It’s Thursday and our turn poker night at our house. The guys were insepcting the labels for a new wine of Benji’s that’s about to be bottled and then got stuck into drinking some others.
I was so excited, Benji put a great bottle of white in the freezer and I left them (wringing my hands in anticipation) in the kitchen as they sat down to play. Half-an-hour later I reminded Benji about his bottle chilling and he held one up and said ‘Oh this one? It’s finished’. My mouth dropped. The scoundrels!
Time to come to the computer and vent some steam.
(I should admit I got to bring a twentieth of a glass of chardonnay with me – so generous of you fellas)
I’d been meaning to put up some long-overdue photos anyway.
So for you, here’s a round-up of the 2012 grape harvest in our little area, the village of La Liviniere, in the Minervois region. In our village alone, of approxiamtely 600 people, there are 16 vignerons (winemakers/vineyard owners producing their own brand) and about 150 viticulturalists processing their grapes with the local Cave Co-operative.
It’s been a good harvest and people seem pretty happy about what they’ve picked – despite the kaleidoscope of weather. Essentially, we had good rain, good sun, good wind and the vineyard owners and vignerons are happy to see their babies off the vines and in the tanks.
Gone for the moment the need to check on the weather patterns 24/7 and the worries of the wiles of Nature , it’s now time to work inside the cellars and nurture the juice.
While the viticulteurs take it easier, the vignerons need to keep up a a seven day working week. It is now that crucial decisions, with their accompanying stress, need to be made regarding the precious juice and its management and development.
However, I can say that the general climate in our house is now pleasantly mild with fewer storms brewing on the front .
It looks like the weather has very much picked up: it’s sunny and blue-skied with cool, northerly winds to help dry out the vines. The nights are fresh and the days warm and it’s forecast to stay like this for the week (we have the ‘meteo’ info on the computer here, updating 24/7!) which makes for a happy vigneron in the house.
This morning was particularly beautiful and there was a wonderful hum in our area today – of expectation, new starts and industry. The sky was clear, children all went back to school and many of the grape growers were beginnng their harvest.
I can’t begin to tell you how much the atmosphere changes around here once people begin to pick their grapes. A whole year’s work and energies culminate in this event and the villages are charged with excitement.
As for any farmer about to harvest, the weather reports are extremely important at this time of year. Any dodgy behaviour – hail, rain, extreme heat – can disturb or destroy the whole year’s work. Stressful times indeed, until all those babies are in, safe in their presses or tanks.
I’ve often pondered this while picking grapes (and how much time you have to ponder!) as looks of stress etched themselves on Benji and his vineyard managers’ faces as the skies filled with ominous storm clouds. But for me, these ideas of vulnerability for the poor grapes were quickly erased by the more exciting idea of ditching secateurs and having the rest of the day off. Maybe even the next day off too! Outrageously WRONG!!!
It wasn’t until I was following a small tractor today, loaded with white grapes, that I fully understood the joy for the growers finally taking their kiddies to their cellars.
Who would have thought, with this beautiful, serene morning…
That by evening we’d have a huge storm with some of the loudest ‘tonnerre’ (thunder) I’ve ever heard.
It was suddenly POURING with rain in the strangest directions, the rain lashing at the window before me while I was chopping at the kitchen bench and Lilas asked me if I thought we’d have an ‘inondation’ (flood).
‘Umm, I don’t think so sweetie!??!!!’ .Not necessarily such a big exaggeration either. We had a huge flood in the Minevois in 1999, and I’d only been explaining it to her a few days earlier.
Pretty strange weather, but hopefully not that strange.
It didn’t flood, but we had about 30mm of water. Not a great thing for the vines at this time of year. The grape bunches are now so big and beautiful – and almost there! It’s humid too, so not a great combination. The last thing the vineyards want is to rot.
Our friend at dinner last night mentioned the story of a vineyard in Burgandy, where she witnessed a helicopter hovering over a rain-drenched vineyard, fanning it dry! Those Burgundians.
Not quite the decadence of Burgandy here. Benji’s hoping for some good old fashioned wind and keeping the ‘soucis’ (worries) at bay with a little night poker!
I’ll be back later with the checklist of what they drank!…
There was a beautiful orange glow lighting up our room early this morning and I couldn’t wait to get outside to see what the garden and it’s adjacent vines looked like in that light…
It’s nearing ‘les vendanges’ (harvest time for the grapes – or vintage, as we say in Australia) and it looks like it will be about a week early. The grapes are all looking pretty good (those night visits helped!) and Benji’s only 3/4 stressed. What you see above are bunches of ‘Syrah’. Some of our friends have already started on their whites here in the Minervois, but our red grapes here probably have another week to go before the chop! My days of picking are long gone I’m sorry to say. Darn that back. Everytime I see the pickers out in the heat with their broad smiles, sticky and dirty hands, having a laugh with each other, I get so nostalgic! I never realised how much fun and satsfaction I’d have from finishing a row – finishing a whole vineyard! – with a team. I was only beginning to learn French and so a lot of my time in the row was spent listening to mad, sun-induced conversations I had little or no chance of undersatnding, kind advice from a few of the pickers on how to learn French in Three Easy Steps, or being asked to rattle off sentences out loud to everyone, whose meaning I had no idea about, with hysterical laughter greeting them. They’d ask me to repeat these word for word to ‘the boss’ at home, and then I would know what they meant!… Sentences full of ‘gros mots’ (what the lttle ones call ‘swear words) apparently!
The only thing I couldn’t bring myself to doing was guzzling down the red at lunchtime. How did they do that? You stop for a very LONG 90 minutes (these traditions of meal times must be respected. Geez, in Australia it was a brisk 30 minutes), and then get going again in the full force of the afternoon heat, to finish at 5pm. Most people were very un-Anglo-Saxon and would have just the one glass, but some of the guys would go crazy! I’d look over at the red faces with red in their bellies and wonder how they kept standing, or kept from snipping their fingers. My lunch break was a much less festive affair: lunch with a spectacular view, a very petite conversation in the French that I had, and then a long nap in the vines. Not much else to do out there. But it was so much fun.
A lot of people are already proclaiming that it will be a good year, but it’s hard to know until everything is safe off the vines! Fingers crossed.