A bit late, I know, but harvest was super crazy and I didn’t get a chance to post this earlier but here are some photos from the whites which we harvested on the 5th of September.

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Dawn Patrol Version 2.0

Dawn Patrol Version 2.0

Like with the red harvest, we got into the vines at dawn to try and get the grapes into the cuverie before the heat of the day. We got lucky and the day was quite cool — average temperature of the grapes at pressing was 14ºC.

Beautiful Chardonnay bunches

Beautiful Chardonnay bunches

2011 is a great year for whites. Not only was there a good crop but the bunches were very open, allowing the sun to get in and get every berry to flavour ripeness. As good as 2007 in my opinion!

Picking with small bins

Picking with small bins

In order to make sure that the grapes got into the cuverie uncrushed we used smaller picking bins than is common in Burgundy. Once grapes are crushed they oxidise very quickly and I wanted that to happen in the press, not in the vineyard. Plus it was much easier for us to carry down the steep slopes!

Ed hard at work

Ed hard at work

One of the guys who stayed with us for harvest, Ed Levy, in the Dessus Les Vermots vineyard — one of my three plots this year. You can see how steep the vineyard is behind Ed. Total champ! This year the grapes from Dessus Les Vermots has made a wine that is super zingy and linear with citrus flavours. Totally my type of Chardonnay!

Chilling the juice

Chilling the juice

I decided on a program of oxidising the juice in the press tray and then chilling the juice down below 10ºC to get all the phenolics to settle out. It is quite scary to see how brown the juice was but I had to trust my wine science knowledge that it would all go clear! The mist is from dry ice which I used to chill the juice down — almost 200 kg worth. Expensive stuff but well worth it as I got crystal clear juice and the solids settled in layers so I could just take the best solids for the ferment. Money well spent.

100% Barrel fermented

100% Barrel fermented

Chardonnay reaches it's greatest complexity when fermented in barrel. I mainly used Tonnellerie Damy barrels with a few older François Frères. Each vineyard has given a different wine. Dessus Les Vermots is super linear and citrusy. Les Saucours is broader with honeydew notes and Les Gollardes is probably the most complete wine — linear, mineral but with good balance on the palate. Should make a cracking blend!

After pressing the Savigny-lès-Beaune “Aux Fourneaux” Pinot Noir on Wednesday, I settled the wine in tank for a few days to ensure only the tastiest (and lightest) lies made it into barrel. Barreling straight from the press doesn’t allow you to select how much or what type of lies makes it into the wine for ageing. In a year like this where I want to emphasise the freshness I only want the finest lies; one to ensure that any remaining sugar gets gobbled up in barrel (as lies are dead yeast cells) and two, I am not looking for broadness that more lies contact can give in a year like 2011, which for me, is all about freshness and verve.

Once the fine lies were selected, I then sent the wine to barrel which filled just (and I mean just, only litres to spare!) six pièces (Burgundian term for a 228L barrel). I was very lucky to be able to buy some second hand barrels from a famous domaine in the Côte de Nuits to complement my one new barrel from Stephané Chassin which you can see me filling above. After seeing the wine from berry through ferment I decided on a program of one new barrel, one barrel that had wine in it for one vintage, three that had been used twice and one that had been used three times. Hopefully this is the right decision but I am erring on the side of less-is-more with regards to oak in the 2011 vintage.

After 20 days on skins, it was time to get the wine out of the wooden fermenting tank and into a press. I decided to press earlier than I may have done in a perfect world but I wanted to preserve the fine tannins that I had extracted during fermentation without having the wine being distracted by firmer tannins that come from leaving the wine on skins for a longer period of time. In another year, but that is not what Bacchus brought this year, and one must endeavour to highlight the best qualities of the vintage which for me this year is fresh flavours and fine tannins.

The most delicate pressing is one done vertically as it doesn’t rip the skins or crush the seeds. The downside is that you don’t get as much wine as you may do with a pneumatic press which you can rotate and thus get rid of any hidden pockets of wine.

