Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Im supposed to be going out to dinner tomorrow night with Miguel Torres. I was quite looking forward to it, for many reasons. It was going to be the first sommelier dinner that Ive been to. Surprisingly I dont get invited to any. But once again the Grosvenor curse strikes. Like that advert for Mcains oven chips where the little girl ponders "Daddy or Chips?" I find myself thinking "Work or a Life?".

This place demands so much and returns so little.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ten green bottles.........

Gotta be in at 9am tomorrow for the stocktake, its that time of the month again. Im really beginning to hate doing the stocktakes, and even though I get paid overtime for it, it seriously isnt worth the money for all the aggro and hassle it gives me. Tonight Im lucky because the clocks go back, so I get an extra hour in bed, which might mean I wont be so tired tomorrow. But that wont be enought to stop me from going into a trace about halfway down the red wines. Bin 233 Ten bottles, Bin 234 seven bottles, bin 235 eight bottles, bin 237 one bottle, bin 238 five bottles, mindless, brain numbing repetition and you start to find your eyes getting heavy, you start to slur your words and it gets harder and harder to focus on the bottles. And the sad part is, that usually happens just a third of the way into the count.

Im off to bed to make the most of the extra hour.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Lafite-Rothschild 1970

Our delightful table of four allowed me to chose their wine tonight, and within the parameters that I took from last night, I selected a 1970 Lafite-Rothschild.

Pale garnet with brickish red rim, this had quite a pronounced nose at first which faded for a short while then seemed to grow in stature in the glass. The first impression was of a figgy, forest berry aroma with a touch of truffle earthyness. Then after the dumbing down there was a definate sense of mocha toastyness with big black fruits mixed with a tobacco cedar like aroma.

It was soooooooo smooth on the palate, it almost felt silky. The fruit was the dominant flavour with very soft feminine tannins, and a tobacco like finish that stayed on the palate for ages. So good. Only a couple left, but it knocked the spots off the 1950 Latour they had last night.

Why cant they all be like that?

Just finished a really busy saturday night, fifty covers which is a new record I think for a regular service. As part of a new strategy to maximise our covers and obviously the revenue too, we are now starting service at 6:30pm Fridays and Saturdays with the proviso that you vacate your table by 8:30 so we can reset it for the last sitting. Cards on the table time, I dont like this idea/practice, because unfortunately the majority of customers are very casual about their timekeeping. Now this is mostly for selfish reasons - namely they want a table at 8pm. We have no more tables at 8pm, but we can give them a table at 7pm. They agree to this, knowing full well that they will just walk in at 8pm when they wish to dine. And for us, the really frustrating thing is that we bend over and accept the situation, despite the fact it puts the kitchen right in the brown stuff, and if they are in the weeds, then we are the ones that face the irate customers. This is where the good restaurant managers come into their own, balancing the table flow into the dining room, and orchestrating the service to keep the kitchen just dipping their toes into shit creek. And weve got a good one in Paco. So tonight we found ourselves with seven tables booked between 6:30 and 7:30, which is a running start to the evening. This afternoon we were staring the wrong side of five resits, but the gods must like us, because this dropped to two by the start of service.

Our perfect guests were the four top booked at 6:30pm. This was their second night, and they were here on time. Lovely couple and their son and his girlfriend. They appreciate their meal, they like good wines which happened to be expensive (fulfilling my obligations to the budget!!), but most of all they appreciate us and the service. They say please and thank you, they are pleasant to talk with, they smile!!!!! You have no idea what a difference that can make on a Saturday night. These are the kind of guests that will always get a table in a restaurant. Not because they spend well, although the truth is that helps, but because they are thoroughly nice people who appreciate the effort you would go to in order to accomodate them. Luckily for us, we have quite a few guests like that, and we often make sacrifices in order to get them a table, even when we are full, because the experience of serving them and being appreciated for it, makes all the rest of the tables that much easier. Now if only all the rest of the tables were like that.

Busy bees

Got kind of shafted tonight. Danny has broken his wrist and might be out of action for the next three weeks (AAAAAAAARGHHHHHH!!!!!!!). We picked up a random table of six, who thought they had a booking (they didnt), so we ended up re-sitting a table of seven. Consider it practice for tomorrow night when we are working on 58 covers!!!!

