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Picking the Malbec for the new rose at Bellevue

We had a 7.00 a.m. start, with the simple objective of picking about 700 kg of Malbec grapes, destined for Bellevue’s new rose (a blend of Cabernet Franc and Malbec). As a result we started picking in the dark, as you can see from this picture of the chatelaine, Ief, guided by her torch in those early hours of the morning.

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Although part of Bellevue’s land is AOC-classified (i.e. an AOC wine could be made from grapes from that land, if the wine was made according to the strict Malepere regulation) Bellevue choose to stay within the more flexible regime of Vin du Pays d’Oc, which allows them to blend according to desired taste, based on the grape mix actually grown each year. For example the Malepere rules require a red blend to be 50% Merlot, and the rose blend to be 50% Cabernet Franc: so in a year, such as this one, where the Merlot crop has been weak it would be difficult, in a smaller vineyard, to make an optimum mix of wines within this rigid framework.

This grape-picking was much easier that that on the Chardonnay: we did not have to pick exhaustively, but were able to be selective, and pick the best and most accessible bunches of grapes from rows in the Malbec vineyard selected as optimum for the rose: vines enjoying a more windy aspect with less foliage, high up in the Malepere, and producing less mature grapes, a little more acidic. With about 11 pickers it only took 3 hours to pick our target of 700 kgs of grapes.

Above you see the grapes being loaded into the trailer by Rene, and the trailer load ready to be carted off to the truck, destined for the winery.

We then went off to the winery, at Belleveze-du-Razes. This is the experimental vineyard, operating for the benefit of all the local Cooperatives. There they are constantly testing new strains of disease-resistant vines, and new wines and blends: it must be the only place in the region where you can see “library shelves” of wine bottles, representing their record of the wine trials they have made over the years, and which they are still evaluating.

A library of wines

Above, the Vinotheque at the Winery

The grapes were weighed in and then first go into a cold store (at 2 degrees) and finally into a settling tank. Those who help at Bellevue vineyard get to sign the shiny stainless steel Bellevue wine tank, so Wilfried and I added our signatures.

Picking the Chardonnay at Domaine de Bellevue

I joined a friend, Wilfried, to help with the grape-picking at Domaine de Bellevue, and from now on will be following the annual cycle of work on this organic vineyard on the blog.

Bellevue has three-quarters of a hectare of chardonnay grapes. This consists of 20 rows of vines, and in a morning we picked four rows. The yield was good and the estimate favourable: probably about 900 kg from 4 rows, and so the target was that production of Chardonnay this year should total 4 tonnes, with which Ief and Rene, the owners, were well-satisfied.

Picking of the Chardonnay is all done by hand. The clusters of Chardonnay grapes are incredibly compact. With a complicated system of trellising ,to protect the grapes from the fierce winds roundabout this area, sometimes the picking is difficult, particularly of the clusters nearest the posts. We used hand secateurs, and the grapes go into plastic “paniers”. Each row’s produce is then collected and loaded in the van for transport to the winery. We had about 6 pickers per row, so the work went quite rapidly.

As always vignerons seem to be confronted by the unexpected. Halfway through the morning we learned that the cold-store at the winery had broken down. Thus the grapes would have to be transported to a temporary cold-store, to be held overnight, by the helpful local egg producer! So problem overcome, but an anxiety the owners could have done without.

The vigneron Rene Didde and a local fellow Dutch picker Wilfried Kocken

Rene Didde, the vigneron, and Wilfried Kocken, picking the Chardonnay

Effort and Dedication is what it takes to produce a “Vin Bio” on an Organic Vineyard

I have failed to emphasize the most important thing about the new vineyard being created by Gilles and Clement Foussat on the lands around our house at Cantaloup/Fontvieille: it is an Organic Vineyard, and to create this requires the dedication and enthusiasm of a family owned Wine Estate such as Rose + Paul. We observe the intensive work required on the land on a day to day basis!

