We're in the western-most wing of Burgundy, in a region which was also thick with vineyards before the phyloxera years in the late 19th century. In the vicinity of the town of Joigny along the Yonne river, the vineyards covering the steep slopes of the Yonne (north side) were used to produce a then popular wine named vin gris. According to its History, the Vin Gris is said to have a 1000-year fame behind it, and the king Louis XIV made it his favorite wine in Versailles after having discovered it by accident in 1704. From that time on, the farmer who made this wine was authorized to sell it without paying the usual taxes.
The Vin Gris (grey wine) is a blend where the Pinot gris plays a central role. It looks like a rosé and its aromas and mouthfeel are very different from the rosé wines of the south of France. This pale rosé is made with Pinot Gris, a redish grape variety with a white inside. It's also blended with several varieties : Tressot, Sauvignon and Côt. Thanks to Michel Lorain who created in Joigny the famous gastronomic restaurant La Côte Saint Jacques (now managed by his son Jean-Michel Lorain), this almost-forgotten wine has made a vibrant come back on the table of knowledgeable amateurs. I met Michel Lorain in 2008 as I discovered the wine and I had the project to visit his estate and make a story about the whole thing including himself, but I waited too much and alas I've heard that he sold his winery.
But it was probably written somewhere that I would stumble on the Vin Gris one way or another, and I was invited by Gérard (pic on left), who is part of the wine-tasting group I joined a couple of years ago, to take part to the harvest of his private vineyard (pic on right) near Joigny.
Let's remind that this slowly-resurecting wine region is very small : there are 100 hectares in the Bourgogne Appellation over here, of which 13 hectares in the higher-valued Bourgogne Côte Saint-Jacques. And the share of the Pinot Gris on the whole surface is still very small.
The steep, one-block vineyard is exposed on the south, with a view on the town of Joigny in the far. If the 2 friends can share between themselves the vineyard tasks like the sprayings, the pruning and the grass management, Gérard asks his friends and family (including wife and children) to volunteer for the harvest. It's all done in a weekend and with the good food, the wines and the fun, you don't feel like you really worked that much. This story is about this harvest gathering near Joigny.
The vineyard makes roughly 25 ares (0,25 hectare), divided into Chardonnay on the right, Pinot Noir in the middle and Pinot Gris on the left.
On the picture on left, you can see how we were busy most of the time sorting the bad rot (grey rot) from inside each grape cluster. Sometimes it was so badly and overwhelmingly damaged by the rot that you had to cut the cluster in two to make the sorting easier, especially that these grape clusters were very compact and closed, with no air ventilation between the grapes. This explains probably why the rot developped rapidly. In some instances, we couldn't but discard the whole cluster. There was often an earwig hiding in the grey rot, incidently, which was not particularly funny to deal with, even if we're not kids anymore and aren't afraid of this strange-looking insect. there were plenty of ladybugs too, as well as bees, the latter keeping going on the grapes in the boxes (it had been a long time I haven't seen so many bees, I feel reassured that they're still around).
The pic on right shows the packed-silex (flintstone) nature of the soil here, underlining the interesting minerality of this ancient terroir.
Thanks to our strict following of the guidelines, we still managed to fill the boxes with quite healthy grapes, I begin to understand the challenge faced by experienced pickers working for demanding growers.
Not bad for an amateur grower/winemaker if you think about it : three Burgundy varieties, and one of them being a rebirth with deep roots in this corner of Burgundy. Pinot Gris was probably much more widespread in Burgundy in the times when monks were spreading the civilization of wine in the region. Like in the other French regions, several interesting grape varieties have been left on the side of the road, and this revival in Joigny is welcome.
Michel Lorain who was the pioneer at reintroducing Pinot Gris on the front seat in Joigny, made his Vin Gris as a blend of 4 or 5 varieties, but there's no real fixed compulsory rule (historically at least), and it's probable that the pale rosé favored by the King Louis XIV was made with a large majority of Pinot Gris.
Aeration is really the key to avoid the diseases and grey rot, and I noticed that there was much less occurences of grey mold on the last row on the west side, the one which gets the best of the breeze. Speaking of the vineyard management, Gérard isn't farming organic, he's already busy (when he's in the region) learning the basic maintenance of a vineyard, and an organic farming would mean staying there year around which he can't do because of his job in Paris. But if I take into account the high incidence of grey rot this year, I don't think that he sprayed excessively.
That's when I discovered another non-commercial drink made by some other people here : Bruno's cider. Bruno (pictured here with a mug) brought his own cider today, he is making a very beautiful cider on the most artisanal way, and he even makes several types of ciders, all using old varieties of apples that he gets from farmers he knows. What we're drinking here is two years old and it's delicious. He makes it in casks like you would do for wines. The varieties of apples are : Chataignier, Sebin, Petit locas and Avrolles. The Avrolles apples are very important, he says, to get a good cider, this is a variety that is riping later. Bruno and several of his friends ordered 1,7 metric ton of apples to a farmer, enough for each to make a full barrel of cider, the total pressing volume making as high as 1200 to 1300 liters. They're working together like we're all doing here, and they share the precious liquid after then. The apple juice ferments in the casks, with the bung partly opened to let the gas go out, and after then they seal the hole in a way that there's still an exchange with the outside. In the following march, he begins the bottling with a sugar addition, and the cider begins to be ready for drinking by mid july.
This unpasteurized cider lets itself drink very easily, with everything well connected, the bubbles, the aromas, the substance... The big bottle is from a cuvée where he added some (natural) blackberry extract, and the cider has notes reminding the Kriek, a Belgian beer with a surprising fruit aroma. The other one is "nature", nothing else than apples, and it's two year old. It's great to drink somethink like that, quite different from a cider found on supermarket shelves. I'm wondering if the reason people drink less cider could be the fact that much of what is sold in shops has lost the touch with the real thing.