Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day 8, Thursday 10th Sept 2020
So, here we are, our final day of the Covid vendange. For me, it was anybody’s guess where we’d be going this morning, where we might finish, and how much of the day we’d be working. I was to be surprised (in a good way !) on all counts. Thinking back to 2019 we’d finished then, not far away from the domaine, in late afternoon, on the plot of Bourgogne, on the far side of the railway line, reached down Vosne’s Route de Boncourt le Bois, and toasted our efforts in Champagne served by Alain Noellat before making our traditionally noisy (vehicle horns) way back to the domaine. As we’d already been to that final 2019 plot we wouldn’t be going back again.
Off we went on another fabulous morning, weather wise. Surprise, surprise, back to the Hautes- Cotes again via Chaux. Our initial destination was the plot through Villers-la-Faye, past Tonnellerie Meyrieux, I mentioned in my 5th para of Day Seven. I referred then to not being sure when we came this way but I now reckon I was wrong and it was only this morning of our final day we came to this plot (not visited in 2019). I should have looked at my Day Eight photos before commenting in Day Seven as it was those photos which decided for me today was the day of our sole visit. Quite a pleasant spot with the vine rows finishing against a shrubs & treeline boundary. Nice fruit again here, all the HCDN Pinot reminding me as being of similar quality/volume as 2019 (as best I could recall). We finished our initial morning efforts with what would be our final casse-croute break before moving on. The domaine ‘did us proud’ with the fayre on offer for our casse-croute breaks – I’d have no hesitation as considering this year (2020) to have the best casse-croute breaks, or offerings, of my vendange career (not difficult per Domaine Arlaud as in my first years there we never had casse-croute or other breaks & only in the latter years did Herve Arlaud, bless him, soften the original hard driving approach !).
Where to post casse-croute ? Well, before that, on a whim, I decided to photo record the laminated Covid notices each vehicle displayed in their side windows. One referred to sanitary precautions, the other that mask wearing was obligatory. The former notice was headed by the domaine name. I’d noticed during our vendange, when passing vehicles from other domaines they’d displayed the same notices identifying the actual domaine hence infer such was from a ‘central’ authority directive. To my slight surprise, we headed back through the outskirts of Villars, past the relaxed grazing donkeys in their field by the road junction, taking the road back in the direction of Chaux, but soon turned off again left and back to the Pinot plot we’d worked Day Seven p.m. Here, we shifted along a bit from the Day Seven rows, to some more which had previously been started and then left. Finishing off these vines didn’t take long at all & by mid-morning we were ‘done’ – complet for 2020. Remained only to take finishing photos, gather the equipment and, for the enthusiastic, undertake the traditional end of vendange vehicle ‘decoration’ with vine foliage – Michel & Patrick being prime movers in this respect for our vehicle. Jean-Claude had not been a particularly sympathetic chauffeur and I winced at the Renault’s vendange ‘battle scars’ of visible scrapes and odd panel damage – notably the front and wings low down. Not one I’d personally be wanting to return to the hirer !
No champagne in the vines to ‘celebrate’ our conclusion this time but to be fair we were some way from Vosne & the domaine, and there was to be a generous pre-Paulee champagne reception to come later. A relaxed drive back to Vosne through Chaux and Nuits. Much horn sounding (again, a tradition signifying the end of a domaine’s vendange) as we came to/passed through any habitation. On reaching Vosne we took a horns honking around the village ‘tour’, thro back streets, to the domaine. At one point, passing the open gates of another Vosne domaine, shame I couldn’t identify it, two or three guys cleaning equipment in their yard heard our noisy progress and came to their gates to aim their hoses at our passing vehicles – funny and all in good spirit. Back at ‘base’ a weary disembarkation, for your’s truly at least, before the final ‘round’ of bucket and pannier cleaning to cap things off before our final lunch. I junked my two pairs of gloves which had, unusually, lasted the vendange. I’d used two of the same pairs of gardening type gloves as whilst the faces had a vinyl type material the rest of the gloves were cloth which got wet & dirty. Each evening I’d cleaned that day’s pair, leaving to dry in the garage for 24 hours, rotating with the other pair. The same pair of knee pads had lasted the vendange without mishap and my camera had survived another round of harvest abuse – kudos to Canon. Only my left hip and pelvis area ended the vendange badly – an X Ray and follow up awaited my return to the UK to diagnose the problem(s) which I was already guessing at/foreseeing as potential left hip replacement.