Pass the vaseline! its gonnae hurt a wee bit tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It doesnt smell of poo!!

When I first got interested in wines, I was working for Malmaison. The only good thing they ever did for me was to put me through the WSET courses upto my Advanced level. Once I had achieved my higher level they made me the wine buff for my hotel. This meant that I got advance tastings of the wine-lists before they changed and I was then responsable for spreading that information back within my hotel. It was at one of these tastings that I tasted my first pinotage from South Africa. I still have the tasting notes and the dominant character was an earthy manure aroma. There was no fruit present at all. And the wine consultant who selected all the wines described this as a perfect example of South African pinotage.

Its a shame really because I think he did the wine a terrible dis-service, as I recently discovered upon tasting several fantastic pinotages that DONT smell of poo. Now I dont really know for sure if those wines were poor quality, faulty, or maybe that really was what South African pinotage was all about nearly eight years ago. I kind of hope that it is the latter, and that Pinotage is now emerging as a serious grape that has a lot of potential.

The first wine is from Hermanus a coastal town in the Walker bay district. Southern Rights Pinotage is produced by Anthony Hamilton Russell. With the wines being matured in 20% new oak, there are some woody tones, but the dominant flavours are the fruit - black fruits, brambles and cherries with a hint of cedar, leather and spices. This is a clean, vibrant wine that would work well with lamb, mutton, veal and even venison.

The other wine is a new addition to our list, and I have to admit it came about from following the hype online about a brand called Stormhoek. As Ive delved into the online world of wine-writing Ive discovered several wine blogs which is where I came to read about an enterprising winery from South Africa that was causing a sensation across the bloggosphere. The hype was being generated by them giving away bottles of wine to bloggers in order to host a series of dinners, they aimed for 100 dinners in 100 days. The thing is the feedback was very positive, the wines were being well recieved. So I decided to have a looksee and see if the product lived up the hype being generated. Which is how one day back in the middle of summer Garech Byrne from Orbital wines (their UK distributor) came to be sitting opposite me in the library with a bag of tank samples. Now tank samples are a bit different to the real deal, because they havent been treated or stabilised, so they arent always a great judge of the final product. However I was sufficiently impressed by both the Sauvignon and the Pinotage to agree to list them both. Even better the price came in on the pinotage at such a good rate, that I was actually able to list it by the glass. So I was somewhat delighted last thursday when the stock eventually arrived. I must say that if I though the tank samples were good, then by heck the final product is the dogs doobries. Bags of ripe luscious fruit, think of a brambly ribena mixed with a cassis martini. The ladies absolutely love it!!! And it slips down so easily. So its called Stormhoek Siren and the whole product was designed in an open source style with active feedback from the wine and tech communities. (see www.stormhoek.com for more on the process).

Anyway its re-awakened my perceptions of South African pinotage and as an aside it helped to introduce me to several fantastic new wines from South Africa also imported by Orbital. Guys like Bruwer Raats who makes the most amazing chenins and Cabernet Franc, Jack & Knox who find these obscure vineyards in off beat places with great fruit and make some limited editions wines. Their Frostline riesling puts most new world riesling to shame. So jumping onto the Stormhoek bandwagon helped to introduce me to several new wines and changed my view of a classic South African grape. Ill never drink another wine that smells of poo again! (I hope!!)


Over the space of the last two weeks, Ive pretty much managed to catch up with quite a few of my friends from Gleneagles. I miss my friends, I miss playing stupid games like tig in the restaurant during Saturday service, I miss the sense of cameraderie we all shared when someone on the team scored a big sale, I miss pointing out the attractive women on our stations and trying to outdo each other. I miss going back to Neils place after service and playing Burnout or Timesplitters or Pro Evo Footy till some ridiculous hour of the morning, and still turning up for work the next morning afternoon after too little sleep. I miss the banter we all shared before and during service, I miss the way we used to wind up the food waiters with silly practical jokes. I miss taking the mickey out of the restaurant manager Shuggie with Ahmed, I miss winding up the stiff assed Head Waiter Cedric then having a laugh with him after service. I miss the buzz of walking into a full restaurant with 350+ covers, flambe trolleys going off across the room, and feeling a tingle running down my spine, ever single saturday!!!! But most of all I miss my friends.

