Sunday – 17th September
As a non-working day, coming after the extended evening’s Paulee, and being kept awake by excessive, unwarranted noise into the ‘small hours’, I allowed myself the ‘luxury’ of a decadent lie in until rousing myself around 8.00 a.m. My room mate, Chef Jean-Michel, had already disappeared – he’d told me the previous evening he would be going home for the day (I can’t recall where he lived but couldn’t have been that far away).
As Mike (Lange) will note 😉 we are now into week two – I’d actually set up this document ahead of Mike’s post on burgundy-report.com. I suppose the question now, without getting ahead of ourselves or giving much away, is how long will this vendange go on for – keep reading pop pickers (the latter words are from an English radio DJ from the sixties or seventies – am showing my age) !!
Wandering around outside after breakfast I initially watched two of the domaine guys pressing Chardonnay grapes. This was done in a lean to building across the yard from the cuverie. I’d previously noted the press was, perhaps unusually, a German make (didn’t take the details). I took a few photos (no captions as its obvious what’s what). In the cuverie, heady with that smell of fermenting grapes, yeast etc, remontage was in progress. I actually used to get involved a couple of times with Alain Noellat in that process at Domaine Michel Noellat first thing in the morning when there was just the two of us in the Noellat cuverie (alongside the RN74). No need for my assistance/ involvement here – had I indicated any desire cum enthusiasm for such work here no doubt Michel would have ruled such out given his keen desire for my welfare thus far !!!
Clearly, weather wise, a nice sunny day was in prospect. The notable activity around the domaine was in the comings and goings of various folk, working up to what would be their departures. On a pallet in the cuverie entrance were a sizeable amount of boxed domaine wines with various vendangeurs names on in heavy felt tip pen. Further back in the cuverie was another pallet, similarly laden, with my intrigued to note one box had my name on it – yay ! I surmised these boxes were one of two things (or both), namely gift boxes for the departing plus boxes of purchased wines. Have I previously said that some 3 or 4 weeks out from the start of the vendange, and very efficiently, the domaine had emailed all those signed up for the harvest offering a limited selection of 2021 domaine wines at a discount to retail ? I gather this has been a normal practice – as a newbie I wholeheartedly approve and was just regretful I didn’t have deeper pockets for fuller advantage. Had I (or anyone else come to that) been greedy in any request it may not have done any good as the offering emails came with apologies for the limited amounts of wines on offer and limited nature – all down to the reduced quantity from the problem 2021 vintage. For myself, I’d applied for 6 bottles of the HCDN Fontaine St Martin Monopole Rouge and 6 bottles of the Blanc, plus 3 bottles of the Vosne 1er Clos des Reas. I don’t deem it appropriate here to mention cost, sorry. I’d not been asked for payment when submitting my request & had assumed such would be deducted from my wages in due course (as later was indeed the case). To organise all this ahead of the vendange was something I heartily welcomed as I’d always felt previously any purchase requests were a bit of a last minute inconvenience for any domaine in question – this was the indeed the case at Arlaud as asking to purchase then involved one of the domaine staff being pulled off other duties to label and pack any requested bottles. Michel Noellat had a ‘halfway house’ process were lists of available wines were circulated part way through the vendange for ordering for later supply/collection.
The comings and goings of folk had quietened somewhat by mid-morning when, whilst back to working on ‘Bill Stuff’, I was approached by colleague, Florient, who asked most politely (as I had a car) if I could run him into Nuits-St-Georges so he could do his laundry at the laundromat machine at the front of the Intermarche supermarket. He told me he’d tried to do that the day before but the machine was out of order. Florient had joined us in the latter part of week 1, having previously been working at a domaine in Pommard (sorry – didn’t ask, or if I did, note down which one). He is a solidly built, chunky, strong youngish chap, who’d probably fit well into a rugby scrum. He’s a really nice guy though who I’d warmed to from the outset. I gather by trade he’s a painter & decorator, and maybe a builder of sorts. He told me about working on property in Switzerland amongst other places. What linked us from this vendange was his pro-active keen desire to further his English. His grasp of the language was really pretty good, if not better than that, and he was keen to practice on me whenever he could – in a good way (without being anything like Gabriel !). In short I liked him (Florient), and we got on, hence I was happy to oblige his polite request this morning. He was living in the ‘party central’ old Gros house occupied by the younger element at the village end of Clos des Reas & carried all his worldly goods and wardrobe in a humungous rucksack, possibly an ex-military one, which I think he said could carry 40 kilos. In addition to running him there, via a centre of NSG tabac to collect some sort of token for the washing machine, I would have been quite happy to wait for him at the Intermarche and bring him back, rather than have him have to walk back, heavily laden, to Vosne but despite my pressing this offer he would not hear of it so it was a quick run down to NSG to leave him to do his laundry. A number of domaines were hard at it either side of the road between Vosne & NSG – it felt privileged to have a day off !!
