The evening of the remontage and visit with Valérie (recapped here and here), Didier told me there would be little to do for a few days and that I should take advantage of them to visit other growers. I had a loose itinerary of people to see, and the following morning I called Thierry Puzelat on his cell.
"We're actually on our last day of harvest. Wanna come?"
The answer was an obvious YES!!!!!! When I pulled into Les Montils, Thierry was loading the just harvested Menu Pineau from the Brin de Chèvre parcel into the press.
From press, it goes into a débourbage concrete tank before being racked into barrel.
Débourbage translates to "racking off the gross lees", which is apt because they are in fact quite gross:
It looks like a honey-mustard factory. Yuck.
Thierry's harvest began on September 19th, and would finish on the day I showed up, October 6th. After lunch with the harvest team, we grabbed our sheers and drove over the a parcel of old vine Romorantin, the oldest being planted in 1905!
"This is the highest yields we've ever seen here."
The grapes were indeed plentiful and magnificent.
Thierry was getting in the mix.
Everything was going great for the first ten minutes. Then, in a bold move of over-confidence, I went for a bunch hidden behind some leaves and cut my finger pretty bad! Much to my surprise, Thierry had a first aid kit and patched me up so I could continue working.
I debated putting up a picture of my extremely bloody hand, but decided that while profanity and nudity (mostly in the form of absurd paintings) is ok, I must draw the line at gore.
Harvesting took about an hour and half, and we couldn't have finished at a better time since it started raining heavily just minutes after we'd loaded all the grapes into the truck.
After a short drive back to Les Montils, we went right to the press.
Unloading the grapes took about 20 minutes, and the press lasts 2:30 to 3 hours depending on the load. Once again, the juice was racked to a débourbage tank, this time much smaller.
The Romorantin we harvested will have to be labeled Vin de France, as it lies just outside of the Cour-Cheverny AOC. Thierry was making it under the Puzelat-Bonhomme label for years, but in 2014 this will be a Tue-Boeuf wine.
In the cellar, an employee was testing the sugar/acidity/PH of the Menu Pineau.
While the harvesters celebrated the end of harvest, Thierry and I tasted some juices.
P'Tit Blanc 2014 had a few grams of sugar left, and was in full malo.
P'tit Buisson 2014 had way more sugar, but tasted good.
"Once you're about 2/3rd done with fermentation, you can start tasting aromatic complexities."
Frileuse is an assemblage of Fié Gris (a strain of Sauvignon) planted in 1998 and Chardonnay planted from massale in 1967. We tried two separate barrels.
"The maturities in each barrel are about a week apart, and they bring balance to each other."
The first was denser and richer, the second more tense and bright.
We then tried the the Brin de Chèvre that had been pressed just hours earlier.
"A slight oxidation on the juice means you won't have any on the wine. It's a guarantee that it can handle it from an early stage. The brown color will be gone in 5 days."
Then we tried the Gamay Vin de France 14, which is made with a 100% carbonic maceration. It was in full malolactic fermentation and had a muddy, murky color. The malic acid tasted awful.
"It's pretty gross right? Once it's finished, it softens up considerably."
I asked Thierry if he gets much from tasting the juice.
"For me, it's about tasting if the juice is pure and in good shape. As I mentioned earlier the aromatic complexities come later. For now it's about making sure the juices are in good shape and to spot any potential issues before they become insurmountable."
The last two wines I tried were a special new experiment, Menu Pineau and Pinot Noir from Caillière made in amphora! They were totally wild and tasted nothing like what you'd expect from a Tue-Boeuf wine. Both spent 6 months on the skins and were bottled un-sulphured. Thierry showed me the 2014's fermenting:
Oh and the soon to be available Caillière 2013 (3 week maceration, 10 months in barrel) is absolutely delicious.
We then joined the harvesters and hung out until really late.
Apologies for the lack of recent updates. All the craziness leading up to our annual portfolio tasting (which was a huge success!) and a trip to DC has set me back on posting new stuff on the blog, but rest assured that there will soon be a FLURRY of new content, including new interviews, producer visits, and of course our annual HARVEST REPORTS, which have usually already been published at this point.
Louis/Dressner Selections: We've Got Internet Content!™
On a lovely afternoon, Julien Pineau and I accompany Didier to Domaine de la Méchinière, an estate run by Valérie Forgues. Didier chose to wear this sweet T-Shirt, purchased in NYC during a trip in 1998.
Founded in 1999, Méchinière spans 14 hectares in Mareuil-sur-Cher, is planted in the 6 grapes of the Touraine AOC and is in its second year of converting the vines to organic viticulture. Didier met Valérie because she is dating his brother, and for the last few years has been helping her out in the cellar.
"She's gone through a lot of setbacks and I think she deserves the help. She's a fast learner and I think that she will be able to do everything on her own very soon."
Here is her awesome dog Drago, Crusher of Souls.
The reason for our visit was to scope out the damage from the what would turn out to be the hot topic on everyone's mind: the drosophila suzukii. Originally from Japan, these flies have been fucking shit up in the US since 2008, and were first spotted in France sometime in 2010. They look like fruit flies (which are a common occurrence around fruits, so no one really worried at first), and feed themselves by stinging soft summer fruits and sucking out the sugars. They also lay their eggs between the skin and the pulp, and in both cases the berries start turning to vinegar. Normally these bugs die after summer, but the strange climactic conditions of 2014 kept them around too long. As far as anyone knows, this is the first time they've actively targeted grapes in France.
Here's what the damage looks like:
"It's crazy. Here we are a few days after our Pineau D'Aunis harvest, and you can easily spot the damaged grapes. When we were picking ours, you could barely see the stings and the only way to know was smelling the bunches to see if they stunk of vinegar. Good luck explaining that to the harvesters!"
Valérie was one of the last people in the area to harvest her Pineau D' Aunis, so this was a rare opportunity to see what the grapes look like after about a week after being stung. The worst is reports of suzukii bites began only TWO WEEKS before harvest, which many believed was going to be an abundant year after the very challenging 2012 and 2013 (I've heard some growers have lost up to 50% of their harvest because of this).
Still, not all hope was lost:
"The grapes that haven't been stung are ripe and in good shape. This is salvageable, but only if you hit the tank with sulfur immediately after cuvaison. Otherwise the vinegar yeasts, which are in full force, will take over."
Stories like this are stark reminders that the work of a vigneron is one of constant adaptation, and that dogmatic extremism -I'm specifically referring to sulfur use here- can only work in ideal conditions or states of complete mastery (Overnoy, Dard & Ribo and Massa Vecchia immediately come to mind). Many vignerons who traditionally do not sulfur during vinification felt obliged to do so this year, and I do not fault them for it: if they hadn't I can't imagine what the juices would have ended up as. For Valérie, whose Pineau D' Aunis rosé is a big seller, you can understand why she'd be losing sleep at night over this.
On a brighter note, we then visited Valérie's 80+ year old Chenins, which were in tip-top shape and ready to make some bubbles.
After a walk through the vines, we went to taste the juices in the cellar, which had a shockingly over-powering odor of reduction.
"It's intense right?"
These crazy concrete tanks that looked like submarines captured my imagination.
We tasted Sauvignon from an organic parcel, and Sauvignon Rose from one in conversion. We also tried some Gamay.
Outside, I admitted to Julien that tasting juice is really hard, and that I found it almost impossible to tell what was going on.
"Me too. But it's still fun to do!"