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the return of the mark! arlaud vendange diary day 1

Arlaud Vendange Day 1, Saturday 24th Sept 2016

Bonjour Bill et tout le monde. J’arrive sur la Cote Friday evening after leaving my North West England home for Dover circa 2.15 a.m Friday morning. J’a une petite probleme avec ma voiture on the Autoroute about an hour from Dijon when it locked me out of it after I’d stopped for some diesel and was washing the windscreen free of half the insects between Troyes and Chaumont. I won’t bore you with the rest but suffice to say after recovery from the service area on a flatbed truck to some garage in a hamlet somewhere in the countryside my VW now needs a new left rear window – was impressive how the car stood up to the attempts of the garage guys to break in with increasingly larger hammers but eventually a spot welder or similar something lance like hot on the glass enabled entry & keys retrieval (insert various rude words of choice ici). . I could hardly watch. Now over 200 Euros worse off (that’s less wine to be acquired doh !) I’ve still got to sort some replacement glass before returning home – a trip to VW Ladoix beckons !

Anyway, enough of that nonsense. All hugely familiar in Morey Centre after my diversion to the Arlaud cuverie first to see what was happening, who might be there – it was by now after 7.00 p.m. due to my incident which I reckon cost me 2 hours or so. Only Herve and the office lady packing up at the cuverie but clear all was ready to commence with triage table, presses, cases etc etc outside under the roof overhang as usual. Cyprien had originally contacted me in early August to say, quite explicitly, we would not start before the 28th Sept. Yeah right ! At the beginning of last week he told me Saturday the 24th. Gawd, loads to do in my desk bound UK day job to ‘escape’. Eventually turned my work computer off at home Thursday evening very late having done all I needed to, grabbed a couple of hours sleep, fuelled up with black coffee and set off as above. Some 680 UK miles later, one English Channel & one ferry, 3 quick stops en route to ‘refresh’, plus beaucoup of self inflicted car woes (my defence is I’d no idea it had a self locking system – I’ve only had it over 10 years !) here I am in dear ole Morey-St-Denis, and very sleepy it is this Friday evening.

Reassuringly familiar for this my 9th vendange, 7th at Arlaud (think I got my maths wrong last year when might have mentioned 10th). The chasseurs from Besancon area were here i.e Colonel Rene, loveable softy spoken Serge, sage Daniel plus new man, George. Also present were young Basile from Bordeaux who told me he’d completed his MA thesis on “Iconic Wines – what makes a wine iconic”, and a first time here young lady who turned out to be apprentice winemaker, Caroline, from Germany (avec perfect anglais) who has worked in the Rheinhessen, and latterly Sancerre, but has pitched up at Arlaud on a recommendation from the Sancerre winery (name not known, sorry !) to experience organic/biodynamic viticulture.

Amazingly no long time fixture, Dede, nor Mr Handlebar moustache, Jackie, who has occupied the annex off my room the last few years. Hey ho, nothing stays the same, but Herve is his usual larger than life self including my instantly becoming Marko (name is Mark actually but do I care not one bit !).

Convivial Friday evening meal relaxed me from my Autoroute car woes. In addition to the domaine’s ‘usual’ Bourgogne Aligote & Bourgogne PTG we had a couple of half bottles – one 1999 Morey Village, and one Morey 2002. The first was corked although only I tactfully called it out with Basile quickly agreeing. The 02 was flat out delicious – love to have some of that in my cellar (but not in halves !). We also had some sort of claret – very Merlot. Think it was Chateau du/le Pin 2011. No one seemed very interested & c.half of it it was there on the table for Saturday breakfast so I had a small glass with my breakfast bar and before my black coffee. Seemed quite pleasant !

Today turned out to be a (Bourgogne) Roncevie day all day. Contain your excitement ! Once the usual checking in paperwork (swear there’s more of it every year) had been done, seemed to take an age, with all the new for 2016 crew and some of the usual regulars, off we went. Quite a smarter line up of hired vehicles this year than the crocks of the past. Seemed to be a change of emphasis from vans and a couple of double cab, flat bed, trucks to only two vans (actually mini buses) but three trucks. Plus the usual decrepit, seems to go for ever, domaine workhorse Citroen Jumpy small van. Quite dark to 7.30 a.m. but we are later this year. Didn’t do a head count but we filled the vehicles – maybe not as many folk as last year perhaps.

