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the return of the mark: part last…

ARLAUD VENDANGE, Wednesday, 24th September 2014

By now I was really wondering just when we were going to finish as there seemed to be no sign. I was acutely conscious my Channel ferry back to the UK was booked for Friday lunchtime, delaying was not an option, and I was also keen to undertake various wine collection/pursuit errands I’d agreed to undertake for mates in the UK (two of whom are regular Burgundy-Report readers). As part of my vendange its always my aim to try and have at least one, if not two days post vendange for what I call ‘me time’ i.e to allow me to wind down and spend time for myself exploring parts of the Cote, visiting friends in the vigneron community and buying an ‘odd bottle or few’ ! The way things were going now, with this easily the longest vendange I’ve worked, I could quite easily see there could be little or no ‘me time’ !
Anyway, at breakfast I mused this day must likely be the last and surely must include the Hautes-Cotes. By now my bin bag of dirty clothing was becoming sizeable and heavy. I’d started the vendange also with two pairs of thin washing up type kitchen gloves (in fetching pale green) and two more robust pairs of gardening gloves. All of these were by now rather ‘second hand’, if not all but shot. As it was I binned the lot before returning to the UK as well as a back up pair of rubber (wellington type) boots which had various splits.
Back to the vines this was another largely unexciting day in which we moved around various sites and plots, mostly on the Chambolle side of Morey, both above and (mainly) below the main road, the D974. One or two plots weren’t so far from the SNCF Dijon-Lyon railway line which gives an idea how far from the road we got on occasion. We picked Pinot, some Gamay, and also old vine Aligote. The Gamay vines, which are at the back of the edge of Morey Industrial units housing the likes of the Vineyard tractor & machinery dealers (Faupin, Alabeurthe), can produce a prodigious weight of fruit in good years and weren’t lacking in 2014 but what surprised me a lot this time was the significant amount of rot. The Gamay fruit was pretty grim really leading to us having no other option but to ‘drop’ a lot of it to the floor – all vendange I never saw anything like the incidence of rot in any of the Pinot which was present in the Gamay. Odd & I did wonder if any routine Bordeaux mix spraying had been applied to the Gamay as the residue of such (spray) had been noted on plots of Pinot.
Not a lot of interest to commend the Wednesday really and nothing that prompted me to get my camera out. There were a couple of humorous moments which stood out though, both involving Anya, the most extrovert of the Polish girls. The first also involved Porteur Romain. The gist of this incident was that Romain, who’s very much a stolid, slow, gentle giant type of young lad in I’d estimate his mid to late 20’s – and I’d surmise probably without much ‘experience’ with the opposite sex – engaged Anya in conversation whilst waiting for us to fill his case from our buckets when we were all hard at it picking away. It was fairly obvious immediately where Romain was most hesitantly, and with little or no ‘sophistication’, seeking to take the conversation ! Fairly quickly, if not as his opening line, he got to the point of asking Anya how many boyfriends she’d had, quickly followed by a fairly unsubtle angle that he’d like to take her out and show her the sights of Dijon (without actually saying that). This was all quite amusing to us in the immediate rows but Anya had me particularly in hysterics by, pretty quickly in proceedings, saying to Romain in English (debateable if he understood !) “Woah, you’re a bit fast aren’t you” ! This was pretty funny, more so if one had been there and knew the individuals, but one thing Romain is not, in porteur terms anyway, is fast ! Needless to say Anya, tactfully and gently didn’t take up Romain’s offer of a less than wild sounding evening !
The second Anya incident also involved her friend, Eva, another of the Poles. Immediately prior to us starting one particular plot, the two girls headed off down the track, looking for a suitably private area of vines or scrub to perform a call of nature (or one of them needed such, the other acting as minder/watcher for any interruption). We started picking & were part way down our first row when there was an incredible burst of a strange, unusual, noise ! My first reaction was that one of the other was larking about and doing a comic impersonation of person or thing. What had actually happened was that the Polish girls had disturbed, or got too close, to a ‘friendly’ donkey in a field adjoining the vines which, either wishing to make friends, or possibly thinking someone was coming to feed it, galloped over to them prompting them to flee the field in a hurry (!) whilst the donkey was making an incredibly loud continual braying which went on a couple of minutes. All rather hilarious with Anya & Eva returning to the rest of us rather embarrassed and amid much hilarity all round.
A fairly unsatisfying day really, in essence just ‘mopping up’ the lesser hotch potch of various scattered plots/rows.
At dinner that evening I continued my habit of providing one or two bottles of my own (a bit ‘coals to Newcastle’ or ‘sand to Arabs’) to supplement the usual Bourgogne PTG, Blanc, or increasingly Rose. We had various wines through the vendange – I didn’t take notes of what I supplied but included both Burgundy & non Burgundy whites and reds. On this Weds evening a Robert Niero 2004 Condrieu Les Ravines went down very well indeed and was indeed rather lovely, drinking a point – light on its feet, not heavy, very mineral and otherwise an atypically nice, well made Viognier. I’d also supplied a Greywacke 2013 Marlborough NZ Sauvignon Blanc the night before which disappeared quickly but without comment. Another well received white was Pierre-Yves Colin Morey’s 2007 St Aubin ‘Le Banc’. I was highly impressed that Herve Arlaud, coming late to the dinner table, that evening responded to my blind challenge serving to him of the PYCM, with the only clue given it wasn’t a Meursault, by calling it Chardonnay (easy enough) but also picking it as a St Aubin and a 2007. He had two wrong guesses at the producer but if I’d allowed him another I think he would have said PYCM as well. I think I’ve mentioned what I think was a first week evening when Herve produced Arlaud 2005 Morey Village and 2010 Morey 1er Millandes. Both were delicious and a cut above the normal evening fair. The Millandes obviously young and maybe at a disadvantage for that but the 2005 Village hugely impressed me and was flat out delicious – a wine I’d love to have a case of. If not this Weds then a night or two earlier we’d been served two different years Arlaud Charmes-Chambertin – a 2000 and I think (memory a bit dodgy) a 2006. Both very yummy indeed, although I thought back to Jean Raphet’s 2000 Clos de Vougeot bottle on the day of my arrival, and decided the Vougeot was, being picky, the better for me 2000.
And sooo to bed with still no Hautes-Cotes or end in sight ! By now I was also suffering, from about day 6, with the same RSI type problem in/from my right shoulder all the way to right fingertips, that I’d first experienced a year or two pre this one. This pins and needles, loss of feeling, numbness, discomfort etc etc could be quite tricky and also had the propensity to keep me awake at night with the all around discomfort in my right arm unless, that is, I slept (or tried to) dangling my right arm downwards over the edge of the bed so that blood circulation flowed to my right fingers which eased matters . Didn’t necessarily seem the wisest thing to do to dangle the arm for an extended spell but that was about the only way to ease matters.

