hot, relaxing bath. People are beginning to turn up the heating now – not a good sign.

      5. voug3rd October 2006 at 11:59 pmPermalinkReply

        Domaine de la Vougeraievougeraie
        Tuesday 3 October 2006
        Day fifteen

        Raincoats on the Côte

        The pickers were met with a veritable deluge this morning. Torrential rain and strong gusts of wind promised a difficult day, not helped by the temperature which struggled to rise above 13°C (55°F). Rubber boots and hooded, waterproof coats along with gloves, sweaters and a change of clothes were the ordre du jour. No idyllic scenes of harvesting in blazing sunshine today – these were the worst working conditions experienced by our valiant pickers this year, and they still have seven more hectares to harvest.

        As planned, the Beaune team spent the day harvesting plots from other domains to make the wines for our Maison Jean-Claude Boisset, selected by Grégory – Pierre’s counterpart there – to whom we offer a welcome helping hand every year. Pierre and Greg are of the same generation and share a similar outlook on life, as well as their impressions and experiences on a daily basis.

        Over on the Côte de Nuits, our vigneron Thierry Jeannin and his team spent the morning harvesting the one hectare plot of Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Damodes, a steeply-sloping vineyard at the north of the appellation and adjacent to Vosne-Romanée. These vines produce sophisticated wines, not unlike their great neighbors.

        The poor weather had little consequence for the grapes as all possible measures were taken to eliminate any excess water. The crates have drainage holes and are covered as soon as they reach the trucks, and in the winery, our vibrating and sloping sorting tables drain off any excess water. Nor is dilution a problem. Since August, not a week has gone by without at least one day of rain, so the swollen grapes are already at saturation point, like in dry years when the rain comes all at once. The weather was more of a problem for the pickers, who cut the grapes without sorting today, to get the job done as quickly as possible. All the picking over was done in the winery.

        The end of the morning was given over to the final harvest of our star wine, the Musigny, with its magnificent and very special terroir. A small team of ten filled the last twenty-five small crates that hold a maximum of ten kilos each, to avoid piling up and squashing the berries, now even more fragile because of the rain. The bunches are still small, well-aerated and very loosely packed with not a trace of rot. They look wonderful.

        Back in the winery, the grapes had to be hand-picked from the stems, and Pierre recruited some 30 pickers for the afternoon, happy to be out of the biting wind and in the shelter of the winery, which was a hive of activity. Even the men were willing to join in this painstaking task, recalling when, as boys, they topped and tailed green beans while watching the Tour de France. In two hours, all 280 kilos were done. With 130 kilos yesterday, 160 the previous day and 80 the day before that, we’ll fill at least two pièces, depending on how much juice we get. The little N° 31 wooden tank reserved for this deluxe wine is two-thirds full, and the dry ice inside it to cool and protect the grapes against oxidization will be kept in place until tomorrow morning.

        All the other temperature-controlled wooden tanks are covered with a transparent film, their fermentation encouraged by aerated pumping over. Our new press reigns in the midst of all this, calmly awaiting its moment. The cellar manager prepared the barrels for the reds, which will be filled in ten or so days time. The new ones are filled with water to expand the wood and the old ones are cleaned. The shortest day yet for the pickers ended at 5pm after a guided tour of the cellar for the seasonal workers and a last clean up of all the vinification materials. Delicious smells of fermentation fill the streets, pleasantly titillating the nose.

      6. voug5th October 2006 at 11:59 pmPermalinkReply

        Domaine de la Vougeraievougeraie
        Thursday 5 October 2006
        Day seventeen

        Rainbow harvesters

        The penultimate day of the harvest presented a heavy schedule in the remaining plots. We are apparently the only ones still picking on the otherwise deserted hills bathed in a soft light. The last rows on the Côte de Beaune, the healthy reds of the Côte de Beaune Les Pierres Blanches, preceded a final lunch in Beaune. In the afternoon, the team moved on to pick the pinots of the area called Les Bollery, 1.5 ha which took the 30 pickers all afternoon. The grapes then needed to be sorted to remove any rotten ones.

        The team on the Côte de Nuits climbed to the higher slopes to harvest the Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Bel Air, always the last to ripen. This plot has low productivity due to its proximity to the forest, which, as we saw last year, limits the growth of bunches at the edges. Furthermore, this is one of the few vineyards hit by hail in the notorious July storm, with a 15-20% loss, considerably more than on other plots. Fortunately, the hail came at the ‘hard berry’ stage and the quality of the grapes was unaffected. The result was a low yield compensated by excellent, well aerated bunches with pronounced millerandage. In fact, those grapes damaged by hailstones dropped off and the remainder healed well. The vines also responded well – as they did at Charmes-Chambertin – to a health-giving tansy-based infusion.