Fairly early on the opening strategy for this year’s harvest it became clear i.e attack and complete the low lying, frost affected, stuff. We started in Roncevie, where regular Arlaud aficionados will know the domaine has 5 ha., in the furthest section towards the railway, up against a wood. This portion, probably the lowest lying bit,(think totally) was re-planted after the devastating frost/winter of 2009-10. Its always been a pain in the butt to try and pick the first efforts of the youngster vines. This year was weird. Many of the vines had little or no fruit on them but then one would come to a vine which for no apparent reason had a few nice bunches on it – much more than seen in past years. Also fairly quickly I noticed variable/inconsistent ripening with some bunches, or parts of bunches, next to fully ripe one’s, looking ‘rose’. Very quickly got quite muddy as well, as in clinging to one’s boots etc in vast quantity – not good. Very early the vines were pretty wet from morning dew so one also got damp. Morning passed uneventfully and so to lunch, before which Cedric, Jean-Pierre and myself cleaned all the buckets and the secateurs. On the subject of the latter I had two during the morning which were a sticking pain in the butt. Have never had sticking/blocking secateurs in my previous year’s – someone hadn’t oiled them me thinks. Porter friend/regular Laurent offered to get me a replacement for the first pair but the one’s he got from one of the trucks was no better so I persevered until lunch time then selected my weapon’s of choice carefully for the afternoon.

Cyprien’s wife Carol(e?)’s father, an ex professional chef,. was in charge of lunchtime dining arrangements as last year. An engaging, larger than life, extrovert type whom one cannot help at being amused by. Lunch was usual mixture of entrée, mains, plat du fromage (large one) and fruit ou dessert. Wines as above i.e Aligote & PTG on free flow as required.

Back to Roncevie for the afternoon. Really hot weather wise now with clear blue sky and only an occasional whisper of breeze. What struck me now, as we worked the rows/section nearer to the road (RN74), was the almost total absence, as far as the eye could see between Gevrey & Morey, of any other domaine’s vehicles scattering the hillsides i.e we were almost alone. Very unusual but I heard later most of the Morey domaine’s intended to start Monday or later that week. I should have guessed sooner from the all but empty Morey car park !

My afternoon’s toil was brightened by music to work to. Initially, a tall, whisper of beard, guy next to me was playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon from his phone. Actually turned out to be a Floyd tribute band re-make but good enough. Took me back to buying ‘Dark Side’ years ago when it first came out, in my long ago 6th Form College days (between 16-18), as my first ‘proper album (actually my second but I don’t like to talk about the aberration first by Wizzard !). Moving rows later I was next to, hippy traveller type, Sebastian, with his long ‘matted’ dreadlock hair, a ‘type’ old ladies might cross the road to avoid. Sebastian is quite an engaging, if voluble, character with very good English, originally from the Vosges region, but who has spent his latter years as a travelling free spirit. A girlfriend (not present) who lives in Dijon brought him here. He explained to me, andhe can chat (!), whether I wanted to hear or not, that he has fallen in love with Colombia (of all places & nothing to do with drugs) and has dreams to get enough dosh together to open a bar or restaurant there – hum ! Anyway, he was playing what turned out to be an eclectic mixture of stuff, pretty loudly, via his phone. The first ‘tune’ was the rocking, if repetitive, Suzie (Suzy ?) Q which I will always associate with my favourite film, Apocalypse Now, said tune from the up river ‘concert for the US Vietnam War troops featuring, for those days, exotic dancers. Post Suzie Q an even better series of electric blues tracks (just my type) blasted forth to rock us down the rows and take my mind off my raging thirst.

The grapes in Roncevie Haut were pretty impressive, what there were of them. Volume very varied vine to vine but first sight of big bunches. Rising ‘dust’ as said bunches landed en bucket though suggested some rot albeit within the bunch other than being visible on the surface and so it proved post triage conversation – shades of 2013.

And so, to return to the village, final bucket cleaning, departure of the locals, quick glass or two of vin blanc refresher before photo downloads, evening meal and early night.

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