Neil is down in New Zealand now, deciding which winery he wants to work for. Niall is in Thailand working in an exotic spa resort hotel. Ian is down at Bishopstrow house working as a Food and Beverage manager. Remi is still at Gleneagles, waiting to finish his WSET Diploma. Ive no idea where Scrappy is, probably getting drunk and getting his kecks off if past behaviour is anything to go by. Guillaume is now working for a wine shop in Perth. Cedric is in Dubai working for Jumerai. Shuggie has left the Glen and is now teaching in Perth. Weve all pretty much moved on in our own directions. But its nice to catch up every once in a while and remember the fun times we all shared. I miss my friends.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Theres nowt as queer as folk.

Ive blogged in the past about some of the stupid and silly things that people say, but tonight really took the biscuit for daftness.

the Background: Table booked for two people - comments on the booking are that they have a gift voucher for £130. They will pay the difference. The booking came from the MD's pa which usually means that it is VIP.

So they couple come in and enjoy a nice meal, with a great bottle of wine (Bonny Doon's Clos de Gilroy Grenache). Come the end of the meal, one of them asks for the bill. They seem a bit surprised to see the bill includes everything, at which they inform the Chef de Rang that they had a gift voucher to pay for the meal. So Paco goes over to see them and tells them its OK if they give us the voucher it is treated as cash. Here comes the magic moment now.

The dozy eejit then tells Paco that they've left the voucher at home " I didnt think I would need it" WTF!!!!!!!!!!!! I can honestly say that in over fifteen years working in the hospitality industry that is undoubtably the most stupid thing that I have ever heard anyone utter. When your granny gave you a book token for your birthday you took it into the nearest WH Smiths and exchanged it for a book of your chosing. You dont turn up at the counter and say that you didnt think that you would need the voucher to get your book. So why the hell would you do it here!

Im continually amazed by people, and by god thats one of the reasons that I truly love this job, because it aint the shitty pay and crappy hours. Its people, clever and thick as shit, rich as Croesus and poor as me, that make this job so wonderful and so incredably frustrating at the same time. You couldnt make this stuff up, honestly.

WBW the competition stage.

For anyone that has been following this edition of Wine Blog Wednesday, Beau at Basic Juice had us all submit a tasting note for a wine from a choice of three regions per colour. He then posted these descriptions leaving out the origin of the wines. We then have to deduce the region of origin from the tasting notes. Not easy I can tell you.

Heres my submission of guesses.

1) My own entry -
2) Spain - im guessing at Priorat
3) France - Burgundy and im going out on a limb with Grand Cru possibly Echezeaux
4) France again, this time Bordeaux
5) Washington - but im thinking Pinot
6) Italy
7) France - the Rhone Valley - maybe Northern Rhone
8) New York - on a limb again Finger Lakes
9) Italy
10) Washington
11) Italy
12) Spain
13) Washington
14) Washington
15) Spain
16) Italy
17) Oregon - im guessing the variety at Viognier and ????
18) Washington
19) Italy

see the Basic Juice site for the descriptions at :

Radio 4 maybe calling??

I got call this afternoon from a chap working at Radio 4. Apparently they might be doing a piece tomorrow on the proposed legislation to put health warnings on bottles of wine. They wanted to know what my thoughts were on the matter. I have to confess that I didnt really have any at that stage. I only really caught a glimpse of the news yesterday on my aggregator, but hadnt really had a chance to read it, nevermind form an opinion. So it seems they might be calling me tomorrow if they decide to air the piece. So it looks like tonight after service I need to do some research.

The genius of Len Evans.

While trawling through my blog reader yesterday I came across this great post about Len Evans and his thoughts on wine. I post the link to the blog.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Summers over now

Tonight we did 40 covers, which is fantastic for a Wednesday night. Tomorrow we are looking at 23 covers, but by tomorrow night we will probably be closer to 30 again. The summer break is over, and with winter setting in it looks like it might be a busy period for us. Great news, we're behind budget, and worse we are behind last years revenue. This means that we havent shown any growth which is a cardinal sin in the hotel industry. You can almost be forgiven for falling short on your budget - its been a difficult year after all, with the world cup, the rising threat of terrorism, etc etc. But to not show any growth on last year - my god - the horror!!!

