Tag Archives: Carignan

Wine Club Harvest Weekend

One of the perks of being a Domaine of the Bee Wine Club Member is that you are invited to be used as slave labour at harvest time.

16 of our Club Members came to Maury and had a gas over a gorgeous windy sunny weekend.
Picking for 3 hours, stomping grapes for 2 hours, and hour looking round the winery and then back to the Hotel Restaurant Riberach La Cooperative for a wine-fuelled dinner.

Harvest team proud of the morning’s work….

We decided to pick enough to fill one barrel. This requires about 500Kg of grapes, so we only needed to pick about 30kg of grapes each, but that can take surprisingly long…. especially when there are complex instructions about primary and secondary bunches to take on board (watch Amanda’s explanation here)

And we were keen to use the simplest possible method of fermentation for this special barrel – ‘whole bunch fermentation’.

This involves tipping the bunches into the barrel without removing the stalks, and gently crushing the bunches underfoot, to release the juice.

So we lined up to wash our feet, and then climb in to the barrel of surprisingly cold grapes, to give them a good old stomp.

First into the barrel – John – the man with the whitest shorts….

The resulting wine will have a slightly lower alcohol, and will pick up some tannins from the stalks, which will give the wine a slightly ‘fresher’, and more pithy, green character. “Whole bunch” is becoming very fashionable these days, as some of the opinion-formers among the journalists and sommeliers look for reds that are a bit lighter on their feet.

Once we had worked our magic, we retired to enjoy a gorgeous dinner at the only luxury hotel in the region, in a refitted old wine co-operative building in Belesta, where many of the rooms are located in what were originally concrete wine tanks.

After we had finished with it, our barrel was lifted into a chilled container for 5 days, to keep it too cold to ferment, and to allow as much as possible of the colour and flavour from the skins to leach out into the juice.

Then, once the barrel had warmed up again to around 18 degrees, the fermentation started spontaneously, and took just over a week to ferment to dryness.

I made regular short videos to send to the harvest crew via WhatsApp. We’ve now downloaded most of them to our YouTube channel, which you can have a look at here

Visit our You-Tube channel to watch a few videos that follow the fortunes of our intrepid barrel

The wine is now fermented dry (well, there were 4g/l of sugar left when sampled on Monday 28/10).

A bottle of the fermenting wine was brought back by me for our Club Members to taste on the 2nd November at our Winter Tasting.

The easiest way to track fermentations is using ‘specific gravity’ measured with a hydrometer – the density of grape juice is high, and as dense sugar turns to less-dense-than-water alcohol, the density drops from around 1100, to around 995. The pale grey line that started being tracked on the 14th October is the Wine Club Members’ barrel.
Nearly dry – at about 1003, this wine will be dry when it reaches 992-995

We host 14 MWs in the Roussillon

MWs gathered on the boundary between Corbieres and Roussillon

Ever since I first drove up the road from Cucugnan, past the castle of Queribus, and then down to the village of Maury, I have been smitten.

And ever since then, I have brought countless hapless visitors to the same spot, and watched them fall in love too.

The village of Cucugnan

For some rather foolish reason, about a year ago, I stuck my hand up and volunteered to organise an ‘MW trip’ to my favourite region.

Now, the MW trip is one of the best perks of being a Master of Wine. Essentially, for a modest contribution towards costs, MWs can enter the ballot to gain a place on one of 6-8 trips that are run every year to different wine regions.

The idea of the trip is to condense the best wines and best producers in a region into a very focussed and intense visit. The outcome should be that every MW feels fully up-to-date with what is going on in the corner of the wine world that they are visiting.

But my secret plan for this Roussillon trip was to make sure that they too fell in love with this stunning part of the world.

Our first visit was to the hugely inspiring pioneer of the Roussillon – Gerard Gauby, who has torn up the rulebook of biodynamics and written his own. He told us that “If Steiner [founder of biodynamics] was a Catalan, he’d be doing what I am doing”

Gerard and Ghislaine Gauby

Everything Gerard does has ‘love’ written all over it – love for nature, love for biodiversity, love for the people who work with him, and love for simple wines, naturally made. He has pioneered something he called ‘agro-forestry – inter-planting rows of vines with rows of olive trees and fruit trees, and this helps to encourage the wild birds that eat the destructive insects that give rise to grape diseases.

An inspiring and fascinating visit.

The next component of my secret plan was to coax the unsuspecting MWs away from wine for a brief hour, and plunge them into the cauldron of Cathar history that is the castle of Queribus. Never taken in battle, this stronghold could be held against all comers with fewer than 20 men.

The Cathar fortress of Queribus

With incredible views of the whole region, and buffeted by gusts of wind that could lift a child off her feet, we were lucky to climb to the top on a day of stunning visibilty.

No-one escapes Queribus unmoved.

