Entries from 2020

marko’s harvest diary 10-Sep-20 – day 8 – the last!

By Marko de Morey de la Vosne on October 20, 2020 #vintage 2020

2020 harvest - it's over!

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.

marko’s harvest diary 09-Sep-20 – day 7

By Marko de Morey de la Vosne on October 13, 2020 #vintage 2020

Patrick, Philippe, Jean-Claude et Gerard top of Noellat HCDN Pinot

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.

marko’s harvest diary 08-Sep-20 – day 6

By Marko de Morey de la Vosne on October 08, 2020 #vintage 2020

NSG Village Fruit

Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day Six Tuesday 8th Sept 2020

In summary this was a day of Bourgogne ‘a go go’ – with a gossip twist as to when the end of the full vendange might come for us. A vendange might sound a compelling adventure (maybe not !), with superb opportunities to get ‘close up & personal’ with lots of famous name premier and grand cru terroirs. It can be I guess but there’s also the seriously mundane to ‘endure’ e.g Bourgogne terroirs and aligoté to go with pinot. For us this day of ‘slog’ started with a first thing vehicle ride, again north, to a little way beyond the Vougeot/Flagey-Echezeaux roundabout, to opposite were the D122e heads up into Chambolle. Here we turned east off the main road into what I call the flatlands which culminate against the Dijon-Beaune railway. Nothing notable or remarkable here. We made 2/3 passes of different, extensive, pinot vines in warm sunshine, with usual break for casse-croute. At one point mid-morning a quite lengthy walk ensued between plots which, for your’s truly (who’d stupidly forgotten to take his corti-steroid medication that morning – not actually prescribed for my hip but useful in deadening the discomfort) was causing serious limping ‘grief’ when one of the trucks hove to alongside me on the track. Alongside highly likeable driver Gerard, was ‘in the vines’ boss Gerald. The latter motioned to me, initially prompting, uncharitable as it turned out, thoughts on my part I was to be told off for something, or be told I was heading in the wrong direction or similar. Instead Gerald, who’d obviously, to his credit, noted my plight in limping any distance, was calling me to step up into the truck cab for what turned out to be a serious ‘lift’ around the plot to its other side. Very handy, as to traverse the full distance on foot would have been a real tester, the rising morning temperature an added issue. At the end of my truck ride we waited for the straggling on foot groups to collectively make their way to us. My team, once they arrived, were directed to move down the rows to the ends to pick their way back, to meet another team who’d pick towards them. I started to follow my colleagues but Gerald called me back, again ‘saving’ me any randonnee. Instead he allocated me to a row (doubled up) with the team who were to pick towards mine. All pretty considerate of him, causing me to regard him in a much more favourable light than hitherto, particularly 2019 ! I didn’t consider myself as ‘stricken’/incapacitated as it might have appeared & didn’t really have any great problem holding my own at the vines in actually picking. Mobility over a distance was an issue though so any ‘taxi ride’ was a bonus. After this latest pinot plot we moved only another short distance in the same area to what turned out to be lengthy rows of Aligote which took us to lunch. Picking Aligote or Chardonnay after Pinot can be quite different. Naturally, the Pinot bunches tend to stand out unless a vine is particularly heavily foliaged but, and notably in bright sunshine, Aligote & Chardonnay grapes unless sizeable, weighty bunches can be seriously hard to spot. Enthusiastic leaf stripping and studious care is essential to ensure quite decent sized bunches aren’t missed. It seems to be if there’s a temptation to leave some leaves, or not look behind them then one can almost ‘guarantee’ grapes will be missed. I do enjoy picking white grapes though as a change – can’t really explain why.

