April - May - Mark Hoddy
The beginning of May is holiday time for the French. If you are not organized it can be a frustrating time for winemakers trying to get work completed in the cellar.
There are three bank holidays and the ‘ponts’ (the bridges) between the 1st and the 11th of May. The ‘pont’ refers to the Friday that follows a Thursday bank holiday and this year both bank holidays fell on a Thursday plus the extra one thrown in on Monday 11th for good luck. So that is two Thursdays, two ‘ponts’ Fridays, two weekends and Monday in 11 days. However, it is the perfect training for the Frenchies real summer holiday, the whole month of August.
This means the cellar team has to start early and finish late if they want the bank holiday off.
1st week of May
Monday April 28th ...
Jean-Marc Sauboua makes a flying visit to Chai for a days tasting. His car screeches to a halt in front of the cellar door exactly 46mins after his plane has landed at Bordeaux Merignac Airport. We taste through all the chai wines and discuss the progress and then make the future plans.
Tuesday April 29th ...
A very exciting day because the fantastic Grand Chai Margaux 2006 is to be racked and blended for the first time since being put in oak barrels 12months ago.
Racking (soutirage in French) is the pumping of the clean wine from the barrel and leaving the sediment behind. This is the first stage of preparing the wine for bottling.
Day starts with telling Denis our maitre du chai (cellarmaster) that there will be no traditional 2 hour lunch break today!
The racking starts at 7a.m and there are 50 barrels to be racked. The barrels have to be pumped out very carefully one by one which takes about 4 minutes per barrel. Each barrel has then to be carefully turned and the sediment (lees) collected.
The next step is to clean each barrel with a special rotating power washer that fits in to the barrel. This has to wash each barrel with 3 minutes of hot followed by 2 minutes of cold water. The hot/cold process melts and removes the crystals called ‘tartrates’ from the inside of barrels allowing the oak to be re-exposed and ready for contact with the next wine. It is very important that this job is finished on the same day as leaving barrels unclean can turn them to vinegar by the next day.
Long day finishes around 8pm and the final blend of Margaux 2006 is well worth waiting for, great nose, classic Margaux, heaps of cassis and blackberry leaf.
Wednesday April 30th ...
Here we ago again but today is the St.Emilion 2006 racking. Only 22 barrels to do today but after the effort of yesterday it will take some more hard work. And again no two hour lunch break!
All goes like clock work and the first taste of the new blended wine is tasted at around 5pm, it is fuller and more aromatic than ever before, what a great result.
Everyone in the cellar is delighted as both the Margaux and St.Emilion wines can now show off all the hard graft and patience since the 2006 harvest just over 18 months ago.
Maybe we do all deserve the bank holiday Thursday, ‘pont’ and the weekend off?
Monday May 5th ...
After the most amazing four days weather it is back to work.
Monday morning at 7 a.m., I am on my way in torrential rain to Chateau Haut Pourret just opposite Chateau Figeac to oversee the bottling of our 2006 Grand Cru St.Emilion. The wine has to be aged and bottled at the estate of origin in order to retain the Grand Cru status. We have been following the wine very carefully at the Chateau for the last 18 months.
The wine is tasted and checked by myself before the bottling begins. The wine has a wonderful deep youthful colour, a huge concentration of black fruits, with the typical St.Emilion velvety elegance on the finish. That will do for me!
Bottling went very well and everyone worked very hard in order to keep all the bottles, boxes and themselves dry throughout the day. The rain finally stopped about 8 minutes of the last bottle was filled. The bottles are then taken to have some bottle time and get ready to be unleashed on our customers.
A quick stop off at the Chai au Quai to taste and today I really feel the Bordeaux Semillon 2007 is ready, the balance of oak is perfect and the wine is ready to be racked and that means now, not next week. In order to get the wine out of the barrels at exactly the right moment we need to work quickly, so tomorrow which is also the same day as the VC 2007 bottling we will also be racking .
Tuesday May 6th ...
In cellar very early in order for Denis and I to get the racking of Semillon 2007 started before the bottling guys arrive. Quite hectic in the cellar with hoses running everywhere like spaghetti but all under control.
Bottling starts at about 8a.m. and today it is the new VC 2007 the latest blend in the exciting ‘Unmentionables range’. The blend is of Viognier and Chardonnay. Both the wines were a result of juice that was selected in the Ardeche and Carcassonne and then transported to the Chai for a controlled fermentation. The Viognier was fermented at 13ºC for two weeks with special yeast called WAM whilst the chardonnay was barrel fermented in new and 1yr old French oak. The resulting blend is Viognier dominant with very subtle hints of chardonnay. It is a beautifully balanced fruit driven wine, zesty on the mid palate and packed full of tropical fruit on the finish, definitely one of my favourite wines to look out for this summer.
After a long days work, briefly interrupted by a labeling machine breakdown the wine was in bottle and the Semillon was safely blended in tank H.
Wednesday May 7th ...
Today is the very important job of tying up the loose ends from the previous two days work. There were lots of cleaning, floors, vats, hoses and pumps also putting all barrels back into the right places.
It is bank holiday tomorrow and the pond and then the weekend!
Monday May 12th ...
Off to UK to do Laithwaites Shop festivals and finally get to personally promote the Chai wines to some lucky customers. It is such a great thing to be able to have all the hard work ready to present. Its like being able to show a photo album from the last 18 months, all the memories and images are captured in these wines.
Next stop the 3 day London Trade Fair, only a quick stop to check up on the competition and look for any new ideas, up and coming wine regions and producers.
Have to get back to Bordeaux by Friday morning as we are filtering the Semillon 2007 and putting the final touches to the St. Emilion 2006 and Margaux 2006.
Friday May 23rd ...