I’m not quite sure now (ageing defective memory again !) what became of the early afternoon to be honest. I recollect lingering over the final lunch & liquid refreshment, and later having a long overdue appointment with my razor & shaving foam to address my through the vendange unshaven state, but otherwise can only think I maybe scrounged an entry to the closed domaine shop to access use of the wi-fi, the IT equipment – servers etc, being in another room behind the shop (latter closed during the vendange). I would have photo downloads and editing to do as well as catching up on over a week’s emails and UK news. Post a return to being clean shaven and shower thereafter time to dress smartly casual for the evening ahead. This (the late afternoon/evening) largely followed the same pattern as 2019 in that we all slowly gathered (lodgers and locals – latter coming back from their homes) to the front of the domaine, the early arrivals amongst us grabbing a chair/seat on the patio/garden type furniture immediately to the front of the buildings. Tables had been erected to the open side of the dining space awning parking area for champagne & other drinks plus nibbles & canapes. All very pleasant & convivial. Before the reception various of my colleagues had been asked individually to go and see Madam Noellat in the office – this to receive their vendange pay packet. For myself, Sophie approached me whilst all this was going on and whispered was I ok to receive my pay envelope on Saturday – which was fine by me. I’d already asked if I might stay on in my vendange accommodation for a couple of days hereafter, as I did in 2019, on the basis I fed myself of course, prior to heading back to the UK. This had been readily agreed hence Sophie knew I’d be ‘around’.
Post champagne reception, and before we sat down for our evening meal, another tradition – the cellar visit conducted by Sebastian as also occurred for me in 2019. The same awkward little entrance down a few steps from the big room we’d normally (without Covid) dine in, into the first ‘chamber’ lined with racked bottles, a large old barrel stood upright in the centre of the chamber for tastings etc. A bashful, shy looking statue of St Vincent occupied a small alcove in one wall. From the initial chamber more steps down into the impressive looking barrel cellar which stretched into another room beyond racked out with mouth watering wines from recent vintages and some older. I was particularly ‘taken’ by the bottles of 2015 Echezeaux & 2012 Vosne 1er Les Beaux Monts ! These bottles must be the family’s personal cellar as the above were not for sale in the domaine shop which only has the most recent vintages. I’ve been in a few barrel cellars in my time but that of Michel Noellat is, for me, one of the more impressive – if an ‘argument’ might be made for less use of new oak.
Cellar tour/visit over time to sit down for our Paulee meal. Not strictly a Paulee in the true sense as the bottles opened to accompany our meal came ‘only’ from the Noellat cellar. I can’t for the life of me recall the menu, but don’t believe it was boeuf bourguignon as we’d already had that. Nor did I make a note of, or have any full recall of what we may have drunk. I do recall the opening vin blanc as a village Puligny en magnum – we’d had this wine in 2019. I gather Alain obtains this for family personal consumption from an unknown (to me) vigneron via swap of his own reds. I certainly don’t recall any stellar red offerings as were opened/poured in 2019. Mindful I had roaming plans for the following day I certainly wasn’t going to overdo ‘it’ in consumption terms – one following morning’s banging head this vendange was enough ! Post meal just ongoing chat amongst small groups until the locals drifted away & us lodgers drifted off to our beds. Sophie’s husband, Arnaud (a Sirugue – Domaine Robert Sirugue) was present throughout, giving me the opportunity to check it would be ok for me to call at his family’s domaine on my travels to come.
The close of the working element of my 2020 vendange, just two more ‘free time’ days to come for touring, domaine visits, and purchasing which I’ll also write up for anyone interested. Personal takeaways from this harvest ? In no particular order:- good weather throughout (the first year I can ever recall not having to reach for my Wellington boots at least once) without being too hot, very dry ground from the Cote’s lack of material precipitation pre vendange, weight of foliage cover on many vines, fruit quality (hardly any rot at all), maybe less volume, incidence of shrivelled/burnt grapes here & there, the lower lying plots with heavier soil seemingly benefitting more than higher ground with lighter soils, going to ‘new’ plots we hadn’t been to in 2019, and conversely not going to one’s we had been to last year. Additionally, Covid impacts/precautions, and for me maybe the crux i.e that yet again as a huge disappointment, I didn’t get to experience the Domaine’s Vosne premier crus or Cote de Beaune plots, and that our group was only one ‘half’ of two teams, the other the mysterious Bulgarians we never came across. Did I enjoy it ? Of course, my vendange has been the highlight of my year for a number of years now & gives me a valued perspective on my long time passion for the wines of Burgundy, and Burgundy as a place. With each year now I’m conscious age will catch up with me at some point thus maximising those years I can continue to work is key. It will be a sad day when I have to ‘give in’ & cease my annual sojourn but hopefully there’ll be a few more years yet ! 2021 already seems to hang in the balance as my return to the UK, and X Ray result has confirmed major left hip issues, the next stage for me an awaited orthopaedic consultant appointment. If, as seems inevitable, a hip replacement follows then timings of any waiting period for such and convalescence could rule me out of next year’s harvest – we can but see.