Post lunch, quite different landscapes, but more Bourgogne. The afternoon continued what for me was a theme of the vendange this year i.e whilst broadly we went to the same areas/plots as we did in 2019 not all was the same in that particular plots we went to last year we didn’t this e.g in Fixin as above; and conversely this year we went to plots we hadn’t in 2019, perhaps the first example here the Bourgogne Rouge we did after Vougeot. The latter aspect was particularly apparent this afternoon with a degree of the former ! I can’t quite remember now with passage of time the order of plot picking (usually my photos are a reminder/prompter) but we certainly attended one’s I’d never seen before – all on the far side of the railway. Initially, we took a right just going out of the village to the north, opposite the D109 as leads into the village. This took us into rolling countryside with areas of trees/copse, interspersed with vines and fields. All quite interesting as I’d no idea vines existed in such a location. We also at some stage picked two sites near the railway, a new one from our initial sortie away from the village, the vineyard track very close indeed to the railway fence at one point, passing a large signal box, the other a well remembered from 2019 plot past industrial units reached from some way down the Route de Boncourt le Bois which is almost opposite Restaurant La Toute Petite Auberge on the main road. Our afternoon finished with a large plot of Aligote bordering (non village side) the RN974 as it climbs out of Vosne. We made more than one pass through these Aligote vines in two areas, walking between both. A very tiring afternoon, notably warm throughout & even into the evening, for a fatigued your’s truly at least who’s hip was by the close giving me hell. At some point late in the afternoon or maybe early evening I’d overheard gossip of a finish on Thursday (Day 8) which didn’t surprise as suggesting a timescale akin to 2019s. So, we were getting there, with what turned out to be venturing into the Hautes-Cotes to come to see us to a conclusion. I think it was the evening of either Days 5 or 6 which saw a bit more of a late night drinking (wine) session than usual when I inadvertently caused some consternation amongst those staying up later. After consumption of the usual sorts of bottles with our evening meal and immediately afterwards, and when I’d moved away from the group slightly to work on my laptop photo downloading, re-sizing, captioning etc, at some stage Gerald & Hubert decided an additional bottle or bottles were needed. I was aware from 2019 that as longstanding regulars, and bosses below the Noellat family, G & H could have access to the keys to the underground cellar (our usual bottles came from the above ground buildings; specifically the room to the rear of the garage I believe, which also houses the bottling line). On this occasion they disappeared and triumphally returned brandishing a 2002 Vosne 1er Les Suchots – a serious bottle, much more so (serious) particularly in age terms than I’d ever seen broached before. This was opened with much fanfare & shared around. This didn’t sit easily with me at all though, in fact made me particularly uneasy. If Alain Noellat had made it available there’d have been no hanging back on my part but, as it was, I politely declined when I was offered a pour. This resulted in a bit of a minor furore as all present were surprised at my refusal, probably as they all knew I liked my wines. I was challenged & somewhat put on the spot were, and in attempting to explain myself, the language barrier didn’t help & matters got a little ‘confused’. I could clearly tell I was being told it was fine to open the bottle, and Gerald & Hubert were entrusted with the cellar keys, all so far so good BUT a top premier cru, and a 2002, the likes of which we’d definitely not seen before (in 2019 or this year) were all too much for me. I sensed I might not, at that moment, have been too popular, or maybe they were all just baffled by me, but my conscience was clear, remained so, and in any event I’d drunk enough as my head told me the following morning !

As above, to come the Hautes-Cotes and, as a counterpoint to my Morey nightmare, one of the most fabulous morning’s picking experiences I’d had in my vendange career.

marko’s harvest diary 07-Sep-20 – day 5

By Marko de Morey de la Vosne on October 07, 2020 #vintage 2020

Noellat Team in NSG Village

Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day Five, Monday 7th Sept 2020

Day 5:- Amazing how, for me, the vendange takes one away from it all, especially without regular wi-fi access. No newspapers & no TV. Almost total escapism into another world – no bad thing lol ? Unless I were to think hard, and almost count the days on fingers, then if someone asked me what day of the week it was then I’d be hard pressed to say. One is almost in a bubble of vendange routine. Am not sure if I’d be able quickly to say Day 5 was a Monday but if it was Monday then today meant Marsannay, followed up to lunch by interesting Fixin plots, then another afternoon return to Morey, but the latter a much more ‘comfortable’/normal one than the day before !

As I’ve said previously, what a difference a year can make weather wise ? When we ‘did’ both Marsannay & Fixin (the latter more than once) in 2019 both came after the weather ‘turned’ post the biblical NSG storm and became grey, cloudy & sometimes damp. The journey to the Noellat Marsannay plot this year was a pleasant interlude, start to the day, initially cruising up the RN74 through Gevrey, then left on the D108 into the village, then with a short right onto the Route des Grands Cru, before left again, still on the D108, the various signs pointing to the village domaines piquing my interest for return visits some time. Through the village, leaving buildings/habitation behind, Noellat’s plot of Marsannay is a relatively small one, in ‘Es Chezots’, the vines tucked into a sweeping uphill right hand bend of the D108, before two higher hairpin bends, on its way to Corcelles les Monts. Bright & sunny this morning, with an initial chill which made me keep a jumper on over my tee shirt. As last year we parked on a track opposite which takes one to a Sapin du Garde (observation deck) with uncultivated field on the Marsannay side, on the other trees and shrubs amongst which some local(s) has some kennels for what sounds like a large pack of chiens de chasse (hunting dogs – spaniels, hounds & terriers). Needless to say, as last year, even though the dogs must have been mostly out of sight of us, as soon as we arrived the peace & quiet was shattered by a cacophony of barking & baying which continued until we were leaving (and for all I know may have continued a while after !).

As an aside, whilst looking up ‘Es Chezots’ in my ‘Climats & Lieux Dits’ bible, I noticed on page 42 a (for me) stunning, uncaptioned, full page, photo (presumably relating to Marsannay) of a vineyard with what look like in focus lavender in flower amongst grass ahead of a very old looking vine with others and posts blurring out of focus heading downhill with village buildings in the background. Lovely photo which I’d be delighted to have taken.

Care required as we crossed the road in groups as traffic was regular. I could feel my hip as I tried to pick up speed across the tarmac but with nothing coming I could have paced myself. The full team of the four sub teams had made it here, and as the plot isn’t of great size, it didn’t really seem to take us long, even with two passes, for some of us to see off the staggered, shorter rows as one came back to the road. Nice grapes here, well presented, from well trained vines, no excessive foliage hence almost a joy to pick after my receding Morey nightmare. I’ve had the domaine wine from here a few times in a couple of vintages – a good one. So, back across the road, and whilst it seemed a little early/too soon for the casse-croute break, although I confess I had no idea of the real time, nevertheless, refuel we did in quite pleasant surroundings – continual doggy noise aside. Must confess I felt sorry for the cooped up canines, much as I did for the dogs in similar surroundings in a copse almost in the middle of Arlaud’s Bourgogne Roncevie. They must be gagging to get out when ‘released’ for the chasse. Quite relaxing though, sitting on the mini bus rear bumper in the sunshine, munching the usual large half baguette, sipping Aligote. Worst way’s to spend one’s time 😉.