Later in the week, we added into the mix a masterclass on ‘Vins doux naturel’, the famous fortified wines from the Roussillon, a walking tour of historic Perpignan, a ‘sea and mountains’ safari in Banyuls, a dip in the sea at Collioure, a night in the world’s only hotel built in a revamped co-operative winery, and countless excellent tastings, lunches and dinners.

And, of course, the chance to taste some Domaine of the Bee.

With all this planned, I hoped we had the recipe for a visit that the MWs would remember for many years to come

I think it worked!

We had some very effusive thank you notes from almost everyone on the trip, and the feedback forms are coming in think and fast studded with enthusiastic exclamations.

No other MW has, to my knowledge, yet bought themselves a vineyard in the area, but it is only a matter of time…..

Pressing matters

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After the frantic rush of harvest time, and the heady days of fermentation, pressing time is a rather more sober and measured affair.

But when and how to press is very important.

Colour and tannins are extracted from the skins of the grapes during the fermentation, and as the alcohol goes up, it acts as a potent solvent for some of the more bitter element sometimes found in the skins and pips of imperfectly ripe grapes.

In some years, we might decide to press right at the end of the fermentation. When our grapes are not fully ripe, pressing straight away (before the alcohol extracts too much greenness) makes a lot of sense.

But when, as this year, the skins are thick and chewy, but completely ripe, and the pips are nutty and woody, and not at all green, a longer maceration can enhance the texture and richness of the flavours extracted.

So most of our barrels have been sitting for a full 3 weeks (some even as many as 5 weeks) with the grapes immersed in the wine, with a floating dish of sulphur and a clingfilm wrap keeping away the fruit-flies.

But now, after nearly a month of calm, the time has come to press.

A 500L barrel, or ‘demi-muid’ can contain 450 Kg of grapes (you could fit in more, but it would risk overflowing when the cap gets pushed up by the carbon dioxide).

When you pump away the wine, and leave behind the skins, you can usually pump out 220-250 Litres of wine.

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And if you press the remaining wet skins, you can extract another 60-90 litres of wine.

Which is a lot. And you can’t get at it without a good press. Put it into a muslin bag, and you’d be able to extract 25-30 litres. A small basket press should get you up to 50-60 litres, but a good bladder press should enable a carefully controlled pressing at a very even pressure, which will give you as much chance of extracting all of the wine as possible. And the skins that come out (or ‘marc’) are almost dry to the touch.

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So, out comes the spade, and the slippery skins slide down the stainless steel slope and into the press. Alliterations unintended.

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And three barrel’s worth of skins only amounts to 5-600Kg of skins which doesn’t go a very long way towards filling a 3 Tonne press…..!

We have now finished all of our pressing, and we’ll let each barrel settle, so as to allow the heavy yeast sediment to fall to the bottom, before we rack each wine into a new barrel, top up, and seal up for the next few months.

Harvesting thoughts

We are now into October, and we still haven’t harvested a single grape.

It’s been a funny old year. Difficult flowering, especially in our Grenache, a pleasant early summer – breezy, with enough rain. And then the last significant rain fell on the 23rd June, and apart from a brief storm on the 3rd August, not drop of rain until mid September!

And hot, sometimes very hot.

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By the end of August the younger vineyards hearabouts started to show signs of stress. The vines struggled to find the water to draw the nutrients up from the soil, and feed the leaves that make the sugar. So the vines shut down, and the grapes stopped accumulating sweetness.

If you are a grower, paid on volume, your main concern is to deliver a healthy crop as soon as the minimum ripeness is achieved. If the grapes are swelling and the bunches getting bigger, then you wait. But if there is no rain forecast for 2 weeks, and the sun is just shrivelling the grapes, then there is no point in waiting.

So, after the ‘rentrée’ when everyone comes back from the long August holidays, some growers started to pick. And once you have started picking, the easiest call is to carry on until you have finished.

So now, by the end of September, pretty much everyone around us has brought in their entire crop. Which makes our three small parcels a bit of a magnet for the hungry wild boar.

A good 20mm of welcome rain 10 days ago has given our vines a much needed boost, and ripening has recommenced, so we are planning to pick our Carignan on Monday 3rd Oct, which is a week later than last year, but 2 weeks earlier than both 2013 and 2014.

Our potential alcohol should be over 14 degrees, which is where we want it to be, and the crop is large, and the grapes small, with thick skins, which is a great combination.

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Pity about the lousy volume in the Grenache – Domaine of the Bee 2016 may be a Carignan dominated blend!

Harvest 2014 – Day 1

Domaine of the Bee
Harvest 2014
Day 1

I’ve been popping back and forth to Maury throughout September, and on my last visit on the 23rd September, I did a tour of our vines with Pascal, Jean-Marc’s new viticulturalist (who used to work at Nyetimber, in England).