But the bright news on the horizon is that we seem to be on track to recover a good chunk of the shortfall if things continue as they have been. And at the end of the day, we would all much rather be busy than stood around wishing the night would end. At least when its busy you dont have the time to ponder the time and watch the clock, and before you know it the last customers have moved through for their coffee and you can get squared up and finish.

So bring it on, after all weve only got 50 services left until we close for crimbo (68 days left till Santa's coming!!!!!!). Then weve got 4 more services to do till we break for three glorious weeks of holiday. And wild horses wont get me to come back early this time!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Tonight we have another Gourmet Evening, this months theme is German wines, our Oktoberweinfest if you will. Francis Murray from OW Loeb, for many years the UK's best merchant for German wines has come up to present some of their wines paired to a fantastic meal from Simon.

To start with we are serving Sybille Kuntz's Estate Dry Riesling. A rising star of the Mosel, the Kuntz wines tend towards the drier style. Lean mineral flavours with citrus and a touch of herbal character. At first, after opening there was a touch of sulphur on the nose, this soon disipated.

For the first course we are pouring a Schloss Lieser QBA Riesling. Another crisp dry style with citrus lime flavours intermingled with freshly cut garden herbs. With about 11% alcohol and around 25g of residual sugar per litre this leaves a hint of sweetness on the tongue that the acidity will wipe clean.

Simon's Foie Gras escalope with whipped onion cream is paired with a Kaseler Neis'chen Spatlese 1997 from Von Kesselstatt. The nine years of bottle age on this wine have allowed the secondary aroma's of kerosine/petrol develop nicely, and with more than a touch of residual sugar this complements nicely with the richness of the foie gras.

For the main course we were going to serve a Joh Jos Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese until our MD objected to the lack of a red wine (he's not a huge fan of German wines!!) so weve had to cowboy in a last minute substitute. Weingut Salwey Oberrotweiler Kirchberg Pinot Noir from Baden. Its 2004 which is good, because most of the German red wines that Ive had dont travel very well. Its pretty vibrant on the nose with a touch of tingly alcohol on the palate which isnt surprising as it weighs in at 13.5% abv. Im sure the prok belly will take the edge of that, but personally I think the Wehlener Sonnenuhr would have been better, but who am I to argue.

For the cheese we move back to white for Armin Diel's Dorsheimer Goldloch Auslese 2001. Apricot fruit and quince jelly with winter spices over the honeyed botrytised fruit aromas. Amazing length and build up of flavours.

For dessert we are pouring the Von Kesselstatt Scharzhofberger Beerenauslese. Late harvested wine, with intense botrytised fruit aromas - honey, golden sultana's, a faint hint of nail varnish, there is also dried apricots and nutmeg on the palate in very slight ways. Really rich, intensely sweet, not to my taste at all, but very very good.

So all in all, the numbers are down (Manchester United are playing at home tonight in a Champions League game), but personally I prefer the more intimate atmosphere of smaller numbers. Should be good.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Much like Bowie used to change his entire personality and musical style, so a good wine-list ought to change its wines by the glass every six or so months. It keeps things fresh and allows you to stay truer to the menu if the wines you pour by the glass change with the menus.

With this in mind we have changed the wines by the glass today to suit the fact that winter is coming in now, and people are starting to turn towards richer, heavier whites and reds. Plus the menu is starting to feature more red meats and game and so they need slightly more robust wines to complement them.

So we have a great tempranillo from Cascabel winery in McLaren, a couple of South African crackers - one from Peacock Ridge a really fruity merlot, and a beaut from Buitenverwachting, the Meifort Cabernet Merlot. Im also listing the new Stormhoek Siren Pinotage, but unfortunately that hasnt arrived yet. For the whites Ive got a great blend from Sicily from Planeta, La Segreta Bianco which blends traditional varieties with "modern intruders", and a great late harvested Riesling from Berton Vineyards - the "Forgotten" Riesling which has a great touch of residual sugar and is starting to develop pleasing secondary aromas that riesling is known for.

