Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day Three, Saturday 5th Sept 2020
A long day here, commencing with a surprise, and finishing with a convivial evening social in Beaune with William and Angela.
Before embarking on detail of the day proper I need to make a (photos) confession & to ‘catch up’ with a couple of aspects missed previously, one of which relates to today’s surprise, the other to our first day cleaning activities when we had an unexpected, if hilarious, ‘helper’.
On the photo front the limited (I was too busy !) number of photos I took this day turned out, very disappointingly, to be ‘spoilt’ by the camera settings, unbeknown to moi, being accidentally disturbed – which I failed to notice into Day 4. In brief, the Canon G16 has two overlapping ‘wheels’, or dials, on the top relating to its settings. One wheel is that for settings, with my keeping that on ‘auto’ most of the time, the other wheel is for -3 to +3 movements in increments of 1. First thing, I take the leather cover off the camera for speed of use (it has 3 press studs), otherwise I’d have too much messing about with little time, and then sling/loop the camera strap from shoulder to opposite waist in effect such that the camera itself ‘sits’ on my lower back safely out of the way whilst I’m picking until I wish to take a photo. I’m not sure even now what was going on with this vendange as, jumping ahead to the end, after today I was constantly finding the settings wheels were being disturbed – much more than ever before in previous years. Whether the dials/‘wheels’ movement has become ‘slacker’ with age (the numerical wheel I was finding hereafter was moving often, the other not so much) I don’t know, or maybe the camera was being ‘caught’ by the excessive vine foliage this year. After spotting today’s problems only part way through ‘tomorrow’ I then wised up & always tried to think on to check the dials pre taking any photo. Today though, and into the day after, the auto setting was ‘caught’/moved such that the photos have come out ‘bleached’/whitened (over exposed ?). Very frustrating, particularly re the hot air balloon (see later). I’ll leave up to Bill whether he believes the photos might be used (or some of them). Getting ahead of myself I bit, but whilst on the subject of photos, I may as well confess now things got ‘worse’ as I completely lost all the photos taken for Days 5 & 6 in an error ‘saving’ (or not !) after download, when I was also too quick to delete from the camera to be able to retrieve matters. Doh ☹.
Away from camera/photo ‘cock ups’ two other matters. 1) Yesterday, I had a conversation with my team leader from last year, Gilles. Gilles had been happy to explain to me he’d been ‘promoted’ this year, away from the teams, to be a driver i.e fetching the grapes back to the cuverie. I was suitably envious! But, what was more interesting was what else he told me! I casually queried why we hadn’t seen him as a camion driver to which his response was he had been roving around elsewhere with the ‘Bulgarians’ ! Ah hah, dammit, this was the confirmation of my suspicions of the domaine employing another, contract picking team, alongside us which I’d understood had happened in 2019 – it then had to as in 2019 we never picked any of the Vosne 1er crus, or the domaine’s Cote de Beaune sites (Savignys and Pommard). A team we never saw & who must have had their own eating, accommodation etc etc arrangements. Gilles, not really understanding what he was telling me meant to yours truly, garrulously continued to tell me this year they’d already done Vosne Suchots, Vosne Beaux Monts and Echezeaux. This was almost akin to a punch in the guts to me & I struggled to hide my disappointment. Whilst the Noellat family are lovely people, and I love them to bits, my major reason (in fact ‘the’ reason), having decided 2018 would be my last Arlaud vendange after 9 years, in selecting Domaine Michel Noellat was their portfolio of vineyards/terroirs. It had been deeply disappointing in 2019 to find matters were not as I anticipated & I’d mused in England, ahead of coming out here for 2020, that if 2019 was repeated I’d seriously have to consider continuing with Noellat – in fact I’d decided I couldn’t/wouldn’t and already had thoughts on a ‘replacement’ in Pernand. So, Echezeaux already done but not by us (although we had picked it in 2019). Looked like Vougeot & NSG Boudots were going to be our only top/‘serious sites’ & we’d have to be excited by NSG Village, Chambolle Village, Fixin, Marsannay, Bourgogne’s, and the Hautes Cotes. Hum !!! Probably only terroirist myself was ‘affected’ by this as the others were simply here for the vendange for other reasons. I never heard any of my colleagues ask about, or express any comment, on any terroir. In fact, only now musing on this, none of my colleagues actually ever asked me why I was working the vendange – even though I was probably asked every other possible question except my inside leg measurement !
Matter No 2):- this was altogether non serious/light hearted. Amongst our number were 5 young Spaniards – 2 guys and 3 girls. Perhaps they might best be described as ‘new age’ or whatever, but they had ‘radical’ hair styles, including a couple of mohicans, heavy tattooing, metalwork piercings and so on. Friendly types, and hard workers, they live in 3 or 4 camper vans on the other side of Clos de Reas from the domaine. They didn’t eat with us & I believe may have been vegetarians. They had a number of dogs between them – five in all I think although I never saw all the dogs close up to and, unlike the Italians from 2019, the Spanish dogs never accompanied us into the vines. Anyway, on Thurs evening, for our first gear cleaning session in the garage, after a while I realised, away from my bucket dunking, there was much amusement amongst the others, notably towards Philippe wielding the hosepipe being used on the porteurs panniers lying on the garage floor. The source of the amusement was immediately obvious, a very small, black, muscular, hyper bundle of energy, terrier type dog who was obsessive about the jet of water from the hosepipe and ‘biting’ it, or ‘catching’ it, in his mouth, occasionally yelping with excitement. Whilst Philippe was happy to give the dog the occasional ‘play’ he (Philippe) was also intent on cleaning the panniers but the dog was diving in and out of the panniers and chasing the water jet anyway he could in hyper mode. Inevitably, the dog was also wet through on occasion but that didn’t stop him. Short haired, he just stopped occasionally to give himself a brief convulsive muscular shake before continuing his manic, excitable, attention to the water jet. It was all very amusing and an utter delight to watch. Turned out the dog, and another larger sweet, feathery, mongrel type with a withered left front leg which meant she walked on 3 legs & who kept to the side of the garage away from the water, belonged to one of the Spanish guy’s who was upstairs having a shower.
