A long day in the Mâconnais today. As you can see, the producers can be rather grumpy in these covid-dominated times – or maybe it’s just their impatience with me, trying to find the right buttons on my camera 🙂
My thanks for all their patience!
marko’s harvest diary 06-Sep-20 – day four
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.
mark’s vosne harvest – day 8
Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day Eight, Thurs 24th Sept 2019
The last official working day of the 2019 vendange for the picking team and one with a difference, in location, for the majority of the day at least. I was, at last, to also find out today why we hadn’t, to my slight frustration cum disappointment, picked any of the domaine’s Vosne premier crus, nor Savigny or Pommard vines – but that came much later in the day so hang on a little !
The first absolute confirmation I think now I had that today was indeed to be our collective last day came from fellow snorer room mate, and other sub team leader/chauffeur/porteur, Jean-Claude1, who mentioned it as we roused ourselves. In the same conversation the other member of our room triumvirate, Jean-Claude2, mentioned he’d be ‘shooting off’ later ( I understood at the end of the working day) & was gone after lunch, without staying for the Paulee (first tangible mention I’d heard of that also) as he was meeting his daughter somewhere else in France that evening.
mark’s vosne harvest – day 6 & 7
Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Days Six, Tues 24th Sept 2019 & Seven Weds 25th Sept 2019
Apologies for the delay for this piece following on from Day Five – all down to me, nowt (Northern Egland dialect word = ‘nothing’) to do with our illustrious web site owner (okay – a bit, Bill!) I’ve been majorly distracted by dealing with a quasi incompetent insurance loss assessor re the previously mentioned water leak to our domestic property and also taking as much advantage as possible from the window of very nice & dry autumnal weather here in North West England to get gardens, exterior etc tidy & ready for winter.
So, with thanks for the patience, am combining days six & seven here, largely as it seems to make sense, that rationale down to day seven being a ‘bit’ of a non-event. Indeed, am struggling to recall much about it (!) other than it was nothing other than a Bourgogne terroir type day, all day. I didn’t even take any photos of day seven either which I can recall being down to two aspects, namely:- 1) what we were doing was not compelling enough in any way to prompt me to get the camera out; and 2) the weather was also ‘iffy’. So, only photos of day six to go with these words, and not ‘that many’ of those – for the same sort of reasons as above.
Without getting too far ahead of myself, day six started out grey, chilly, and clammy with that sort of mist draping the Cote the locals refer to as brouillard (fog). Brouillard is definitely a word I’ve only learnt from my vendanges; seau = bucket (or vice versa!) being another one – serious stuff hey ! The above weather sort of persisted for the rest of the day, or at least until lunchtime/just after, and we also had drizzly, semi-persistent, on & off rain, but not of the volume to mean temporary or other cessation of activities. I’d been told before even coming to Burgundy that the Noellat vendange duration would a week, and I’d heard that reiterated to others after I arrived – so, not too long to go it seemed. As a ‘dampener’ for the commencement of day six I also had a ‘bit of a head’ (!) from fine wine consumption from the evening of day five dinner as well as staying up too late – served me right I guess !
Off we went en vehicule, on to the RN974, seemingly in the Fixin sort of direction, but as we cruised past that village still on the main road then one could only deduce our destination must perhaps be Marsannay (or to properly give it its full name:- Marsannay-la-Cote). Deduction confirmed as we eventually turned left off the main road on to the D108 up towards the village. I’ve never had cause to venture into the centre of Marsannay before (unlike Fixin) but it looked very appealing & definitely worthy of future investigation. Fingers crossed by me we weren’t heading for any below village ‘boring’ flatlands but quickly became clear we were absolutely not – quite the contrary ! Instead we drove into the heart of the village with bit of jiggery pokery right/left then seeing us continue upwards through and out still on the D108, buildings/habitation gradually being left behind. As we’d passed through the village centre I was intrigued to see those small brown ‘tourist type’ signs with direction arrows & producer domaine’s names on; recall noting Bruno Clair, Bart, & Fougeray de Beauclair amongst others. Our destination was to quite a small section of vines on the northern side of the road, just as the D108 curved quite tightly right and also climbed quite steeply (for trucks, cyclists) uphill – a little further on coming to a section of three bends – the next habitation thereafter some way on seemingly being Corcelles-les-Monts. My ‘Climats & Lieux-Dits’ book suggests the vines we were to ‘attack’ to be in the upper section of ‘Ez Chezots (Les Echezeaux)’. We parked, just off the bend to the left, on a stony track with large muddy water filled puddles. No vines on this side with the land just off the road soon giving way to shrubs then woody/forested rising slopes. Amongst the shrubs etc to our right there must be a kennel/kennels, for more than likely hunting dogs (much as there are at one side of Arlaud’s Roncevie), as our alighting from the vehicles, and presumably having the Italian’s dogs with us as usual, prompted a cacophony of barking, whining etc which continued until we finished and left, which didn’t take that long ! The extent of Noellat vines here was small. Situate tucked into the bend of the road and roughly planted not quite north to south meant the rows of vines were uneven in length. It didn’t take us too long at all until we’d ‘done’ these vines such that whilst the yields were ‘average’ I couldn’t help but think the production volume must be modest/small. We certainly did not subsequently receive a bottle of Marsannay in our individual vendangeurs gift boxes (details for a later date !) and I don’t recall any such wine being served to us (I haven’t mentioned or photo’d one have I ?).
So, with some degree of footwear cleaning required, with the parking trackside vegetation and large track puddles helping, we re-embarked and set off for what would be Fixin (again) this time, and what I think was now our third visit, to what I now know was indeed the low lying, flat land, Fixin ‘En Clomee’. Weather still drizzly, dank, grey, overcast – not good ☹. A notable occurrence to come here was one of the worst examples of picking avoidance cheating naughtiness at the expense of your conscientious fellow team members I can ever recall in my vendange working history and which had a highly surprising ‘conclusion’ !
This was to be our last visit to Fixin ‘En Clomee’ and I wasn’t sorry ! It was even less inviting than on previous visits given the weather this day ! I can’t recall now if we took the casse-croute break on arriving from Marsannay and/or how many passes through the vines we made. But, think from photos timings we must have made one, or possibly, two passes before the c-c then a third and final after. Such being the case I reckon the occurrence referred to above happened on our final row pass. For the previous I think we had individual rows allocated or were only doubled up but, as I’ve mentioned re a previous visit to this plot, the rows here are long hence quite energy sapping – not least when one is weighed down by loads of soil/mud attaching to one’s footwear ! Previously I’ve also mentioned that I thought I’d corrected the issue with my camera at close of Day 5 but, looking at the few photos I took this Day 6 morning with blurred elements (apologies !), either I didn’t (correct) until later or the ‘Auto’ setting had been ‘knocked’ again. Whichever pass it was that saw us three to a row (must have been first or last) I was ‘sharing’ an outside, upslope row, with ladies Francoise and Martine – each quite different from the other ! I liked Francoise, our retired teacher from the Jura region. She was/is very pleasant and, for her first vendange, a committed calm & kindly grafter. Martine I’ve mentioned on an earlier day’s report but here she was to disgrace herself in my eyes. We three set off quite normally in our allocated section of the row, between posts and, as anyone who’s worked a vendange will have likely experienced, when one is doubled or tripled up (or more) with others when you’ve picked the vines in your section you ‘leapfrog’ past your colleague(s) and start at another post, they then similarly coming past you when they’ve done – and so it goes on until the row is done. It took me a while to figure what was going on for us three (I’m not the sharpest knife in the box sometimes !) but eventually I noticed two ‘unusual’ aspects. The first was that the vines I was picking after my first section seemed to have very few grapes on compared to previously, and more noticeably what grapes I needed to pick seemed to be in the most awkward locations on the vines i.e low down etc. Whilst I was initially musing on this oddity, continuing to pick, I also realised neither Francoise nor myself had got ahead of, or had passed Martine – very strange. I could hardly take in the rationale for all this but with eventual realisation, namely that not at all speedy Martine was clearly ‘cherry picking’ (or is that bunches of grapes picking) the easy to pick bunches and then quickly moving on. This to me was quite incredible & something I’d never come across in all my 11/12 vendange years experiences. I decided to undertake a ‘little check’ and, leaving my bucket to mark where I was at, I wandered up the row to Martine, excusing myself to squeeze past, then continued a little way to sort of cover/disguise the reason for my ‘ramble’. I didn’t actually see anything tangible at that particular moment but I’d already seen & realised enough ! Team player Martine certainly is/was not. The immediate, somewhat unexpected to me, post script to this came soon after. I can’t recall exactly when now – either at the end of the row or as we embarked vehicles to move off – but, and I think Gilles must have been following matters & my then gaze towards Martine, or thought I was about to discuss with Francoise, but he moved close to me, presumably not be heard, and said, somewhat brusquely/quasi aggressively:- “Be quiet” !!! Needless to say I was rather taken aback but, assessing matters quickly (unusual for me !), decided to say, nor do, anything but keep my counsel. Reflecting subsequently I didn’t believe Gilles’ tone was deliberate, as it seemed, but rather in using English & wanting to speak economically/quickly to me his words came across as above. I guess he was keen to ensure no ‘interference’ in the team dynamic but I was also mindful he and Martine travelled together coming to the domaine daily (presumably he gave her a lift & they also travelled home together) and I was unsure how many vendanges they may/may not have worked together. So, I said nothing more, but it must have been obvious that both Gilles and Martine were aware of what I’d seen/figured out. Either by accident or design I didn’t have to pick close by her for the rest of the vendange which was ‘handy’, nor for whatever reason was she to be present at all on our last day (Day 8 to come) ! I’ve seen some naughty pickers in my time, and some who are notably slow (simply as the way it is) whom I’ve been generally happy to help (I was poor myself once upon a time !) , but I’ve never seen anything so overtly devious as Martine’s practices & hope I never come across again. The inference was also that Gilles was aware of it which I did find ‘disturbing’ hence resolved to ‘keep my distance’ from him for what working time remained other than suitable politeness etc. I can hardly credit I’ve typed this but it was a notable happening.