Next stop, as I’d half guessed beforehand, after Marsannay was, logically, Fixin (pronounced Fissin). The more I see of parts of Fixin the more I like/warm to it, and as somewhere I could happily live. Another village, like Marsannay, with much scope to visit vignerons. Our first (of two) sites in Fixin this morning was a familiar one from last year, well below the village proper on the top side of a road who’s bottom side is residential housing. As last year I’m pretty sure we were looking at Fixin ‘En Clomee’ – if not that then Fixin ‘Les Chenevrieres’. As we pulled up & disembarked another domaine were working here, two tractors and trailers parked close by our vehicles. No great surprise this other domaine was the local Domaine Pierre Gelin (‘PG’). Readers of my vendange diary and photo views from 2019 may remember a photo I took then of a small, round, red post marker with the name of Pierre Gelin on it. PG has holdings in both ‘En Clomee’ & ‘Les Chenevrieres’ so I’m correct we were in one of those two. I sort of recall we had two or three serious go’s at this site last year but this was to be our sole visit for 2020. Maybe the Bulgarians had been here already or coming to it after us. Whatever, whilst I had strong memories of very long, time consuming rows, such didn’t seem the case this year – maybe the much better weather and dry ground underfoot cast a different light. With the full team here though, half were directed to the other end of the rows to work back whilst the rest of us set off from ‘this’ end so we effectively halved the rows. Nice grapes again here on this heavier, low lying ground.

What followed the above rows was rather interesting and not something that featured in 2019. It’s a crying shame I lost my photos this day, from here and later in Fixin (see later). Further on up the road (as the song says – now who sang that ?) as just a short walk, on the opposite side, were another plot of (Pinot) vines. These lay beyond a piece of land given over to allotments. The individual allotment nearest to us was a ‘work of art’ on which the owner had, and is, clearly lavished/lavishing much time and effort beyond whatever he/she must be growing. There is, for want of a better word, a posh ‘cabin’ – maybe better described as a small pavilion – with veranda, and also further into the plot, perhaps in the middle, was a serious looking tree house constructed, from the ground up into/around the tree, from wooden pallets – quite a structure. As someone who’s had to domestically break up pallets (used for delivery of bathroom fittings), unable to find a home for them (seems most pallet firms deal in sizeable quantities, not interested in one or two) I was highly impressed ! Once we were on this second plot of vines we could also see more handiwork from the allotment owner on the far side of the cabin, namely a brick barbecue, and also a sink and ‘draining board’ type preparation area on brick pylons. Anyway, allotment escapism aside, this second plot of vines were quite something as high trained, akin to what one would find on the Hautes-Cotes as we’d come to in due course. I was intrigued. We were paired up to work the rows here, as usual with these high trained vines. For me, that meant the start of what was to pleasingly continue for such vines for the rest of the vendange, being paired with the quiet, studious, highly likeable, older than me, Patrick Prevost who lives in Nuits. Patrick and I worked well together and in time dispatched our row efficiently before assisting laggards elsewhere before final grapes were collected & we returned to the vehicles. One clown, a wiry, older, guy who I believe is a long standing regular, who’d tried to ‘take the piss’ out of me one evening as ‘Anglais’ until a gave him a mouthful to the consternation of others and Alain Noellat (who asked me if I was ok to which I just grimaced), decided it was ‘clever’ to climb a decent sized tree on this high trained plot & start shouting some unintelligible (to me anyway). Clearly an exhibitionist but with only half a brain, who clearly hadn’t considered the implications, not least for the Noellats, if he’d fallen to the ground. From his shaking of the head and quiet muttering it was clear to me Patrick was as unimpressed as I was by ‘Tarzan’ !

Back in the vehicles, sometime to go before lunch, so off we went to another Fixin plot – or the others did as we (in our vehicle) got lost and ended up in a random tour of the village before eventually making it to where we should have gone directly by which time the others were dismounting and making their way on foot to the next plot. We’d set off in the right direction but in the front seat, local Odile was directing Jean-Claude up & through the village but, and am not sure why exactly, the latter must have misunderstood the directions, resulting in us taking, I think, a left instead of what should have been a right. In efforts to ‘get back on track’ we seemed to take almost an entire convoluted circuit of the village, to the ongoing puzzlement of the back seats passengers (including your’s truly), at one point passing the well known to me Domaine Jean-Michel & Armelle Molin, close by the village’s Roman bath house. We should have gone directly up the Rue Noisot to the restaurant, Au Clos Napoleon, and taken a right down the side of the restaurant building onto the Rue des Hervelets a ver Fixey – which we got to eventually. I was anticipating we were to pick, below the road, last year’s Fixin Les Boudieres/Le Village where I’d been on the village side outside row and ended up with vines, under the shadow of trees and shrubs, having minimal grapes. Above the road, but not for us, are the premier crus ‘Les Hervelets’ & ‘Les Arvelets’. My assumption was wrong though so the Bulgarians must have ‘done’ the above. Instead we walked, from the vehicles, to a very old set of stone steps down into the plot onto a path, just before ‘En Combe Roy’ above us, which led us to a plot of vines some way back from the road which must be part of ‘Les Entre-Deux-Velles’. We’d ‘done’ this plot last year after the one mentioned above but in this year’s sunny, warm, dry weather it was a good deal more pleasant & nicer place to be than in last year’s indifferent claggy weather. Nice grapes again; good volume, no rot. Completing this took us up (allowing for travel time back to Vosne) to lunch time. But, walking back along the Rue des Hervelets to our vehicles, coming towards us was an unusual/unexpected sight, namely a guy astride a lively, sizeable (as in tall) skewbald horse – akin to something from a Cowboy film or ‘The Lone Ranger’ (for those of us old enough to recall the latter !). The horse was quite skittish, doubtless down to having to make its way through our motley crew, its shod hooves clattering the road, its helmeted rider seeming none too impressed at our presence, whilst wrestling his steed. What a shame again I lost my photos as I recall having good one’s of our venue and then the equine encounter. Hey ho ! No recall without photos either of our lunch/evening menus.

