Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Days Six, Tues 24th Sept 2019 & Seven Weds 25th Sept 2019
Apologies for the delay for this piece following on from Day Five – all down to me, nowt (Northern Egland dialect word = ‘nothing’) to do with our illustrious web site owner (okay – a bit, Bill!) I’ve been majorly distracted by dealing with a quasi incompetent insurance loss assessor re the previously mentioned water leak to our domestic property and also taking as much advantage as possible from the window of very nice & dry autumnal weather here in North West England to get gardens, exterior etc tidy & ready for winter.
So, with thanks for the patience, am combining days six & seven here, largely as it seems to make sense, that rationale down to day seven being a ‘bit’ of a non-event. Indeed, am struggling to recall much about it (!) other than it was nothing other than a Bourgogne terroir type day, all day. I didn’t even take any photos of day seven either which I can recall being down to two aspects, namely:- 1) what we were doing was not compelling enough in any way to prompt me to get the camera out; and 2) the weather was also ‘iffy’. So, only photos of day six to go with these words, and not ‘that many’ of those – for the same sort of reasons as above.
Without getting too far ahead of myself, day six started out grey, chilly, and clammy with that sort of mist draping the Cote the locals refer to as brouillard (fog). Brouillard is definitely a word I’ve only learnt from my vendanges; seau = bucket (or vice versa!) being another one – serious stuff hey ! The above weather sort of persisted for the rest of the day, or at least until lunchtime/just after, and we also had drizzly, semi-persistent, on & off rain, but not of the volume to mean temporary or other cessation of activities. I’d been told before even coming to Burgundy that the Noellat vendange duration would a week, and I’d heard that reiterated to others after I arrived – so, not too long to go it seemed. As a ‘dampener’ for the commencement of day six I also had a ‘bit of a head’ (!) from fine wine consumption from the evening of day five dinner as well as staying up too late – served me right I guess !
Off we went en vehicule, on to the RN974, seemingly in the Fixin sort of direction, but as we cruised past that village still on the main road then one could only deduce our destination must perhaps be Marsannay (or to properly give it its full name:- Marsannay-la-Cote). Deduction confirmed as we eventually turned left off the main road on to the D108 up towards the village. I’ve never had cause to venture into the centre of Marsannay before (unlike Fixin) but it looked very appealing & definitely worthy of future investigation. Fingers crossed by me we weren’t heading for any below village ‘boring’ flatlands but quickly became clear we were absolutely not – quite the contrary ! Instead we drove into the heart of the village with bit of jiggery pokery right/left then seeing us continue upwards through and out still on the D108, buildings/habitation gradually being left behind. As we’d passed through the village centre I was intrigued to see those small brown ‘tourist type’ signs with direction arrows & producer domaine’s names on; recall noting Bruno Clair, Bart, & Fougeray de Beauclair amongst others. Our destination was to quite a small section of vines on the northern side of the road, just as the D108 curved quite tightly right and also climbed quite steeply (for trucks, cyclists) uphill – a little further on coming to a section of three bends – the next habitation thereafter some way on seemingly being Corcelles-les-Monts. My ‘Climats & Lieux-Dits’ book suggests the vines we were to ‘attack’ to be in the upper section of ‘Ez Chezots (Les Echezeaux)’. We parked, just off the bend to the left, on a stony track with large muddy water filled puddles. No vines on this side with the land just off the road soon giving way to shrubs then woody/forested rising slopes. Amongst the shrubs etc to our right there must be a kennel/kennels, for more than likely hunting dogs (much as there are at one side of Arlaud’s Roncevie), as our alighting from the vehicles, and presumably having the Italian’s dogs with us as usual, prompted a cacophony of barking, whining etc which continued until we finished and left, which didn’t take that long ! The extent of Noellat vines here was small. Situate tucked into the bend of the road and roughly planted not quite north to south meant the rows of vines were uneven in length. It didn’t take us too long at all until we’d ‘done’ these vines such that whilst the yields were ‘average’ I couldn’t help but think the production volume must be modest/small. We certainly did not subsequently receive a bottle of Marsannay in our individual vendangeurs gift boxes (details for a later date !) and I don’t recall any such wine being served to us (I haven’t mentioned or photo’d one have I ?).
So, with some degree of footwear cleaning required, with the parking trackside vegetation and large track puddles helping, we re-embarked and set off for what would be Fixin (again) this time, and what I think was now our third visit, to what I now know was indeed the low lying, flat land, Fixin ‘En Clomee’. Weather still drizzly, dank, grey, overcast – not good ☹. A notable occurrence to come here was one of the worst examples of picking avoidance cheating naughtiness at the expense of your conscientious fellow team members I can ever recall in my vendange working history and which had a highly surprising ‘conclusion’ !