Eventually we’d done with ‘En Clomee’ and in still iffy weather we embarked transports and moved up the D122e towards, then upwards through the village on the Rue Noisot until, as we came to the Restaurant et Bar a Vins “Au Clos Napoleon” we turned right onto a narrow road past the aforementioned, and then almost immediately right on to the Rue des Hervelets, passing a large property set back within trees, shrubs etc, stopping within yards on the right hand side grass verge. Above us was Fixin 1er cru ‘Les Hervelets’ and a little further along, also above the road, Fixin 1er cru ‘Les Arvelets’. However, our attention was directed at the vines below the road on quite a decent slope, bordered to their right with a fence, and with a large wall along the bottom of the plot (see photos). Little difficult to be precise but now I think we must have been about to descend village climat– I can’t think we’d gone far enough to be in ‘Les Entre-Deux-Velles’. Standing on the roadside looking over and beyond the above premier crus one could see just the top & spire of a church – the Eglise Saint-Martin de Fixin which we were to almost come to when driving away later. We all descended the plot so as to pick upwards, back towards our transport.
My Gilles sub-team ended up on the left side (looking back upwards) of the plot. I moved to the very far left bordered by the fence mentioned above so I had the last/edge row of vines, Francoise being on my inside. We set to with it very quickly becoming apparent within yards that the row of vines I ‘had’ were carrying a very sparse level of fruit – indeed several vines had none at all. Am fairly sure this must have been location and immediate micro climate, affected by the substantial mass (and height) of the trees and shrubs beyond the fence. The inevitable happened, with my wincing inwardly to myself, in that I very quickly was yards ahead of anyone else, with it clearly apparent something ‘dramatic’ would happen if I carried on – even going super slowly ! Initially I contented myself by slowing my progress by picking both left (my row) and right, the row of Francoise. Her row, whilst not affected to the same border extent as mine, also didn’t have overly prolific vines either so we were both moving steadily ahead of anyone else ! I decided to seize the initiative before any potential ‘telling off’ so called to a slightly distant Gilles with the suggestion that I take over Francoises’ row as well as my own – doing both freeing her availability to assist across the rest of the team. Slightly to my surprise Gilles signified agreement by vigorous nodding and wave of acknowledgement so off I went ! Matters failed to change, other than slightly, in terms of volume of grapes I was seeing hence even ‘doing’ two side by side rows at what I regarded as ‘casual’ speed my progress continued to outstrip the rest. I was almost done, and only a few vines/yards from getting to the end, back to the road when Gilles, on his way back to the rest of the team from the truck, stopped adjacent to me and in almost conspiratorial fashion told me to report to Gerald who had a ‘top secret mission’ for me !!!! I was somewhat nonplussed at this, although realised Gilles must have been seeking to be funny (amusing) in using James Bondesque terms, but also confused that I was to stop everything there and then when so close to finishing my two rows – which seemed a little daft in context. However, doing as I was told I climbed back on to the road, emptied my bucket at the truck and reported to Gerald stood further along. He wanted nothing more from me other than to suitably (sensible at last !) use me on the far side of the whole team from where I’d been to help the stragglers of another sub team, pointing me to the precise row/individual I should go to. Not so ‘top secret’ ! Well, I told myself, here was something ! From ‘bollocking’ me three times in the first two days for being too fast Gerald seemingly had ‘seen’ the proper organisational ‘light’ and was suitably using the resource of your’s truly ! A vote of confidence and quasi acknowledgment the Englishman had ability/his uses? I could not possibly comment but I’ll have to confess it was a sweet moment of sorts !!!
Eventually, with the volume of grapes much more ‘like it’ normal in the vineyard proper away from the wooded/fenced boundary I’d been on, we all got out of the plot back onto the road. Weather still yuk ! Too soon to return to Vosne but we weren’t done yet as we walked en masse further along the road a ways then descended down plot again on a grassy sward/track gap in the vines, around a grassy mound/uneven unplanted area, to another more low lying plot than our first. Muddy here but picking this to completion took us up to time to return to Vosne for lunch, route back being along the rest of the Rue des Hervelets, right at its junction with Rue du Dr Laguesse, dropping down on the latter becoming Rue Abbe Chevalier, Domaine Clos Saint Louis up a road off to our left, to the Route des Grand Crus and so back to Vosne.
The afternoon ? Day Seven ? Errrmm, memory loss must have set in but I vaguely recall Bourgogne Rouge and Aligote vines taking up our afternoon and the next day, in several locations, including far below Chambolle, then later an interesting first visit to a plot we would come to again on Day 8 reached from the RN/D974, just past Vosne’s Restaurant La Toute Petite Auberge, down the Route de Boncourt de Bois, turning right before the railway underpass, past industrial units/sheds to the vines. The common theme for me from these ‘lesser’ vineyard sites across the Day Six p.m. & all Day Seven was the proximity of the main railway line and volume of traffic on it. The French railway system must have some smart signalling/control mechanisms to run all manner of goods & passenger trains at such regular intervals – impressive. Almost a train spotter vendangeur ‘paradise’! At one stage this ex British train commuter was startled to note a goods train, all the way down here in France, hauled by a British Diesel in the livery of EWR. I’d always, from years ago, understood the gauge of British and French railways were different/incompatible but clearly not the case now. So, drudgery for what was to take us up to a very different, eventually, Day Eight – just to show that a vendange can’t all be notable exciting premier and grand crus !!!
Day Eight to follow, to include sorties into them there Hautes-Cotes hills, an unexpected in vines finale and our evening Paulee ! That won’t quite be ‘my lot’ as I’ll also cover off, in separate pieces, my post vendange Day Nine & Ten ‘me time’ up and down the Cotes activities including domaine visits, wine finding & buying missions, some cuverie activity and then home !
mark’s vosne harvest – day 5
Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day Five, Mon 23rd Sept 2019
I suppose I could ‘sub title’ this day’s words as ‘Apres la Deluge’ or similar !
Day Five might otherwise be encapsulated as a.m NSG Village/Morey-St-Denis p.m – the latter notably interesting for your’s truly – and then there was the unexpected evening ! Days ticking past now albeit when one’s so busy and ‘in the (routine) groove’ one hardly notices the number of days and/or what day of the week it is, seriously ! Another ‘plus’ for the vendange for me is losing touch with reality, well not that actually, but what I mean is losing touch with what’s going on, news wise, in the big wide world beyond, in our case, Vosne-Romanee. Without, so far, internet access I had no opportunity to ‘catch up’ on any world news so was blissfully in my vendange ‘bubble’. Importantly, for this lifelong fan of the six times current Champions of Europe (soccer/football variety !), my youngest brother back in the UK kept me up to date by text with any games I was missing and/or material Anfield news. Via other texts and phone call though I had been advised of disquieting news of a ‘domestic’ problem involving a major leak at home from a roof space water tank which, with my wife and PhD student daughter both also away for a couple of nights, had seen water penetrate upstairs bedroom ceiling, landing ceiling and into the lounge below ☹ At first, a seemingly inevitable need to return to the UK loomed but family urged me to stay put with nothing I could do, beyond initially directing my wife to a seriously good plumber/bathroom fitter who, bless him, responded superbly with his ‘lads’ to quickly install a new tank to deal with the immediate issue. Beyond that, insurance company loss assessors were involved with nothing I could usefully contribute short term, meaning I was urged to, and could, stay in Burgundy. Needless to say, plenty of follow up & related admin awaited my eventual return and is ongoing !
As might be appreciated from our already reported being rained off late on in Day Four we had our own ‘water issues’ in Vosne ! The rain of biblical proportions which had driven us from the NSG vines the previous afternoon continued to lash down for a lot of the evening before settling into less heavy but steady rain throughout the night (I could hear it on the roof when not asleep). From memory it had stopped, or all but, as we gathered for our fifth day but very grey, misty, damp, cold & challenging it was. Cloud/mist lay along the top of the cote, and notably in the NSG Combe. Waterproofs and boots (UK Brand Hunter wellington boots for me !) now the order of the day – if you had them otherwise you’d struggle in the likes of trainers ! I could hardly wait (not !) to get into the doubtless dripping wet vines, and to have to put up with the sodden earth and its implications for footwear, buckets & subsequent cleaning ! Getting ahead of myself a little I was later to muse maybe the vendange, for us anyway, might almost neatly be divided in two weather driven parts i.e before Sunday’s storm/after it. Without sounding like a ‘clever arse’ though, but as always a big believer in law of averages, I’d considered several times ahead of coming to Burgundy 2019, that the likelihood, or odds, of a wet, or partly wet harvest must be strong – simply because of the exceptionally hot weather as had featured in prior years, and as a notably wet/bad weather harvest was some years back. As such I’d paid more than usual attention to suitable wet weather footwear and clothing.