Thanks to my great mate, Ray Walker of Maison Ilan, I was able to borrow his ancient wooden basket press made by the house of E. Cherreau — from what the local winemakers in Savigny-lès-Beaune tell me was the best producer of pressoirs and foudres at the time. It took a lot of effort — at one stage there were five of us pushing the handle around — but the results were well worth it as you can see below: —

The mouthfeel of the press wine from the lies (dead yeast cells, mainly) and the greater tannin extraction was spectacular and will make a great foil to the delicacy of the wine that ran free from the tank.

Running the free run wine off (the wine that comes easily off the skins without need for pressing—about 80% of the total amount) was drained in 15 minutes. Putting together the press, digging all of the skins out of the tank, pressing the skins and then cleaning up took us another 8 hours for only a barrel of wine. What love went into this cuvée!

Using a hundred year old press sure was a lot of fun and definitely reinforced my growing reputation in Savigny-lès-Beaune as l’êtranger con (crazy foreigner or idiot foreigner depending on how kind you are being to yourself that day) as we had a steady stream of wine makers visiting all day as the word got out around the village.

Check out the slideshow for more of the fun we got up to: —

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Kelly digging out like a pro!

Kelly digging out like a pro!

With such as small cuverie there was no chance of getting a large, unwieldy, ancient press in there so that meant digging the skins into 30L tubs and then walking them outside to the waiting press.

Hard yakka digging out

Hard yakka digging out

Being the winemaker, I (of course) got to jump in and finish the dig — grab all the glory and such.

Laying the boards

Laying the boards

Looks easy, but trust me on this one. Once all the skins are in the press, you need to lay boards on top to evenly distribute the pressing force. Tetris meets jigsaw puzzle!

Like slaves on a galley — heave!

Like slaves on a galley — heave!

Simon Davies, a former colleague of mine from my days in Publishing, and one of his best mates, Joe, were persuaded to make a dash from Alsace where they were on holiday to help with the pressing. A good day to have two burly guys to move the press head down onto the boards. No wonder one of the oldest winemakers in the village said the last time he saw a vertical press used without at least a belt motor was 1968!

At least I was nice enough to look after my cellar slaves

At least I was nice enough to look after my cellar slaves

2008 Pierro and 2009 Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "Les Folatières" to keep hydration levels high.

Breaking up the marc, old skool!

Breaking up the marc, old skool!

The pressing took about four hours and we tightened the screw only when the wine really slowed down it's flow. If you press too quickly you can be left with pockets of wet marc (read lost wine) — as this press is already pretty inefficient at getting wine out, no point losing any more. After four-ish hours, the marc (pressed skins) was very hard and we needed to use an old Grappin to rip it up so we could get the pressed skins out and off to the distillerie.

Sometimes it helps to have someone smaller than us brutes around

Sometimes it helps to have someone smaller than us brutes around

Kelly again was very game to jump into the press to get the marc out and off to the distillerie. As you can see, there is not a lot of room in there. She sure hasn't let the whole "Assistant Winemaker" at one of Australia's top Shiraz producers go to her head!

Team Decuvage celebrating the end of a long day.

Team Decuvage celebrating the end of a long day.

Joe, Kelly and Simon enjoy a well-earned bottle of Champagne — in this case a Bereche et Fils Les Beaux Regards, a zero dosage 100% Chardonnay. Talk about zingy! Thank you very much guys. I have been so lucky to have such great friends all harvest, that is for sure!

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Yep, that’s me in the wooden tank doing a traditional pigeage with my feet. Traditionally one would get in naked, but modesty and since I had a good friend spotting me, I decided not to embarrass myself. Pigeage is very dangerous so NEVER do it alone! Too many people have died over the years from asphyxiation from the CO2 released including a father and son a few years back in Burgundy.

With this year being a lighter year in Savigny-lès-Beaune I really wanted to emphasise the fresh red-fruit sexiness that make Savigny so special to me so I relied mainly on remontage (taking a portion of the fermenting juice and pouring it back over the top) which is a less extractive form of fermentation management. I only did the one hard pigeage during ferment, right at the end, to release any sugars that were still inside any whole berries.

