Friday, 28 May 2010

A bit of catching up to do so here’s some bedtime reading!

Where have I been you may be wondering? Well, with the Chai work so close to completion and just the final dusting to be made before I can kit out the new Dordogne cellar and my long awaited office, I took a few days holiday whilst I could. I tied in the trip in and around the London wine trade fair, Laithwaites shop festivals and meetings at our headquarters in Theale.

However before the UK, Libby and I decided to head north and spend time in the beautiful old town of Dinan in Brittany before getting the ferry from St. Malo to Weymouth via my home island of Jersey.

As soon as I arrive here the whiff of seaweed, or ‘vrac’ as it is called locally, left on the beaches after the huge tides means home – and that also means fresh oysters, moules, cider and Muscadet are the order of the day; you just can't beat it! Just before boarding the ferry I popped into a favourite little old wine merchant hidden in the walls of the Saint Malo citadel to buy some hard-to-find Loire wines and good local cider for the cellar at home.

The weather was fantastic on arrival in the UK and perfect for a trip up to Devon where Libby's parents run a fantastic B&B called The Garden House. We ate and drank like kings in the stunning gardens created by Libby's mum Jane. If you are ever in the area it’s a really great place to stay and easily the best English breakfast in the country!

After a great weekend it was back to work on Tuesday and I made my way up to London for 2 days for the world-renowned London wine trade fair. It seemed a little quiet this year but I met up with JMS and we tasted some great wines from all over the world; some Fronton wines, home of the Negrette grape, certainly caught our interest for a potential Chai project.

The trade fair is always a great time to catch up with winemaker friends I have made all over the world during my travels and we always spend an evening together where we cook up a storm (this time at Nathan’s place, thanks again Nathan), listen to some music and try a few rare and unusual wines.

Thursday and Friday I headed back to Dorset to enjoy the everlasting wonderful weather until Saturday when I was back on the road towards London, taking a very excited Mum and Dad with me to present the Chai wines at the Laithwaites shop festivals in Beaconsfield and Binfield.

The Beaconsfield town hall was a lovely setting where I finally managed to meet many of our customers. Afterwards I quickly nipped to the Beaconsfield shop to pick up a case of mixed New World wines to take back to France. The only down side of living in France is the availability of wines from the New World; Laithwaites customers are so lucky in the UK to have such a diversity of wines at their fingertips.

With a spot of lunch now the order of the day, good old Eddie was right on hand to take us to the Royal Standard, the oldest free house pub in the country. The pub has been trading for over 900 years and even has a resident ghost! All I can say is the real ale was real and the stuffed quail was pretty good; Dad’s Welsh Elwy Valley lamb was incredible and Mum’s steak sandwich to die for!

It was then time to carry onto Binfield for the evening tasting. A brilliant evening was had with lots of enthusiastic customers – Maury Font del Bosc served nicely chilled went down a storm yet again! Please give a try, I promise it will change your world!

A long drive back to Dorset was helped with the promise of more sunshine tomorrow.

Sure enough Mr. Fish – or whoever it is nowadays who has the pressure of the entire nation on them these days (worse than being England football manager!) – was right and the weather just got better and better so we headed out for a day along the Jurassic coast and the stunning Chesil Beach, where the large rounded pebbles reminded me of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I think I am beginning to get vineyard withdrawal symptoms! Chesil beach – which stretches from Portland up to Lyme Regis and laden with fossils – is home to some really beautiful villages. We stopped off at Burton Bradstock for lunch at the relaxed and highly rated Hive Beach Cafe. The locally line caught Lyme bay mackerel was just superb and brilliantly matched with a crisp dry Dorset cider.

I arrived in Theale on Tuesday morning for some important meetings at head office where we already started discussing the preparations for the 2010 vintage!

Wednesday I was on the early train to London from Reading – a bargain at 39 quid and no seat, 8 quid for the tube, being crushed to death by the commuters, rush hour traffic and rubbish coffee (vineyard withdrawal kicking in again!). I eventually made it to Borough Market where we have our wonderful London shop for our big, much anticipated press tasting at Vinopolis in Borough Market. The tasting looked great and lots of top journalists turned up to taste our range of wines.

A long day, back to Reading, pick up the car (beautifully timed at peak rush hour!), huge traffic jam on the M3 and a long drive to Dorset to catch tomorrows ferry to France brought on another severe bout of vineyard withdrawal syndrome!

It’s Thursday the 27th May and I am up early to catch the ferry to St. Malo from Poole. Should arrive at 7pm and hoping to be home in Bordeaux by 1am as new stainless steel wine vats are being delivered tomorrow at 7 am sharp! ‘Au revoir Angletterre’


Friday, 7 May 2010

2009 Reds Are Entering The Chai!

Early this morning I loaded two of our three exclusive Côtes de Castillon 2009 wines which I have been monitoring since harvest. Now that the wines have their certificates and passports allocated there is no hesitation and they are transported immediately to the Chai, to begin the long and patient barrel-ageing which will transform these raw and powerful wines into magnificent elegant wines in a years time!

I started with Chateau Tertre de Bel Air, situated on the outer fringes of the Castillon Appellation where it meets the soils of the Côtes de Francs. This is a very unique terroir and the wines are big and robust with bundles of tannin that must and will be tamed over the forthcoming months.

Next I take the tanker to the opposite side of the Côtes de Castillon to Chateau La Brande where the terroir overlaps into the limestone of AOC Grand Cru St Emilion. Again the wines have a unique flavour and taste with the limestone creating a powerful wine but with more subtle blackberry fruit and a slightly higher acidity.

The 2009 La Brande may seem a little less open than Chateau Tertre Bel Air but believe me you, this needs barrel time and will be absolutely stunning with serious ageing potential down the line.

By 10am the tanker is outside the Chai and the wines are unloaded into our vats whilst I choose the barrels in which they will be aged in. It is the winemakers job to match the barrel types that will suit and enhance the wine best. It is very easy to make a mistake here and although the wine may be tasting great in three months time, the wrong barrel can spell disaster in 12 months with the wine being over or under oaked, masking or dampening the natural fruit expression of the wine that we try so hard to preserve.

I spend quite a while looking through my barrels a bit like combing through your spice rack in your kitchen before deciding on a marinade. However, a food recipe can easily be remade the following day or until the flavour combination is perfected. But wine? It’s one chance only to get it right!