Before I forget for later – a couple of things ! 1) Any readers of Day Three might take issue with my (now re-reading looks/is poor) reference to ‘CdN Villages’. I should stress I wasn’t referring to that AOC, or wine so designated, but was attempting to shorten reference to the villages of the Cote De Nuits – so apologies. 2) My photos of Day Five, or some of them, regrettably have an area which is blurred/looks out of focus, which I only noticed at the end of the day, or next, when downloading from memory card. Double drat annoying ! This related, with hindsight to one or more issues, namely something on the camera lens, and/or the use settings dial on top of the camera having been accidentally ‘caught’ and moved from the normal ‘Auto’ – the latter has happened before in other years. I’m not smart enough, nor is there opportunity, to use other than ‘Auto’ when working ! Careful cleaning and dial adjustment fortunately saw no repeat. Apologies for the blurriness spoiling any enjoyment. I’ve long marvelled at the ‘stick’/abuse my Canon G16 has ‘put up with’ for several vendanges now – it really has been quite something and really ideal for what it offers. For 2/3 years it has had a problem with the back screen which has something akin to a blurred, foggy, lines problem which makes it difficult to see what one might be wanting to photo or to suitably review photos taken. This seemed to occur after one wet, claggy, November walk around the Hill of Corton when I carried the camera in case under my jacket and fleece top layer – since, I’ve only been able to assume condensation (body heat and damp) or similar then caused the screen problem. I’ve never sought advice on the latter re a repair or similar as am fairly sure the latter would not be cost effective. A new camera is tempting but, for now, I can’t really justify cost nor have any real idea what a suitable replacement might be – any views/ideas welcome. I’ve no desire to ‘rely’ on any mobile phone camera even though I guess my phone is decent.
As Monday, with weekend over, we had Team Leader/Porteur/Chauffeur Gilles back from his Lyon family affair. I think it was this morning also, if not would be tomorrow, that I tried my contact lenses again and was delighted to have comfort and no adverse reaction – hurrah ! Now, if I could just sort the neck out I’d be marvellous ! Alain Noellat had also affected a repair of sorts on Jacques’ minibus tailgate broken spectacles so J was happier.
Our initial morning’s efforts were directed at another plot of Nuits-St-Georges Villages; slightly to my surprise not the one we’d evacuated in the hurry of the previous afternoon. Again, a bit tricky to actually put a name to our location this day but, as ‘in the middle’ of a sea of vines, some way from Vosne in the distance, but not as close to NSG as yesterday afternoon, and below a road through the vines, I reckon we must have been in maybe ‘Au Chouillet’/’Aux Tuyaux’ but quite possible could instead have been ‘Aux Saints Jacques’. There again none of those could be correct ! Another one for next year to pin down. As I’d feared the vines were indeed dripping wet and the ground very wet also & sticky/muddy. Unpleasant ! The earth in such a scenario is akin to great clods of gluey mud in attaching to one’s footwear such that one is ‘carrying’ substantial extra weight ! To remove this muddy earth is tricky, needing a combination of posts, wires and anything else available to scrape one’s boots – uppers and soles/heels. If vegetation, the thicker the better, is available once the main earth has been removed then walking through it also helps, as do deep puddles on vineyard tracks/roads. There was to be a cleaning ‘sting in the tail’ for Team Gilles later this day but that ‘surprise’ is for later !
From the above location we moved again, en vehicule I think, to another village plot. This was interesting as it ultimately went ‘down’ to the back gardens of houses on the northern periphery of NSG along the RN/D974. Again tricky to work out which climat it was – I reckon probably ‘Aux Tuyaux’, possibly ‘Aux Athees’. This plot took us up to lunch but before we departed a lady occupant of one of the houses who’s garden we were picking up to (which had one of those above ground swimming pools) had come out and was offering refreshment via glasses of white wine which some of my colleagues availed themselves of – not me, I was content to wait for lunch. I vaguely recognised her as having seen her before at the domaine, surmising she had a connection, maybe as the spouse/partner of one of the cuverie team – or maybe just a Noellat friend/relative. Another domaine team was only a few rows away from us but which wasn’t known.
Afternoon was pretty interesting – for me at least as our destination was dear ole Morey ! I’ve captioned some of my Morey photos as our being in ‘Sorbes’ (‘Les Sorbes’) but now realise this wasn’t actually true – at least not for the lower part vines we started with which are in ‘Les Sionnieres’. The last part of our route was at first sight odd in terms of where we ended up but I now realise Hubert, in the Mercedes van lead, was taking a long way round loop, probably for ease of entry off the road, facing the ‘right direction’. To this end, we approached the Morey RN974 junction from base then turned left as if to go up into the village towards the church via Grande Rue, but at the first junction proper turned right into Rue de Tres Girard, past Cecile Tremblay’s cuverie on the right, then on our left the hotel, ‘Castel de Tres Girard’, continuing a ways until the next junction where we took a right and dropped back down to the road between ‘Tres Girard’ and ‘Clos Solon’. At the junction we turned right back onto the main road towards the traffic lights again but just immediately past the busy courtyard Hubert Lignier premises and Gite de Cedre we descended the ‘ramp’ from road into the vines and right along a stony track aways before leaving the vehicles. Our first element of picking were the ‘Sionnieres’ vines on the right hand side (looking up towards the village) of the track. At the top there was a large residential property, difficult to see as it was very private behind a substantial (very tall and thick wide) leylandii type hedge to front and sides. This seemed to be a vigneron owned property, or certainly something to do with wine, as one could discern winemaking related artefacts e.g pallets of bottles etc outside additional modern looking outbuildings. As we first approached, what was presumably the owner was to the front of the property with a forklift truck which he seemed to have been using to do something hedge related before we arrived. He took said forklift inside the property and after shutting the gates obviously released a large vocal dog which triggered lots of canine ‘argy bargy’ between said dog and our roaming pack of three ! The forklift gent continued to move said vehicle around within the curtilage of the property using it for whatever commercial type purposes. Quite who’s property this is I’ve no idea but might have a closer look one day from the Rue de Tres Girard side which the property must back onto. By this afternoon the weather had improved immeasurably from the previous afternoon/the morning with blue sky, sunshine & fluffy white cloud, becoming quite warm. Having ‘done’ the lower village element we ‘shifted’ up & around the corner of the above property, alongside the hedge, up into the lower element of premier cru, Les Sorbes, Noellat ‘offering’ both Morey Village and Premier Cru from these vines. As we’ll come to in a later day’s words when I took the opportunity to purchase some domaine wines (all 2017s) I elected, as my premier cru selection, for NSG Aux Boudots. The domaines Vosne premier crus & the Morey 1er Les Sorbes were ‘sold out’ but for the future I’ll have an eye on some of the Morey. I recall being quite fatigued when the end of day call came (just might have been we ‘did’ some Bourgogne Rouge vines below Chambolle on our way back – can’t be certain) but do remember Gilles cautioning us before we left the Morey site as not to be too ‘enthusiastic’ at cleaning of our footwear, and where etc, so as not to leave mud, earth etc all over the gravelled road which might upset the property proprietor above who’s ‘private drive’ the road effectively was !
There was something of a shock and great misfortune (typical !) for Team Gilles when we got back to base in Vosne ! Gilles announced it was ‘our turn’ to do the cleaning i.e buckets, porter containers etc for the whole team. And we ‘copped’ for the first full day post last night’s storm with mud etc, doh! It hadn’t occurred to me previously there was a (sub) team rota for the end of day cleaning, again I’d not been told/heard. Yes, I’d seen folk cleaning daily in past days but had been happy to leave those folk to it as I’d been on the reverse end of for years at Arlaud where just a few of us had voluntarily/conscientiously done pre lunch & end of day cleaning for years whilst the majority ‘avoided’ it. As a lodger at Arlaud I’d been relatively happy to be a cleaner and had also thought those of us doing it had been paid extra. The mud/earth effect on the bottom of buckets adds a whole new dimension to bucket use on dry ground – they take some getting clean ! So, how unlucky could we be !!! No avoiding it though so we had to get on with it – or most of us did grrrr ! The notable exception was Martine ! This lady of advancing years arrived daily, I think with Gilles. She was very ‘bling’ in terms of jewellery, as well coiffed/made up etc as one could be in the vines, and always wore ‘naughty’ cut off denim shorts as if she were on a beach, regardless of weather !!! She also had a kneeler thing as one might use in a garden which she used all the time and this ‘contraption’, whilst creative, also had a lid/box section in which she kept goodies such as her personal water, secateurs etc. Moving her kneeler thing from vine to vine wasn’t exactly conducive to speedy productivity thought this 3x told off for being too fast individual ! I was to be severely annoyed by Martine’s outrageous cheating picking practice at a later date but that’s to come. Here, with some ‘brass neck’ (English expression for nerve !) Martine absented herself from the rest of us cleaning crew, doubtless taking advantage whilst Gilles was away taking the minibus to the cuverie for overnight parking. I say ‘absented’ herself but she was present – just choosing not to help because, with unbelievable chutzpah/brazen cheek, she ignored the rest of us whilst doing an incredibly thorough job of cleaning her own stuff (kneeler, footwear, clothing). I was stunned into incredulous silence so as to lose my powers of speech by all this, but I was not alone as a conspiratorially grinning, head shaking in shared disbelief, Francoise caught my eye – obviously reading my mind ! The others further down the garage, concentrating on material task in hand, seemed not to notice. To my shame I decided not to seek a full blown in garage confrontation with Madame but carried on amongst the buckets, jet hose water, scrapers with what we had to do. As Gilles returned Martine had miraculously finished her concentration on her own interests but that didn’t mean a fulsome, if belated, contribution to the team. No, not a bit of it. Instead she gave a loosest illusion sense of helping by simply picking up any available single cleaned bucket for upturned stacking, pyramid style, along the wall to dry. Pick up more than one bucket at once ? Not Martine ! Why bother when one could move at snail’s pace with one bucket and not even stack properly ! I was so tired I couldn’t even get suitably annoyed but her ‘card was marked’ by me from then on ! Return to base and cleaning might have been ‘it’ for the day, other than evening meal to come, but this day had another surprise, and more entertainment in store.