I am very happy with the results so far — the tannins are very fine and the structure is from the terroir — my vineyard borders on Aloxe-Corton and as such has a firmer body than many Savigny vineyards — rather than from being aggressive with the cap.

Décuvage is a few days away, Tuesday or Wednesday perhaps, to give the wine a few days to recover and tannins to meld before pressing. Exciting to see the wine come together!

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The Dawn Patrol at attention

The Dawn Patrol at attention

The team arrived in the vineyard for the first grapes of the inaugural vintage for Le Grappin. We started at 6am — little did we know that we would still be working 25 hours later. Ahh, the naïveté!

Beautiful Pinot!

Beautiful Pinot!

All our hard work doing a vendages pourri left us with lovely grapes with phenolic ripeness and fresh fruit flavours. On attaque!

L'equipe Knox

L'equipe Knox

Paris and Brian Knox, two mates from the US, harvest the vines. We left all the most beautiful, old vines which were harvested separately and added as whole cluster — about 10% of total.

Mates working hard

Mates working hard

Taken at 3am we were still hard at work making sure only the best berries made it into the vat. I was very lucky to have such a great group of friends who were very happy to help after so many hours without a break. Hopefully my winemaking will make all their efforts worthwhile.

Fruit on the handmade sorting table

Fruit on the handmade sorting table

Grapes look very healthy despite great disease pressure this year. A little on the big size compared to 2010 but I was pretty happy with the quality of what made it into the cuverie. Thanks again to Brian Knox for his amazing bricolage skills in making the sorting table on short notice. Mad props!

Destemming at 5am

Destemming at 5am

Once all the grapes were sorted it was time to fire up the egrappoir. I decided to destem 90% of the fruit, a little more than I would like in a perfect world but we couldn't find anymore of the most lovely clusters to chuck in whole. The 10% whole cluster was laid in the middle and again at the top of the cuve to best promote whole berry fermentation and deliver the lovely feminine qualities. Three of us were at attention on the elevateur as well to pick out any jacks (stems that made it through the detemmer).

The team at 7am

The team at 7am

All the fruit was finally in the cuve at 7am, layered with dry ice to take the must down to 14ºC for a cold maceration which in a year like this is essential (in my most humble of opinions). Despite 25 hours on the trot, everyone managed to maintain grace — a great ambience for the first vintage of Le Grappin. Thanks guys!

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Tomorrow we commence by picking my Pinot Noir in Aux Fourneaux. Fruit tastes great and the vines are shutting down as you can see from the leaves turning orange. Lovely phenolic ripeness so it’s time to go. I have some incredible friends from Australia, South Africa, USA and the UK who will be helping me tomorrow.

Our work earlier this week picking out any pourriture (rot) definitely paid off. Acids have turned from green to balanced and flavours are still fresh.

I hope I get a chance to post tomorrow as I am so excited to get going. So much so that we will be in the vines from 6am to start!

With the cooler weather we have been having we have a great opportunity to let the grapes hang and really develop some killer complexity. The problem? Grapes with mounting sugars are more at risk day by day from pourriture (rot). So we went into Pinot vineyard where a small amount of rot has developed to cut it out, open up the canopy and create the best conditions possible. The time spent in the vineyard is always paid back ten fold in the winery. A winemaker can only make a wine as good as the grapes!

As we are approaching ripeness, I am now also taking pH and Titratable Acidity readings. The progress of pH and Titratable Acidity, for me, is a much better sign of grape maturity than sugars.

Today’s numbers: –

Aux Fourneaux (Rouge) – 11.0 º Potential Alcohol, pH 3.00, TA 5.6
Dessus Les Vermots (Blanc) – 11.5 º Potential Alcohol, pH 2.99, TA 5.3
Les Gollardes (Blanc) – 11.4 º Potential Alcohol, pH 3.00, TA 5.5
Les Saucours (Blanc) – 11.2 º Potential Alcohol, pH 3.01, TA 5.2

Looking good! Maybe Monday (5th) for the whites, mid to late next (7-10th) for the red? If this great weather continues, sure!

