Another load of Côt grapes were pushed by the belt elevator into the Grenier wooden vat as Noella Morantin was checking the filling and she brushed off the grapes from her head with a laugh. This is Noella Morantin's first harvest from her own vineyards, I mean, she rents them from the nearby Clos Roche Blanche winery, but it is still her first vintage as a wholly independant estate making wine from its own vineyards. She worked for years for Les Bois Lucas (owned by Japanese Junko Arai), where she vinified natural wines from organic vineyards. Her new location is a handful of kilometers from there, on the same southern bank of the Cher river in the Loire Valley, and as she was looking for vineyards, she jumped at the opportunity that Didier Barrouillet and Catherine Roussel of Clos Roche Blanche wanted to downsize their surface by half. The soils and vineyards benefited from years of care and from the organic farming of Didier, which was essential for the types of wines that she wanted to make. The vineyards, which are intermingled with the ones that CRB keeps for itself, sit on the upper hill on the slopes along the Cher river and are surrounded by woods with a lot of wild life (including roe deers against which they had to set up an electric fence).
She wasn't afraid of all of the tasks that awaited her when she would set up her own winery, and at the Bois Lucas she was already doing as well the vineyard work (a hard work when organic, particularly for a woman) as the cellar/winemaking one. On the financial side, she took a loan at the bank, for the first expenses and also for the investments in tools and machinery, and she hired Laurent Saillard [pictured on left as he checks the sugar level] part time for the vineyard work (Laurent left his Brooklyn restaurant to start a new life in the Loire wine world).
As these vineyards were made available by CRB only from last autumn (after the harvest 2008), Noella made wines in 2008 with purchased grapes. Here again, she bought the grapes from fellow vignerons who farm their vineyards organicly and use no additives or lab yeasts.
The harvest team was made of 16 pickers diverse for the age and the origins, there was Jessica, the British of the team [pictured on the right listening to the tips of Noella] and there was also a Californian woman living in Paris, Theresa Murphy. She is the webmaster of lacucinaditeresa.com, a website devoted to good food and cuisine. Theresa gives cooking classes in Paris and as she likes the natural wines, she wanted to be part of a harvest and share the dream. The other pickers were from around the village, aged from the late teens to the late 50s.
It's not the first time that Noella overlooks a harvest, but she is still very vigilant, making sure that the pickers have empty-boxes at hand to replace the full ones that Laurent [pic on right] hauls to the tractor. As I chat here and there with the pickers, she gently speeds the ones that are behind. Each picker makes one side of a row, and after a while, some pickers are way ahead of others, either they're very good or their appointed row had vey few clusters to pick. The Chardonnay (and later the Sauvignon) was pressed in a building sitting on the edge of the vineyards. Noella rents the press of Didier and Catherine because her press is an old horizontal press not suited for the whites. Didier's pneumatic press is very qualitative and she uses her non-pneumatic press for the reds because these are mostly macerated grapes. After pressing, the white juice goes down by gravity in the CRB cellar underneath and she brings it after a night to her own cellar at la Tesnière a kilometer away. She got an authorization from the Douanes Françaises (the French Customs are in charge of controlling the alcoholic-beverages production in France) for this, it is a document known under the acronym of DAA.
The harvest began september 15 and ended october 5, this was a long stretched harvest, the different plots having to be picked in time, not before or after, which means that the pickers came sometimes just for half a day if the block was small. On the last harvest day (it was in the morning), monday october 5, they had lunch with the pickers who came that day, they did it at La Tesnière in the large open courtyard. This harvest team was composed of a nucleus of 2 or 3 veteran pickers that she was used to, and the rest were newcomers, mostly locals. Everything went smoothly overall, she says in retrospect. This end-of-harvest lunch is named the Berlot in the region, and it is of course very festive and relaxed. Theresa had sent from Paris cookies (Baci di Dama) that she had made herself of course, and Noella had poured her 2008 wine for the occasion, and the whole thing lasted well into 4 or 5pm. In these circumstances you always pray that there will be no breath checks on the roads around (monday afternoon is usually safe in this regard...).