On the subject of Florient coming to Vosne from a Pommard domaine this reminds me that it was either the young Italian owners of loveable Acho, or another young couple, who told me over lunch one day that they’d come to Domaine Michel Gros from having previously worked at Domaine Joseph Voillot, Volnay. My informants spoke in glowing terms, & with much enthusiasm, of the experience at Voillot and of Volnay itself. Curiously, and I can’t explain why, I don’t know Volnay very well, even though I own a number of Volnay wines , if at all really and can’t recall ever going up into the village – an omission that needs correcting.
Back from my taxiing trip to NSG I returned to my laptop until what I’ve written down as ‘Slimmed down lunch’. Memory evades here but I think now this was a sort of do itself (no Chef or helper) affair of leftovers for a few of us who were about or working (the cuverie guys). The early afternoon saw more laptop time before a social afternoon trip to Beaune, specifically in Place Carnot with sharing platter watching the dog walkers, posh posing cars, and motorbikes all circling the Place. I didn’t stay too long and back at the domaine just popped my head around the kitchen/dining cave door intending to say ‘hello’ but Michel insisted I sit down and stay for dinner – just the four of us; Michel, Philippe, myself and AN Other. I decided to open/share my newly purchased Vincent Prunier 2019 Auxey Blanc of which we had half the bottle before returning the remainder to one of the 4 fridges/freezers in a small cellar room off our dining cave. And so to bed accompanied by the sound of heavy rain which made one muse, as sleep came, what we’d find on the morrow.
Monday – 18th September
By breakfast/departure time the previous night’s heavy rain had thankfully stopped but everywhere was very wet.
We departed Vosne at 7.45 a.m. our destination once more the HCDN Fontaine St Martin vines and more Chardonnay – to be the last of this, with a difference. Quite a number of new faces had appeared at the domaine gates and in the yard pre our departure, all invariably ‘reporting in’ to Juliette. Amongst the French & other continental Europeans was one Padhraic Duffy – a young (or so I thought), certainly youthful looking & likeable Irishman, ‘fresh’ by train and bike, from his IT Tech job in the Netherlands. I have always preferred to be the only Briton/Englishman wherever I’ve worked, and other than two years from my 14 that has been the case, but I was happy to welcome ‘Patrick’ as he made himself known (for ease) to those enquiring of his name. I was intrigued by his telling me:- a) that he’d seen the Gros Vendange role on the Indeed France job website; and b) that he would have liked to work the whole vendange but Juliette had advised only a second week position was available. It was quite clear to me from the latter point, and having seen quite the number of folk depart after Week 1, that Juliette had, most efficiently as is her hallmark, recruited deftly to cover the domaine days and weeks requirements.
Pre departure, over breakfast, when we’d inevitably been talking of the weather, and I speculated what we might find on the Hautes-Cotes, Michel had surprised me by responding knowledgeably that it would not be so ‘bad’/heavy (in terms of rainfall) as we’d had overnight in Vosne. As I mulled this he expanded by explaining they had a form of rain(fall) monitoring system, if not across all the vines certainly on the Hautes-Cotes. I was subsequently to further learn that this technology (and cost) is shared by a collective of vignerons.
So, Fontaine St Martins’s Chardonnay again. But, now, we were working the last few rows very much at the bottom of the slope of the vineyard, across the boundary of which was a heavily wooded area. The changed terroir i.e bottom of the slope, and maybe the influence of nearby trees, had a dramatic (and unforeseen by me) detrimental effect on grape quality with the lowest rows materially affected by elements of rot and/or odium, none of which we’d seen in the higher section of vineyard on previous days. At one point during the morning our sub team had a bit of a ‘telling off’ from a roving/passing Michel about picking ‘bad grapes’ with ‘advice’ on what we should be doing and how. Consider yourself admonished ! Prior to that the newbies and the originals had been acquainting themselves and for me this included a new, middle aged, lady on our sub team, one Mercedes who, a little surprisingly, hailed from Uruguay and was working various types of seasonal fruit picking across Europe (France, Spain, Portugal et al). Mercedes, who had an engaging line in music playlist via portable speaker from her phone (Bluetooth presumably), was clearly no football fan though and looked blankly at me when I mentioned Uruguay soccer stars, Luis Suarez & Darwin Nunez……..oh well !
