The harvesters make a constant thrum, even at night. Everywhere, the Merlots are coming in. People are euphemistically calling this a “complicated year.” The dreaded Plasmopara viticola (mildiou) hit the Merlots hard. Some vineyards were turned into deserts. Here’s a single, desiccated plant. Imagine 25 acres. This microscopic “pseudochampignon” arrived in 1878, on the heels of the phylloxera insect – the 19th century import from my stateside compatriots that decimated almost all the vineyards in France. Fortunately, our Merlot parcels were only affected partially. Unfortunately, you can’t make good wine with affected grapes. So it has been […]
Anticipating harvest is much like anticipating a birth. When it’s almost time to bear down, nothing else matters. It has been a spectacular year: plenty of rain in the winter, mildness during flowering, a very hot, dry June and July, just enough rain in August to plump up the berries, and now September: a gift of warm, sunny days and cool nights. Conditions are ideal, the grapes are healthy… but I will say no more lest I tempt our luck. And so it’s a scurry to get ready. We’ve organized an old fashioned hand harvest by family and friends for […]
“Everything” now is about preparation for harvest. Parcel inspections, maturity tests, last minute trimming… cleaning vats and tubes, dry runs of pumps and cooling systems, organizing equipment and helpers… In the midst of “everything” it is an astounding fruit year. We’ve been blessed by an extraordinary season’s end: sunny, warm, dry, breezy – perfect. And thus, more everything just came in around the harvest moon: wild peaches, figs, hazelnuts, pears, some of the apples… Even the oaks could be heard in the night silence, releasing their acorns like pensive, fertile drops of rain. Time of abundance. We have to […]
The perfume is subtle, wafting lightly in aromatic episodes. A vineyard in flower is delicate, in more ways than one. The clusters of green “buttons” (the future flowers) appeared a couple of weeks ago. Now we understand why May is such a hold-your-breath month. The weather needs to be stable and reasonably warm, and hopefully rather dry so the buttons can give way to flowers and the flowers have a chance to pollinate. Last year flowering happened in June, after the coldest May on record. The bees were not happy. But this Spring has been lovely. The flowers – tiny, […]
My early appreciation for vigor was shaped by President John F. Kennedy. It seemed every speech was lit up by the word, pronounced vigorously as – “vigah.” “Vigah” was etched in my childhood mind as a cardinal virtue, invoking images of all that is robust, strong, healthy, shining, vibrant, confident, competitive. Vigor is also relevant in a vineyard. At first glance, I thought of JFK and assumed vigor was synonymous with desirable. But apparently, not quite. End of May and our oenologue, Francoise, came by yesterday for the first inspection of the season. After the problems of last May (cold […]
The farmer’s wife: “Ca me fatigue. Everywhere this green, starting up all over again. It’s exhausting.” I laugh automatically and compliment her self-effacing wit. She with her lifetime of fieldwork, not to mention green thumb and meticulous flower garden. But she won’t have it. She insists her favorite season is the onset of winter. Hard to fathom. What could be more heartening than the first signs of spring? Intoxicating, thrilling, joy-inducing… one can think of a dozen words for typical reactions to April. But “fatigue”? Is she in a secret club with T.S. Eliot? Everywhere we turn, the world is […]
After a sunny week the balance tipped. Labour starts tomorrow at dawn. You can hear the tremor in some neighbor’s voices; worry about the weather, scare stories. A scramble to get the Merlots in as fast as possible. We spend this weekend quietly preparing the winery, controlling what we can. Not a tube or tank is left un-scoured. Suddenly, a black cloud passes overhead. We put down our brushes to watch it move on, thinking we’ve been spared. But then rain and hail fall from a sky bright with sunlight just a kilometer to the west. Holding our breath we […]
In a good year it’s easy to talk about terroir as a place where Nature and Human work together and bring forth a measure of bounty. What to say in a difficult year? It was the coldest, wettest spring in decades. We lost about 30% of the Merlots. The survivors suffer from uneven grape maturity. But we escaped the devastation of the July hailstorms. The late blooming Cabernets are doing fine. After many decent years, the local collective mind now gingerly recalls the catastrophic ones. The winter of ’59 when the long freeze destroyed harvests for two successive vintages. The […]
An unseasonably cold month of May indeed, but the vineyard gets another notch on the epaulette for steadfastness. No hail, no frost. Sunshine after each shower, cool winds to dry things up. (A pound of salt going over my left shoulder as I write.) This is our lucky micro-climate. The vines are shooting up fast and bunches of would-be grapes have formed. Signs of potential over-abundance, so now we walk the parcels for spring pruning. Most of the work is manual and slow. Our goal is to remove anything that distracts the plant from correctly nourishing the grapes we intend […]
This week the vineyard abruptly woke up. Baby vine buds everywhere. Heart breakingly beautiful. And so fragile. The farmers don’t smile at the beauty. They fret about a sudden freeze. Survival at -2 degrees. -3, no. I can’t think about that this morning. Too full of hope.
Sunrise on the hilltop to take samples. Walking one row from each candidate parcel, we pick grapes according to procedure – half blind – so we aren’t biased to choose only the pretty ones and skew the results. Back in the kitchen we squeeze the juice into small bottles and rush off to the lab; we’re eager to see the probable alcohol level as well as acidity so we can choose harvest day. It has been a complicated year, but a warm, dry August and September are bringing a richer, more concentrated fruit than we had dared hope for. And […]
There is nothing like a bike ride up and down the hills of Juillac. I wave to my neighbors in their fields, the poignant September light reminding us that summer has ended and harvest is near. I always finish my tour with a roll through the vineyard for a quick, reassuring check; pluck a few warm, fat, juicy grapes to quench my thirst.
For Geneviève Early September. I’ve been thinking a lot about pregnancy lately; three babies come, grown and flown the coop, the last just this month. Expectant mothers don’t have an easy lot of it. The weight, the body working on overdrive. The worry. Then again, the glory parts are undeniable. Fullness, fertility, the fun of dancing with a newborn in your arms. It’s two weeks before wine harvest and up on the plateau mother earth is about to go into labor. Most patient of patients, not a groan or complaint; she puts up with our poking and testing, with the insects […]
Walking the Land Before Harvest One month before harvest, a hot, dry morning after a cool night. Perfect August day. We’re hanging around the Merlots waiting for the oenologue to arrive. She’s like an old fashioned traveling doctor or midwife making rounds, which means she’s sometimes late. That’s ok. It gives us time – the man, two of our children, the farmer and me – to talk about the weather. What a strange year it’s been: droughtish May, wettish July. Bodes ill, but August so far is noble and we cross our fingers we’ll be spared the rot many others are […]