 

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View down the row in Aux Fourneaux

View down the row in Aux Fourneaux

I love the sight of Pinot Noir glistening in the morning dew. This is the view Friday morning at 7am when Emma and I were collecting samples for analysis.

Photo of Pinot Noir before efeuillage

Photo of Pinot Noir before efeuillage

Here you can see the grapes covered by leaves. The aim of efeuillage is to open up the canopy to help airflow and allow more sunlight onto the ripening grapes. Leaves are picked from the Northern side (away from direct sunlight).

Pinot after efeuillage

Pinot after efeuillage

Here you can see how much better airflow and sunlight intercept would be on these grapes. With efeuillage I don't like to take all the leaves from the Northern side as the leaves closest to the bunches are the ones that contribute the most in terms of sugar loading into the berries.

Pinot Close Up

Pinot Close Up

This cluster is quite representative of the bunches in my vineyard this year. Berries are large with thick skins and clusters are tight. Flavour is awesome!

There's me sampling Pinot Noir for analysis

There's me sampling Pinot Noir for analysis

World's best looking and talented winemaker sampling berries to do sugars, pH and acid analysis to guide picking decisions. What a handsome fellow!

Absolutely hammered down yesterday but lots of people have started vendages in Savigny-lès-Beaune — a bit early for my taste, but to each his own. The grapes have taken up water from recent deluges and my sugars have even gone backwards based on the samples I took yesterday from dilution effects.

Lovely weather today and forecast through Thursday. I am taking a whole bunch of friends into the Pinot Noir vineyard on Monday to finish the efeuillage I started last week and to remove any grapes affected by pourriture (rot). These two actions should reduce disease pressure and allow me the luxury of waiting until the grapes are at full flavour maturity before picking.

Check out the above slideshow for some amazing photos Emma took while sampling yesterday morning.

 

Lovely little sight in the vineyard this morning. This is the first year that my vines are being farmed organically and it has been wonderful to see a whole ecosystem develop — diversity of weeds, spiders, worms, ladybirds and now birds nesting. Not sure which species made the nest (sparrow perhaps?) but it looks to me like it was abandoned. No eggs or any evidence of having been used. Maybe our little friend didn’t find a mate this year!

Vendages is close. Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet are starting this weekend and I may harvest the whites on Tuesday. We’ll see after I take samples and taste the berries on Friday.

Out in the vineyards today taking samples to get a sense on the progress of the vines. While not a rigid “numbers man” when it comes to picking decisions (I base it on flavour first), it does give one a good sense on how the vines are behaving.

I take 100 berries in a random fashion per vineyard not looking at the bunches as it has been shown in research that one reaches for the ripest grapes even if one if endeavouring to be as scientific as possible. Psychology rears it’s head even amongst the vines. Sugars today are as follows: –

Aux Fourneaux (Rouge) 9.6º
Les Saucours (Blanc) 9.3º
Dessus Les Vermots (Blanc) 9.9º
Les Gollardes (Blanc) 10.0º

Measurements are in º Potential Alcohol which is the system the French use when the grapes are still on the vine. They switch to using Specific Gravity once in the cuverie — that’s the French for you! º Potential Alcohol roughly translates to how much alcohol in percent would be produced if it was fermented into wine.

Grapes are looking good. There is some pourriture in the Pinot Noir which is not surprising given the wet and humid July we had. It just means we need to be very diligent when harvesting, both amongst the vines and again in the cuverie, to ensure no rotten berries make it into the wooden tank.

The blanc is looking very, very good. I am very excited about this vintage for white especially in Savigny-lès-Beaune. I am going to take some more samples on Friday and will set a picking date for the blanc then. My gut says next Wednesday but let’s see.

In Aux Fourneaux, my Pinot Noir vineyard, I am doing some effeuillage, fancy french word for leaf pulling, on the northern side of each row. One, to open up the canopy to lower humidity and thus make conditions better for avoiding rot but also to get some more sun on the grapes giving them the final “kick” into full flavour ripeness.

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