To me, the grapes were not ripe, and the analysis of the 100 berries that I randomly picked showed we would reach 13.5%, at least a degree lower than the typical potential alcohol on picking in previous years.

We resolved to wait 2 more weeks.

So much rests on such decisions.

On 29th September, it poured with rain, and Maury had over 100mm of rain in 24 hours.

Other areas of the Languedoc were much worse hit, and had massive floods. Luckily, many of the vineyards on the plains, where the flooding was worst, had already been harvested, so the economic loss was not too extreme.

We had no floods, and we didn’t think the rain was bad enough to swell and burst our berries. And we have very free-draining soils.

We counted on the warm weather returning, and the effects of the rain being reversed by 3-4 days of warm sunshine.

But it remained humid, and every 3-4 days, there was a light shower or two, and no drying, healing tramontane (the west wind from the mountains).

SOUR GRAPES

By the time we picked our Carignan on the 14th October, the rot had set in, literally.

What seemed on the surface like attractive, ripening bunches, with grapes that were still, perhaps, not 100 percent ripe, turned out to be harbouring a time-bomb.

Pourriture acide - or 'sour rot'

A bunch affected by ‘pourriture acide’ or sour rot.

Just one or two berries in the cluster had developed sour rot – grapes that taste and smell of vinegar.

This is caused when something damages the grape – either the larva of a grape moth called eudemis, or a bird, wasp or other insect. Sometimes excessive rain when the skins are already fragile can split the berry.

Once the juice is exposed the air, a bacteria called acetobacter gets to work. This occurs naturally, but is often introduced on the feet of a fruit fly, (aka vinegar fly), which rapidly multiplies, and produces acetic acid.

If the culprit that caused the sour rot was eudemis, the berry still looks round and plump, except for a tiny tell-tale hole, and a slightly red/pink tinge to the grape, rather than the usual black-red.

The tiny hole in the grape is all the evidence you can see that a grape moth larva has burrowed into the grape

The tiny hole in the grape is all the evidence you can see that a grape moth larva has burrowed into the grape

 

Touch the berry, and there is nothing inside – the larva has eaten the pulp, and left only the acetic grape skin behind.

The worst bunches are surrounded by clouds of fruit flies, but lots of bunches look fine, have no apparent fruit flies, and 98% of the berries are perfectly fine. But that 2% of grapes with sour rot can have a very bad effect on the finished wine.

So the only solution is to select, and to select hard. Leave all bunches where more than a couple of berries are affected by sour rot. Any if there are only a couple of berries, affected, then you can try to clip them out of the bunch using your secateurs.

And to select again when the grapes reach the winery.

Here 6 people around a sorting table can remove any acetic berries that may have been missed by the pickers.

Hand sorting grape by grape

With a lot of hard work, we have ended up with a good tank of tasty Carignan grapes
But we left 70% of our grapes on the soil around the vines, or in the bins by the sorting table.

So Domaine of the Bee will be in very short supply once again this year….

Find out how the Grenache harvest went on day 2!

The good, the bad and the ugly – a pre-harvest report from Justin

As harvest approaches, I have been out and about among the vines examining the ripening fruit. Everything that has happened since the beginning of the year has left its imprint…..

THE GOOD

We had a reasonable flowering this year, and so we have a good number of bunches. The grapes are pretty large and tightly packed. This is mostly a good thing, but can be a risk for rot if the weather stays humid and warm, with no wind.

Plenty of grapes in our Carignan vineyard

IMG_3969IMG_5262IMG_3976IMG_5150 This year’s grapes are much larger than normal…. on account of the summer rain

THE BAD AND THE UGLY

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Dead vines at the top of La Roque

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Grenache Blanc grapes that have been hollowed out by wasps

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We like slightly shrivelled grapes – they taste AMAZING – but these ones have gone too far, because the stem has died (possibly because of the wind)

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Sudden vine death syndrome. Happens to Grenache from time to time. Quite a lot this year. This vine was alive 3 weeks ago….

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The brown ‘burn’ on each leaf is a clue that the Downy Mildew in August has damaged the leaves. Some of the neighbour’s vines are completely brown though….

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Hector looks magnificent, as always….

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Some of the negative effects of the other kind of mildew ‘Powdery Mildew’ or Oidium. The grapes don’t ripen well, and split. We won’t pick these.

2 weeks to go to harvest – we are keeping our fingers crossed for warm sunshine, cool nights and a drying breeze.

At the moment, the Carignan has reached 13.5 degrees – but the skins and pips are not yet ripe, so we are hanging out for another degree, which should take us to about the 13th / 14th October

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This is a randomly chosen sample of one grape from each of 100 different vines in our Carignan vineyard.

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This is the view through the refractometer…. 13.5 degrees

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Last night, we had nearly 100mm of rain. Not what we are looking for, but if it stays dry from now on, we might be OK…. fingers crossed!

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