Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Vendage day four

After a restless night of some very weird and disturbing dreams, we again woke up at the crack of dawn (quite literally the sun was just rising at 7:15am) on what was to be our last day with Vallet freres. As we turned up at the cuverie for 8am, the smell of the ferments was strong in the air, a curious mixture of CO2 with a touch of SO2 and a strong breadlike, yeasty character. As we entered into the winery to open the windows and ventilate the place, it hits you like a hammer to the chest, you struggle to draw a breath and very quickly become lightheaded. It very quickly enters my mind that this could be very dangerous if I was on my own. As CO2 is heavier than air it sinks to the bottom, so collapsing here would be fatal. Once the windows were open however, the cavernous winery fills with a fresh breeze, and it gets easier to breathe.

By now the pigeage is almost over for most of the wines, and several of the vats are now being punched down with a five pronged fork, but Ed and Guillaume bravely step up to do the pigeage for the Clos de la Justice and the Beaune Epenottes. By now they are in the ferment up to the middle of their chests, and it takes a lot of upper body strength to pull yourself up and wiggle your way down into the cap to punch it down. I continue to track the density and temperature of the ferments, noticing that the Volnay and the Cotes de Nuits are now sitting at 996, which means that their fermentations are drawing to a close. (Water has a density of 1000). Once Ed has finished his pigeage we head downstairs to do the density of les mouts. When we first started doing the density of the whites, most of them tasted like freshly pressed apple juice, quite sweet, with differing levels of acidity, and some had more pronounced flavours - the meursault perrieres for example had a nutty quality while the chevalieres had more of a sherbet lemon kick to it. By now some are starting to evolve and there is more of a presence of alcohol in the samples. Some however, like the Aligote havent moved a bit. Bernard felt that if they hadnt started by the beginning of this week, then he might need to give them a kickstart. But Aligote is always difficult to start off he tells me. That might be one reason why it is so out of favour with many growers.

After the last pigeage of the morning, we set off for lunch at the epicerie in Morey. After another huge lunch, we got changed and Bernard took us on a tour of the vineyards and cellars of Pierre Bouree. We went up into the hills overlooking Gevrey to visit his mothers vineyard - Champeaux.

We recieved a tour around the Chateau du Vougeot, where the Confrere de Chevaliers de Tastevin hold their lavish dinners. Before driving through Flagey-Echezeaux to La Romanee, possibly the most famous vineyard in Burgundy. What amazed me was that as we drove around the villages and vineyards we occaisonally passed familiar domaines - Armand Rousseau, Robert Arnoux, and of course Denis Mortet, and Bernard would tell us that such and such was a cousin, or a nephew, and it seems that everyone is related in some way. It makes sense, when you look at the way the vineyards are constantly being divided by the Napoleonic laws of succession. But I was surprised to find out the Denis Mortet was his cousin. His mothers maiden name was Mortet, and as we found out later that night over dinner at Louis Snr's flat, that the whole family stills feels the loss of a rising talent. When we came to discussing events in the region, and how the tragic suicide of Denis was still unexplained, Bernard's mother became slightly melancholy, the wounds of his loss still fresh in all their hearts. We found out that his son has taken over the running of the estate now, with a female winemaker brought in from Domaine Bertagna. So in some way, Denis' legacy will continue.

After our tour of the vineyards we returned to Gevrey to the offices and cellars of Pierre Bouree (Vallet freres was used in the UK when Boutinot became agents for their wines, as they already had a UK distributor for the Pierre Bouree wines.). Here we were shown around the cellars, and bottling facility. The cellars were cavernous, running in all sorts of directions, and Jean-Christophe pointed out a few Roman gravestones that had been excavated when Louis Snr had the cellars enlarged. Bernard then gave us a tasting of several wines from the casks, mostly 2005's. It was interesting to taste from the cask, in most cases after the wines had been racked, but in a couple the wines had yet to be racked and so the dominant characteristic was the sulphur. But we learnt a trick that by adding a few copper coins to the wine, the sulphur aromas are removed. Just be careful not to swallow the coins!!!

We ended the evening with a superb meal in the flat of Bernard's parents, where we got a chance to taste blind some great mature wines. I managed to guess the Charmes Chambertin from its elegant, charming flavours, and I also correctly guessed the vintage of one of the other reds, although I was well out on its appellation. We heard some wonderful stories about the region and how Louis came to inherit the domaine from a childless uncle. It was a real shame that the evening had to end, and with it, our trip to Burgundy. The next morning at 7am we were on the road back to Geneva to return to the UK. Work awaited us both, and they say that all good things must come to an end. Most of the trip back to Geneva passed in silence as I think we both reflected on how fortunate we had both been over the last four days to have been part of something really special. The kindness and generosity of Bernard, Louis Snr, Jean-Christophe, Louis Jrn and their families was overwhelming, and I will be eternally grateful to them for their hospitality.

I learnt a lot from the experience. It is one thing to look at an atlas of Burgundy or a map and see the vineyards on a 2-d piece of paper. However it is an entirely different matter to stand their in the middle of the vines, and see the relationship between them. It is easy to understand why for the most part the Grand Cru vineyards are all at the top part of the slopes, and the cru ordinaire vineyards are at the bottom. You can see from the various sheltered spots why some vineyards are more prized than others. It is an experience that I would recommend to anyone, and it is one that I will endevour to repeat again soon.

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