Post lunch back in the vehicles, and off down the Avenue du Monument to the RN974. With the Noellat cuverie immediately to our left, as we waited for traffic to allow us to make a left turn onto the main road, I was intrigued to see a large multi wheeled commercial tanker truck in the cuverie entrance. What on earth was that doing ? Evening enquiry of Alain Noellat brought advice clarification the tanker was bulk collecting Aligote juice ! Wow, the Noellats must have some quantity of Aligote to allow for such a bulk sale. I omitted to ask if the juice was this year’s but assume it must have been albeit our ‘crew’ had yet to pick Aligote in quantity although we did subsequently. Our destination going north again this p.m. ? Shock horreur pour moi; Morey-St-Denis again !!! To my intense, subsequent relief the Village rows we spent the afternoon picking, a little more north and more directly behind the Hubert Lignier premises, whilst hard work didn’t have the horrors of my worst nightmare from Day 4. Concluding our Morey excursions saw a completion of Day 5.

marko’s harvest diary 06-Sep-20 – day four

By Marko de Morey de la Vosne on September 21, 2020 #vintage 2019

Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day Four, Sunday 6th Sept 2020

The first part of the afternoon of this day was one of the most downright difficult & unpleasant picking experiences I’ve had in Burgundy in 13 harvests. Passage of time has done nothing to alter my view. The Lord certainly wasn’t smiling down at me, that’s for sure.

But before we get to the horror element there was the morning to meander through. The day again started off sunny but then, hallelujah, became cooler with some cloud – ideal working conditions for your’s truly. The morning was entirely Chambolle which was fine ! We worked our way unremarkably through 4 plots in all. There was an element of finishing rows not completed previously as well as new elements. Perhaps the most interesting plot was one on the way out of the village, can’t be sure now where this was but it was adjacent to the road (D122) and sat below a private property which was at right angles to the road, with another semi derelict property opposite. It was the building opposite that provided the interest for me as its eaves were ‘home’ to the nests of both swallows and house martins. The birds were pretty busy, a joy to watch, one or two ‘demanding’ youngsters sat on the roadside overhead wires becoming very flutteringly demanding when any parent came near. Watching this my thoughts were ‘you’d better get a move on and start fending for yourselves’ as surely migration wouldn’t be too far away. In addition to the swallows and martins I noted another bird flying around, a bit larger and not as ‘svelte’ but didn’t recognise and couldn’t identify that species. Our final pre-lunch Chambolle plot after the ‘bird’ one required two passes then so to lunch, Chambolle finished for another year. On the way out of the village, across the road from the Boursot premises, just before the road forks two ways into the upper village, we passed a very large, sprawling, oak tree with plaque at its base referring to its age & when planted. I would come back to have a closer look at this post vendange on one of my two days ‘me time’ before returning to England. Seeing the Boursot premises reminded me of Bill’s referencing the domaine & I resolved to add it to my days off visit list.

I only took 9 photos this day, simply as we were so busy and quick, and with the afternoon so demanding, I simply didn’t have the opportunities. The first 5 were affected by the settings issues referred to previously & it was only post-lunch as we disembarked the vehicles at Morey that I cursingly & belatedly noticed the awry settings dials. Lunch though today was another tasty one. Ouefs Mimosas weren’t something I had before but very tasty. Followed by that ‘ole staple’ boeuf bourguignon which never disappoints. In addition to the Badoit & Vittel waters our wines at lunch were commonly, as white:- either Aligote or Savigny 2017 Village Blanc; red Hautes-Cotes de Nuit Rouge.

Morey-St-Denis ! Always good to be back in dear Morey, always to have a special place in my heart after 9 years working here. As usual we ‘circled’ around to get to our destination, the ‘corner’ element of vines between Hubert Lignier’s RN74 premises and the road up into Morey from the traffic lights, from the southbound carriageway. This circling (driving almost a square or rectangle) involved heading up towards the village before turning right into Rue de Tres Girard, past Cecile Tremblay’s cuverie, and the Hotel, then through the Tres Girard vines until turning right again back down onto the RN74 in the right direction/correct side of the road, right again onto the latter then dropping off down a little ramp onto the track which goes up to a large private property behind impressive Leylandii. To the right side of the above property and above it the vines are MSD 1er cru Les Sorbes but the lower element to the road is the village classification, Les Sionnieres. As an aside, whilst it occurs to me, Alain Noellat told me one evening that the domaine’s MSD plots came from/with his marriage to Isabel. Sometimes I’ll manoeuvre myself when we’re being set up to start rows if I can see a preferred row but here I was lagging a bit behind the others getting my knee pads & gloves on, & adjusting the camera settings such that Hubert directed me to the remaining outside row adjacent to the track we were parked on, Philippe on my inside.