If I get a chance later I will post some tasting notes.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wine Blog Wednesday - Wheres Wino


Visit Beau's site for my entry into Wine Blog Wednesday with a fantastic theme this month, a blind tasting with a twist.

Winter warmers.

With winter starting to set in (clocks go back at the end of this month!!! an extra hour in bed YAY!!!!!!), the wines we are selling are starting to get a little bit heavier, and richer, with more spicy notes and flavours emerging. Of course the Rhone Valley in France is an obvious place to look for rich spicy reds with plenty of grip and flavour, but there are a few New World pretenders out there, and I was reminded of them the other night.

Top of my list would be the Charles Melton Nine Popes. From the Barossa Valley, comes this venerable homage to a Chateauneuf, from Australia's premier Rhone Ranger. An exquisite blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre, the aromas invoke mental images of scrubby bushes with peppery fruits and dense black fruit with a strong menthol note running through the middle.

Next up would be one of the most eccentric winemakers you could ever hope to meet. In the same way that people were unsure if Spike Milligan was a genius or insane, it is hard to decide which side of the line Randall Grahm sits on. Randall is the muse and chief winemaker at Bonny Doon Vineyards and one of his most inspired wines is the iconic Le Cigare Volant. Named in homage to an obscure law passed in 1954 in Chateauneuf banning the landing of Flying Saucers (les Cigares Volant - the flying cigars) in the vineyards. Of all the new world prentenders of the Chateauneuf throne, Le Cigare is the most authentic in its cepage. Dominated by the tag team of Mataro (Mourvedre) and Syrah at 35% apiece, touched up with a dose of grenache (22%), some cinsault (7%) and just a smidge of Counoise (1%). Dried Black peppercorns with anise, black fruits, and roasted mediterranean herbs remind me ever so much of a nicely seasoned rack of lamb, which this wine would complement ever so well. As I mentioned to someone this afternoon, it takes a clever man to come up with a name like le Cigare Volant for a vineous homage to Chateauneuf. It takes a demented genius to package those wines in a gigantic cigar box. But thats Randall Grahm all over,

Appearance is nothing.

I had my appraisal on Tuesday, and overall the feedback was fairly positive, with a few negatives. Only problem is that we disagree somewhat on the importance of the negatives.

The major bone of contention is that I am percieved to have no pride in my appearance, and to a greater extent this is true. I dont care what I look like because it is irrelevant. It is meaningless to what I do, it holds absolutely no value or effect on my ability to perform my role. Im not going to suddenly start selling more wine because now Im wearing lace up shoes instead of slip-ons. To think so is ludicrous. All these "reports" that bang on about first impressions etc are usually highly spun by fashion consultants who want you to spend huge amounts of money on smartening up your image. The reality is however that people dont care what shoes you are wearing, whether your shirt is immaculatly ironed, or if you sport two inches of cuffs on your shirts. All they care about is whether you know your product. So thats what is important to me, knowing my product, whether it be the menu, the wine-list, the wines, cognacs, whiskies, cocktails, what time the brasserie opens, where can someone buy this or that wine and many many other relevant issues. I lack a vanity gene, and I know it frustrates the hell out of Ross that I dont care what I look like, but thats who I am. I was employed to sell wine, not look good in a suit. Its not like I come in to work looking like I was dragged through a hedge backwards after all. Im usually fairly smart, just never immaculate. I have better things to do than spend two hours putting a military shine on my shoes. But I'll try and make a bit more of an effort.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Its in the numbers

Discovered a few interesting figures earlier today. Last year from January to December we sold 7962 bottles of Ruinart Champagne. That figure is an amalgam of bottles, magnums and half bottles. Considering that we are closed for three days over xmas, that means we sell an average of 22 bottles of Ruinart a day.

In total we sold 9534 bottles of champagne over 2005, which equates to 26.5 bottles a day. Not too shabby huh?

