This is it : the 2011 vintage, with all its suprise turnabouts, the drought, the heat in the spring, then a rainy and cold summer, plus some sun to cover it all at the end, this is all behind us and harvest time has come. From now on, it's hard to predict what this shaky weather will yield, and we might get a surprise, as these artisan winemakers whom we like to follow tend to make the best of difficult conditions.
At Clos Roche Blanche, the harvest began friday last week, this was still august and the Sauvignon grapes are the first to be picked. While Didier stays in the cellar or at the press, Catherine manages the team of pickers who will be around there from 2 to 3 weeks. You can see on this picture the joyful diversity of the vineyard, where flowers and various plants grow, some of them being edible like wild garlic, leeks or lamb's lettuce. The soil is itself fully alive, even if we don't visualize it so easily, with an active microbian life and happy earthworms. The wine is what it is undoubtly because of all this.
There is always a high demand for pickers in the French wine regions, and if you're around and look hard, you should find a job as a picker. You have to take care of your accomodation though, few wineries lodge the pickers nowadays. You must also have working papers to work in France (or in the EC), because there are sometimes surprise checks from the French administration in the vineyard to see if all the pickers are registered (the penalty is enormous for the grower is someone is caught without valid papers). As I get emails about the issue from non-European citizens, I can advise as a solution to register as student in France (ideally in a viticulture school), which should allow side jobs like this one.
Asked about the quality of the harvest, Catherine says that it's not too bad. Of course there's some rot here and there resulting from the rainy summer, and they sort these grapes out, but there's also some wasp bites and they must spot the grapes with these bites and cut them down. What you see in the gondola is otherwise a very beautiful harvest, very healthy. The acidity is low at this stage after the press, like 4 grams, even though the nights were often cold in summer. The rain main explain that. Sugar is fine, between 12 and 12,5. The Sauvignon of this plot will go into the cuvée Sauvignon # 2.
As Noella Morantin hadn't begun to harvest when we passed (she began the following day), we decided to make a surprise visit at her facility. Noëlla rents 7 or 8 hectares of vineyard to Clos Roche Blanche and her winery is just on the other side of the woods that you saw on the pictures above. As expected, the chai was in full preparation mode for the harvest, with extensive water cleaning on everything. Hygiene is essential for natural winemaking because there's usually no sulphur adding during the fermentation process or at the arrival of the grapes.
Noëlla has some adjustments made in the chai recently : the cement ground wasn't flat in some areas and she had it evened up. Now it will be more functional and easier to move vats or other tools around.
The turquoise boxes on the picture are the harvest boxes, they will be filled with the pickers' buckets and hauled to the chai. See my story on Noëlla's harvest 2 years ago, you can see how dry the grass was then compared to 2011.
Noëlla just bottled her Cot 2010 and she gave us a bottle that we drank the same evening with a couple of friends. Gorgeous drink, suave liquid food, you don't expect that from a Côt which is not even a year old.