        In the afternoon, this team broke into two. The first group went to Les Crotots, on the lower side of Vougeot, for which we were seeking the best possible ripeness by leaving until the last moment. Together with some of the Beaune Montée Rouge, this will make up the excellent cuvée Bourgogne Terres de Famille, which exemplifies the whole philosophy of our work and illustrates the house style. A wine for laying down combining subtlety and complexity, which must be given the time it deserves. Making top quality red Burgundy remains a tricky exercise in style, which we undertake each year with the same rigor and attention to detail that we apply to our most noble crus.

        Meanwhile, a short distance away, the other pickers were busy gathering the gamay in Les Bollery, destined for a straightforward Burgundy ill-advisedly classified as grand ordinaire. This yields large berries with dark juice which will be vinified in the traditional Burgundy style to avoid the amyl varietal characteristics (banana and wild strawberry notes) and bring out its terroir aspects. This original wine will be slowly refined by aging in barrels. The Terres d’En Face (Clos Vougeot) can be kept for 10 years for the best vintages.

        In the winery, the fermentation finally roused from its slumber and perfumed the air. A long pre-fermentation chilled maceration of about 10 days has released aromas of fresh juicy grapes, and has given rich color, even to the first vats of Bollery pinots. After three days’ fermentation, the first thin caps began to form, barely five centimeters thick and slightly moist from the light daily pigeage whose sole purpose at this stage is to prevent mold. The caps are growing all the time and in a few days they will have to be broken up, but this will still be done gently because the stuff is fragile. It may be too early to draw any conclusions, but Pierre is very optimistic and confident about the quality of his 2006 wines.

        The long day finally drew to a close as the sun’s low rays combined with an almost tropical shower to produce a rainbow stretching from Premeaux to Nuits-Saint-Georges, like a good omen. Work finished at around 9pm. The end is in sight, and not before time. We’re beat.

      7. voug6th October 2006 at 11:59 pmPermalinkReply

        Domaine de la Vougeraievougeraie
        Friday 6 October 2006
        Day eighteen

        The end and the Paulée…

        It’s the last day. But although the vendange may be finished, it’s not the end of the winemaking. Indeed, now’s when things start to get really interesting, right when we have to say goodbye. But winemaking is a long adventure that lasts until the ageing process, or even lasts a whole lifetime for the very best bottles, right until the final and most precious moment when the ultimate goal – the tasting of the first sip– is reached.

        The weather matches the gray and somber moods of the men and women who together made up the 2006 cuvée, some twenty of whom have been here for almost three weeks. They are tired and the pressure of the last few days has been testing for them. It has to be said that it is pretty exceptional to finish the harvests so late.

        The last crop to close the season was in Les Bollery, which we touched upon yesterday. The morning had to take in the last pinot noirs and gamays in our favorite village of Vougeot which gave its name to La Vougeraie, and the place where the estate’s heart beats.

        As usual, the staggered arrival of the crates allowed us to sort the grapes as they came in. We’ve never left a full crate outside overnight, always bringing them in to preserve the integrity of the grapes in the best possible conditions. Today there was a feel of urgency in the vines because no sorting was being done outside the winery any more. On their feet for hours, the sorters in the winery patiently follow the rhythm of the conveyer belt, with familiar, precise movements. The drafts are particularly cool despite the thick gray cloud. It is a laborious and painstaking task, but is absolutely essential to ensure only the very best grapes are kept to make the kind of exemplary wines we demand. Pierre’s battle cry of ‘zero rot’ has become an almost comic leitmotif for the task. Once again, each vat was given a last gentle pigeage.

        And so Pierre Vincent, to give him his full name, brings his first vendange at the Domaine de la Vougeraie to a close. Following in the tradition of Pascal Marchand, his predecessor, he seems pretty happy, despite that as yet, nothing is finished and the alchemy transforming grape juice to wine has only just begun. But the signs are positive: the colors, which are already well in evidence before alcoholic fermentation begins are promising good things and the long pre-fermentation chilled macerations and slow-starting fermentation herald fine, sophisticated aromas. It will be easier to give a verdict after a fermentation which he estimates will be in around 15 days’ time, but he’s confident. The rot that was carefully removed will not be a problem. After the macerations are complete, we will use the new vertical press, a first for the estate. Pierre introduced the press into Burgundy in 2004 and has already proved the technique on two vintages at the Jaffelin estate. It presses around 500 liters per hour, with controllable stages of pressure, and naturally filters the juice through the pressed skins and pips, leaving all the bitterness behind. We are looking forward to seeing it in action soon.

        The next stage of aging will be a whole new adventure. The proportion of new barrels this year will be around 20-30 % for the villages, 30-40% for the premier crus and 40-50% for the grand crus, depending on their individual characters. The cellar and the barrels are ready and waiting. Patience, gentleness and soon we hope sensual pleasure seem to perfectly describe this difficult year. Tonight’s Paulée celebrations will revive the most tired among us. So for now, it’s au revoir until the next installment…

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