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.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Vendage day three

After what seemed like minutes after I had fallen asleep my alarm clock woke me up at the unearthly hour of 7am. A quick shower to wake me up and dressed in my scruffy clothes we head down for the usual breakfast and then off to the cuverie. As we approach the doors, the air is rich with the aromas of the ferments, slowly bubbling away. It is quite dangerous entering the cuverie at this time, as the carbon dioxide slowly fills the room from the bottom up, and with ten or more vats slowly fermenting away, the room can fill up with CO2 quite quickly. So we have to set up a fan to blow the CO2 out of the room before we can enter it safely. I ventured in to help open the windows, and after a moment found myself quite out of breath and starting to feel light headed. So once it was safe to enter, we started our daily ritual, while Ed got on with the pigeage, I got to work taking the temperatures of all the ferments, and measuring the density.

We recieved the last of the Chambertin grapes, so once more the triage table was set-up and the grapes sorted. Its kind of a weird experience doing the triage, because you become so focussed on spotting the rotten grapes, and keeping an eye out for stones, twigs and leaves, that you actually start to feel motion sickness. As the grapes move across your vision on a white conveyor belt, you brain is telling you that you are moving sideways, but your ears are telling your brain that in fact you are not. The resulting confusion can cause some nausia, which indeed I did feel slightly. After clearing down and cleaning up, while Ed did the last pigeage of the morning, I finished off the density measurements of the white wines.

That afternoon we were left to our own devices as I wanted to visit Beaune and in particular a bookshop called the Atheneum. So after getting washed and changed, we bought a picnic from the Epicerie at Morey-St-Denis and headed off in the direction of Beaune, via Vosne Romanee, where we enjoyed our picnic sitting on a wall overlooking La Romanee.

After a brief roll through Nuits St Georges we headed into Beaune to find the Atheneum. Once there, it was like I'd died and gone to heaven. The place is kind of a temple to wine. I spent the best part of an hour in there, and spunked 179 euros. I got the Nouvel Atlas de Bourgogne by Sylvian Pitiot and Jean-Charles Servant, which set me back the best part of that 179Euros.

That night we dined at Jean-Christophe's farmhouse about 30km away from Beaune. As his wife Helene prepared another fantastic meal, Jean-Christophe raided his cellars to bring up some real gems, all from the Cotes de Beaune. One of the highlights was a 1996 Santenay 1er Cru which showed a little bit of bottle stink when it was first opened, and consequently Jean-Christophe took the opportunity to nip out for a crafty fag and fetch another bottle this time a 99. This gave us the ideal opportunity to taste them together once the 96 had been decanted, and while both were excellent, we all clearly had our own favourite. (the 96 by a long shot was the winner for me.) Jean-Christophe has a wonderful family, and made us feel welcome in their home, even sending us off into the night with a handful of apples picked from the many fruit trees in their spacious gardens. Once again another late night, and I collapsed into my bed lapsing into a deep peaceful sleep.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Vendage day two

After getting up at 7:30 for breakfast we were at the cuverie for a little after eight am. As Louis was ventilating the cuverie to remove the CO2 that built up over night a wonderfully yeasty smell surrounded the building. The rain continued to fall, as it would all day and into the night. This time it was my turn to plonge the wines, I was given the Cotes de Nuits vat.

Bloody hell it's hard work. I lacked the upper body strength to lift myself out of it, as I was in the juice up to my upper thighs, and the top of the vat was level with my shoulders, and in the end Ed and Louis had to lift me out with just less than half of the Vat punched down. So Christophe had to finish it off, and I set about doing the density and temperature measurements. Then after all the vats had been tested and where necessary pigeaged, we started the triage for the grapes that had arrived late last night. These were bourgogne pinot grapes and there was a fair bit of rot and other nastyness in the bunches. Then as Christophe and Louis Jnr washed the kit down, Ed and I went down to the cellar to measure the density of the musts.

Then it was onto a fabulous little bar, epicerie, boulangerie in Morey-St-Denis for a fantastic lunch. Whilst at lunch we found out that Bernard had send the pickers out that morning in the peeing rain and had taken on extra people to hold umbrellas over them, to try and shield the fruit from too much water. Then the fruit had been taken to a drying room, to try and remove any excess water. So after lunch Guillaume brought us the Chambertin grapes and again the triage table was set-up and the grapes sorted to remove the dross. While we cleaned down, the third pigeage of the day was taking place. By now Ed was going to just above waist level.