This was to be our last visit to Fixin ‘En Clomee’ and I wasn’t sorry ! It was even less inviting than on previous visits given the weather this day ! I can’t recall now if we took the casse-croute break on arriving from Marsannay and/or how many passes through the vines we made. But, think from photos timings we must have made one, or possibly, two passes before the c-c then a third and final after. Such being the case I reckon the occurrence referred to above happened on our final row pass. For the previous I think we had individual rows allocated or were only doubled up but, as I’ve mentioned re a previous visit to this plot, the rows here are long hence quite energy sapping – not least when one is weighed down by loads of soil/mud attaching to one’s footwear ! Previously I’ve also mentioned that I thought I’d corrected the issue with my camera at close of Day 5 but, looking at the few photos I took this Day 6 morning with blurred elements (apologies !), either I didn’t (correct) until later or the ‘Auto’ setting had been ‘knocked’ again. Whichever pass it was that saw us three to a row (must have been first or last) I was ‘sharing’ an outside, upslope row, with ladies Francoise and Martine – each quite different from the other ! I liked Francoise, our retired teacher from the Jura region. She was/is very pleasant and, for her first vendange, a committed calm & kindly grafter. Martine I’ve mentioned on an earlier day’s report but here she was to disgrace herself in my eyes. We three set off quite normally in our allocated section of the row, between posts and, as anyone who’s worked a vendange will have likely experienced, when one is doubled or tripled up (or more) with others when you’ve picked the vines in your section you ‘leapfrog’ past your colleague(s) and start at another post, they then similarly coming past you when they’ve done – and so it goes on until the row is done. It took me a while to figure what was going on for us three (I’m not the sharpest knife in the box sometimes !) but eventually I noticed two ‘unusual’ aspects. The first was that the vines I was picking after my first section seemed to have very few grapes on compared to previously, and more noticeably what grapes I needed to pick seemed to be in the most awkward locations on the vines i.e low down etc. Whilst I was initially musing on this oddity, continuing to pick, I also realised neither Francoise nor myself had got ahead of, or had passed Martine – very strange. I could hardly take in the rationale for all this but with eventual realisation, namely that not at all speedy Martine was clearly ‘cherry picking’ (or is that bunches of grapes picking) the easy to pick bunches and then quickly moving on. This to me was quite incredible & something I’d never come across in all my 11/12 vendange years experiences. I decided to undertake a ‘little check’ and, leaving my bucket to mark where I was at, I wandered up the row to Martine, excusing myself to squeeze past, then continued a little way to sort of cover/disguise the reason for my ‘ramble’. I didn’t actually see anything tangible at that particular moment but I’d already seen & realised enough ! Team player Martine certainly is/was not. The immediate, somewhat unexpected to me, post script to this came soon after. I can’t recall exactly when now – either at the end of the row or as we embarked vehicles to move off – but, and I think Gilles must have been following matters & my then gaze towards Martine, or thought I was about to discuss with Francoise, but he moved close to me, presumably not be heard, and said, somewhat brusquely/quasi aggressively:- “Be quiet” !!! Needless to say I was rather taken aback but, assessing matters quickly (unusual for me !), decided to say, nor do, anything but keep my counsel. Reflecting subsequently I didn’t believe Gilles’ tone was deliberate, as it seemed, but rather in using English & wanting to speak economically/quickly to me his words came across as above. I guess he was keen to ensure no ‘interference’ in the team dynamic but I was also mindful he and Martine travelled together coming to the domaine daily (presumably he gave her a lift & they also travelled home together) and I was unsure how many vendanges they may/may not have worked together. So, I said nothing more, but it must have been obvious that both Gilles and Martine were aware of what I’d seen/figured out. Either by accident or design I didn’t have to pick close by her for the rest of the vendange which was ‘handy’, nor for whatever reason was she to be present at all on our last day (Day 8 to come) ! I’ve seen some naughty pickers in my time, and some who are notably slow (simply as the way it is) whom I’ve been generally happy to help (I was poor myself once upon a time !) , but I’ve never seen anything so overtly devious as Martine’s practices & hope I never come across again. The inference was also that Gilles was aware of it which I did find ‘disturbing’ hence resolved to ‘keep my distance’ from him for what working time remained other than suitable politeness etc. I can hardly credit I’ve typed this but it was a notable happening.
Eventually we’d done with ‘En Clomee’ and in still iffy weather we embarked transports and moved up the D122e towards, then upwards through the village on the Rue Noisot until, as we came to the Restaurant et Bar a Vins “Au Clos Napoleon” we turned right onto a narrow road past the aforementioned, and then almost immediately right on to the Rue des Hervelets, passing a large property set back within trees, shrubs etc, stopping within yards on the right hand side grass verge. Above us was Fixin 1er cru ‘Les Hervelets’ and a little further along, also above the road, Fixin 1er cru ‘Les Arvelets’. However, our attention was directed at the vines below the road on quite a decent slope, bordered to their right with a fence, and with a large wall along the bottom of the plot (see photos). Little difficult to be precise but now I think we must have been about to descend village climat– I can’t think we’d gone far enough to be in ‘Les Entre-Deux-Velles’. Standing on the roadside looking over and beyond the above premier crus one could see just the top & spire of a church – the Eglise Saint-Martin de Fixin which we were to almost come to when driving away later. We all descended the plot so as to pick upwards, back towards our transport.