Onto the day itself and herein was the immediate surprise. We embarked the vehicles for the short journey to Echezeaux Au Dessus. Echezeaux ??? Moi ? Gobsmacked, after what Gilles had told me as earlier. This was an odd one – I was highly intrigued, and all the more so, when I saw we had a reception ‘committee’ of two gents waiting for us by our camion which had arrived before us. One of the two guys was obviously the worker/gopher from his attire but the other was clearly ‘somebody’. I felt I should know/recognise this second individual but have not been able to place him or establish who he was. I gather he was a Courtier; small, very dapper/distinguished, smartly dressed in expensive looking blue shirt & chinos with tan leather brogues, slicked back silver hair, smart watch – not your average vendangeur !! These guys were in 2 vehicles; a ubiquitous large white van and a VW Touran SUV for Mr Smart. As we prepared to start Alain Noellat arrived and I overheard a conversation with our ‘guests’ along the lines of 15 cases & 1 piece (pronounce ‘piess’ !). The rows we were about to pick were definitely not the one’s we’d picked last year so I assumed Gilles reference meant that the ‘Bulgarians’ had done those rows. Instead, the rows we were about to tackle were more towards Vougeot, still ‘Le Treux’ though as Alain confirmed to me at lunchtime. The visitors had brought their own, common, plastic cases of the type I was familiar with from Arlaud but there was no stencil name identifying on the cases. Mr Smart disappeared in his VW as we started. As we picked our porteurs emptied their panniers into the cases which were loaded one by one into the white van. This went on until 15 cases had been filled post which the van departed but we carried on picking, presumably for the domaine. An interesting ‘diversion’ occurred early on as we picked in that a large hot air balloon came over us from behind us as it were i.e the higher ground/slope. It was pretty low, moving quite smartly on the morning breeze, in a NNE direction. My photos of the balloon might have been pretty good had the camera settings not been askew, drat it. Typical !
After the highly (to me at least) interesting Echezeaux ‘diversion’ and enjoyable casse-croute ‘refuel’ we got into the vehicles, crossing back through Vosne, towards NSG and the village plot we’d been working in late one afternoon in 2019 when we’d been ‘caught’ by a biblical almost heavy rain storm with thunder & lightning, then just making it to the vehicles to avoid a proper drenching. What a difference a year makes weather wise – this year hardly being more different ! I’ve just tried to work out which terroir this plot of village is. I can’t be sure but believe it must be one of Aux Allots, La Petite Charmotte or Au Chouillet. Bit vague I know, sorry ! A relaxed pick of this NSG, good grapes, took us to lunch. Back at the domaine I tried to establish with Alain Noellat whom we’d been picking the Ech grapes for. Alain is pretty open and would have told me I think but I couldn’t make myself understood – or so it seemed. He did confirm my understanding 15 cases = 1 piece and that was what had been sold. I jokingly suggested ‘good for cash flow’ to which Alain agreed & laughed. I’ve never had a ‘duff’ lunch at Noellat but today’s was a rather good one. To start, as nice a piece (piece of, not ‘piess’ !) of jambon persille as I reckon I’ve had. To follow rabbit with small roast potatoes and green beans. Fromage to follow then an ice cream – very satisfying !
Afternoon initially saw two more plots of NSG Village, one of which was the one from last year who’s lower edge is up against the rear of domestic properties fronting the RN974. I believe we must have been in Aux Tuyaux, failing which Aux Athees. A short way to our left were pickers from another domaine but not close enough for any interaction & finding out who they might be. From mid afternoon we moved north again to outside the south side of Chambolle and the gently rising slope towards, just around the top corner of the hill, Musigny. We must, I think, have been in ‘Les Gueripes’ but, whatever, the soil here is nice and fine. I was in good form here, and gradually drew away from my colleagues except having to come back for bucket emptying, such that frustratingly at the point ‘time’ was called for the day I was only yards off the end of the row/top of the hill. And, guess what ? My team never came back to finish what we’d started so I didn’t get any ‘benefit’ of my efficiency.
I missed the evening meal as I had a ‘date’ in Beaune ! The town was surprisingly (to me) busy. I just managed to find a parking space on the ‘Peripherique’ which wasn’t too far away from my destination. Bars and restaurants were packed looking and lively. Plenty of folk strolling along were mask wearing but social distancing didn’t see to apply. Nice evening at Bill’s was a change from the norm – the wines broached have been covered by Bill in his “some weekend wines – obviously” Diary entry of Sept 7th. I was very happy with the tasty showing of the Arlaud 2000 Clos de la Roche and confess I didn’t ‘get’ any brett. The Bouchard 2015 Chassagne 1er En Remilly was of great interest as I’ve been much intrigued since Bill highlighted this terroir/wine, and with purchase of a bottle or three at Bouchard’s on my agenda post vendange completion. Finally, the Bertagna was another really good 1996 (love that vintage); the first ever Bertagna and Vougeot 1er cru I can personally recall tasting. Happily being ignored by some gendarmes standing by their car as I pulled away from my evening’s parking spot it was back to Vosne ahead of Day 4 with perhaps the biggest nightmare I’ve had in my vendange career to come (maybe other than October 2013’s Hautes-Cotes freeze fest for Arlaud) !