After everything was washed down, we had finished by about 5pm, so as the sky was starting to clear a bit, and we had a while until we were having dinner at Bernards house that night, Ed and I decided to explore the vineyards of Vosne Romanee and Nuits St Georges, including a visit to La Romanee. Obviously they get many visitors there, as there were signs posted asking us politely to remain on the road and not to enter the vineyard.

We were delighted and priviledged to be invited to Bernards house for dinner that night, where Bernadette his lovely wife prepared a fantastic meal, and needless to say we enjoyed some superb wines. But by about 9pm, my shoulders and underarms were starting to ache. I so badly wanted to soak myself in a bath, but alas our rooms had only showers. So another late night and with a full stomach I went to bed.

Vendage day one

After having arrived from Geneva the night before and been treated to an excellent meal by Bernard in a little restaurant in Gevrey, we awoke at a fairly tardy eight thirty for a traditional French breakfast of Croissants, Baguette and coffee, before Bernard collected us to take us to the cuverie in Chambolle Musigny. We kicked off straight away with the pigeage, with ed hopping into the Gevrey-Chambertin Clos de la Justice to do a bit of stomping.

While Ed was doing that, I was measuring the density's of the ferments using a mustometer. Each day we measured the density of each ferment and barrel of must to track their progress. Then mid morning the grapes for the bourgogne rouge arrived and we set-up the triage table and the giraffe to sort the grapes, removing the pourriture (rot). After that was done, we chaptalised two reds, the Volnay and the Cotes de Beaune. A small tank is filled with wine from the vats and we add a measured amount of sugar, stirring it constantly to ensure it all dissolves. Then it is pumped back over the skins to kickstart the fermentation. The last pigeage of the morning then took place before the very civilised practice of lunch. After a filling lunch we returned to the cuverie for a full afternoon of work. More grapes were arriving, some bourgogne and a small amount of the Chambertin. So again we set up the triage table and set about sorting the bad grapes from the good. Burgundy had suffered from hail early in the growing season, and this was evident from the bunches that came in with "red stones" as they called them. Dried out berries that had hardened as the damaged stems starved them of water and nutrients. The blackened stems were more prominent on the bourgogne grapes than the Chambertin, which overall was of a good quality this year, with great potential. After the triage, the equipment all needs to be thoroughly washed down before the final pigeage of the day. As we finished at 6:45pm and headed off to a small bar in Gevrey for a well earned beer with Christophe and Louis Jnr the clouds darkened and rain set in.

This was a worry for Louis, as the pickers had only brought in less than half of the grapes of Chambertin, and rain now, could cause problems if it diluted the grapes, not to mention the risk of rot. As we got ready for dinner the heavens opened and rain lashed down from the sky. As we dined that night with Louis Snr, Bernard and "Chef" Louis, their concern at the weather was obvious. We enjoyed a suberb dinner with some fantastic wines, including a very elegant Charmes Chambertin. The rain finally eased up late that night, but with frequent downpours during the night.

Im shattered, a bit stained and very humbled.

Its just coming up to midnight, and Ive just finished service in the Arkle for the evening. Its amazing to think that just this morning I woke up in Morey-St-Denis at a little after 7am local time, to make the fairly boring journey back to Geneva to return to "normality". I didnt really want to come back (to work anyway, I missed my wife and children of course!), but they say that all good things must come to an end, and my experience of the Vendage at Vallet freres was a very good thing. Their incredable hospitality and generousity in opening up their homes and their cellars to myself and Ed was a very humbling experience. I was quite sad last night leaving Louis Vallet's home after an unforgettable night of good food, great wine and enchanting company. They welcomed us into their lives with an openness and friendliness that touched us, and made the whole experience memorable. I cannot begin to thank them enough, but over the next few days I hope to post some of my wonderful experiences.

To Louis Snr, Bernard, "Chef" Louis, Jean-Christophe and their families I pass on my sincere thanks for your wonderful hospitality. Vous etes tres gentile.

Bernard, Louis and "Chef" Louis Vallet our generous hosts for the vendage.