Harvest 3 Days After Day Four

Anne has split her harvesting as some of the grapes were not yet ripe.  Still to go, probably starting this Friday, are the Haute Côtes de Nuits rouge et blanc, a little Bourgogne Blanc and the Chambolle Musigny Combe d’Orveau.  She is very kindly allowing me to continue to lodge here so I can resume work for this second tranche.

Monday Simone and I walked into Nuits St. Georges for groceries, then spent the day catching up on our respective blogs;  yesterday I walked up to Chambolle Musigny where I had hoped to find work for these off days, but no luck, the vigneron for whom I wanted to work said he had a complete team and didn’t need any more.  Rats.  Simone made a wonderful soup for dinner and we consoled ourselves with a bottle of rather nice Santenay 1er cru Beaurepaire 2006 Domaine Chanzy (Bouzeron, Sâone et Loire) – they make both white and red from this vineyard, we had the red.

By the way – conditions update – Monday was cool but sunny, Tuesday was cold and overcast, and late afternoon, perhaps 16:00, there were some light showers, not even that, call it the odd dribble.  Today, so far (almost noon) it’s distinctly milder and started overcast but is getting brighter.

This morning, Simone took off to visit Oporto and the Douro (I am insanely jealous), and I walked around to the cuverie.  As I came around the back of the building, the pong of fermentation was overwhelming and not terribly inviting.  They have to leave the big garage doors either end of the building open about six inches over night otherwise the buildup of CO2 would probably kill you on contact when you walked in in the morning.  During the day while they work, one door is pretty fully opened for both light and air.

I found them doing the first of two daily remontages.  As the wine ferments the skins and pips and stems rise to the top of the vat, creating a cap; remontage is the act of pumping the liquid wine from underneath back up and over the cap, thereby re-combining the two a bit.  The more time the skins etc. spend submerged, the greater the extraction of colour and flavours into the wine.

First they force down through the cap a big cylinder, perforated at the bottom end to let the wine into the cylinder – this creates a source of wine to be pumped back over the top which will be free of skins and gunge that might bung up the pump and hoses.

Then they get the hoses organised – one drawing clear wine out of the cylinder, another pouring it back over the top of the cap.  This runs for about 20 minutes.

Alternatively, one performs pigeage – this is manually pushing the cap down back under the wine.  I asked Pascal why choose one or the other, he said the pigeage is done on very small vats, like this one, which holds Vosne Romanée.  Here’s what the cap looked like before we – actually I – began the pigeage.  That broom stick has a sort of inverted colander on the end, better picture shortly.  Pascal made one pass, then handed it to me, and as I began he cautioned me, “Doucement, doucement” – gently, gently.

By the way, that vertical grey pipe cylinder – again, that’s put in temporarily so they can draw out a sample of the wine sans pips and skins and all to perform their chemical analysis.  Pascal let me taste the Echézeaux, Bourgogne Rouge, Richebourg and Vosne Romanée.  Less than a week old and the wines are still quite sugary and sweet like a child’s fruit drink, and the colour is a slightly cloudy but very decidedly pink, like a dark cyclamen, but already you can distinctly taste the wine character – more pronounced fruit character in the Richebourg and Bourgogne Rouge, and fruit plus earth, herb or spice in varying degrees in each the Echézeaux and Vosne Romanée.  The Echézeaux was the first thing we harvested, so this was day six in vat, and it was the darkest nearly-red and least sweet (though still no sensation of alcohol), as you would expect, whereas the Vosne Romanée and Richebourg were really bright pink and sugary, as they have had only about 3 days.  The first part of the Vosne was harvested the first day, and is in the blue vat, but the Vosne that was harvested Sunday is being fermented separately, in the little stainless steel vat pictured here.

When you hold your hand over the cap, you can feel the heat rising, it’s very warm.  Elodie and Pascal added carbon ice (dry ice) to cool it down.  Here’s Elodie dropping in a bit of ice and Pascal pushing it down under the cap.

As the ice melts in and reacts, not only do you get smoke pouring out, but you can distinctly hear the sound of simmering, and see the surface of the smoke on the vat burbling up.  Real Macbeth three witches’ scene stuff.  Stand back!

When it has simmered down a bit, Pascal opened up a hole in the cap (all I could think of was ice fishing!) and the carbon ice bubbled up again one more time.  Better shot of the pigeage instrument here, too.  You can tell how much it has cooled (not in the photo but in life!) – whereas before I could feel the heat with my hand six inches above the cap, after the carbon ice was added, I had to hold my hand much closer, maybe two inches, to feel any warmth.  Also the side of the tank was icy cold where the smoke had poured down.

The photo may look blurry, it’s not, that’s the haze of lingering carbon ice smoke.

Anne’s lineup of vats, from left to right, the three big stainless steel are the Savigny, Nuits St. Georges (the two negoçiant wines) (both 38), then her Echézeaux (??), then the blue vats are Chambolle Musigny (50), Haute Côtes de Nuits (50) (both empty at the moment), then two vats for the Bourgogne Rouge (50 & 45), the one behind the ladder is the Richebourg (37), then out of sight continuing to the right are the Vosne Romanée (24), Clos Vougeot (50) and Chambolle Musigny (50) (empty), and that little round vat in front of me is the rest of the Vosne Romanée (9).

The numbers after each wine name are the capacity, in hectolitres, of the vat – but not necessarily how much wine will come out of it, of course.

So, doing a little maths here… a hectolitre is 100 litres.  Taking the Richebourg as an example – 37 HL capacity, let’s call it 35 (can’t recall right now how full it really is).  So 3500 litres makes 4600  750 ml bottles, which would be about 380 cases (I am rounding a bit).  You know not all of that goes into the market, Anne holds some back for her own cellar, and of course that starting 35 hl fill of the vat would include the cap which ultimately gets left behind, so actually you are getting less than 35 hl of liquid wine, really… so ratchet all those numbers down.  You get the drift.  Tiny quantities.  Anne has something between 6 and 7 hectares of vineyards, total.

Yesterday as I was wandering around the vineyards and Nuits St. Georges, I saw a number of vans coming in decorated with flowers and tooting their horns – they had finished their harvests.  And I am hearing more of that outside the domaine this morning as I write.

Also yesterday I heard from Jan Van Roekel, the dutchman who writes the Burgoholic website, who had spent the day harvesting David Clarke’s Vosne Romanée.  He said David won’t harvest the rest of his wines until the weekend.

During my wanderings, I did see someone harvesting mechanically in Nuits St. Georges, but I did not have my camera on me.  Last year I had seen a mechanical harvester parked in a shed in Concoeur (the tiny village near the Haute Côtes de Nuits vineyards), and it basically has conveyor belts of combs between the tires which rake up the bunches off the vines and dump them in a bin.  I will keep an eye out for another one.  Simone and I did find a tractor out in the vineyards when we were walking one evening, and I took a peek to see if it was a harvester, but no, just a normal tractor, randomly left parked in the vines.