What followed was incredibly difficult and exhausting. From the first vine get go I just could not believe the extent of vine foliage I was looking at. I could have done with a machete rather than my secateurs which seemed almost painfully inadequate sizing up the task. Gritting my teeth I attempted to get going with any sort of method/rhythm. If the foliage wasn’t enough when one did manage to ‘hack’ one’s way through to where any grapes might be then more often than not, peculiarly for this row, many of the seemingly small bunches were hanging particularly low, just above the ground. The bunches certainly were not ‘presenting’ as one commonly/ideally finds. Trying to stay on my feet such was impossible really so I had little option but to drop to my knees where I largely remained for most of the row, other than when having to stand for bucket emptying or to lean over to cut grapes on the other side of the vine. Quite quickly, and absolutely not something I was used to, I began to fall behind the others. Not a great deal initially but by the time we’d been ‘at it’ a while and some way up the rows, the distance between me and most of the others was significant, depressing, and growing. To someone used to being ‘up there’, if not setting the picking pace this was a shock to the system. The only saving grace, if there was one, was that Philippe on my immediate inside was having similar issues to myself, if not as grim, and was roughly half way between myself and the others. He was intermittently cursing and sympathising with me. Every vine seemed a new battle with its own challenges. I can hardly believe now I’m typing this but, trust me, this was grim and as difficult as grape picking might get – in my experience at least. Jean-Claude was also sympathetic, coming back to me now and then with bottles of water to at least give me regular hydration. Thank goodness it was cloudy ! Eventually I was saved, probably no more than half way up my designated row, by the others having completed their rows coming to my aid en masse. With a number of ‘attackers’ it still seemed to take a while to complete the row by which time I was almost exhausted and nearly out on my feet, staggering out of the row onto the track, breathing heavily.

After a short rest our sub team moved a little higher, and to the right, to pick some more village rows which, thank heaven, whilst still bearing a weight of foliage, were much more ‘normal’. We continued here until a halt was called just after 17.00 hrs. Such a finish time, whilst the norm at Noellat, was not something I’d been used to at Arlaud were we commonly worked until near 18.00 hrs. For this ageing individual the earlier finish was most welcome !

The rest provided by the mini bus journey back to Vosne was just what I needed. The evening was interesting though as, to my surprise, my travails in the Morey Village was a subject of debate/ discussion (all sympathetic), including with Alain & Sophie Noellat hence word somehow must have made its way to the cuverie. Fame at last although not ideal ! I enjoyed my aperitif beer and later our evening wines more than usual that night before sleeping soundly. If there was a ‘sting in the tail’ from the Morey experience I believe that was for my ‘creaking’ hip as, if not on Day 5, by Day 6 I was struggling quite badly in moving any distance – picking at the vine wasn’t too much of an issue though.

To come, with no photos for Days 5 & 6, and the latter to a certain extent being unremarkable/ ordinaire in terroir terms at lease, I’ll combine my next instalment to cover both.

marko’s harvest diary 05-Sep-20 – day three

By Marko de Morey de la Vosne on September 21, 2020 #vintage 2020

Echezeaux Fruit

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’.

Balloon over Echezeaux c8.00 a.mOn 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) !

marko’s harvest diary 04-Sep-20 – day two

By Marko de Morey de la Vosne on September 18, 2020 #vintage 2020

Vougeot lower grapes case on lorry
Vougeot lower grapes case on lorry

Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day Two, Friday 4th Sept 2020

Am actually, typing this 17th Sept, back at home in the UK having left Burgundy very early last Sunday. Apologies for the delay since my last missive but various distractions, needs etc getting home & not been feeling too great the last couple of days – albeit no Covid symptoms ! Now, that I’m both at home, and in ‘enforced’ quarantine until the 27th I should be able to accelerate my ‘output’ to fully cover the vendange, and what turned out to be a very pleasant couple of days ‘me time’ afterwards.

But, for now, our Noellat vendange second day continued to follow a similar pattern to 2019s. A delight to have the room to myself and be able to ‘spread out’ my stuff, but in disciplined fashion I made sure I made my bed each morning. Normal start on the Noellat premises ‘forecourt’, grabbing a coffee from the machine in the large room we dined in last year, then waiting for everyone to arrive. Routine sees the team leader chauffeurs taken first thing to the cuverie on the RN 74 where the mini buses are parked overnight to then return in said vehicles to collect the rest of us and gear. A new feature for this year for each vehicle & sub team (4) is a cool box containing bottles of water (Vittel & Badoit) and bottles of white wine for both casse-croute lubrication and other lubrication thro the day. Into the vehicles are also loaded the porteur’s pannier and the requisite number of buckets we need. We’d been allocated our secateurs at the Day One ‘initiation’, with responsibility to retain these through the vendange and hand in at final day completion. Woe betide anyone losing their tool ! For myself, my personal equipment includes camera (the tough, robust, Canon G16 I’ve had now since 2012), gloves (gardening type although I also had rubber gloves with me but didn’t use those), and my invaluable knee pads. I’m quite in awe of those who don’t wear gloves and also long surprised more of my colleagues don’t use knee pads – but maybe I spend more time on my knees !

