Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day Seven, Wednesday 9th Sept 2020
The initial whispers of a finish on Thursday had been officially confirmed by the time we gathered for Day 7’s activities & embarked the vehicles. Another fantastic, beautiful morning, weather wise. I can’t recall if I heard early mention of our destination but if I didn’t it soon became apparent as we headed south to Nuits-St-Georges and, turning right at those pesky traffic lights by Moillard (always seem to be on red !), weaved our way through the town to take the D8 road steeply upwards out of the town towards Chaux and the Hautes-Cotes (de Nuits).
My reasonable (well, I thought so !) assumption as we passed through Chaux (always seems ultra sleepy) was we’d be headed still on the D8, in the direction of Villers-la-Faye, towards the plot(s) of Pinot Noir I knew from 2019. Err, not quite, and as another example of the ‘recurring theme’ for me of this vendange i.e experiencing new plots not seen in 2019/not going to some 2019 plots, just out of Chaux we ‘hung a left’ off the D8 onto a more minor road, still heading in the general direction of Villers – but more its eastern edge than west top side. We passed numerous plots of vines and unplanted land, until taking another left onto more of a vineyard stony track than a road, which was taking us towards the edge of the Hautes-Cotes plateau above Comblanchien. Our destination was a plot of high trained Chardonnay who’s rows, roughly south, culminated against a boundary of trees & shrubs. Looking down from the Hautes-Cotes towards the plain below, but off to our left was quite a hum of noise, which I realised was coming from a sizeable quarry some distance away. The inside of the quarry, as below ground level, was invisible but ‘marking’ it, in the early morning, was what looked like a floating mist – whether early morning dew/mist and/or dust rising from the noisy quarrying I wasn’t sure. In the distance, quarrying aside, our location was just fabulous in that early morning.
We picked, initially, away from the track towards the wooded perimeter. The rows were fairly long but as always we were doubled up in pairs, one each side of the vines. For me, again, this meant my new, best picking friend, Patrick. Without wishing to ‘brag’ Patrick & myself were pretty efficient, not bad at all for two over sixty year olds though I say it myself ! The technique with these rows of vines, as usual, was vandalistic leaf stripping to ensure visibility of all the grapes to be picked. This resulted, after some progress down a row, in quite a sight on the ground of leaf debris – from a distance it would be quite obvious what would be a picked or unpicked row. The grapes looked excellent although I’m not used to seeing much Chardonnay. Only our neighbouring female pairing of Odile and Isabel were quicker than Patrick & myself but not by much ! Odile was an interesting character. I didn’t recall her from 2019 but guess she was present then. A local, whilst Isabel lodged, Odile was properly assertive, in a good way, and also seemed well known or to know everyone locally e.g whenever we came across other domaines in vines, or passed other domaine vehicles on vineyard tracks, invariably someone would call out to her or vice versa. She was often the front seat human satnav resource to Jean-Claude when we weren’t following other team vehicles. And so to the end of our first rows. I’d really enjoyed our work so far, standing at the high trained vines very beneficial in terms of my creaking left hip as opposed to more of the usual low level picking. Casse-croute break time. I’ve referred above to our location being just fabulous and so it was, particularly down against the wooded perimeter with continuous bird song. At this point reflecting on our surroundings, the glorious early morning weather, our work, case-croute break etc etc it just came to me felt things could hardly be better and that this was one of the most enjoyable picking experiences in all my 13 years harvesting experience – it just felt that good, if hard to put into words.
Post break we took on new rows working back to our starting location and the trucks collecting the super looking grapes. This, and assisting, some laggards took us near enough to lunch time to, allowing for the travelling, head back to Vosne. Curiously, as I was a little bemused why we hadn’t come this way, our route back was to head thro the vines onto the D115J towards a descent from the Hautes-Cotes, past the quarry entrance (revealed it to look like a very sizeable operation indeed – a huge, terraced, ‘hole in the ground’), down to a junction with the RN74 adjacent to the longtime Les Routiers Auberge du Guidon, as always seems heavily favoured by truckers. Must try the Auberge someday – Google Maps reviews are strong, menu & pics look very enticing.
Our own lunch was a particularly tasty one. We’re lucky imho to have our chef whom I gathered retired professionally some 14 years ago. Today he served up a trout starter (v nice !), followed by simple but tasty roast chicken & pasta. These were followed by tubs of fromage blanc akin to yoghurt (I loved the way Chef writes the menu to note items such as the fromage blanc, ice creams etc are supplied by the domaine i.e not made by him !) and fruit tarts from the local Boulangerie. I ‘passed’ on the latter as the tart pastry was a step too far for me after what we’d already scoffed ! Our staple white wine was again the domaine’s 2017 Savigny Blanc – quite impressive we weren’t ‘rationed’ to Bourgogne Blanc or Aligote. I always thought the food at Arlaud was pretty good but reckon it’s a step (or steps) up at Noellat. There’d be something amiss with you if you were going hungry !