ARLAUD VENDANGE, Thursday THE CONCLUSION (!), 24th September 2014
At last, it had been said, at breakfast we were told that today, the Thursday would be the final day – but when ? Hautes-Cotes it would be as well. Off to Vosne we went, from there climbing up past Brulees and onwards past Meloisey and upwards wending our way through country lanes, woods etc until eventually weaving our way out onto the largely deserted, electricity pylon crossed, plateau which had proven so inhospitable, if not downright awful (rain, extreme cold, frost, misery all round) in early October 2013 with incidence of widespread rot in the then fruit.
This year the weather could not have been more different. As we arrived it was sunny, but a brouillard clag fog/cloud/mist briefly descended to shout out the sun until gradually being burnt off when the morning then became just glorious. It had been a bit chilly at the outset so most of us were layered up, so became increasingly hot/sweaty until the chance to partially divest clothing arose. The ground generally firm and at worst damp but mostly dry. The rows of vines here are as long as any I’ve worked so, unless you are doubled or tripled up (2/3 to a row), one row to yourself is quite a slog. The occasional gap(s) in vines, or vines with little or no fruit, are a respite and give an incentive to get closer to your peers if you have fallen behind. We always start here working slightly upslope/uphill – nothing more than a gentle gradient really but at the top of the plot the ground becomes remarkably stony, and almost Chateauneuf-du-Pape galets strewn like. Whilst we worked a particularly large machine harvester was working noisily in an adjoining field/plot, serviced by two tractor and trailer sets that rushed (at quite a speed) backwards & forwards to whoever’s winery they were from. The bunches of grapes here were as prolific as 2013, if not more so, but the huge difference was the lack of 2013’s rot. This year I didn’t see any. 2013’s bunches had flattered as looking good but being full of rot in the tightly packed fruit. The speed with which one’s bucket got full was remarkable and twice I had to stop and wait for a porteur to catch up to come and relieve me of my burden. This plot took us all morning with 2 or 3 passes, I think the latter which left me at least pretty tired. However, as happened similarly in 2011 albeit on the flat land Morey Chambolle side, we then broke for lunch with an al fresco vineyard grande picnic lunch. 4 or 5 plastic wine flagon things, filled with water, were laid on their sides on top of empty cases to allow for washing one’s hands etc, then bread, cooked meats, cheese etc were laid out on the top of other cases for a help yourself DIY picnic lunch with sponge cake and coffee available for ‘afters’. Wine and water also available, all the ingredients having been brought from base during the morning in one of the van’s or the flat bed trucks. A nice move and a much needed break, followed by brief siesta for some, before we then moved off again. Before we went I had a look at the machine harvested vines ‘next door’ to us. It’s quite ‘savage’ how the harvester strips the fruit from the vines but also clever. I took a few photos to show the stalky remains of what’s left of a machine harvested bunch.
Lunch in the vines made logistical sense in one way given our location i.e in the Hautes-Cotes and that we still had the Arlaud Hautes-Cotes Chardonnay to do on its separate plot some miles away which is where we went next post lunch. I’ve always enjoyed picking this Chard – it’s a lot of fun and today was no exception. The vines are high trained and up quite a short, if steep, slope. The way Herve always sets us to work on the vines here is as a pair of two pickers, working one side of the vine each. One obviously has to be very careful not to inadvertently get to close, god forbid cut, one’s co-worker but if you work well together its ok and fun. Leaf stripping is essential to give good sight of the hanging fruit & making sure none missed but two of you assist’s not overlooking anything. The fruit quality & quantity here was again spectacular, probably the best I’ve seen in 5 years on this plot and I was also hearing / to hear later that afternoon that (in the main or solely) white wine producers on the Cote were delighted with what they were seeing from the harvest.
