Tag Archives: Roussillon

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…..

A very difficult decision….

I don’t really know how to tell you this.

We spent a lot of time and energy working hard in the vineyard to try to grow the tastiest grapes possible, but in 2014 we had a run of things that went against us, with two of the grape-grower’s worst enemies getting the upper hand towards the end of the summer..

This year we had four generations of ‘eudemis’ of the grape berry moth. Normally, there’s only three. But their numbers grow exponentially, and with a fourth generation, we had a lot of damage.

Secondly, we had an attack of the dreaded Asian fruit fly – drosophila suzukii. Unlike ‘normal’ fruit-fly, which only attack grapes that are already damaged – Suzukii will bite a hole in a healthy grapes, and turn it to vinegar very quickly

I recorded a rather down-beat video during the vintage-time, and reported on how we had to select out, and throw away, around 50% of our grapes.

We have spent the time since then ageing the wine in barrels, and tasting and blending, to see if we could produce a wine that is up to our usual standard.

After a lot of careful consideration, we have decided to take the rather expensive decision not to release any Domaine of the Bee 2014.

We have some plans to release a very limited quantity of our Grenache later in the year, but apart from that, there will be no red wine from 2014.

Luckily, we will have enough bottles of 2013 and 2012 to keep us trading until this time next year when the 2015 will be released (and the 2015 is looking epic!).

And we have made some more white, and for the first time a rosé!

So some silver linings in a rather large cloud.

Harvest 2014 – Day 3

Domaine of the Bee
Harvest 2014
Day 3

The aerial view of the Coume de Roy vineyard, with the most unproductive areas marked in red

The aerial view of the Coume de Roy vineyard, with the most unproductive areas marked in red

Our Coume de Roy vineyard, while it sometimes gives the finest tasting grapes, is the most difficult to manage, and to treat. There are lots of odd-shaped blocks, it is on a hill that varies considerably in steepness, and there are no even rows. This means jumping out of the tractor the whole time to adjust the nozzles.

The weeds also grow strongly here, and many of the vines have strangler creepers growing through them.

One of our lovely vines being strangled by a creeper.

One of our lovely vines being strangled by a creeper.

We should really go through this vineyards in the summer, and remove weeds by hand, thin out the shoots on each vine, and make sure that every bunch hangs where the spray can reach it, and where the sunshine can thicken the skins.

But the yield from these vines is so low that we can seldom justify the labour cost.

(Any volunteers for a few weeks of shoot removal next summer? Board and lodging provided…..)

We knew, therefore, that with all of the disease around this year, Coume de Roy was not looking good, and if the other vineyards had had more problems than we had thought, the volume we could save from Coume de Roy would likely be miniscule.

And so it was.

75% of the fruit was left behind, because of sour rot, oidium or mildew, and only 25% of fruit was clean enough to harvest.

We filled up the barrel of Bac de Genievres fruit, and barely managed another barrel, and that was it. One and a half hectares of land, producing at best 450 litres of wine….

The farming cost alone was over EUR 6,000.

That’s over EUR 10 a bottle just for the grape cost. Not including anything for the winemaking, the barrel, the cork, bottle, label, capsule, box etc.

Makes me wonder whether we shouldn’t rip the whole vineyard up and start again. Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 13.28.27

But then I had a bottle of our Les Genoux 2011 last night, and it was so utterly delicious, that I have resolved instead to work harder next year to make the vineyard easier to work in, and to keep my fingers crossed for a better vintage.

We need to remove more rows of vines to create more tractor access, and there may be parts that we might abandon completely as we’ll never be able to access them properly. I’ll be drawing up a map of the vineyard in the next few days….

Meanwhile, we now have 1 full tank, and 4 full barrels of wine, and I’ll report next on the progress of the fermentations

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!