The most recent task has involved tractor work, harrowing between the rows of vines to keep the weeds down, and to aerate the soil. Here we see the vigneron’s view from the driver’s seat of the tractor, looking through the windscreen as the rows of vines stretch before the vehicle:

Through the tractor windscreen

The amount of organic wine-growing land is a “drop in the ocean” in France (Karlsson 2012). In 2012 only about 8% of land under vine in France was organic. However Languedoc-Roussillon, where we are based, is an important organic region. Rose + Paul’s 12 hectares being planted on our land will be average, in terms of the size of organic vineyards in France.

Organic Wines are gaining in reputation, but it is still the ecological arguments that outweigh the financial: producers are driven by the fact that it is good for the environment and that with organic wines they will make better wines. Certainly it gives the wine drinker, like myself, a great argument that every glass consumed helps the environment. It is this, and the fact that my local doctor is also a vigneron, and will never tell me to reduce my intake of wine, that contributes towards making life so pleasurable!

Organic wine-growing involves a lot more work in the vineyard. At least initially, however, the yields from the vineyard will be lower.

But what are the benefits: Huge! Artificial fertilizers, herbicides, chemical insecticides and pesticides are prohibited. So we know we will live in a progressively improving environment in which there will be an abundance of life in the vineyard. Only organic fertilization, spraying with copper/ sulphur is permitted. Other than that only natural products are allowed. So we are flying the EU flag of Vin Bio: here is the Logo Bio de L’Union Europeene, which the label of the wine will bear in 3 to 5 years time:

LOgo Bio de l UE

Acknowledgement: In this account on Organic Vineyards, and in future blogs about vine diseases and treatments to avoid these, I have drawn, and will continue to draw, on the following excellent book:

Karlsson, Britt and Per. (2012) Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking. Edinburgh: Floris Books.

Installing the trellis system for the new vines

Choisis ta vigne de bon plant, et ta femme de bonne mère.

The trellis system (fil palisseur) is an essential part of the infrastructure of the new vine plantation. A balance of fruit development with the amount of the energy producing parts of the vine, the leaves, will allow a growth of grapes which will ripen fully. So the aim is not to have too many leaves creating a canopy that is thick and crowded, and will trap the moisture. An open canopy will facilitate ripening of the fruit by exposure the leaves to the sun. Also the grapes and leaves will dry after rain, or dew, so reducing the risk of mildew and other diseases (as to which more later).

Gilles has chosen to use galvanised steel posts (picquets) for the new vineyard, with the angled end posts (piquets de tête) also in steel. Each end post is positioned at an angle of about 20 to 30° from vertical, and a wire runs from the end post to an earth anchor, to keep the wires trained on the trellis system taut and strong. Two main wires run along the full length of the trellis. The lower wire is a heavier duty one and is called the “porteur”, as it will carry the mature branches of the vines, so it has to be stronger. The upper one will be used to train the growing shoots. There is an additional wire that is slacker than the others, and so is flexible enough to be used to lift the vegetation of the mature vine to the top of the canopy:

The Anchor Piquet

Again it is the sturdy tractor that is used to lay and stretch the galvanised steel fruiting wires along the full length of the rows (the tension of the wire is held by the earth anchor). Here Gilles and Clement Foussat work the tractor to put in place the wires:

Training the wires 1

Training the wires 2

My grandson, Zac, captured the scene artistically this morning:

Zacs picture of the training of the vine trellis

Life in the slow lane, watching the young vines grow!

“L’aer, la terre et le complant, sont le fondement du vignoble”.

The reader may well ask what on earth has been happening on the new vineyard, since my last posting six weeks ago.

