All the photos from Mark…
Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Arrival Day, Weds 2nd Sept 2020
Bonjour tout le monde 😊. C’est moi – at last. Firstly an apology this will have taken several days post the ‘day’ for your delectation. I can’t promise timings might improve but, trust me, I have very little spare time, seems way less than usual which baffles me a bit but later I might give a breakdown of an atypical Marko vendange day – to put off even more anyone thinking about being crazy enough to emulate me. Then there’s the wifi access. Hearteningly my laptop picked up the Noellat wifi from last year as soon as I got into their wine shop (closed for the vendange) – isn’t modern tech wonderful ? To get there, within wifi range, I have to go through the Noellat office as usually occupied by Madame ‘delightful cum charming’ Isabel Noellat. I won’t abuse by entering without permission as has happened once already as there was no one about to ask even though I could have walked through.
Well though, I’ve made it to Vosne in these strange and weird times we’re living in – despite Covid 19, quarantines, threats of government tit for tats on opposing quarantines, some own non virus health issues which might yet be an issue, overnight motorway part closures etc etc.
My 13th vendange ! Unlucky for some ? Could that be an omen ? Or just a coincidence in the year of Covid !
My 22.50 p.m. late night departure from my North West England home en route to Burgundy was smooth after a day of chores, last minute shopping, packing and a largely failed attempt to get my head down for 4/5 hours prior. Double espresso to aid staying awake was my parting shot. All initially smooth with motorway traffic very light, mostly trunking lorries, which aided use of cruise control. I’d bolstered the in car CD selection with a 10 box set of The Robin Trower Band (recently acquired), a box set of all Springsteen’s well known albums, Pink Floyds ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Anthology. Initially though I listened to the UK’s Talksport Radio discussing soccer transfer possibilities, some fan phone in chat, and updates on European Club player moves, the latter dominated by debate on Lionel Messi’s current scenario and, when the radio reception started to get a bit ‘fuzzy’, I switched to the CD in the car’s player – Dire Straits Greatest Hits. That chap Knopfler sure can play !
With Bill initially suggesting to me our paths would not cross this year given our differing harvest timings I’d decided not to bring any wines this time, mindful also a bottle I’d brought last year had ‘disappeared’ (I’m quite sure stolen), but when a late advice from M.Nanson indicated a potential weekend possibility to meet up I added 3 bottles to my luggage – more of those as and when.
My BMW M Sport Touring is a very efficient, comfortable and impressive motorway ‘mile eater’, with this its 4th or 5th trip to Burgundy, All was going swimmingly as we progressed south in the nightime until flashing motorway signs at the lower end of the UK’s M40 indicated the dreaded, during the night, closure at junctions 1-2, where I should be joining the M25 to loop around the south side of London prior to joining the M20 (via the M26) towards the Channel Tunnel/Dover Ferry Port. As a departure from my longstanding Burgundy travel norm this year I’d decided to ‘take’ the Tunnel crossing option. Historically this has had a significant premium cost to the ferry option to cause me to favour the latter but now the gap had closed significantly to a mere £20 (I gather the ferries losing money in 2020 is the cause of their increased prices) such that I decided to choose the tunnel for the first time in more than 20 yrs – potential Covid issues also a consideration with one staying in one’s car on the Tunnel train seemingly ‘safer’.
En France, disembarking the tunnel train so easy/quick, I joined the autoroute network in a misty early a.m. Pas de Calais for a leisurely cruise to Vosne. With no time pressures (we were required to be there as last year by 18.30) I could keep the speed down (unlike many others, wow do some speed !) and stop regularly for odd own packed refreshment & much needed regular exercise. I should maybe explain here I’ve been ‘suffering’ for some months with lower left sided issues akin to a groin strain, trapped nerve, & akin to sciatica but a couple of weeks pre-Burgundy departure I had a ‘light bulb’ moment my problems might be left hip arthritis related. After comparing symptoms with a neighbour who has had a hip replacement, and my 86 yr old Mother who has had 4, I consulted my Doctor who readily agreed to refer me for hip & pelvic x rays – booked for my return from France. Long distance driving & getting in & out of a low slung car didn’t help my issues but eventually, after a very warm day en route, and circa 3 or 4 stops (one for petrol station forecourt windscreen cleaning) I joyously exited the auto route at Nuits St Georges and headed for Vosne. It’s a bit of a challenge solo in a right hand drive car at the peage tolls, needing to get out of the car, all the more difficult for me in my current state but drivers behind me were patient at my limping form and generally smiled at my waving apologies. One older couple who were very nice must have been put off a bit as when I drove away I could see in my rear view mirror that the peage barrier came down on their car’s bonnet. I felt quite guilty but could also see they quickly reversed slightly so hope no harm done !
