Loire Harvest 2011: Domaine de la Pepiere

9/4/11 -

(The end of the day at Domaine Pepiere)

In 2001, by the end of September, Eben Lillie was back on the street making deliveries for CSW. In 2011, he's in the Loire Valley helping out during the harvest at Domaine de la Pepiere and later at Clos Roche Blanche. Here are his first reports... Wednesday, August 31st: Lots of rot (pourriture) in the vineyards, rain for 3 days last week has caused problems as the grapes bunches are consumed. Marc is worried about yields this year, as we were cutting off most of a bunch just to save 10 or 20 grapes out of what would normally be around 100. Luckily they have some new vineyards this year, one that is through the first year of conversion to organic and has very good soil and a good slope facing the sun, which we were harvesting today, called Les Tigres. We will finish that parcel tomorrow and move on to the young vines at the Briords site. Marc says he can't remember a vintage with this much rot in the vineyard since maybe 1994, and he simply can't remember a year with as much rain as they got in July and August. He's not happy but he says this year will really show the difference between machine harvesting and hand harvesting, and will show that the hard work in the vineyard and the close attention to detail is very important. They are tasting the juice every day, multiple times a day, to see how it is evolving... With the machine harvesting in the area, they usually have to add lots of SO2, then also use coal to absorb flavor from the rotten grapes, then because that isn't enough, cream also, so they end up with a juice that is completely flat, devoid of flavor. and then they add the yeasts.


Thursday, Sept 1st;

Today I spent the morning with Remi, Marc's associate, and the afternoon harvesting in the vines. We took yesterday's press juice (the last, most concentrated juice of the pressing) for filtration, then returned in time to receive the grapes for the first crush of the day. ((Marc and Remi both feel it's important this year to have this pure clean juice (which tastes amazing and is really a dark orange in color) because it has so much flavor and will help to add richness back to the wine)) They're adding a very small amount of SO2 to the cuve this year, because of the rot that they are encountering. Usually it is 1 gram per hectolitre, but it will probably end up being a few grams more this year depending on the significance of the rot. We measured the alcohol level, by measuring the sugar and then using a chart to determine the corresponding potential alcohol level, which was a little low at 10.5 after the first two presses, and we measured the acidity, which was ideal. I don't know what the numbers mean.. but it was 5.8 and somewhere between 5.5 and 5.8 is the aim, so 5.8 is ideal. Usually by the time the wine is wine and is bottled, the level goes down a few points, so it would probably end up at 5.5. This still doesn't explain how much of this acidity is malo, tartric, citric, etc, but it gives a very good idea of what the end result will be. The tank with juice from the first two days (Monday and Tuesday, 8/29 and 8/30) of harvest has just started to ferment, with foam at the top of the tank. The juice is very tasty, with a little tingle of petillance from the gasses that are put out when the sugar converts to alcohol. Conditions were much better in the vines today. The vendangeurs (harvesters) were all at the original Pepiere site, which Marc has owned and tended for a long time. There was a lot less rot in the vineyards and we ended up doing 4 presses by the end of the day. The harvesters are a great bunch of people who are very fun to work with. I will write more about them and include pictures once I reveal to them that I am not just on a "stage" (like an internship) but that I'm also an "embedded reporter!" Today, Marc says he is happier with the harvest. He noticed that at the edge of his vines, where his rows border his neighbors, there was a lot of rot, but in the middle, there were more healthy bunches and a lot less rot. His neighbor uses what Marc calls "food" and what I am quite positive is the French version of MiracleGro, which covers the surface of the vines. These particular vines have much more foliage but the grapes are in worse condition. Marc also smelled acetic acid (which smells like vinegar and is very dangerous in winemaking) towards the end of the harvest today, and was careful to stop the harvesters in these sections. Apparently, if acetic acid gets into the juice, even at low levels, it can affect the entire tank and ruin the juice. I've been sampling some grapes here and there as I pick.  The grapes are delicious. The plain old grape juice from the press today was so good, I temporarily regretted it was going to end up as wine... but then my common sense returned. Tomorrow we harvest Gras Moutons, which is a parcel that was given to Remi by his father, who has been making wine in Muscadet for a long time. Marc is optimistic about the young vines, but has some worries about the old vines at Gras Moutons, as they may have suffered from the unsavory weather conditions. On verra!

P.S. I forgot to mention we had some 1999 Baudry Chinon Domaine with lunch yesterday and it was stellar. I'll definitely be stocking up on the 2009 once I'm home in some feigned hope that I can hold onto the bottles for 10 years!


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