How lucky can a girl get? Very …
[this has turned out rather a long posting – get your favourite beverage now]
The morning began with getting in the last of the Bourgogne Rouge. Little new to say there, except for one slightly off piste observation.
Some at least of my audience will be familiar with a film called Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis (huge thank you to the friend who gave me the DVD). The rest of you should watch it if you can, it’s a stitch even if you don’t understand a word of the french, as I can attest after three viewings. Ch’tis are kind of like Geordies, or Glaswegians – they are the folks who live up north and talk very strangely and unintelligibly. The story is essentially, man from Marseilles (deep and sunny south of France) is told he has been transferred to strange, frightening, foreign and cold north of France, the area around Calais and Lille. After a very rocky start, he enjoys it all despite himself, and is gutted to leave after two years to return to Marseilles. A lot of the humour in the film has to do with word play – how things are pronounced by the Ch’tis versus the usual French, and misunderstandings that arise, and this southerner learning to speak and comprehend the local dialect.
The reason I bring this up is that amongst our gang this year we had un vrai Ch’ti. As best I can describe it, the Ch’tis gargle their French like mouthwash. The guy naturally took a lot of teasing, but he gave as good as he got, and the banter (and just the sound of his voice) was hugely entertaining as we slogged through all those bloody great fat grapes for the Bourgogne Rouge.
As we were finishing up that vineyard, I did get one good classic shot of the pannier in action. At one point I asked how much those things weigh, filled, and the answer was about 65 kilos – rather more than I do. I declined the offer of playing pannier for the day. For those unfamiliar from last year’s blog, the coupeurs cut the grapes and dump them in big garden type buckets which are periodically emptied into the pannier – the giant bucket carried on the back of the man who is also called pannier, when you holler out to him to come round so you can empty your bucket into his, and he can them dump his bucket onto the sorting table. (read more about sorting the grapes.)
Better things were in store, however… namely, Clos Vougeot and Richebourg. We spent the latter half of the morning and early afternoon in Clos Vougeot and later afternoon in Richebourg.
We harvested the bourgogne rouge in cloud cover, but the sun came out when we went to Clos Vougeot (wouldn’t you?), and as those vines run east-west, you have the sun warming the eastern side of you as you work, it’s really quite nice.
Bucket full of Clos Vougeot – we punters were guessing a full bucket like this might make three or four bottles of wine, that seems high to me, I must check with Anne or Pascal. Note also the soil – dry, loose, stoney. Or put another way, earth, mineral…
You may recall my allusions to Pinot Beurot (Day One of this harvest and my 11 July Conditions entry) – well, I met them again in Clos Vougeot and this time had a camera handy. Gorgeous colour, really glowing peachy rosey mauvey apricotty…
Another thing in this picture – see the far right cluster, some grapes look sort of collapsed balloon like? That is what pourriture does – a sort of mould. If you trim out those sad little things with the tip of your secateurs, you will find some grey gungey mould around the central stem underneath these poor darlings. And yes, the odd vine’s worth of Pinot Beurot or Chardonnay grapes does get blended in with all the Pinot Noir in the wines.
From there to Richebourg. Anne’s parcel is either side of a low retaining wall – the westernmost vines are a few feet higher at the low end and are on a slope rising to the west, the ones east of the wall are on flat land. This photo taken looking south, so east is to your left. Also, fyi, it was taken Sunday morning about 8:15, hence the sunlight from the east. See how the allée in front of me takes a zig to the left? That’s where the retaining wall is. I know this looks as if it is all a bit of a rise, but if I had a wider angle you would see the more pronounced rise on the right hand side.
Last year I remembered thinking the grapes were different on the two parcels but by the time I wrote in the evening I was too tired to remember what that difference was. Basically: age. The vines on the upper parcel are very old, 50 years or more, mostly, though Anne has had to grub up and replace selected vines (one of my April postings has a photo of a baby vine). The grapes, broadly generalising now, are smaller on the older vines – more intensity of flavour.