Post lunch back to the Hautes-Cotes, hurrah ! Again we took the route via Nuits, then Chaux. I’m going to be a bit hazy here as I recall we went through Villers, past a field with two contented looking donkeys at a t-junction, turning right, then left on a road which leads to Echevronne, looking down (as set below the road) on the premises/wood yard of Tonnellerie Meyrieux, before coming to a small plot of vines. My defective memory is lacking here as to exactly when we visited here, and what we picked BUT process of timings elimination suggests to me it must have been after lunch this day, or possibly early on Day 8, and involved Pinot grapes which didn’t occupy us too long – another ‘new’ site not seen in 2019.
A word on in vehicle entertainment (which I can’t resist !). Initially, in the earlier days of the vendange, with travelling distances routinely shortish, and probably on account of our team being collectively ‘senior’ in ages, there was no recourse to the Renault’s radio. But, as time moved on, and our travelling times lengthened the front seat ladies provided us with radio music. My experience of French radio stations (local one’s ?) en minibus over the years is that the playlists of the moment seem incredibly short in number of songs such that ongoing repetition is the norm (and some). This was certainly true for us with one particular Europop dirge (sorry, song !) featuring continually to an excessive extent – it seemed every few minutes and every time we had the radio on !!! I’ve looked up this ditty since getting home, if only out of curiosity, feeling like I’d had it driven into my subconscious to learn said song is called ‘Control’ by one Zoe Wees who I gather is a young German from Hamburg. Here are the lyrics for your delectation (Bill, do pls feel free to delete if any possible copyright issues:-
“Early in the morning I still get a little bit nervous
Fightin’ my anxiety constantly, I try to control it
Even when I know it’s been forever I can still feel the spin
Hurts when I remember and I never wanna feel it again
Don’t know if you get it ’cause I can’t express how thankful I am
That you were always with me when it hurts, I know that you’d understand
I don’t wanna lose control
Nothing I can do anymore…”
[Edit: But I can – that’s enough of that – Bill!]
I can only assume this song must have got to No 1 in European pop charts so often was it played – on our radio at least. The key line is “I don’t wanna lose control” which Ms Wees seemed particularly exorcised/tortured about when ‘singing’ it & which eventually seemed to enter my subconscious, such that at times I couldn’t help myself humming or singing it (quietly !) to myself when picking. Horrendous !
Back to the main focus ! From our brief, through village, diversion we retraced our route back a short distance towards Chaux, but turning left up a gentle upslope on a vineyard track, then ninety degree left, to a familiar plot of high trained Pinot rising upslope to our right from the track to a treeline, which I remembered well from the latter stages of the 2019 harvest. By this point of the afternoon it was pretty warm again, with regular water breaks much appreciated. Same high trained routine i.e my being paired with Patrick. There was quite some weight of 100% clean grapes on these vines such that very regular bucket emptying was the norm, keeping Jean-Claude ‘on his toes’, backwards & forwards to the truck(s). I did ask about the age of the vines here, if not when we were there then that evening, and if memory serves was told 35 years. I guess another appropriate question might have been to ask if the Noellats planted the vines originally, or bought the plot as established, but that line of enquiry didn’t occur to me. Eventually, with what seemed a delayed truck changeover, we got to a point where, with buckets filled almost to overflowing we had an enforced stop & opportunity for a gentle rest. For pace setting Patrick & self, only the ladies duo ahead of us, we were circa two thirds, or three quarters, up our row. Initially I busied myself leaf stripping ahead but after enough of that returned to my bucket to await emptying ‘relief’ as eventually came about. After completion of our initial row, and rest at the ‘summit’ underneath the trees we shifted left and helped another team complete their rows which took us to completion of the afternoon’s labours.
Back to Vosne for the usual i.e emptying the vehicles and for the cleaning ‘posse’ setting too on the buckets and porteurs panniers. From day one the cleaning crew had remained largely constant, comprising Philippe wielding the hose to clean the panniers and myself, Isabel, Thibault and Eric (the latter a local and enthusiastic team leader of one of the other sub teams) dealing with the buckets in our large rectangular fibreglass tank before stacking them, upside down, pyramid style along the garage wall to dry for the next day. My routine post gear cleaning was to have a shower, get into smarter clothes for the evening, then take laptop and camera to deal with the days photos whilst enjoying a refreshing beer (or two) from our individual, personalised plastic beakers. Beer was on tap somewhere in the premises enabling jug filling as required. I’d lost my original beaker which must have become detached from my belt a few days ago in a plot of Bourgogne Rouge & had had to grovel to Madam Noellat for another ! Evening meal of rice salad and cold meats with cauliflower gratin (tasty !). And so to bed ahead of what was to be a relaxing last day close to our 2020 efforts.