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 […]