This vendange became notable for me with the settled weather – this morning was no exception. No great chill even first thing and, whilst initially an extra layer or two’s clothing might be judicious, once ‘hard at it’ one soon needed to get down to just tee shirt or the one top. So, 7.30 a.m. and off we go ! Not ‘that’ early as my 9 years at Domaine Arlaud always saw Herve Arlaud determined that we’d be in the vines before 7.30, invariably before any other domaine.

Destination Vougeot, this year to start with the bottom section of the two parcels Noellat have here (2019 we started with the top section). Vehicles parked on the widish section of verge where the road from the village joins the RN74 (see photo if Bill includes). Entry to the Clos was, if memory serves, via the Faiveley gate. My second layer jumper was removed in the first row as it was already becoming hot, hot, hot with no breeze at all to speak of. Grapes looking pretty good, my grabbed photos maybe not doing overall justice. It was post Vougeot later that a theory formed in my mind that for this dry and hot year maybe those lower lying terroirs, and/or with heavier, more water retentive soils, would benefit notably to lighter earth terroirs. There was no shortage of grape volume in this lower part of Vougeot. Casse-croute break, just inside the wall, followed completion of the lower section Vougeot picking before embarking en vehicule to loop around the southern section through the edge of Grand Echezeaux to enter the upper part of the Clos through gap in the wall onto track which takes one ultimately to the buildings. From our mini bus as we skirted along the wall pre-entry I was shocked to see a static Harvesting Machine with support van on the other side of the wall in the Clos. I never thought I’d see a Harvesting Machine in a grand cru – maybe I’m naïve. I’ve no idea who might have been employing it – my Landrieu-Lussigny & Pitiot Climats & Lieux-Dits ‘bible’ listing over 60 producers presenting a harvest Clos de Vougeot declaration for in 2011. If I had to have a guess though, and hope I’m not doing the gentleman a disservice, my suspicion would fall on Gerard Raphet as I’d seen him using a Harvesting Machine in Chambolle Bussieres a few years ago, surprised then, when (hand) picking close by for Arlaud.

Picking the upper section parcel of Vougeot passed without incident or note. Grapes not as abundant though as in the lower section.

Once out of Vougeot we travelled only a relatively short distance south before, probably below/opposite Vosne Chalandins or Aux Ormes, heading off towards the railway line, coming initially right to the fence before heading maybe half way back towards the main road before disembarking to tackle a parcel ( 2 passes made) of Bourgogne Rouge (or similar designation) which would take us up to and into lunchtime. This BR parcel was notable for what was to be repeated elsewhere namely a material weight of foliage (leaves etc). I did wonder if the canopy had been kept ‘heavy’ particularly to shield the crop from the sun but never established if the case. Whatever, it was akin to tackling a jungle, in addition to which the weight/volume of grapes was substantial. Everywhere was very dry. I definitely hadn’t come to this plot in 2019 or anywhere near to it so it was ‘new’. Just before we finished here my colleague, Patrick, in the next row called my attention to something at the top of a vine along the top wire. This was a small, wild wasps nest with a few wasps buzzing on it. A first for me in 13 harvests (see photo). Fatigued by the ‘war’ in battling through the above our team was the last back for lunch ! Menu for lunch & dinner is as per the photo but a pretty good lunch !

A late return for lunch saw a later p.m start and thus shorter afternoon session which was solely Nuits-St-Georges Aux Boudots who’s northern boundary is, of course, Aux Malconsorts. Boudots had made a deep (positive !) impression on me in 2019. Topography, terroir and ambience were really nice such that this swiftly became a favourite personal site joining such as Clos St Denis and Vosne Petit-Monts. We must, as a full team, have been split as my photos show only two mini buses rather than four. Where the others went I didn’t establish although I now suspect maybe a plot of Nuit-St-Georges Village as when we tackled other parcels of NSG Village on Day 3 such did not include all of those we’d ‘done’ in 2019. Boudots required two passes, one upslope and one down, punctuated by a lengthy drinks break as the afternoon was extremely hot with my scribbling that evening ‘thirsty like never before’ !!! I was developing a serious liking for Badoit sparkling water, and amusing my fellow team members by calling it ‘Badoit Grand Cru l’eau’.

Post Boudots back to the domaine for the evening rituals:- gear cleaning, shower time (then for me), photo downloading/editing (ideally with a beer), before evening meal & so to bed. Meal this evening had, unusually, Croque-Monsieur for the main course which seemed a bit of a cop out for our talented chef but a good Croque it was too. One of my fellow lodgers, big a regular for a few years, is highly likeable Thibault, a youngish, always cheerful, big guy. Thibault has a prodigious appetite such that he’s always offered 2nd or 3rd helpings by the likes of Madam Noellat and I’ve never known him refuse. Where he puts his nosh goodness only knows !! On this occasion I reckon he must have eaten at least 4 Croques if not more ! We had a fun debate this harvest when I asked Thibault, with others present, if he’d ever seen the American TV program, Man Versus Food. Turned out he had & was much amused at my suggestion he might be the star of a French version !