I have a confession: I have been totally distracted by work on the edit of my forthcoming book on a documentary photographer. But I have been pondering the future course of my vineyard blog. How am I going to keep you amused when activity on the new vineyard remains at such a low level? The vines grow slowly and receive a certain amount of care, but there will not be a great deal to blog about. So, instead, I am going to tell you about the working life of the vigneron, and the annual cycle of work on the vineyard. We’re going to learn, together, about the art of growing vines, and producing excellent grapes for wine-making.

Wine connoisseurs spend an inordinate amount of time developing rarified language around their wine tasting, and love to be knowledgeable about wine-making, but generally show little interest in what is at the heart of a good wine: the vine growing, and care, that will create the crop to make an excellent wine. If you go wine-tasting around here in the Malepere, it is the exception, rather than the rule, to get the opportunity to walk through the vines with the vigneron and hear about the growing.

So, over a period, we will remedy this. But for the moment, there has been activity on the vineyard so let’s cover it.

Following the June rains, the clay soil around the vines became brick-hard, so an early task, towards the end of June, was for a team to work on the vineyard, to hoe manually around the young vines: hard and slow work.

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On this same parcel of land today, work started early, at 6.00 a.m., sensible bearing in mind we expect a temperature of 35 degrees by lunchtime. Gilles’ team has been busy hammering in the metal posts, to create the trellising for the Cabernet Franc vines. The posts are spaced regularly, by eye; they say the vigneron needs “bon oeil, bon pied, bon dos” (a good eye, foot and back). After the spacing, the tractor drives down the prepared row, halting at every post. It is armed with its ingenious accessory, a mechanical hammer that quickly rams each post home.

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In this second picture, do note a few things about the rows of vines. These Cabernet Franc vines are planted in north-south oriented rows. This is optimum because the vines will enjoy sun on both sides during the day. Also the rows are long, which will make the vines easier to work. The distance between the rows of vines is calculated both to allow the space for the tractor to pass, but also takes into account the intended height of the trellising (“pallisage”) so as to allow light to penetrate right into the vines once they have grown to maturity.

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Vigorous growth already on the newly planted vines

This is the vigorous growth already to be seen on this young Merlot plant, which has only been in the ground for 10 days.

The primary purpose of the first year’s growth will be to build the vine’s root system. So I expect that multiple shoots will be allowed to grow during this first year, which will create more canopy quicker than fewer shoots. Continue reading “Vigorous growth already on the newly planted vines”

Planting of the Merlot, Grenache Gris and Cabernet Franc Continues

Le grand-père plante la vigne, son fils fait le vin; son petit-fils saura pourquoi.

(A grandfather plants the vines, his son will make the wine, and his grandson will understand why)

When I last blogged on Monday we expected all vines to be planted in a day and a half. The one field of Grenache Blanc was planted, and then the planting machine started planting Merlot on the big field above our house. After planting 15 rows (about 1500 Merlot vines), rain stopped play. Here is one of the recently planted Merlot vines, with the straight row of new plants stretching out behind it. Continue reading “Planting of the Merlot, Grenache Gris and Cabernet Franc Continues”

Planting begins at Cantaloup

For my French friends: “L’implantation du vignoble est pour tout vigneron l’étape primordiale dans la réussite de son domaine

Gilles and Clement of Rose + Paul have been carefully planning the vine plantation at Cantaloup for months precisely to ensure this success. They worked, levelled, and fully prepared the soil over the past few months and finally planting commenced this morning. The soil is just right for planting and there may only be a short window before the rains return, so it will be a busy day for all involved. This is the smallest, hardest and driest of the fields at Cantaloup. There is a rocky outcrop layer not far under the surface of the land on this field, so the grape type Grenache Blanc has been picked for planting here. The planting has been carefully planned on map, beforehand, taking into account the slope, the soil type, and the required density of vines.  A GPS device positioned at the bottom of the field now guides the planting along exactly the pre-planned tracks. The careful quality of this planting will directly impact the quality, and concentration of wine, which will be produced from this parcel of land after the fifth harvest. Continue reading “Planting begins at Cantaloup”

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