When it comes to the subject of checking the juice, she says that she tastes the juices every day. The white wines are already fermenting in casks in the cellars and she checks the density every 2-3 days, tasting them at the same occasion. She checks every day the density of the reds, which are macerating on the skins (the pomace). In the wooden vats (the Gamay and the Côt), it's 100% wholeclusters. In the stainless-steel vat (Gamay), it's 60% destemmed and 40% whole.
For her whites, she bought additional casks. She bought them from Stéphane Cossais who was a close friend (he died recently at the age of 42). Last year she had spoken to Stéphane who told her that he would put several tonnes (400-liter casks) on the side for her. They had been in touch a few days before his unexpected death to confirm this deal over the used casks. Frantz Saumon, who helped Stéphane's wife deal with the aftermath at the winery, reserved 9 casks for her and Noëlla feels deeply moved by the fact that she now uses Stéphane's casks.
She has already an idea of what the different cuvées could be in 2009 : there should be a 100% Chardonnay (still wine probably), that will be named Terres Blanches, this was the name that Didier and Catherine used for this particular plot. There should be two cuvées of Sauvignons. One will be made with the old vines, she will use the nickname that was used at CRB for this particular vineyard : "Chez Charles", Charles being the first name of the previous owner of the plot. The second Sauvignon cuvée will be made with the young vines, it could be named les Pichiaux (it's the cadastral, or land-register name of the plot). Thereafter she will have a cuvée of Côt. the Côt vineyard is a small-yields 1950 one, quite old, so, if not as old as the one that Clos Roche Blanche kept for themselves (100 + years). She should name the cuvée Côt à Côt. From her Cabernet Sauvignon, she made rosé this year. She made also a try with a cask of red wine with this Cabernet (which was the last variety to be picked). It's now fermenting and it was destemmed by hand (she put aside 15 boxes to make this cask). The Gamay : She will make one or two cuvées, she doesn't know yet. If two cuvées, there will be a cuvée "Mon Cher" (she already made one last year with her purchased grapes), and a cuvée "la Boudinerie" for a Vin de Soif, a thirst wine going with cochonailles, boudin and saucisson. la Boudinerie is the name of the farm that she rents and where the chai is located. The old land-register name was la Closerie de la Tesnière but it changed for some unknown reason in the 19th century to la Boudinerie (maybe they made blood sausage there at that time).
Her first 2009 wines, the fermentations willing (including the malolactic one, she doesn't "force" the fermentations, the wine decides), could begin to be ready next april 2010, but it is difficult to know in advance. She invested in new insulated doors in the chai (she takes loans for her investments and expenses and she says that she appreciates that in her case, the bank is following and attentive to her needs).
I ask her to recapitulate her vinification : she uses indigenous yeasts only (no lab yeast), there is no SO2 adding in the fermentation vats and the only use of SO2 is when she racks a cask (and there is only one racking), then she puts only 1 gram to 1,5 gram of SO2 per hectoliter which is very little. There will be no SO2 added at bottling. She just bottled some Sauvignon 2008 and this wine saw a small SO2 adding only once, at the racking stage, it had zero SO2 during the entire year it stayed in the casks. This wine simply was never in contact with a single additive before the racking... [I think that there's no mystery here, this life and pleasure that these type of wines convey is rooted in the let-them-live philosophy of their vinification. A wine offers so much more when it is raised with this careful-but-respective approach than when it is forcefully formated by a battery of lab and biotech additives]. Speaking of the 2009 wines, there will be lots of acitity in many wine regions and some people will be tempted to de-acidify the wines. She of course disregards these tricks, the vintage is the vintage and the wines will express it, plus the cellaring potential of the wine will be very good here.
About the malo ferm, all her 2008 whites had it completed (except the Menu Pineau). For the 2009 wines, if they start by themselves it's fine, if not, it will mean that the wines reached their natural balance without feeling the need to do the malo, and if it tastes well, that's fine.
Her next gatherings and fairs : first, the one with Joe Dressner at the end of october in New York with the vignerons of the Loir et Cher département, with additional tastings at Chambers Street Wines and at Ten Bells. Then in Holland with importer Vljeck. Then the Vins du Coin, a small wine fair with 20 natural-wine estates, it will be next december 5-6 in the Haras de Blois (in Blois). Then Natura Vini, a fair in Poitiers on dec 12-13. All her reds are sold out but she has some Sauvignon 2008 available.