And so to bed before Day 3 with an Echezeaux conundrum.

marko’s harvest diary 03-Sep-20 – (the real) day one

By Marko de Morey de la Vosne on September 11, 2020 #vintage 2020

Noellat Day One 1st thing Gathering - Alain Noellat back of head

Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day One, Thurs 3rd Sept 2020

Decent sleep in my sole occupier room on basic single bed after the long travelling to get here. I was up and about by 6.30 a.m. not sure what time precisely the ‘action’ would start. On any first day there always seems to be some extra time taken re admin & everyone familiarising themselves with each other, what we’re going to do and how/when.

I was one of the first to gather on the domaine premises forecourt, availing myself of a black coffee from the machine in the large room just left inside the gates (which is the normal dining room without Covid) to go with my brought with me Cadbury’s breakfast bar (other breakfast bars are available !). More folk gradually arrived until the area from domaine building, under the awning covering dining tables, and to the gate was covered by non socially distancing milling folk. I quickly recognised and acknowledged, as they did me, any number of faces from last year – not just the fellow lodgers from the prior evening but family/management, cuverie employees, and locals who would bolster the lodging pickers. I’ll come to mask wearing later in this piece when I cover Covid more generally.

Initially though, what we were all wating for, as happened last year but then in the bottling/storage room to the rear of the garage, was ‘the announcement’. As last year this was largely given by Sophie Noellat but with her brother, winemaker Sebastian, stood alongside in support (see photo) whilst father, Alain, held himself to one side. Being ‘caught out’ last year, then not realising I was allocated to one of several sub teams, I paid somewhat more attention this time (!) albeit a very good deal of what was said passed me by as outside my limited French vocabulary & spoken too quickly ! Sophie is a brilliant person. I can honestly say I don’t believe I’ve ever met someone so constantly cheerful, bubbly, and the rest. ‘Glass half full’ might have been a saying coined for her except her glass seems full all the time ! For me the added bonus is her English is excellent. How she juggles being a mother of two very young boys (oldest just starting primary school), domaine admin with her mother, and winemaking with her brother goodness only knows. Her husband (first name escapes me), another sunny disposition cheery type, is from the Sirugue family (Domaine Robert Sirugue – situate just down the road at the top of the Avenue du Monument). Brother Sebastian is a laid back, quietish, big solid citizen, thoughtful type, except when with his cuverie team when he becomes more ‘one of the lads’. One might be hard pressed to realise he’s the main winemaker – I’ve never seen him in garb other than working trousers and tee shirt.

Main outcome for me from the announcement was to have my name called as a member of sub team Equipe No 1, team leader/porter/mini bus chauffeur Jean-Claude Franchini (‘JCF’), with the rest of the team two ‘mature’ ladies and five other equally mature men. Three of the latter were known to me from last year, if not well, as we were then in different teams. In time though we would prove to be as quick & efficient as any of the three other sub teams, if not the quickest. Big plus that I knew JCF well from rooming together last year. All the 4 teams would have their own rental mini bus, and would dine together with a table plan. We even had allocated seats in the mini buses which we had to ‘stick to’. I could only construe this was for any potential Covid track & trace. In terms of Covid this must have caused the domaine (and others) a great deal of admin angst and cost. I’ve already mentioned lodger room occupancy, eating outside, using our own eco cups, and having a mask allocation. Laminated signs re Covid best practices such as mask wearing, sanitising, hand washing etc are sticky tape attached all over the place i.e to doors, stairwells, walls in front of wash basins, on the windows of the mini buses, on the serving tables at meal times to name the areas I can recall. My room has its own bottle of sanitiser and such are readily available around the domaine premises. Frankly, I cannot see the domaine could do more yet operate half way effectively.

Mask wearing – hum, where to start ! At least we don’t have to wear in the vines whilst picking although one or two individuals seem to have them permanently under their chin !!! Essentially, we are required (must) to wear masks in two scenarios:- 1) when we’re in the mini buses (presumably as we cannot social distance thereto); and 2) at meal times when we approach the servers for our food. The food serving is a change from the norm as historically we’ve had ‘waitress’ service but now we are required to approach serving tables manned by Isabel Noellat and her two helpers whilst wearing our masks & they also wear theirs. It makes sense to also wear masks otherwise when mixing with others e.g the early morning gathering but I wish I could say this was adhered to. It isn’t, but further, there’s a whole range of bizarre mask wearing (or part wearing !!) practices which make little or no sense and make the wearers look ‘daft’. You might note various mask wearing examples from some of my photos 😉. I could name names re inappropriate mask use but had better not as I don’t know who might read this & don’t wish to offend or get into ‘trouble’ !

Ok, enough preamble & Covid – lets get down to action i.e what we’re here for !