Once we’d finished here I was confidently assuming we were done and our 2014 vendange was over so that at least I might have a decent part of the afternoon and early evening to sort out a few errands and wine buying pre readying myself for a crack of dawn departure on the Friday morning to make Calais for my lunchtime ferry to the UK and home. I was wrong and so were others thinking the same as me !!! Amazingly Herve led the van convoy back to the Chambolle side of Morey and we set to finishing off what had been incomplete/unfinished rows from days earlier on two or three plots. This didn’t take ‘that’ long, nor was it overly testing but eventually the final bits of rows were all done just after 3.30 ish p.m. & by the time we returned to Morey centre it was almost 4.00 p.m Almost anti-climatic in the way the last bits of picking petered out. No fuss or excitement made/evident as we finished in the vines or back at base – I got the distinct impression to a man/woman/boy/girl we were all just tired out.
For my part, and assuming no Paulee as we’d had none in 2013, and there was no sign or mention of one this year, I rushed to change into half decent clothes once we were back in Morey, grabbed paperwork, wallet and camera setting off to attempt at least three or four errands in the time up to likely usual dinner for the resident lodgers. My first call was to the Domaine Robert Gibourg caveau on the D974 to collect some already paid for wines for a UK friend. Not a great start as I was immediately held up whilst it was decided I could take said wines which needed Madame Gibourg Senior’s arrival to clarify matters and let me get on my way – but, bless her, in a nice gesture she thrust a bottle of Gibourg 2011 Morey Clos de la Bidaude (Monopole) into my hand as I left.
Next stop toute suite, after quick fire text msg exchange with Jeremy S, was Domaine Dujac on another collection errand. Jeremy was a little tight lipped re his opinions on 2014 but we were both in a hurry, he had friends/family just arrived from the USA. He pointed me to a small, very dusty/dirty, uneven floored, low ceilinged, small cellar which he unlocked and left me to it to search for a dozen specific bottles amongst a hotch potch of plastic cases, cardboard cartons and couple of racks. Not a greatly pleasurable task, especially when one’s on limited time, but I got there in the end and retreated with the 12 bottles saying both ‘hello’ & ‘goodbye’ in the Dujac office to father, Jacques Seysses, whom I’d never previously met but, of course, instantly recognized. He quite probably wondered who the hell I was which would have been quite understandable, notwithstanding my quick fire garbled explanation who I was and that I’d finished the errand task so the cellar could be locked again.
Next stop Beaune by arrangement to meet larger than life, great bloke, Aussie cheerful chappie, Andrew Nielsen of Le Grappin and to collect 2012 wines I’d previously ordered and not had the chance to collect in 2013 when I’d similarly run out of time rushing around ! Pleased with myself I’d found his place straightaway I waited a while, talking to British members of his team whilst Andrew returned from an errand. 2012 wines collected we discussed the vendange where he seemed to have similar views to my own on fruit quality and quantity and seemed happy indeed with his own efforts/outcome thus far. He was particularly enthused with his 2014 Savigny Rouge, giving me a taste of delicious, fresh, juice.
Back to Morey in weary fashion, just enough time to call at Ray Walker’s Ilan premises in Nuits for another UK mate collection errand (2010 wines) in a second year’s effort, after 5 or 6 abortive calls in 2013 across two days. Both my UK friend and myself had emailed Ray as a precursor pre my visit, my mail just a few days earlier when I had sight of when I’d be free to call, but no joy to ringing bell, knocking on door, waiting 5/10 minutes so no option but to leave empty handed again. Fair assumption I guess to assume Ray and family were as busy as the rest of us and in all likelihood at his (new last year ?) cuverie elsewhere. Will have to re-think something else for 2015.
