No Tears Winemaking, October 2015 12

harvester and wagon: "there... no, I meant, there!"

No tears this year. Sweat, sore muscles, stained hands, a little blood, but all scars reaped in joy.  It’s the year we’ve been waiting for.

perfect day in the vineyard, early October

perfect day in the vineyard, early October

The year when our handiwork in the vines gets an exponential boost from legendary weather and a spanking new extension to the winery.

building the extension to the winery, summer 2015

building the extension to the winery, summer 2015

Four harvests this season – a far cry from our pampered, one-harvest, one-vat in 2011. After the Rosé hand harvest, the Merlots arrived in their faithful manner: poised, plump, sweet. I was out in the vineyard directing the harvester while the enthusiastic team in the winery prepared for the wagonloads. And true to form, despite our lengthy, war room planning session the night before, I still made a mistake in the parcel sequence.

preparing for arrival of the grapes

Ian and John prepare for arrival of the grapes

harvester and wagon: "there... no, I meant, there!"

harvester and wagon under fickle instructions

Frantic calls on my walkie-talkie.  “Merde” on the other end of the line. But we don’t call John “MacGyver” for nothing, and with ingenuity and more sweat he cobbled a solution.  Merde!

MacGyver and Co. move the huge tube at the last minute

MacGyver and Co. move the huge tube at the last minute

The Cabernet Francs came in a week later on the portentous Lunar Eclipse and Full Moon. Apparently I was the only person in France who did not get out of bed at 3 am to watch the spectacle.  Even our earthy mayor who drove the tractor marveled at this day’s fortuitous astrological confluences.

Full Moon and Lunar Eclipse for Cabernet Franc Harvest

Full Moon and Lunar Eclipse for Cabernet Franc Harvest

But no time for poetry – the harvester arrived early and was on the far side of the vineyard taking the wrong parcel in the dark – despite all our markings.  Merde!

sunrise over the vineyard

sunrise above the Cabernet Francs

For years, locals have told us that the regional Cabernet Franc can offer the precious qualities of elegance and finesse as well as subtle, marvelous flavors. Many of these farmers have also ripped up most of their Cabernet Franc to plant the earlier ripening and more reliable Merlot.  Francs are finicky. They need their feet in the right soil, the right exposure, the right rootstock, and, the uncontrollable factor – a sunny September so they really ripen. This exceptional year we were determined to see what our Francs would give if we could continue to ripen them into October without the risk of rot.

Mary tending Cabernet Franc, summer 2015

Mary tending Cabernet Franc, summer 2015

Surely it’s too early to brag, but I was astonished by the taste of the Franc just 10 days after harvest. Normally at this point in fermentation, juice cum wine can taste very strange, if not downright unpleasant. We rely on trained palates to make professional but seemingly clairvoyant pronouncements about the potential virtues underlying these perplexing flavors as the wine is evolving.   But not so this Franc.   She was delicious even in her most complicated period of adolescence.   Enough said, lest I sabotage by counting my chickens too early.

Geneviève detects the perfume of Cabernet Franc

Geneviève detects the perfume of Cabernet Franc

And finally, October 7th, we collect the Cabernet Sauvignon to bring structure and complexity to the blend.  Immeasurable relief and gratitude that the last grapes have come to shelter, safe and sound.   On such a day we live in the moment, we want for nothing.

Henri savouring the wine, the day, everything

Savouring the wine, the day, everything

Meanwhile, the daily work in the winery has gotten more complex. Pumpovers for maceration to extract the delicious tannins. Moving tons of juice from one tank to another, cleaning out the sediment, moving it all back.  Délestage to break up the “pancake” of raisins that sits on top. Temperature and density checks (sugar as it is transformed into alcohol). Tasting every tank, every day to make sure everything is ok.

Mary checking Rosé

Mary checking Rosé

And toward the end – the “brassage des lies” – stirring the dead yeasts at the bottom.   Brassage gives that highly desired and rare sensation of “gras” (unctuousness) as the wine rolls over your tongue.  A most precarious activity with John crouching at the top of the tank trying to stir the bottom 3 meters below.   I man the pump, nag him to be careful, and pray.

We rarely have dinner before 10 pm, so all in all, hardly a sustainable rhythm.  John’s hands are calloused and stained wine-ink red.

John's wine stained hands

John’s wine stained hands

After 6 weeks we’re bone tired.

But never to tired to touch. Every midnight we stroll across the garden in the crisp, cold air. The winery is warm and humming quietly, and as we enter I’m reminded of that childhood sensation – all my dolls have been dancing about during my absence.  The wine pretends to be asleep now, but we know better. John and I walk to each tank to touch and send intentions. He calls the Rosé the “Ice Princess” for she is distant now, deep in her cold beauty sleep. But all the others are warm and welcoming to the touch.   If those theories of Quantum Physics are correct, we are wishing the wine into deliciousness.

After we tuck in the tanks, we step outside for a night bath of starlight. Under clear skies punctuated by diamond points, we wrap our arms around each other and hug the wine in our thoughts.

Intentions of Deliciousness

Intentions of Deliciousness


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12 thoughts on “No Tears Winemaking, October 2015

  • Carol Hamlin

    Oh, Mary! Tears in my eyes — “the year we’ve been waiting for!” May its fruition be as glorious as you all deserve. Thank you for bringing us along with you.

  • Laura Sandifer McGown

    Thank you for the beautiful and amazing account of the wine making process! How proud Johnny and Lucie would be to know LaTourbeille tradition continues!

    • cepage Post author

      Thank you Thomas! Timing is great, our La Tourbeille 2012 gold medal winner, is now available in Connecticut. Just ask your local wine store to order it for you from the CT Importer Brescome Barton.

  • Chris Hudson

    ‘Thanks’ is almost all I can muster on reading your account. You are fabulous writer(s), in addition to your terrific viognier skills, but I’ve told you that and you know it. (Don’t know how much writing credit to give John, but I know he does this well. I’m guessing very little is due him on this – :-))). We so enjoyed our 2 days at La Petite Roque and getting decent time with you two. ‘Tain’t ever enuff…

  • Christopher Pearson

    well, I always thought there was a certain amount of magic involved in winemaking, and now I know it to be the case.

  • Helen Garrett

    Beautiful! (Tears in my eyes too.) Loved being with you, John, Henri, Genevieve and Ian earlier this month. So grateful you squeezed in some time. x Helen

  • Pamela Hogan

    The best post and the best news ever!!!! Thank you for sharing the sweat and challenge and joy of winemaking with us … and for transporting me from 55th street in the heart of NYC to La Tourbeille … much love xxx

  • Kathy & Claude

    What perfect timing…….your 2012 Bordeaux has been released for sale in the US, we will be ordering that & awaiting future vintages!!

  • Steven Lawrence

    Mary, your blog is a treasure, and this latest entry the best yet at capturing life at La Tourbeille and the love that all of you bring to making wine. I am going to share the blog widely, and make sure it gets to the friend I mentioned who buys for a very popular Park Slope wine shop. A year from now – or sooner – I hope La Tourbeille red and rosé will be distributed in NY! xs