Friends and Family 2

Not that long ago, when we were naive and fearless, the prospect of making wine seemed something a mere mortal might attempt. Obviously, between the quirks of Nature and quirks in the winery, we quickly found out that this next-life endeavour was hardly a shoe in.   But nothing in our enthusiastic mindset prepared us for a different hurdle:   several thousand bottles of wine – how in the world to sell it?   We sought advice.  I asked successful friends how they got started.  The most established said their ancestors set it up.  Even Cheval Blanc began with people […]

Pressing Day 2016 5

A short video clip of Pressing Day: contortionist John, shoveling Brothers, goodbye to the valiant grape skins:     Something about the day of press that always evokes a shiver. It’s the time of year when that same neighbor reminds me of the young man who died trying to pull his father out of a vat; both were overcome by carbon dioxide, both found by the mother. Yesterday I opened the lid of a high tank at the end of fermentation. That woozy sensation, precursor to the fainting-and-falling scenario, was demonic indeed. To say nothing of that pneumatic press we […]

Rosé 2014 – L’esprit de Jeanne 7

Every land needs a protective spirit.   But where do they come from?   Are they settled in a place depuis la nuit des temps?   Do they migrate in search of suitable territory, like pollinators looking for a place where they can thrive? A few years ago we found our protective spirit hovering near the grotto in the woods. The place was wild, hidden by thorn bushes, inaccessible except to forest animals, asleep for decades.  Here the water flows right out of the rock cliff wall, filtered by fronds and moss and ferns, sweet and delicious. Our spirit is an adolescent […]

Hands 3

John has been complaining about his hands lately. They’re cracked and irritated and purpled with wine stains. Made worse when we filled our first oak barrels to age 1200 bottles. It was a bit of a circus, as always when we do something for the first time. He gripped a fancy nozzle to feed the barrels and yelled to keep me alert on the pump. We assumed there would be some kind of signal indicating almost full, like when you fill up your car. No such luck. No signal, just an exploding geyser of purple, gushing into the air, all […]

The Winery WorkOut – Pressing Day 3

The grape skins have now finished a month of diligent duty – imparting every last possible drop of their flavors to the juice. When it’s time to push them out, there’s no substitute for the shovel and a human being sweating away, one scoop at a time.  John dons his wet suit several times in the day to work from inside the tanks. Helpers on the outside operate the press, shout warnings and make the day shorter with humorous asides, benign local gossip and valuable advice. Since the atmosphere in the confined tank is mostly carbon dioxide, it’s reassuring to […]

All Hallows’ Eve in the Winery 5

Halloween and Pressing Day: costumes, pitchforks, bloody red stains, spooky stories. It’s not my favorite wine making activity. People are always reminding you of someone they knew who died from asphyxiation clearing out a vat. Plus the person who tried to rescue them.  And it’s always something extra horrible like a father and his devoted son. The first part, raking mounds of grape skins out of the vat – is just hard work. But it always catches me in the solar plexus when John folds himself like a circus contortionist to crawl through the tiny tank door.  Then the drama […]

Bottling Day Vintage 2012 2

There’s something satisfying about putting up 18,577 bottles of freshly corked wine in your garage. Bottling Day, Vintage 2012.  Small scale but super organized. Team in place to man the line. The joy of friends come to help. Christian and Sonia, partners in a small bottling and labeling business, bring machinery and muscle. We always thought that strong and competent Sonia looked young for her age. Found out yesterday was her birthday – no wonder she looks young, she just turned 23! Henri is in all places at once, from front loading to pallet-cages to the pump in the winery. […]

Women in their Vineyards 2

“Go east at the top of the second hill and meet me at the Roman Road.”  All these years and I didn’t know a Roman Road runs from the Romanesque church of the Blessed Mother through the hilltop vineyards and on down to the river.  But I discovered it by hunting for M in one of her far off parcels, yodeling for some sign of life on a silent, freezing afternoon. M and her husband are the 3rd generation owners of an old Juillac vineyard.  They are local pioneers of organic viticulture and their success has been hard won by self […]

Dressing the Bottles

I love it when people talk about la robe of a wine; it’s one of my favorite faux amis.  While they mean color, I’m seeing a dressing gown. Which is exactly what we were up to on December 7th.  Dressing the wine in pretty robes and hats and setting them in their carriages – the “garnet girls” were shipping out for their Debutante Party in Paris Wednesday night, our first official tasting.   We gathered the same team with their machine on wheels.  Henri and Sonia catch the bottles as they emerge     and lay them in their boxes with a heavy duty […]