Initially, having cleaned myself up and changed I had no inkling of what was to come although if I’d paid more attention to the property ‘yard’ gazebo I might have ‘twigged’ this might be more than an ordinary evening. As it was, armed with the domaine’s wi-fi key, I was keen to attempt to log on for the second time. I’d had a very brief, unsuccessful, attempt the evening before this one when I’d had no real time. Madam Noellat and Sophie had told me the wi-fi router was in a back room behind the (closed for the vendange) domaine tasting room and shop which is on the right front of the property next to the office/bureau. I might have sought to go into the latter and make myself comfortable at a desk to log on but the office was always locked for the evening by the time I was ready. Given the router location I borrowed a patio chair and sat outside the tasting room door facing towards it, laptop on knee. Last evening, when I’d used the office window ledge, my laptop had detected a Netgear wi-fi router which I’d tried to log into. This evening two possible wi-fi sources showed up – the Netgear one and another, Livebox something or other – signal stronger on the former. In a quandary I tried both but was unsuccessful with multiple attempts trying to log on to either. Highly frustrated, whilst I was attempting all the above, I was conscious quite a number of folk were arriving, all smartly dressed for an evening out !
Drinks were being dispensed from the gazebo as not normally the case in availability, quantity etc. What I was seeing was the preamble to a grand affaire dinner. If my understanding was/is correct what was happening this evening was something the Noellat family do each vendange – in essence a sort of end of vendange Paulee, but which takes place only part way through the vendange, with wider family & friends invited alongside the rest of us. The number of attendees were such that an extra table or two were required in the middle of our room. Eventually we all filed in to take our places. I made a tactical error here and instead of my normal place I ended up by virtue of others coming after me wanting to sit down whereby I was boxed in right in the back corner and back against the wall. Worse, immediately around me came Gerald, Hubert and two mature lady vendangeurs whom G & H had taken a fancy to/set their sights on. So, with their concentrating on themselves, I was stuck in my corner unable to converse with those I normally did, doh ! The only saving grace until later in the evening, when I was able to extract myself as the evening wound down, was the ‘distraction’ of Alain Noellat (‘AN’) serving up some stellar wines, some in magnum. Niiceee! Alongside our staple Savigny Blanc AN produced mags of a 2015 Puligny-Montrachet village and extremely yum it was too ! The domaine has no vines in Puligny. I correctly surmised, confirmed later, that this wine must have been ‘bought in’ (or acquired via swap of Noellat wines) for the family’s own private cellar/consumption. Beyond the whites any number of reds graced the evening. These included NSG Aux Boudots 2008 & 2016, Vosne Suchots 2014 & 2016 (maybe also a 2017), I think a Vosne Beaumonts, Chambolle Village 2014 and maybe also an Echezeaux also snuck in somewhere. I did my best to photograph these various bottles – one photo annoyingly has a black line partly across which happened by accident whilst editing, which so far I’ve been unable to remove. As the evening moved to a close, and after much group singing, with guests & vendangeurs drifting away, a hardcore few of us remained sampling the various wines. To my slight amusement Gerald was slumped comatose in his table place – something must have had an effect although in the vines exertion surely couldn’t have been responsible. Telling myself I’d stayed up too long and might regret it I eventually left for bed leaving the ultra hardcore few to prolong their own evenings! Some night 😊 !!!
Day Six to be another highly indifferent weather day for Marsannay, more Fixin ( 3 x locations), and Chambolle/Vosne Bourgogne Rouge. Wot, still no Vosne Premier Crus ? No indeed.
mark’s vosne harvest – day 4
Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day Four, Sun 22nd Sept 2019
Whither today ? A Chambolle morning then an afternoon with a real ‘sting in the tail’, if not a transformative moment for our vendange. Photos morning only, the absence of any from the afternoon will become clearer later !
Our second day with Jean-Claude2 filling in for the Lyon fleshpots absent Gilles. On this once more super morning of sunshine and restrained temperatures we were Chambolle Village bound again to similar, or the same, location we’d visited previously, just more rows. In essence, an unremarkable steady, hard working morning. Team J-C2/Gilles were initially selected by Hubert for an hillside elevated section of vines not far from the top of the slope, and as the hill started to curve around back towards Musigny etc. These vines were notable for being across slope, rather than up/down, and as such brought fond recollection of Arlaud’s Vosne Petit-Monts vines. After we’d finished our own specific ‘patch’ we worked downslope to meet/join another team coming up which took us ‘neatly’ to a circa 9.40 a.m. break.
After finishing the above we spent the rest of the morning, albeit getting there by only short walks first on tarmac then earth path into the vines, as best I can recall working quite different areas of vines, on essentially flat(er) land from those on the slopes we’d had two go’s at. I’m really struggling to identify now just where these latter vines might be, map wise. They were the other side of the road i.e just to the north of where we’d been but a little back on ourselves. ‘Climats & Lieux Dits’ almost suggests we could have been in a Chambolle 1er cru but I can’t think we were so we must have been in the quaintly named ‘Les Pas de Chats’, or possibly ‘Les Barrottes’. Assuming I return to Noellat in 2020 I must then make an effort to identify exactly the locations we visit (beyond the obvious Grand & Premier crus) & perhaps spend some brief time with Alain or Sophie and ‘Climats & Lieux Dits’ to get a handle on domaine vines locations. Mind, it some me some years to be ‘up to speed’ with Arlaud’s sites, and that with Herve always being helpful in answering my questions. The domaine’s website is no help in location of vines, even clicking in to the detail of each wine made. However, late afterthought that Bill might include detail has had me belatedly look back at BR’s domaine profile and tasting notes, one reference noting a little 1er cru for the Chambolle cuvee. If that indeed is the case then maybe we went to a bit of Les Feusselottes or perhaps Les Plantes ? Coming away from our late morning location I ‘snapped’ another unknown domaine’s yet to be picked Pino as we strolled past. Earlier as we’d come out of one section, crossing the tarmac road to another, we met two quite different ladies with a young boy on his scooter. These two ladies were adorned in vine leaf Roman like head adornments (fascinators the fashion term ?) and in very jolly mood. They were headed towards Chambolle but where they’d come from & quite why they had the ‘creations’ on their heads I’m totally unsure – a brief, amusing, diversion though !
Back to Vosne ! Lunch must have been unremarkable as no recall of it or photos, nor can I remember seeing a door affixed menu. Afternoon took us to Nuits Villages vines (Vosne side) – more towards Nuit than our Boudots and Aux Barrieres locations of Day 2. Possibly Aux Allots initially. Long rows so more slogging. I meant to mention when commencing typing re this day that there had been talk amongst my co-workers of the weather forecast suggesting rain, if not during the day then felt to be more probable for evening or overnight. Certainly the Chambolle morning and its ideal, sunny, conditions gave no inkling of any major weather deterioration to come. We moved on from our initial location(s) to another (village) location much nearer to Nuits than before, almost into the outskirts – perhaps La Petite Charmotte or La Charmotte. As the afternoon had moved on I could not help but notice the absence of the morning sunshine and gradually gathering/darkening cloud – particularly over the Combe behind NSG.
I think it must have been sometime after 15.30 that (fortunately) not too far down our latest NSG Villages rows, and not too far away from the vehicles on the road above us, that we felt the just occasional first large drops of rain. From then on it was only a matter of time and, with shocking suddenness, not only did almost semi-darkness descend but rain started to fall properly. There was no hesitation from whomever shouted at us to get outta there and get to the vehicles, and t’was a mighty good job we didn’t delay ! I’ve seen it ‘rain’ before several times in previous vendanges but this was ‘proper’ !! Trust me, it wasn’t far up our rows, and back to the vehicles, but in the short time it took us all to leg it there, what started as ‘rain’ turned into a storm & deluge of Noahesque biblical proportions ! If I’d seen people or animals going in two by two I might not have been surprised ! It was every man & woman for themselves, and in the case of our minibus at least, as the vehicle on its right hand side was parked tight to vines, several of us in our scrambling fell/tripped over the vines end of row wire, not exactly visible in semi-darkness, haste, rain deluge etc – which could be painful !! I know I tripped trying to throw myself into the front seat, not badly fortunately, and also saw Jean-Philippe, Jacques and Francoise all do similarly. By the time we were all in the minbus, panting to get our breath back, with the vehicle rapidly steaming up with hot bodies and wetness, it really had got dark, some thunder & lightning was evident, and good grief, WAS IT lashing down !!!! As ‘good’ as a storm I’ve seen in Burgundy in my harvest career. It was difficult to make out Nuits not too far away but lights were coming on.