Arriving back at Morey, without a bottle of wine purchased for self (!), I was gobsmacked to learn a Paulee was imminent – no one had told me before ! Mad rush to shave, shower, change and start packing before a convivial evening ensued of food, drink, music and dance with Cyprien and wife Carol as hosts & my staying up far too late (!). I produced my last wine for the night – a Henri Jouan 2002 Clos St-Denis. Was drinking wonderfully. Tried Herve blind with this one – he got Producer, Year and Terroir without any clues/assistance. Chapeau ! Evening only blighted a bit late on by one of the local blokes, who’d always seemed a bit of an idiot deciding, appearing drunk, to go and get his Staffordshire Bull Terrier like dog and release it into the crowded Paulee room whilst dancing was going on. Utter dope and hope he isn’t employed next year.
Friday morning, 5.30 a.m., after not a lot of sleep and with low mist/fog settled on the Cote I pulled away from a sleeping Morey and headed for Dijon Sud, the Autoroute, Calais and my ferry back to the UK. What a vendange ! They are all different but, and I don’t say this as the most recent & as fresh in the memory, 2014 was just personally amazing from the get go. The weather, first week especially, was just superb, arguably way too hot for mad dogs and Englishmen to be out picking in the vineyard sun. How thirsty did I get and boy how did I ‘perspire’ ! The ground was dry & firm for the most part, other than just after the little rain, unlike 2013. And the grapes – wow ! Those oft repeated two words:- quality and quantity as I’ve never seen the likes of before in 6 vendange before this, my 7th. I’m so intrigued and impatient to see how the wines ultimately turn out. All my regular friends on the Arlaud team, lovely people. The mid vendange Sunday was a special day with the Le Montrachet breakfast (thank you Bill, we met up at last !) and then my special dog walking afternoon with my new best canine friend, Gava. As special as my first vendange. And the best part ? No doubts, can only be the vines, the terroirs, those premier and grand cru sites. Those days 3 and 4 with the sites we went to:- Bonnes-Mares, Clos St-Denis, Morey Ruchots, Vosne Petit-Monts, Echezeaux. So special and fantastic, this year of all years. It was tough though, long, my longest, seemed to be going on forever (not that I would complain if it did !). With the end of it satisfaction for all the day to day unremitting hard work and a job pretty well done by us all (well, most of us !). A wrench as always to leave dear ole Morey. With sincere and grateful thanks to Domaine Arlaud; Cyprien & Herve, for continuing to trust and employ your all things Burgundy passionate English vendangeur – it’s an honour and a pleasure to work for one of the best domaine’s in Morey, and on the Cote de Nuits, one I firmly believe is continually improving to reach new heights. Roll on 2015 – I’ll be back !
Postscript:- In addition to our wages its tradition at Arlaud that each and every vendangeur gets a small box of wines – always been 3 bottles to date, usually a Gevrey Village, Aligote and a Roncevie or Hautes-Cotes Chardonnay. As usual Herve made sure I got mine (box) as I entered the Paulee. I only got around to opening it once back in the UK and burst out laughing when I saw the contents. I can’t believe anyone else got the bespoke offerings I got which are 1) a 1999 Chambolle Village and 2) a 2010 (not a 2011 or 2012) Bourgogne Roncevie. The significance of these ? In both cases I’d jokingly said to Cyprien, after different days of slog, that I wouldn’t care/didn’t ever want to see a bottle of either the above again/for a long time. That he’d taken in what I said in good humour, remembered, and, turning my jokes around on me, seeing to it that I’d got the said bottles – in the midst of all he had on his plate in the vendange – well, that was superb and spoke volumes/means a lot to me.

2 responses to “the return of the mark: part last…”

  1. Mark in Pernand

    Bill, thank you very much indeed for accepting my rambling efforts of trying to tell it how it is with photo illustrations. I enjoyed, sort of, the challenge of the vendange diary & hope it worked for readers. Happy to take on board feedback for, all being well, 2015. Reckon we’ll be lucky to see another crop like 2014 but who knows ? Meantime so many special moments from 2014 to sustain one through the winter. Happy Burgundy drinking !

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