What followed for the rest of the day in picking & terroir terms was generally an action replay of 2019 ! From Sophie’s announcement, and gathering in our teams we made through the garage, into the bottling cum store room to the rear, exiting the latter into village vines behind the domaine building which in turn stretch down to the buildings on the RN74 – in our case the rear of the Noellat cuverie. We obtained a pair of the familiar red handled small secateurs (to remain with us throughout the vendange) and bucket from our team leader/porter and, being allocated a row each were ready to start snipping our first grapes. For me an initial rustiness quickly goes and years of ‘practice’ & knowing how bunches attach takes over to ‘get one going’. Steadily picking up the pace I found myself at this early stage stretching out a small gap to the others but paced myself not to get too far ahead as we needed to remain largely aligned with each other across the rows for bucket emptying on ‘pannier’ command from our porteur, or alternatively one of us initiating the bucket emptying process with same call. Grapes looked pretty good from what I’d heard. Usual mix of some vines being more productive than others. Here, none were particularly heavily laden to almost fill a bucket from one vine but I recalled the same from last year i.e the ground, clone(s), vine age. The ground was very, very dry though reflecting the long, hot summer and what little rain had fallen pre vendange had done little to change. We worked steadily downhill, well it’s not really a hill, just a very gentle slope, towards the cuverie rear wall. Our new team pleasingly arrived amongst the first whereupon we ‘downed tools’ for our first casse-croute break – these were to occur every morning around 9.30 a.m. as a rest with food & drink between start & lunch (latter always taken around 12.00).

The Noellat casse-croute break is quite something ! Enormous sandwiches are pre-prepared & wrapped in cling film. These are akin to half a baguette with filling which might be any of jambon, saucisson or pate. A small piece of baguette sits loosely on top which one might choose to fill with one of the various small wrapped processed cheese e.g Babybel which are on offer. Additionally small pieces of chocolate round matters of if one so desires ! The large baguette sandwich provides quite a work out for one’s jaw, teeth & gums ! One row done we shifted positions to start fresh rows going ‘upslope’ back towards the domaine buildings rear. After that I think we might have helped out a lagging team or collectively finished any outstanding rows but such took us to lunch.

Here (lunch) we found Covid had led to each sub team being allocated its own table for the duration with seating plan – laminate on the table to illustrate the same (see photo). We didn’t sit rigorously to the seating plan, for instance I found myself at the head, or base, of the table at the edge of the awning which remained my position for the vendange. Each table would commonly be pre set to include large bottles of Vittel & Badoit water with a bottle of white wine which would be an Aligote or sometimes a 2017 Savigny Village Blanc. I’ve tried to remember to photo each day’s lunch & evening menu laminate but we’d routinely have entrée, mains (fish or meat), cheese, and a dessert (might be an ice cream, yogurt, or cake. Nice piece of salmon today was an excellent start ! The Noellat’s employ their own ex-professional retired chef who I gather has worked c14 vendanges and lives in on the premises. He’s a cheerful guy & does a great job – we’re lucky.

Post lunch our first sortie into our allocated rental mini buses – ours a metallic grey Renault Trafic which looked like it had had a hard life (which would get harder !). As mentioned a seating plan applied and was observed (me on the outside of the first of two rear rows of seats & hence responsible for sliding door opening & closing) as, impressively, was mask wearing. If one forgot one’s mask a ‘subtle’ reminder would emanate from one of the others ! Our first mobile destination was another ‘action replay’ from 2019 i.e. we crossed the village going north, past many well known domaines including DRC, looped around the village cemetery wall and just beyond it disembarked for another section of village cutting. Nothing remarkable here & once done we moved a short distance to a plot fronting the RN74, not quite as far along as the Arlaud plot by the Avenue du Monument I know well. This took us to our day’s finish on a warm, dry, day which marked the vendange.

Back to base I wondered about bucket cleaning. In 2019 teams had been allocated a turn at the end of each day to clean buckets, secateurs and porter back packs. That arrangement seemed to have gone by the wayside for 2020. Instead a voluntary group of the lodgers, to include your’s truly did the business. What was new, and a spiffing idea I’d not come across before but kudos to the originator, was a 700 litre greenish fibreglass rectangular tank which came up to my waist. This was filled with water by hosepipe and as many buckets as possible were put in and left to soak for a short while. Was good how quickly the buckets came clean without much brush action which could be added if required, the pressure of dunking and pulling out seeming enough to remove stickiness and debris. The buckets were then stacked pyramid wise along the wall to dry before the next morning. The porteurs containers Philippe from our team cleaned with the hosepipe whilst we did the buckets. Philippe is an engaging little individual. From Villefranche, Beaujolais he’s one of those with leathery, deeply tanned skin from a working life outdoors, and one of those also with rolled up cigarette almost permanently stuck to his bottom lip. His smoking was readily apparent in the occasional bouts of from deep within coughing. Philippe was one of us particularly ‘challenged’ by mask wearing, not that he didn’t wear his, just it very, very rarely made it upwards beyond his top lip!

Once gear cleaning down to include one’s own gloves, knee pads, footwear etc just enough time for a shower, change then brief period for aperitif socialising (and/or in my case photo downloading, editing, captioning or word typing) before our evening meal. No formal seating plan here as there were only us lodgers, the Noellats and one or two of the cuverie team. We commonly had the same water as lunch, white wine and red – the latter could be any village e.g Fixin, Chambolle or MSD and sometimes a premier cru e.g Savigny Peuillets.

And so to bed ! Day Two to come and our first Grand Cru in two parts – guess ?

marko’s harvest diary 02-Sep-20 – the return of the marko

By Marko de Morey de la Vosne on September 09, 2020 #vintage 2020

Noellat Savigny Goudelettes
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

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