We sat there a while, not too long, before somehow/someone communicated, phone call I think, that we call it a day and return to base ! Could not have been a difficult decision as one didn’t need to be a meteorogical genius to work out the lashing curtains of water weren’t going to stop anytime soon ! Our initial route, given the way we were facing, and as it turned out Hubert in the lead was heading initially for Nuits before taking a mainly concrete road back through the vines to Vosne, took us past the vendangeurs of another domaine who’d been a little beyond us. They were still out there, ok at first glance many of them seemed appropriately dressed, but goodness me it seemed recklessly crazy given the thunder and lightning. I assume they were just collecting what they’d picked and would soon be out of there !
The route back to Vosne was amazing in terms of the water on the road, gushing across it and coming down. The concrete road sections are a longitudinal v shaped gully with high edges, the latter I reckon to hold back vineyard soil erosion but the water in the centre of the road ‘v’ was incredible.
Back in Vosne, we ran for cover to the garage with gear for cleaning whilst outside the storm continued. Heavy rain lasted well into the evening, and ‘lesser’ weight of rain all night. Evening is gone from any memory, weather aside. Guess I was probably on laptop photo downloading, editing etc but, just ahead of our evening meal, I do recall a group playing tarot with my being invited to play but declining (wouldn’t have had a clue !). Jean-Philippe seemed a novice at the game, but Alain Noellat as not initially playing, although seemingly something of an ‘expert, was very keen to proffer advice to J-P and re-arrange his hand of cards !
The end then of a ‘climatic’ day. Maybe a defining one for our vendange in terms of conditions i.e days pre storm/post storm. Hereafter ground conditions would be much changed muddy/sticky with consequent effects on us, our footwear, buckets etc etc. Where would tomorrow take us ? We’ll see!
mark’s vosne harvest – day 3
Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day Three, Sat 21st Sept 2019
Into our third day and routines becoming well established and, for me, working practices clearer – if I approved or not !
For the Gilles sub team the weekend saw a departure – that of the porteur/chauffeur man himself – to Lyon to stay with one of his daughters, to return for Monday. As a substitute we had my room mate, Jean-Claude No2, if I can call him that to differentiate from his more forthright associate – Jean Claude No1 being the leader of another sub team, the tee shirt modeller from the Day One photos and our room through the night snorer. J-C2 is a quietly spoken, semi-reserved, no edge on him, pleasant guy so I was pleased to see him ‘lent’ to us for the weekend in a leadership role, notwithstanding this was his first vendange.
My neck was still extremely painful despite ibuprofen and pain relief gel. I also continued in my spectacles figuring I’d give my right eye a rest for several days then try the lenses again. Coffee first thing was always on machine free flow in our dining ‘shed’, with teabags/kettle if different brew preferred. Food was available but I never investigated exactly what as I’m always content with just a Cadburys breakfast bar (other bars are available !), particularly knowing a casse-croute break was to come idc.
So, where to today ? With J-C2 in the driver’s seat for us our convoy headed out of Vosne in the same direction as we’d taken yesterday to Vougeot. We didn’t get that far this time as GC Echezeaux was our destination – not unfamiliar to me as Arlaud had a few rows here from 2013 inclusive as one of the ‘& Arlaud’ offerings Cyprien took on from that infamous, difficult year (other than the NSG 1er Porrets which featured in 2012). I’m pretty certain we were now in Echezeaux du Dessus. Lovely morning again, sun coming up, and not a cloud in the sky. Our first rows, nice looking grapes bar odd dodgy bunch, took us uneventfully to the casse-croute break just after 9.30 a.m. The dogs were with us again, now as an established feature – but no chocolate titbits from me so’s I could avoid unwarranted abuse & poisoning accusations ! Instead, and never fancying the charcuterie myself, I let others give the dogs bits of fat etc. I confined myself happily to bread and cheese, with just water as the drink in my ‘meal deal’ ! Today’s casse-croute break seemed a little drawn out so, becoming a little bored, I wandered along the vineyard road we were on just some yards north towards Vougeot. I was then utterly amazed to realise I was looking at the Arlaud rows from past years, readily identifiable from the white (as Arlaud use) daubed marker post and heavy sleepers containing the soil to the start of one row where the land fell away slightly. Quite some coincidence – if the Arlaud rows weren’t directly next to Noellat’s they were only separated by a few !
Anyway, we continued post break with the remaining Ech rows but at some early juncture there was something of an amused commotion leading to us standing up. This was on account of one of the other sub teams, notable for including the leading lights from lunchtime singing, having dressed up in Gilet-Jaune uniform !!!! This was highly amusing, although I never established what prompted it. I was much taken/amused by one of the guys even including a ‘fetching’ dayglo yellow hat with ear flaps to enhance the gilet jaune ! Once we’d all exited our completed rows I grabbed quick opportunity to photo the G-J team.
From Echezeaux we took a short drive past Musigny and Les Amoureuses before turning left towards Chambolle, but almost immediately took another road left through the vines where we parked up to tackle an upslope piece of Chambolle Village – and very nice aspect up hill it had too with track and trees/shrubs to the top. I’ve spent some time looking closely at my ‘Climats & Lieux-Dits’ bible (everyone remotely interested in Burgundy should have a copy imho) to try to work out which vines we were picking in. Initially, but mistakenly, I thought we were in ‘Les Pas de Chats’ (across the road from Les Feusselottes’) but I was looking at the wrong road, instead our vehicles were parked at the edge of the next road south. Thus, I reckon we must have picked in either Les Gueripes or Les Foucheres or both.
Very pleasant in whatever terroir it was, with my sub team cruising efficiently ahead of the others up to lunch. In fact I, and I think it was Donna, with joint exquisite timing, actually had just picked the very last vine at the top of our designated rows as the call came to cease for lunch. Quite a coincidence, and similar was to happen to me on my own that afternoon in a section of Fixin Village. No photos of lunch taken today ! I must have been concentrating hard on my nosh !
Onto the afternoon and no photos taken either, sorry ! Typing this back in the UK post vendange (and a little stupidly not having scribbled just outline reminder notes as has been my practice previously) I’ve been falling back in part on my photos to remind of our itineraries/locations etc. When no photos have featured this is generally a sign of a few influencers e.g I’ve not been enthused/excited enough by location etc to prompt camera use, or; the weather has been bad enough to prevent me getting the camera out etc etc. For this 3rd day p.m. we journeyed to a particularly flat, low on the ‘slope’, uninspiring piece of Fixin Village (without getting close to the village proper some way ahead) we were to come to more than once. Its lower edge was a public road with residential dwellings on the other side. I can only think now we must have been, most likely, in ‘En Clomee’ – if not there then am not sure ! Exciting it wasn’t though, and the rows long. Bit hard to see why it might be designated ‘village’ other than, say, Bourgogne Rouge. Fruit was ok, no issues there, but the afternoon was a bit of a physical slog, for me notable only that, as mentioned above, I again just happened to finish my row, a little way ahead of others, coinciding with the c 18.00 hrs call to end the day. I cursed gently to myself thinking that if we came back to take up & finish where the others had left off I’d probably ‘suffer’ as having finished my row ! Maybe a lesson for me I can hear some of you thinking !
So, good day, both of the domaine Grand Crus dealt with, along with NSG Aux Boudots, but absolutely no sign/mention of us heading to the domaine’s premier crus, Morey’s 1er Clos Sorbes, Savigny or Pommard. Instead, for now, we seemed to be on a CdN Villages fest but I told myself it had only been Day 3. I recall it might have been this day’s lunchtime that I managed, pre lunch, to ask Madam Isabel Noellat about use of the domaine wi-fi and in her ever helpful, nothing too much trouble, way she’d printed off a page of A4 from her bureau computer which had all sorts of password details, and other IT related saved reference details – which, for me, had the extremely long wi-fi router key of numbers and letters. The evening of Day 4 was to be the start of my attempted log on frustrations !!!
mark’s vosne harvest – day 2
Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day Two 20th Sept 2019
After an ‘interesting’ first day, in more ways than one, Day Two opened with the ‘senior’ (in terms of number of vendanges) Jean-Claude room mate asking me if I’d slept well. I hadn’t actually, finding the bed and pillow less than comfortable, but his seemingly innocuous opening question was a ‘teaser’ for his then proceeding to rib me gently at my (known to me) snoring. I had to take this ‘on the chin’ but subsequently found it more than ironic over following nights that I was myself disturbed/kept awake by J-C’s own, ahem, ‘impressive’ snoring in ostensible deep sleep which was quite something. I guess over those following nights I had the opportunity to ‘get my own back’ but never bothered.
The first few days of the vendange also saw me grappling with a couple of most unwelcome health issue distractions – anything amiss less than ideal given the manual labour being undertaken. My first issue was with my eyes/contact lenses (or rather right eye specifically). I’d had a problem discomfort bad timing issue with this just prior to coming away such that I’d been forced to resort to my spectacles – am not a fan of wearing specs (glasses) and massively prefer my contact lenses (as a long time wearer). Am not sure what caused my pre vendange right eye issue – trying new lenses made no difference – but I had been trimming substantial shrubs & hedge to the front of my home so guess I must have got some muck or dust in my right eye. I popped into my local opticians on the afternoon of my departure and they checked my eye over, could see no specific problem, sold me some small bottle medication as a 5 day course for use without contacts wear icon, and agreed with my assertion that my drive to Burgundy would give my eyes an appropriate break from the contact lenses (as I forego the lenses for that long period night & day time drive). I wore my spectacles on Vendange Day One but put my lenses in this morning. Straight away there still seemed to be an issue with the right eye but I resolved to persevere thinking the lens would ‘settle’ – that was a mistake with hindsight as my right eye streamed constantly all day and was quite sore. I did without (lenses) for the immediate days hereafter.