Back to Vosne for lunch with my thinking I could finish off, and share with my lunch table mates, the circa half a bottle left of the Vincent Prunier Auxey Blanc from Sunday. Errr, no, the bottle had disappeared (stolen) from where I’d left in the inner cellar fridge. I wasn’t best pleased to put it mildly. Subsequently the following day I spotted the empty bottle amongst all the empty, unmarked, bottles in a recycling cage in the Mugneret-Gibourg yard end of the dining cellar. Thereafter, I marked any bottle of my wine, and my beers, quite clearly with my name & regularly checked such remained in situ. I had a suspicion who might have taken the Auxey but couldn’t prove it.
After lunch we returned to complete work on the Chardonnay bottom rows. Previously, when we’d come down to the bottom edge of the vineyard I’d noticed a small blue box under a wire fence part way along the vineyard boundary and, fresh from my breakfast conversation with Michel about rain monitoring had erroneously assumed said box was related to that monitoring. I was ‘slightly’ wrong in amusing fashion – well, it amused me – as when we gathered pre starting work Michel warned us against touching what was actually an electric fence for keeping animals (wild boar, deer, goats etc) in the woods and out of the vines. Turned out also that Florient had inadvertently touched said wire during the morning, receiving just a mild shock.
Didn’t take us long to see off the final Chardonnay vines which we’d almost completed pre lunch. I’d idly, without applying much thought, assumed we’d move onto the Fontaine St Martin (‘FSM’) Pinot which I’d already noted, when passing such vines on foot, to be impressively laden with fruit, much as the higher Chard vines had been. I was wrong because we embarked vehicles and moved out of FSM but not as we’d entered via the hamlet of Chevrey but instead we turned left towards the top wooded edge of FSM and took a weird, rough tracked, route through the thick woods, emerging onto a wide grassed edge of a new, sloping, extensive site, and an extremely scenic one, with the attractive village of Marey-les-Fussey south beyond the vineyard and across fields on the other side of the vineyard valley bottom. In differing parts of the vineyard the rows went across the slope and in another part up/down the slope This new site I erroneously thought initially was ‘En Vallon’ – close, but no cigar, as its actually ‘Au Vallon’ – which I only realised a few days later & only after I’d captioned all my photos from here with ‘En’ rather than ‘Au’ ☹. Its rather hard to geographically describe exact locations for the HCDN sites and to pick them out. My favourite ‘Climats & Lieux Dits’ Burgundy ‘bible’ book doesn’t cover the Hautes-Cotes (or my two editions don’t) which is a pity. The best way I’ve found in identifying the four Gros HCDN sites is via their website (surprise, surprise !) using the maps on the website pages for any of the specific HCDN wines:-
Vineyard of the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits – Domaine Michel Gros (domaine-michel-gros.com)
If one moves the website maps around with cursor, magnifies/minimises as required, and clicks on any of the coloured/highlighted terroirs then the name of that site appears.
We were to spend until late morning Weds here. This was a site I really liked and enjoyed our time here. For much of it (time here) below and to the right of us some way off a harvesting machine was in constant action with its attendant tractors & trailers servicing it. Interestingly, whilst all the Gros vines here were high trained and with wide, fully grassed, spaces between the rows (as in FSM), beyond the Vallon bottom boundary, including the vines the harvesting machine was working on, the vines were more conventionally (as on the Cote) lower trained. If I’d have to have a guess at ownership then I’d go for Nuiton-Beaunoy i.e one of this, just outside Beaune, co-operative’s members. The (all) Pinot Noir fruit here was again volume and for the most part very good quality.
Initially I worked in my sub team of the morning although, curiously, our main man case triagist, one Alex, was nowhere to be seen for the afternoon. We must have done a couple of row passes before, to my surprise and without explanation, Michel (Gros) came to me and directed me to another sub team. I wasn’t too thrilled with this as I’d previously noted this second team seemed rather ‘relaxed’ &, without speed or too much efficiency. I’ll admit my assistance was rather grudging but after we’d finished the row they were in when I joined, then another full one, that was ‘it’ for the day. Tomorrow would see more of the same – with less to describe/write about other than, notably, an unwelcome misfortune for our ‘new’ Irishman.