Very warm & sunny on the Cote. I saw very few signs of in the vine activity between NSG & Vosne which was ‘interesting’. I’d noted similar apparent lack of activity on the Champagne slopes around Epernay which can often be my benchmark but it’s a little harder to see now the Autoroute is further away from the above hills than it used to be. And so to Vosne, turning off the RN74 by Fabrice Vigot’s premises (no signs of life !), into the Rue de la Fontaine. All quiet at circa 14.00 hrs at the Noellat premises as well; very quiet ! I called out for no response before entering the garage premises, above & part of which are our accommodation. All looked as last year other than the obvious and prolific Covid precautions e.g all sorts of notices, bottles of hand sanitiser etc etc. The communal dorm with capacity of 12 only had 6 names posted to its door, one of whom was one of my room mates from last year, Jean-Claude Franchini. The sinks and shower room looked smart and clean, indeed the former looked new. Going down the corridor to the individual rooms the second I came to, confusingly numbered ‘No 4’, had just my name on it !!! Wow, room to myself, when last year I shared with 2 x Jean-Claude’s. In summary of 4/5 rooms only one had two occupants posted, all the others had single occupancy. Quite a significant drop in lodgers from last year – presumably ‘you know what’ related – either by folk choosing not to come and/or the Noellats limiting due to Covid requirements. Whatever, I wasn’t complaining at a room with 3 beds to myself ! Returning to the road front of the property and the frontage I called again to be answered this time by one of the regular ladies who help, in this case the charming, always cheerful, wife of Sebastian Noellat. Warm greetings, at suitable distance, exchanged when she then went and got a ‘sign on’ sheet and some ‘gifts’ for me (which everyone staying or working as a local got later) which consisted of a) a brown envelope with enough disposable masks for 2 a day use during the vendange; and b) a plastic ‘eco type’ cup from the Gevrey 2020 St Vincent Tournante with a black rubberised holder and clip to attach to one’s clothing or similar suitable place. The ‘idea’ for use of this cup was to avoid the use of the likes of shared plastic cups when having a casse-croute break or simple drinks refreshments (many if hot !) in the vines. Neat ! I was also less ‘excitingly’ given a bedding pack of top sheet & blanket to add to the pillow and bottom sheet already on the bed. I was glad I’d ignored arriving nearer to the advised 18.30 (when I did that last year it seemed everyone arrived before me !) , and indeed this time seemed first as it meant I could take my time over unloading & unpacking my gear.
Once I’d done the latter, well satisfied with individual room etc, I sauntered en voiture down to the cuverie, just right off the Avenue du Monument, fronting the RN74 next door to Domaine Guyon’s. Quite a hive of (limited in personnel numbers) activity – quell surprise (or maybe not !). More warm greetings from both Sebastian & Sophie Noellat at the ‘working’ in use triage table out front in the cuverie yard under ‘tent awning’ albeit it was paused between cases throughput so good timing on my part. What followed next I hadn’t bargained for, nor was I really dressed for as still in my travelling clothes ! Sophie asked me if I’d join in the triage – there only seemed 2 other guys present in addition to her & her brother. She explained that the Domaine had started its vendange that morning with their vines in Savigny – village & premier cru. I didn’t ask who was picking the grapes but to me seemed obvious they were using another contract team as last year – which, with slight sinking feeling on my part, didn’t bode well for experiencing the likes of the Vosne 1er crus, the absence of which so disappointed me last year. Hum !
I could hardly refuse the triage request ! I was there to work and, other than roaming around (quite attractive though that was !), I had nothing else to do/planned albeit a shower and rest after my long & through the night drive might have been nice ! It was years since I’d very fleetingly triaged just the once at Arlaud. I might have had a go at Dubreuil-Fontaine, Pernand in 2009 but can’t remember. I guess though its like riding a bike or learning to swim ! If there was any danger me triaging it would likely be a temptation to too slow/thorough! Anyway, suitably armed, off we went with another batch of Savigny grapes, with more soon arriving en camion. I must have been doing things right as I wasn’t advised otherwise (!) but the inevitable happened after 5 minutes when I inadvertently cut the right side top of my thumb – good start (not !). I wasn’t aware initially until just happening to notice blood which flowed for quite a while although the cut wasn’t large or painful ! And so we continued through the afternoon, one case following another, with table stops between. Much as Bill has already noted in his own professional vendange diary posts the grapes were generally clean. I also saw little or no rot – maybe 2 examples which a clued up picker might have triaged in the vines. There were quite a few examples also of ‘frazzled’, burnt, shrivelled grapes. Quite amusing was Sebastian N moving full triaged (fibreglass) cases of grapes to stainless tanks in the smaller of the two cuverie chambers. The issue here was the height the ceiling, the height of the tank, and getting the lifted case in the perfect cum necessary position to allow dumping the grapes into the tank. Initially, watching SN moving the forklift I didn’t notice his guided help ! Behind the tank in question though was a very small, squarish window, just about wide enough for a human head, and almost shoulders to fit through. SN’s partner in teamwork crime here was a young Portuguese guy who has seemingly become a cuverie, possibly mentored, employee (not sure if permanent or temp). Seems wherever SN goes his ‘helper’ (who’s never without his straw hat !) goes too e.g they always arrive together for mealtimes. With much shouted higher/lower, left/right type guidance from above they eventually satisfied themselves, with some watching trepidation on my part, they could release the grapes ! I photo’d some of all this hence maybe Bill will include a picture to accompany words.
I can’t recall how long my impromptu triage continued but at some stage towards late afternoon a halt was called for the day and we returned to the Rue de la Fontaine. By now it seemed pretty much every lodger had arrived or was arriving. All were familiar, no new faces. There was no evident surprise at me being there – almost that was expected. The evening passed convivially, with aperitifs, before we sat down on the property forecourt under another large white ‘tent’/awning joined by the rest of the Noellat family i.e mother & father. It was quite clear our vendange meals were to be en plein air – one could only wonder at the ‘what if’ should it rain ! I’d had a quick peak earlier into the large room we’d had our meals in last year & had noted it was in no way set up for meal or other vendange team use – other than tripping in & out first thing to use the coffee machine.
So endeth arrival day ! Tomorrow my 2nd Noellat vendange would commence in earnest. In my Day One proper notes to come, a day which turned out remarkably like 2019’s, I’ll also cover (get out of the way !) Covid ‘stuff’ – some amusing, mostly serious. MdMdlV