I can’t actually remember if Day Two saw my other problem. I think it did but could have been Day Three but I’ll get out of the way now. Whichever morning it was I woke with an absolutely incredibly uncomfortable stiff/sore left side of my neck/shoulder which made it initially difficult/painful to get out of bed & thereafter move my head even slightly – particularly to the left as almost impossible. Feeling a proper ‘comedian’ but nevertheless really ‘struggling’ I was very grateful, and highly appreciative, of Alain Noellat’s solicitous concern, together with his immediate provision of some ibuprofen tablets and a tube of Voltaren (Voltarol in the UK) gel ointment (other pain relief gel ointments are available !).
Anyway, my male weaknesses aside, morning routine was the same. On this occasion there was no on foot amble to any close by vines so it became clearly apparent (to new boy me at least) what the practice with the minibuses ( rentals x 3) and van was. From our gathering at the Rue de la Fontaine gate the designated drivers were taken by Hubert in the domaine’s Mercedes Van to the cuverie, where the vans were parked overnight, and returned with them for us to embark & load buckets etc. So, off we went. At first, I thought from the direction of travel we must be bound for a Vosne 1er cru or maybe Echezeaux. For some reason I hadn’t considered Clos de Vougeot but the latter was indeed our destination on what was becoming a nice, bright, sunny morning, to become an equally nice day, but fortunately with just enough of a breeze to make ideally comfortable working conditions. I had absolutely no desire for any repeat of 2018’s excessive heat/temperatures !!!
We ‘entered’ Vougeot by what I’d guess one might describe as (looking north) the south west corner, or from the RN 74 looking towards the chateau, top left where there’s a gap in the Clos wall. Exciting ! There was just enough of a non vine planted area to park the vehicles before getting ‘stuck in’ to picking. It was only at this juncture did the main organisational Noellat in the vines practice become known to your’s truly – as somehow I’d not been aware of it on Day One – and no one had told me !!!! Essentially, ‘below’ Gerald & Hubert, the organisation was by way of ‘sub teams’, each led by a porteur who was that sub team’s minibus driver (other than those in Hubert’s van who’s porteur was not the vehicle driver). Turned out I was in a sub team of eight in all – porteur Gilles, ladies Donna, Francoise and Martine, gents myself, Jean-Philippe, Jacques and (drat it) another very ok chap who’s name my dodgy memory now can’t at all recall. Jacques had an unfortunate start that morning as somehow the minibus tailgate (which opening was the type rising on struts to the vertical rather than being door[s]) came down as he was moving back from loading and caught him flush on the upper nose, or rather on his spectacles, snapping them neatly in half on the bridge and causing a nasty cut on his nose – ouch ! Temporary tape repair enabled him to continue & he also had a pair of what must have been prescription sun glasses with fetching lime green frame.
Gilles was/is an interesting character & for the most part he and I rubbed along well thro the vendange after I’d submitted to the usual ’20 questions’. I inferred he respected my vendange background. A tall, semi distinguished, well turned out chap, he’d had a career in Sales & Marketing for a pharma company multi national (he told me which but I forget), lives in Dijon with his wife, has two obviously intelligent, achieving, in their mid/late twenties daughters (one a dentist, one a lawyer), and is a serious golfer. In essence, he’s a departure, as well as a sort of posh, ‘upmarket’ porteur than those I’d long been used to. His management style was friendly, caring and relaxed with us (doubtless whilst we did as we were told !) although there was to be an ‘interesting’ brush between us both near the end of the vendange. He was a regular at Noellat hence his status. Usefully, for me, his career & related travel meant he had a modicum of English. Only in initially embarking (or being directed to) the Gilles piloted minibus, and then being directed to line up for our individual row of vines, did I learn of the team that I was a member – none of this obviously apparent on Day One !!! Quite bizarre ! This sub team set up/culture did prompt a couple of issues from my perspective, namely: 1) for me, given the delegation etc, it meant even less reason/rationale for having two ‘management’ above, namely Gerard & Hubert, with surely just one of them being adequate; and 2) it kinda meant the teams were rather focussed on themselves, rather than the wider team with, for example, when we’d finished our designated rows it was not uncommon for us to be stood around, the others chatting, me restless, not least/whilst other teams could still be some way off finishing their rows. At Arlaud there would have been absolutely no question of as and when individuals finished rows they would be immediately directed by Herve, Damian or Climent to any lagging vendangeur with biggest need for help. Not good chez Noellat. On one notable occasion a few days later when I did use my ‘initiative’ and stop to help another really struggling group, whilst ‘my’ team walked off up the vines, my reward was a volley of angry direction to leave those I was helping and re-join the others. Hey ho.
Anyway’s, upper Vougeot was very pleasant indeed on this calm, sunny, morning & I told myself this was just the sort of ‘new’ (to me) terroir that was in part behind my decision to leave Arlaud. If someone had told me in 2006 that I would have the vendange career I’ve had, and this morning be picking in Vougeot Haut, then I’d probably have thought them ‘barking’ mad. In terms of barking (chien x 3 variety) I think, not recalling them on day one, this second day was the first occasion the ‘wolf pack’ belonging to the three Italians came along with us – as they would every day hereafter, often also amusingly present in hopeful scrounge mode at meal times. As a dog lover all my life (albeit never owing one since leaving parents/getting married – a long time ago, never deeming it fair whilst having a career to leave a dog at home) I was delighted to have the dogs present. There were three. Two were similar, in being rangy, lanky, slim cross breed (I assume) types. I’ll spell the names of the dogs as I heard them but could be actual spelling might be different (I never asked). The sandy/golden brown bitch, the most reserved and way quietest of the three, was ‘Raja’ who belonged to Italian, Davide, an engaging always cheerful guy. The other two dogs belonged to the young lady who’s name I never actually knew, her boyfriend (of impressive dark beard) being the third of the human triumvirate. ‘Morsi’ was a grey/black mid size, bundle of mega-energy, muscle and noisy exuberance with curling over tail who to me resembled a small wolf type. He was great fun. The third was the ‘leader’ of the three, ‘Borja’ (Borgia ?), a lovely tall, rangy, black (or very dark brown) bitch with dash of white on her front, who had a beautiful temperament and loved a stroke, rub or ear scratch. When let loose at our destinations from the Italians Toyota Avensis car in which they followed our minibuses the dogs went initially crazy, hurtling off at speed through the vines, doubtless looking for wild fauna e.g hares – but I never saw them pursue anything. Whilst we picked they’d be all around us continuing their searching & foraging or loud play fighting . Morsi, about 12 months old, was one to watch if he got over excited as he could be prone to give one a playful nip without meaning to hurt. He almost did this to me one day but I saw him coming ! Borja was definitely the boss and ready to put Morsi in his place (often !) by pinning him to the ground if necessary. She also had an ongoing penchant for finding great big old pieces of pulled up vine which she carried high, almost as a trophy, and would love a protracted tug of war with anyone who’d try to get the vine off her. She had some grip and strength but never growled or threatened. Sometimes it was eventually possible to get the ‘wood’ off her and hurl it a way for her to chase, fetch back, and start with all over again. Borja was touchingly, lovingly, affectionate with her young female owner at evening meal times and similar. On occasion we’d follow the Toyota when one could see one or more dogs silhouetted upright in the centre of the back seat which looked amusing. They gave us a lot of fun and distraction.
Vougeot Haut was very interesting. The grapes were nice if not notably abundant and the ground firm and stony. Both here and in the lower part of Vougeot to follow, and as was to become a far from uncommon recurring theme daily in other Noellat terroirs, I came across white grapes (see photos), sometimes just on the one vine, sometimes a vine with white and black grapes. Such seemed much more prevalent than I remembered from Arlaud. My ‘ability’ to get ahead of other pickers with my ostensible ‘speed’ was useful in allowing me windows to grab a few photos without falling behind. At the start of the vendange someone had made a cryptic comment, ignored by me at the time, that I would not have time to take photos – yeah, right ! We picked steadily & without issue until the casse-croute break back by the vehicles which I think (not sure now) might have coincided with our finishing these top part of Vougeot rows – yes, it did, I’ve just checked photo timings. The dogs loved the casse-croute breaks when they ceased their vineyard roaming to stand around looking mournfully hopeful someone would give them some charcuterie or similar. During our break I had the ‘temerity’ to give Morsi a very small piece (morsel for Morsi) of chocolate. This brought a volley of shouted criticism my way in front of everyone else from the obnoxious Gerald in terms of chocolate being bad, implied poisonous, to dogs. As someone who’s family, if not myself directly, has had many, many dogs over the years, often more than one at one time, I found this absolutely ludicrous and very annoying in context of what I’d given Morsi as a one off. His owner stood close by me made no objection. I responded angrily with Gerald then turned my back away from him dismissively. I’m not sure if it was in Vougeot this morning, recollecting might have been in the afternoon’s NSG Village, but for the 3rd time in two days I was to be admonished in angry, public fashion for again being too fast. Ridiculous. Fortunately it never happened again or that might have been the end of my vendange but within a couple of days curiously I noted a softening of approach from Chief Gerald towards myself – whether something was said I’m not sure – but I maintained a cool, detached, correct approach with him. Of Hubert I had little interaction other than occasional direction in terms of our positioning/being set up to start specific rows. One aspect of Gerald & Hubert which stood out for me was their seeming & surprising lack of awareness of the terroirs we were picking. They were much more focussed on the lady team members. Obviously the GCs were the GCs but when it came to lesser sites my request/enquiry as to the name of the lieu-dit etc we were about to start, or in, was often met with a shrug or ignored. I only ever got a knowledgeable answer on the occasional moments when Alain Noellat was present.
