Tag Archives: Harvest

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

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.


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.


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).


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 Buzz September 2014


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Inspired by Keats, we are becoming ‘close- bosomed friend to the maturing sun’ as we ‘conspire with him how to load and bless with fruit the vines, and fill all fruit with ripeness to the core.’

At least that is the theory. I’m not really sure where all this ‘conspiring’ is getting us. It seems a bit one-sided to me. The maturing sun seems to do what it wants.

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But sure enough, the grapes are getting sweeter, and within the next 2 weeks, we are likely to pick our Carignan vineyard, and then we will ‘by a cyder-press, with patient look, watch the latest oozings, hour by hour’. Actually, we use a wine-press. But you get the general idea.

This year, we are aiming to do a better job of recording and sharing the trials and vicissitudes of this exciting time of year. If you would like to follow our progress, email us, and we’ll send you a weekly update.

Our Wine Club has over 100 members!

We are delighted to welcome our first one hundred members, who benefit from our best prices, priority access to new wines, and rare bottlings.

It is not too late to join for our next vintage, and you can immediately benefit from at 20% discount on everything you buy from us.It is not too late to join for our next vintage, and you can immediately benefit from at 20% discount on everything you buy from us.

If you want to know more, or to sign up, click HERE. We’d love to have you aboard.

“Nothing is so conducive to living an effective life as wine. Do you not see? It is wine-drinkers who make money, clinch their business deals,win their legal cases, become happy and help their friends.”Aristophanes – 5th century BC

Changing borders

As we got pretty close to waving goodbye to Scotland a few weeks ago, it got me thinking that the nation state is a fairly recent phenomenon, and borders have been shifting for years.

Our house in France is in a hamlet called Borde Neuve – or ‘New Border’ – and once marked the border between France and the kingdom of Aragon in northern Spain

And then I found this fascinating 1,000 year animation of the way boundaries have changed in Europe.

French honey crisis!

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The last three years have seen a catastrophic decline in the production of French honey.

We are determined to help. We have been in talks with a local bee-keeper to offer our vineyards as a site for some hives.

We are surrounded by wild rosemary, cistus, thyme and fennel plants, all of which should combine to make some great-tasting honey.

If we manage to make some,  we’ll let you know!

Till next time….


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…..


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



Dead vines at the top of La Roque


Grenache Blanc grapes that have been hollowed out by wasps


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)


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


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….


Hector looks magnificent, as always….


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


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


This is the view through the refractometer…. 13.5 degrees


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!