I’m not sure the photos make it clear enough, but the lower Richebourg bunches are denser and heavier and very tightly packed, the upper ones more loosely packed of smaller grapes. You can also see the soil is more fertile – more ground cover grows there, especially in some of the upper section, which in my mind connects with the more fruit, less earth / mineral taste versus the Clos Vougeot.
In all the harvesting, when you think you can’t bend over one more time, it helps hugely to be able to recall the flavour of the wine you drank last night, and focus on that instead of your back.
Today we got I think most of the lower parcel done, so will need to revisit tomorrow. At the end of the day, Anne announced that she needed only a small team on Sunday to finish up the Richebourg and the Vosne Romanée, only a few hours’ work, so she did not need the big team assembled today (we were up around 25 or more, I think, several new folks arrived and one or two gone). Those of us staying at the Domaine of course volunteered to work, and I think only one contractor was needed to make up the numbers.
That evening at dinner was interesting. One of the vendangeurs is a woman named Simone, a Brasilian woman now living in London. After several years experience as a catering manager she won an award which gave her a sum of money to use to further her education and experience. She has chosen to change gears and work as a sommelier, and has used her prize money to make a tour of California wine estates, to work the harvest here, and later this week she will go on to Oporto and visit the Douro. When she returns to London she will be a sommelier at La Gavroche for some months, and then begin work at Michel Roux junior’s planned new restaurant in Parliament Square.
Another of the vendangeurs is a young man who is attending the Lycée Viticole in Beaune – a four year course in viticulture, and he is doing his work experience with Anne for the first two years of his course (and is just beginning his second year). He also plans to be a sommelier; when he finishes in Beaune he hopes to attend a sommelier school for one year.
He is French, and speaks only a little english, Simone is Brazilian, and in addition to her native Portuguese speaks fluent English, Italian and Spanish. At dinner he twigged that she was a sommelier, and apparently decided she couldn’t possibly be, as she was neither a man nor French, and decided to ask some questions clearly intended to test her and put her on the spot. Bad mistake. Another French guest at the house and I translated between the two of them… From memory I think he started by asking what were the Burgundian grape types. Simone rattled them right off, by region, for all of Burgundy, not just the Côte d’Or. He raised his eyebrows, but carried on, asking about a particular domaine – she knew the domaine, and named their wines and grape varieties. At that point she struck back and began asking him questions, starting with inviting him to name the grapes of Champagne. He couldn’t get beyond chardonnay and pinot noir… she informed him of all five varietals (pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot meunier, pinot blanc and arbane). We tried asking him about Chilean wines… he completely ignored that question, never even attempted a response. He fired off a few more which Simone handled with ease. At that point others at the table were like, Simone, how long have you been doing this? She said you have to know these things for the WSET Advanced exam, this is the kind of question they ask you, and besides I want to know these things if I am going to be a sommelier. She also described the meal and the wine choices she made for her competition. She finally threw the frenchman an easy one – what is the most planted grape in Bordeaux? He coloured up and made some facetious remark, but wouldn’t answer. She kindly advised him it was merlot.
I’m going to get ahead of myself on timeline to finish this story. The next day (strictly speaking, tomorrow morning from this posting) we were harvesting the last of the Richebourg when Pascal held up a bunch of grapes and asked the poor guy aren’t these merlot? Someone said no, gamay, someone else said no, sauvignon blanc, someone else said no, gewurtztraminer. I suggested tempranillo, Pascal misunderstood me and said, c’est ça!! Topinambour!!! (that’s it – jerusalem artichoke!!)
That poor kid will never forget merlot for the rest of his life. He’s young, he’ll live, but hopefully he will learn a) never underestimate a woman and b) he has a lot to learn. Pascal summed it up when he told someone at breakfast, boy, she really wiped her nose with him last night.