From the initial Vougeot parcel & post break we embarked the vehicles and drove through the vines directly past the front of the chateau when, despite the bucking/bouncing on the vineyard track, I managed to grab a few chateau photos through the windscreen. My seat throughout the vendange was the front one adjacent to driver Gilles. The others seemed entirely content to sit in the rear which suited me as I’ve always preferred the front. We exited on the northern side past a couple of other domaine teams and turned right onto the tarmac road dropping down towards the RN74 with the Vougeot premier crus, including Clos de la Perriere and Le Clos Blanc, on our left. On the main road we went south past the village before immediately pulling onto the verge just past the first lower gateway entrance to the Clos which had Jean Raphet and Jacques Prieur stone plaques to either side. With the dogs charging ahead as always we were directed up the rows of vines to start part way up and pick back, down to the wall. I think now, as a group, we might have been split with some of us working down the rows, others up from the wall to meet somewhere in the middle.
This element of the morning/picking was notable for a couple of aspects. Firstly, anyone with a marked interest in Burgundy will, I’m sure, often read about different elements of terroir within the Clos and desirability of having vines in the ‘better’ part(s) ? I certainly had – and was now seeing exactly what was meant to bring all those digested words home to me. The soil was much heavier & different to the lighter, stonier upper part of the early morning. The vines seemed to have more prolific leaf bearing, different volume and type of bunches than higher. If I was to be uber critical I’d assess this lower part we were working as more appropriately akin to premier cru than what I’d happily consider more grand cru like higher. When I eventually came to consider buying some domaine wine later (all the vendangeurs were offered a 15% discount from retail) I thought long & hard about which GC to buy between Vougeot and Echezeaux. I wasn’t going to buy both (guess I could have had say 3 of each but that didn’t appeal) but ultimately it was the difference between the two parcels of the domaine’s Vougeot, notably my thoughts on the lower element, which made me choose the Ech (from its well situated vines – see Day Three). I also took into account I do already own some Vougeot e.g Grivot, Engel.
The second aspect of our late morning activities was something I’d never, ever, considered I’d see or be close up to in the vines but I suppose the spread of technology mean this was inevitable !!! Some beyond normal buzz of comment at one point ahead made me look up to see some of the others pointing to something skyward which was over the lower group coming towards us. With surprised intrigue and then amusement I realised I was looking at a drone ! Turned out, confirmed minutes later, this was being operated by a pleasant, grey haired older chap who was also using a Sony Cine/Video Camera of some size. This chap subsequently approached me and I thought belatedly was actually formally interviewing/filming me – with hindsight a shock ! I think he said something about Canada so whether I’m going to be on You Tube (shocking – sincerely hope not !) or some Canadian film medium I’m not sure. I also learnt he’s a long standing friend of Alain Noellat who’d commissioned him to film our vendange – for this day at least. There was also a young lady professional looking stills photographer with serious looking Nikon kit whom I didn’t notice at this time but was in my vicinity in the afternoon – when this amateur took a photo of the pro !
Whilst on the subject of flying objects (!) this vendange was also, for me, particularly noticeable for the incidence & number of aerobatic team, or jet fighter type, formation flying we saw. I’ve long been used to seeing (and hearing !) French Air Force jets flying low over the Cote but this year we seemed to see formations of 7/8 jets almost every day, morning or afternoon – at least whilst the weather was ok. The way some of these planes moved, whilst very low, almost above our heads, slickly between very closely grouped formations was highly impressive, reminding me of the British Royal Air Force Red Arrows aerobatic team.
Completion of the second Vougeot parcel neatly took us to lunch, so a return to Vosne – and today what a lunch, one of the best. Very impressively our chef (kitchen professional – a great guy), or possibly Madam Noellat, had gone to the trouble of posting typed menus (for lunch & evening, today and tomorrow) on the big wooden door to our dining chamber. I was highly ‘taken’, and amused, by the little picture of asparagus which embellished today’s menu ! As the menu (hope Bill posts the relevant pic !) quotes we had a super entree of a prawn and avocado salade. If this wasn’t yum enough what followed was right up my alley delicious, namely large solid pieces of delightfully cooked chicken with rice and supreme type sauce. Another day we had a cracking pork dish, but that and today’s chicken etc were my stand out favourites. I decided, after cheese, to swerve the most tempting tarte dessert so as not to likely cripple my afternoon’s performance !
The Video and Photo professionals joined us at lunch, sitting with Alain Noellat at the top of the room’s centre table which was ‘reserved’ for family & the cuverie team. I quickly adopted a favoured regular position on the table at the back of the room, with my back to a highly impressive wall mural of a vendange. I never made enquiries as to who, or where, this mural room feature came from but it was very attractive. My regular dining companion to my left was Claude, an absolutely delightful, very quietly spoken, very well mannered, older gentleman (I’d guess at least in his 70’s) from the cuverie team who eschewed the centre table. He told me he had worked 42 vendanges at Noellat – quite incredible, but this was exceeded by our head of table, Serge, a hale and hearty individual, who’s faithful, constant, terrier dog companion, Noisette was a photo subject from Day One. I was amazed to learn Noisette is 20 years old – good going for any dog ! Serge had worked 44 vendanges at Noellat but he wasn’t working this time. Apparently, he’d been very ill, but was now to a degree recovered, if not fit enough to work & given his ‘old retainer’ type status the Noellats (Alain I understood) were happy to have him present. Serge and Noisette had a room to themselves (lucky, if deserving, them) at the end of the same corridor my room was on. Serge could be quite loud but told me Noisette was ‘his wife’ – touchingly amusing! I guess man and dog must have just pottered about whilst we were working but were always there for meal times. Serge was obviously careful at what he ate, and drank very modestly – perhaps reflective of whatever illness he’d had. I almost forgot, but lunch was also notable for the first ‘outbreak’ of a lusty rendition of the Ban Bourguignon with its accompanying waving/clapping hand/arm motions etc. I’ve naturally heard this many times but, whilst always an occasional occurrence, it was quite rare at Arlaud. There were one or two serious chanteurs here at Noellat on the largest table & they were to constantly lead outbreaks of singing at most meal times.
So, into the still bright & sunny afternoon after our most splendid lunch. To an absolutely new terroir for me but one which instantly became a quick favourite, namely Nuits St-G premier cru Aux Boudots – often described as a Vosne type Nuits. Much as Clos St Denis ‘does it for me’ in ways I can’t properly explain, I found myself on the outside of the team, instantly ‘feeling’ an attraction to the gentle upslope rise before me and whole ambience of the moment, gentle birdsong etc. Highly enjoyable to pick upwards, with decent well drained, stony, ground under foot. It didn’t actually look it but was quite steep once at the top from where the view back towards Vosne was attractive. Once Boudots was completed we moved on foot to another, lower terroir not too far away which Alain Noellat, in response to my enquiry, told me was NSG Village lieu-dit, Aux Barrieres. The rows here were long, reminding me of Arlaud’s negoce wines in Vosne Aux Reas which terroir wasn’t too far away at all. Working Aux Barrieres took us to the day’s finish, tiring for this ageing Englishman, but overall another mostly enjoyable and again, hugely interesting, day. Back to base I dropped into usual routine of getting out of my gear, grabbing a use of strong hose jet to clean my footwear (Merrell strong/robust ‘trainers’ for these early dry days), having a shower and every other day shave, then a beer or white wine ahead of evening meal, which time I also employed to download the days’ camera photos to laptop, edit resize for eventual onward transmission idc to Bill, and also caption. At this early stage I hadn’t had opportunity to ask about/explore use of the domaine wi-fi. That was to come, and with it some frustrations, but the lack of free time was marked & quite how I was going to find opportunity for any diary typing was to be for the future.
Day Three to bring Echezeaux, Chambolle Village, hilarious Gilet-Jaune moments and I think some afternoon ‘exciting’ (not) Fixin Village.
mark’s vosne harvest – day 1
Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Day One 19th Sept 2019
Sharing with two others I’d decided going to bed the night before I wouldn’t bother setting an alarm and equally I’d ‘go with the flow’ in terms of getting up, ablutions, moving to breakfast etc etc. Whilst I’d have preferred to have been an early starter (as I’ve been all my life), particularly in a new scenario, I certainly didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with my room companions. As it was they rose at c7.00 a.m. with my already awake and with collectively just quick top and tail wash we headed for early morning coffee, breakfast if wanted (not by me), then being ready to commence action. More folk evident than the night before, now including those living locally/not staying over on site, and family/cuverie staff also joining us.