My Gilles sub-team ended up on the left side (looking back upwards) of the plot. I moved to the very far left bordered by the fence mentioned above so I had the last/edge row of vines, Francoise being on my inside. We set to with it very quickly becoming apparent within yards that the row of vines I ‘had’ were carrying a very sparse level of fruit – indeed several vines had none at all. Am fairly sure this must have been location and immediate micro climate, affected by the substantial mass (and height) of the trees and shrubs beyond the fence. The inevitable happened, with my wincing inwardly to myself, in that I very quickly was yards ahead of anyone else, with it clearly apparent something ‘dramatic’ would happen if I carried on – even going super slowly ! Initially I contented myself by slowing my progress by picking both left (my row) and right, the row of Francoise. Her row, whilst not affected to the same border extent as mine, also didn’t have overly prolific vines either so we were both moving steadily ahead of anyone else ! I decided to seize the initiative before any potential ‘telling off’ so called to a slightly distant Gilles with the suggestion that I take over Francoises’ row as well as my own – doing both freeing her availability to assist across the rest of the team. Slightly to my surprise Gilles signified agreement by vigorous nodding and wave of acknowledgement so off I went ! Matters failed to change, other than slightly, in terms of volume of grapes I was seeing hence even ‘doing’ two side by side rows at what I regarded as ‘casual’ speed my progress continued to outstrip the rest. I was almost done, and only a few vines/yards from getting to the end, back to the road when Gilles, on his way back to the rest of the team from the truck, stopped adjacent to me and in almost conspiratorial fashion told me to report to Gerald who had a ‘top secret mission’ for me !!!! I was somewhat nonplussed at this, although realised Gilles must have been seeking to be funny (amusing) in using James Bondesque terms, but also confused that I was to stop everything there and then when so close to finishing my two rows – which seemed a little daft in context. However, doing as I was told I climbed back on to the road, emptied my bucket at the truck and reported to Gerald stood further along. He wanted nothing more from me other than to suitably (sensible at last !) use me on the far side of the whole team from where I’d been to help the stragglers of another sub team, pointing me to the precise row/individual I should go to. Not so ‘top secret’ ! Well, I told myself, here was something ! From ‘bollocking’ me three times in the first two days for being too fast Gerald seemingly had ‘seen’ the proper organisational ‘light’ and was suitably using the resource of your’s truly ! A vote of confidence and quasi acknowledgment the Englishman had ability/his uses? I could not possibly comment but I’ll have to confess it was a sweet moment of sorts !!!
Eventually, with the volume of grapes much more ‘like it’ normal in the vineyard proper away from the wooded/fenced boundary I’d been on, we all got out of the plot back onto the road. Weather still yuk ! Too soon to return to Vosne but we weren’t done yet as we walked en masse further along the road a ways then descended down plot again on a grassy sward/track gap in the vines, around a grassy mound/uneven unplanted area, to another more low lying plot than our first. Muddy here but picking this to completion took us up to time to return to Vosne for lunch, route back being along the rest of the Rue des Hervelets, right at its junction with Rue du Dr Laguesse, dropping down on the latter becoming Rue Abbe Chevalier, Domaine Clos Saint Louis up a road off to our left, to the Route des Grand Crus and so back to Vosne.
The afternoon ? Day Seven ? Errrmm, memory loss must have set in but I vaguely recall Bourgogne Rouge and Aligote vines taking up our afternoon and the next day, in several locations, including far below Chambolle, then later an interesting first visit to a plot we would come to again on Day 8 reached from the RN/D974, just past Vosne’s Restaurant La Toute Petite Auberge, down the Route de Boncourt de Bois, turning right before the railway underpass, past industrial units/sheds to the vines. The common theme for me from these ‘lesser’ vineyard sites across the Day Six p.m. & all Day Seven was the proximity of the main railway line and volume of traffic on it. The French railway system must have some smart signalling/control mechanisms to run all manner of goods & passenger trains at such regular intervals – impressive. Almost a train spotter vendangeur ‘paradise’! At one stage this ex British train commuter was startled to note a goods train, all the way down here in France, hauled by a British Diesel in the livery of EWR. I’d always, from years ago, understood the gauge of British and French railways were different/incompatible but clearly not the case now. So, drudgery for what was to take us up to a very different, eventually, Day Eight – just to show that a vendange can’t all be notable exciting premier and grand crus !!!
Day Eight to follow, to include sorties into them there Hautes-Cotes hills, an unexpected in vines finale and our evening Paulee ! That won’t quite be ‘my lot’ as I’ll also cover off, in separate pieces, my post vendange Day Nine & Ten ‘me time’ up and down the Cotes activities including domaine visits, wine finding & buying missions, some cuverie activity and then home !