Pressing October 31st

John looked like he’d thrown on a wacky Halloween Costume – a baggy, hooded wet-suit and a pitchfork.   With a little imagination, the crushed berries could be taken as blood smears, and he’d get best prize for scary.  The huge, ambulatory press machine arrived at sunset.  John had just opened the top lids and bottom hatches of the tanks after moving 120 hectolitres (12,000 liters) of juice into the receiving tanks.  With the juice gone, the marc falls to the bottom and carbon dioxide fumes emanate powerfully, so at every pressing someone brings a story about a death caused by […]


8 days into fermentation.  Once again the chai has taken on that pungent aroma of fermenting grapes, reminding me vaguely of a raisin bread bakery.  For the first days we kept the tanks cool to allow the grapes to macerate at a low temperature and for the fermentation to start gently. Our work at this stage is to carefully “move” the juice, morning and evening, to bring out the best of the fruit.  The “closed pump-over” maneuver pumps the juice in a closed circuit from the bottom of the tanks up to the top. Here it enters via the “chinese […]

12,500 Bottles 1

For most folk bottling day is a lot of heavy lifting and sore shoulders. But when it’s your very first, celebration trumps. The amazing  little bottling machine on wheels spun into place at 7am.  While Sonia and Olivier set up shop, Julien and Henri helped move the thousands of stranded bottles into place.                   From the pallets into the wine dispensing machine, a delightful contraption right out of Willy Wonka’s Factory. Thank heavens for our wonderful friend Norbert, maitre de chai of a large vineyard down the road, who took a day off […]

Stranded Dolmens of Bottles

Murphy’s Law. Whatever might go wrong, will. The ground was soggy this morning so the truck with the bottles got stuck in the mud. The driver had to unload 12,000 bottle hither and yon as best one could.  This afternoon the man did a last minute deal to buy a rusty forklift without a guarantee to get them inside before nightfall. Bottling Day starts at 7 am tomorrow!

Zooming toward Bottling Day

And a million details to confirm.  Corks, bottles, “capsules” (the shiny foil wrapped around the top,) back and forths with the tax man under visions of the guillotine, (every seal needs a tax stamp and woe to ye who’s got it wrong) plus frenzied last minute revisions to the label…   Just choosing the corks was like a dinner discussion of the French Presidential election – even the sanest go slightly mad in their shameless partisanship.  (Don’t get me started about screw caps.) It’s also become obvious why the Bordelais economy is so dependent on winemaking. Jobs. There’s a huge […]

Spring Cleaning the Wine Vat

Spring is here and time for our first, post winter sous tirage. The farmer warns it must be under a black moon, and not on a stormy day (beware atmospheric pressure.)  The deep cold was a boon, taking care of most of this filtration process naturally so we haven’t added chemicals, or fiddled with extra interventions that increase the risk of too much oxygen in the wine (oxidation). In fact, we had a visit recently from an American importer and he was pleased to discover that the young wine already exhibits the unique flavor of our terroir, and could tell […]

After Harvest – Pressing and Second Fermentation

Pressing Day came about a month after harvest and the man was on his own.  Here is his chronicle. October 17th.  Woken by a nightmare before the 5h30 alarm.  It’s yesterday’s conversation with the farmer – he’s reminding me that every year workers die from asphyxiation inside wine vats, that he lost two relatives this way, and in one case the rescuer also died. Can’t dwell, need to get up to the chai and drain the remaining 200 litres of “free run juice” (we can’t call it wine yet) out of the Cuve and into the Garde de Vin (GdV) […]

After Harvest – First Fermentation

Midnight.  I’m perched precariously at the top of a tank, 15 feet up in the air, looking down into a fairy land of bubbling sparkling popping elixir.  It reminds me of the way snow shimmers at night when the moon illuminates the white crust like diamonds – but this is purple.  And it’s moving. I can’t stand mesmerized for long because down below the man is shouting at me not to lose the flashlight or my glasses into the juice. He’s also swearing and fiddling with the controls for the moveable lid of this 94 hectolitre tank (94 hectos – […]