The make up of the team was something I idly noticed during the initial hanging about i.e we were a notably mature bunch. We had only two real youngsters, Louis from Le Havre, and another young guy. The rest of us, predominantly male, certainly had plenty of years between us, other than 3 youngish Italians but they must have been late 20s/early 30s. I was much taken with our location in terms of Michel Gros’ Clos des Reas gateway being literally across the road. Also, the views from the two small windows of our communal shower room were of ‘the pinch me’ variety for anyone more than usually interested in Burgundy with one, looking left, down on Clos des Reas and beyond the Vosne side NSG premier crus, the other looking right to the Vosne GC & premier crus – amazing. I always meant to take photos from the shower room to illustrate the above but never got around to it, not taking my camera in there ! A word re the Noellat premises – the buildings we were inhabiting are the domaine’s original buildings in Vosne’s Rue de la Fontaine, which are essentially an L shape and besides the areas I’ve already described contain cellars (I was to see later), kitchens (two – a domestic one and commercial one used for us), bureau/office all modern & swish, and an impressively fitted out tasting room/shop – this closed though for the duration of the vendange. To the rear of the premises, behind the vehicle garage element was a large area of bottle store, with bottling line, racking etc etc. The cuverie is a more modern building, can’t be more than a few years old, and fronts to the RN74 being the first building after where the Avenue du Monument joins the RN74 before one comes to neighbour, Domaine Guyon. It was only after we’d finished picking that I visited the cuverie properly – we’ll come to that in due course but very impressive it is.
Weather was a bit nippy and grey first thing requiring a few layers but the day improved quickly & ultimately turned out well with blue skies and strong sunshine (without being ‘too’ warm). Being morning one there seemed a lot more to sort out before we got going than a regular day. I was ‘armed’ as usual with camera, knee pads and right hand glove – in this case a gardening glove type which, unusually/impressively, almost saw me thro the whole vendange. I was initially puzzled on this first morning at the total absence of vehicles for us but all was to become clear. Around 8.00 a.m. we were all shepherded/herded into the bottle store/storage room accessed through a serious roller shutter door to the rear of the garage, taking a pair of secateurs on the way in which we then ‘kept’/were responsible for during the duration of the vendange (another small departure from Arlaud practice which saw Herve collect them all at the end of a day). Here, Sophie Noellat, with father Alain watching on from in front of me, genially issued what I can only assume was some general words/instruction etc re the vendange – I had no idea what was actually said and no one translated (not that I expected the latter). Quite why we had no transport became clear after Sophie’s words as we were guided to exit an unmarked door at the rear of the room we’d been standing in and found ourselves at the top of vines looking downslope (well, not much of a slope othe than very gentle fall) to the rear wall of the cuverie with main road t’other side. Subsequently using my Climats & Lieux Dits ‘bible’ I figured we must have probably been looking at/about to pick vines in Vosne’s ‘Aux Communes’ village terroir or possibly ‘Aux Genaivrieres’. Getting ahead of myself once we’d picked down to the cuverie and ‘turned around’ to pick the next rows to the south back upslope then we’d have more likely been in ‘Aux Genaivrieres’ than at the outset – but I’m not sure !
Anyway, off we went, and quite easy did I find it, almost as if I’d never been away. I’m not sure now if it was in this first row, or later in the day, but twice that first day Gerald approached me in less than genial, if not verging on the nasty, fashion to tell me off (!) for going too fast !!!!! One of thse occasions was when I’d finished my row, and as long used to, looked for who might be struggling with the intention of helping them catch up. Gerald even directed me not to help – ludicrous. This was gobsmacking to me. I’d never regarded myself as a particularly quick picker at Arlaud and there’d certainly been a few faster than me there over the years. Naturally, with experience I’d got quicker over those years but still…….. I was somewhat unnerved such that towards the end of Day One I was partly wondering whether I’d made the right decision coming to the domaine ! The porteur/bucket emptying system at Noellat is one which encourages, if not in part requires, the pickers working with a porteur to work either side of said porteur and maintain a rough line. One facet I noticed about the Noellat system is that the porteurs are particularly static in their chosen row whereas at Arlaud I’d been much more used to the porteurs quite happily ‘coming’/going to, & proactively working with, the pickers, as well as the better one’s leaf stripping. None of that at Noellat. My take was/is the porteurs all seem an established bunch that appear to have been in role probably for some years and they have established their ‘routines’ without being challenged. Whilst my ‘speed’ saw me out in front of the desired line of colleagues, away from my designated porteur, what particularly ‘got up my nose’ at being told off were:- a) I was on the outside so it wasn’t critical in terms of buckets being passed across rows that I was ahead; and b) I was, as ahead, on the porteur’s route back to the truck so he could easily take my bucket contents when passing & I was quite able to reach to his large back container. Otherwise, such was Gerald’s nastiness in delivery of his message that I could not help but wonder if I was being singled out:- a) for being English/British; b) for showing what must have been unexpected speed/efficiency, and ; c) upsetting the established status quo (whether that was right or wrong). I resolved, being Britishly stubborn, that I’d continue as always and if ‘push came to shove’ I’d challenge Gerald directly that we take it up with the family – reckoning I was on the moral high ground. It also didn’t take me long either to note that Gerald, and partner in crime Hubert, didn’t seem to be contributing a great deal either. The norm was for them to set us up and get us going, but thereafter the authority was devolved to the porteurs (which I had material reservations about), whilst Messrs Gerald & Hubert commonly sat in the vans, or stood by the trucks, often seemingly highly focussed on their own mobile phones (and I don’t mean calls). To me they were lazy, and Hubert’s apparent age was such that one wondered if he should have been retired, with both light years from being of the ilk of the unrivalled leadership and contributions of Herve Arlaud in every possible respect. There was ultimately, to be a very positive, if unexpected, conclusion to my ‘observations’ on the above two gentleman post vendange which were very satisfactory (to me) but that’s for a lot later/another day ! In the vines politics has always been quite something and was certainly evident here. Am I bothered they might read this ? Not a bit although that has to be highly doubtful. Neither had any English in contrast to my French.
The end of the first row’s picking must have taken us to 9.00/9.30 a.m ish and revealed a (for me) utterly gobsmacking, if pleasant routine. Over the years at Arlaud I’d seen grudging moves from no morning breaks at all, to just a short water then coffee break, to a break for limited casse-croute. Here at Noellat, incroyable, almost an extended picnic in the vines !!! A picnic table was set up. On it was a plastic tub of already cut slabs of bread (baguette). Adjacent was a another smaller tub containing those foil wrapped triangular cheeses and the those round ones encased in a red plastic type thing were one pulls a plastic strip around the centre to split two halves to extract said cheese – can’t remember either well known brands ! Additionally, three plastic trays offered differing cooked meats. In essence on offer were all the ingredients to make a very superior charcuterie & cheese sandwich ! For dessert ? Another large plastic tub of broken up pieces of chocolate – dark or milk varieties. Drinks consisted of water, or if one really wanted it at that early time of the morning (I didn’t – there’s a limit !), white wine ! Sampling this en plein aire culinary extravaganza was a highly leisurely affair. I was never sure how long these breaks were but there was certainly plenty of time & no rush ! A great opportunity to ‘recover’ after the initial morning’s exertion and then see us to lunch at 12.00. These casse-croute breaks were highly popular with our three canine companions (not with us yet on that first morning) – more of the dogs in due course with plenty of doggie porn photos to come !
The break against the cuverie back wall gave me an opportunity to scoot around the other side and see the grape processing/triage table/press/waste set up in the cuverie’s open air front space – protected by large ‘tent’ like structure. The cuverie team had their own posh patio table & chairs area for their own case-croute breaks. The waste tray was notable for a complete absence of insect fauna – not a coccinelle in sight here this year !
Post casse-croute break another pass or two took us to lunch – and what a nice lunch. Cheese on tomatoes for the entrée followed by large pieces of salmon with a cauliflower side salade. Cheese course to follow, dessert usually yoghurts or similar, sometimes to come tarte tatin, cake or sponge. Wines at lunch and dinner became particularly notable and generous. I never saw a Bourgogne Blanc, Rouge, PTG or Aligote at any meal time. The default white was a Savigny Blanc with a few years age; red commonly one of Savigny, Chambolle or Fixin village. Lunch was similarly leisurely as other timings in that back to work was 14.00 hrs so a little longer than I’d been used to. The waiting on at lunch & dinner was excellent – from Madam Noellat and two partners of other male family members – great job all round by the ladies. Impressive. A notable event at lunch was Sophie ‘dishing’ out domaine vendange t shirts (v neck, fetching red except for cuverie team who had grey, with domaine MN logo) – nice !
Our afternoon saw us move away from working on our doorstep – in passing the only other occasion I can recall similar working was my first vendange (2006) at Duc de Magenta when we strolled to the likes of Morgeot & other vines around the domaine, only being en vehicule to the likes of the Puligny vines. For our first afternoon chez Noellat though the minibuses appeared and we set off north through the village, past my car, past Liger-Belair (more construction here !), across the square past the Berthaut cave, past DRC then into what I was told was ‘Aux Ormes’ but looking at maps now we started higher before descending into ‘Aux Ormes’ to must have commenced in ‘Bossieres’ or, more likely, ‘Vigneux. Picking here took the afternoon to almost 18.00 hrs by which time fatigue was setting in but nevertheless a very interesting and largely satisfying first day – Gerald and Hubert’s foibles aside. So, back to base, shower, beer in the gazebo then evening meal and so to bed.
The fruit ? Oh, sorry, pretty good, in fact with hindsight amongst the best I was to see through the vendange. Nice grapes, no overt rot at all, little or no sign of uneven ripening, shrivelled berries or brown, dead leaves.
Day Two to follow – a Grand Cru morning & NSG afternoon…