The end of harvest is always a special turning point in wineries, a big part of the wine job has been made, I'd even say most of the wine job has been made for wineries making uncorrected wines (because the vineyard work is central there), and everyone rejoices in the courtyard in front of the chai, the pickers because they could hold through long days of arduous work and the staff because they could manage all the timing with the weather conditions, ordering schedule for the different parcels and taking care of the food & board for the pickers. Here at Dominique Derain, the pickers had "reserved" their job since may (I guess they'd been queuing until the ban des vendanges otherwise), they're housed upstairs above the chai, a prime location with no loss of time after- and before work, and considering what I think the food is, their working conditions are pretty enviable.
I had come across a couple of downpours on my way from Paris to Chalon-sur-Saone, which is not very pleasant on a motorbike but in Saint-Aubin it was dry even though the sky was grey. When I dropped unannounced this friday afternoon toward 5 pm at Dominique Derain, I was thinking there might be a chance to see some kind of activity at his facility but what I saw exceeded my expectations.
I had not called ahead because it's only while en route that I realized I'd pass next to Saint-Aubin (and anyway nobody answers the phone in these days). Outside, I spotted what was obviously a picker's car decorated with flowers (pic on left), a hint that harvest could be approaching its end. This happened to be indeed the last harvest day and all the pickers, staff and Dominique Derain of course were gathered, having a few glasses and celebrating the moment. There were still a couple dozens boxes of white grapes at the back of a tractor waiting to be loaded into in the Vaslin press and as it was still early Dominique had set up this festive apéritif.
At one point during this open-air apéritif, Dominique asked that several boys take care of the last boxes of chardonnay that had to be pressed, and they swiftly unloded them into the Vaslin which was waiting at the door of the chai.
While we were chatting before this, Dominique Derain told me about the importance of the moon phases all over the process, the harvest ideally must take place in the moon schedule and not only with respect of the rains that can be forecast in the harvest time window and that growers try to anticipate. But he says foremost the plant must be ripe : the grapes must have sugar and taste well and when these two conditions are met the plant must be ripe too. Every year he says, Mathias Thun, the son of maria Thun publishes around november a moon calendar (Calendrier des Semis in France) for the following year and he says they can virtually know already by november when the following picking will take place. He makes himself his forecast in december/january and it's always on target with a few days error margin, even this year where other early forecast predicted a much earlier harvest due to early blossoming, it happened that things slowed down afterwards and that his moon-based estimates were correct.
Here at Derain they began picking monday 15 and ended a few days later, the 20th of september, it's right in the time frame predicted by the moon calendar and he observes this synchronicity year after year.
Speaking on the weather this year here, there was no winter in terms of temperature (mild) and lots of rain, then from february to june it was dry and from mild to hot (peaking at 37 ° C or 99 °F) in early june, then some showers at the end of june helped relieve the drought (especially for the just-replanted vines), there was an episode with destructive hailstorms in Pommard in late june. July was a mix of high temperatures and rain storms, rain continued in august until the 27th when sunny weather, no rains, nice temperatures like 27 ° C (80 ° F) and a breeze that repelled the threat of rot on the grapes.
Speaking of sprayings he started later than usual because of the dry spring, and they stopped earlier because of the last dry weeks with wind, overall he sprayed less than the two previous years and this year will be in the average in that regard.
The reds were already fermenting in the chai behind the press, dispatched in the Grenier wooden fermenters lined up along the wall (you get a better picture of the whole room on top of this earlier story of mine). Dominique says that the grapes were taken in at a temperature of 22-23 ° C (71,6-73,4 ° F) and thus it fermented right away. He's happy for this vintage because the grapes were healthy and they'll reach an alcohol level between 12 and 13 %, except the aligoté which will be at 11,5 % which will be perfect he adds for the cuvées Chute Derain (a sparkling) or Allez Goutons (still white for easy drinking).
Something funny happened as we were chatting in the courtyard, and this was coincidentally on target with what we were talking about : We were in direct view with the street as the gates were open and Dominique suddenly pointed to me a man near a sleek white car who was taking containers from his trunk and walked away with them, this was an enologist who was apparently doing an urgent delivery for an urgent additive to a winery nearby. I'm sorry that I was not fast enough to snatch a picture, the container was I think a 5-liter one, there were no markings on it and Dominique himself had no idea what type of liquid additive it could be, but if you spent time walking in these villages with still many wineries you'd certainly see things like that routinely at this time of the year.
Here Le Ban is the name of a parcel, this will be labelled under the Saint-Aubin appellation.
The parcel of Gevrey-Chambertin here is the fathest parcel among the ones Dominique Derain works on.