August 22nd, La Cadière d'Azur (Provence).
No, global warming has'nt worsened yet to such an extent that Bandol's Mourvèdre is being harvested that early ! Today is the first harvest day at the Domaine Bunan of Bandol, but for the early-ripening Sauvignon only. This first rehearsal day of the harvest season is taking place in the small (0,5 hectare) Bélouvé plot located between Le Castellet and La Cadière d'Azur.
The weather is optimal today, warm but not too much, and the pickers began to work at 7 am. There are 12 of them, plus 2 bucket-carriers and the tractor driver. Later, several members of the Bunan family, including children, will join for this first day.
Michel Ferrus, viticulture manager, oversees how the pickers work, looks for forgotten clusters behind them and checks in the gondola for undesirable grapes or leaves. He was originally an independent vigneron (bringing his grapes the the local coop) somewhere else before working at Domaine Gentile, an organic estate with high, qualitative farming standards in Corsica. Thereafter he chose to work on the continent for family reasons and was hired by Bunan. He says that the job here is exciting and that he likes the way the Bunans trust his work in the vineyard.
I first speak to Jennifer and Jerome [picture on the left]. Most pickers have already worked in a vineyard, but Michel says that anyone can call at the Domaine and will eventually be given a try. As everything is picked manually in the region, there is work for those ready to be on the spot early.
The pickers have to find and cut the clusters one by one, which is not always easy because the canopy is thick and because the Sauvignon clusters are dense and short, with the stem often difficult to reach with the shears. They sometimes work blind and the fingers are at risk...
The Domaine Bunan has the Qualenvi certification which gives a frame to protect the environment in the vineyard. The philosophy here is sustainable agriculture. The generally dry climate allows it, although the proximity of the sea can bring some humidity and oïdium in certain circumstances.
This year has been dry (I often heard in the region that there had been no rain since last march) but the wind on the Bandol Appellation zone prevented the grapes to dry. The vines of this plot, which are 30 years old, are also deeply rooted in the clay/limestone soil. The Sauvignon will be blended with another white variety, the Clairette Pointue and will be bottled as Bandol white for the Moulin des Costes of the Domaine Bunan. This Sauvignon will make about 20 hectoliter of wine and will amount to 10% of the total blend, the rest being another 5% of Ugni Blanc and 85% of Clairette Pointue. The Clairette vineyards are both here near Bélouvé and in the immediate vicinity of the Bunan winery a few kilometers away.
While I take a few pictures and record the soundtrack I notice that the pickers tend to work alone, or near someone they can chat with depending of their personality.
The bucket carriers regularly [like Samy on left] grab the containers (replacing them immediately) and empty them in the gondola. The gondola is not that far as the tractor moves every now and then, but the pickers must not be distracted from their task.
Later, the Bunans arrived on the Bélouvé plot to take part to the harvest (several of them can be seen on the picture on top) for this first day : Pierre, Philippe, Laurent, Francoise, Claire and several young children (see young alexandre helping Ahmed, the tractor driver, pic bottom right)... I had met Francoise Bunan near a highway exit this morning and I followed her car on my motorcycle to the vineyard. By the way, she is the one at Bunan who initiated a special light rosé cuvée named "Délire des Domaines Bunan", a 6° "lir" (not wine). A lir is made out of wine through "lirisation", meaning that through a special technical process, some of the alcohol is removed from the wine. The new product (which is priced at 7,5 Euro) addresses the clientele wary of taking in too much alcohol. I did not taste it but it is said to carry fresh aromas without the richness that alcohol can provide. about 3000 bottles are made of this lir.
The heat was beginning to peak when I left the joyous company. On the way I took the small winding road to the winery where I tasted the 2004 millesime of this white :
__Bandol Blanc - Moulin des Costes - Domaines Bunan 2004. Blend for this one was 60% Clairette Pointue, the rest in Sauvignon and Ugni Blanc. Straight nose. Sucrosity, and nice richness in the mouth. By the way I appreciate the way they put a tag on the back of each bottle with the day it was opened. After tasting a few other wines, I finished with my favorite : Bandol red Moulin des Costes 2001. Beautiful complexity. A pleasure in the mouth. Mourvèdre 55%, Cinsault 25%, Grenache 15%, Syrah 5%. Good value for 15 Euro. And I always like to know that this bottle can be forgotten in a cellar for 20 years.
Before leaving I went on the back of the building anf found Paul Bunan busy near the de-stemmer machine and the 2 prssses with chai master Laurence Minard while the tractor was bringing a full load of clusters, checking the many details like the temperature of the grapes before-and-during the transfer through the refrigerated pipes, the SO2 protection system, and the sugar level in grapes (with an optical tool).
I really appreciated the fact that in spite of all the things he had to think to, and without notice, Paul Bunan picked up a glass and filled it for me with the free-run juice of Sauvignon. A wonder with an incredible beige-brownish colour and a delicacy in the mouth : pure sun and sugar...