Here we go again, it’s the end of the summer and we’re about to embark on the twelfth vintage at La Cendrillon (and for me the third). After this year that has been strange on so many fronts, what with the Coronavirus and mildew, the harvest also looks like being somewhat strange. At the beginning of August everyone expected the harvest to be early, and the journalists were the first to announce a historically early vintage. We were a little anxious ourselves about whether we would be able to put together a full team in time, between rumours of the borders closing and difficulties in recruiting grape pickers.
So the first week of August just flew by, busy as we were with preparations, with the checking and cleaning of the press, the picking crates and the cellar, hiring of the final pickers, maturity checks and the reception of cold storage containers for the grapes. Thanks to José and the small ads he placed with the local job centre, we finally managed to add to our small, faithful core of efficient pickers and get together team of 12 people.
We finally kick off with the Albarino on August 19 at 7.00 in the morning, some 10 days ahead of last year. Fortunately, it’s not as hot as it was last year. The crates come out and the bunches and the vines look superb. One or two bunches have suffered a bit from mildew and some of the grapes have already dried out, so we have to give a few extra snips of the secateurs into the bunch to cut these out.
We fill up the crates and slide them under the row to allow the tractor to pass with the porters who will pick them up. They have to work their way up the row in the soft clay, pick up the crates and lift them over the row to load them on to the trailer. To give you some idea, a grape picker will pick on average 500kg of grapes a day. So with ten pickers that’s 5 tonnes of grapes a day loaded into 700 crates of 7kg. Meaning that two porters lift 350 crates a day each. Better than any weight training, and cheaper than a subscription to the gym… and you get a tan at the same time! So, big up to Alexandre, our trainee cellar hand and porter!
The grapes pass the night in cold storage at 4°C in their crates, and are pressed the next morning around 6.00 am. Keeping them cool avoids fermentation starting accidentally, and above all allows their aromatic palette to develop. When they come out of the press the juices are very pure but a bit tannic. A few days cold maceration before the onset of fermentation allows the must to settle naturally and clarify by gravity.
The last two weeks have been devoted to the whites which are now in the cellar and fermenting nicely. Since last weekend, the approach of autumn has been making itself felt, with lower temperatures and nights which are quite chilly even, so much so that I’ve put away the fan with which I’ve shared all my nights this summer. Last Saturday the skies sent us the gift of 35mm of rain which fell just at the right moment, after we had picked the last whites, enabling the vines to continue ripening our reds. It’s as if nature wanted to reward us for having grit out teeth all year when we were battling with mildew and snails!
And this week has been rather strange. We’re waiting for the first Syrahs (which won’t be ready for another week) by picking Grenache one day in three for the rosé and a bit of Merlot for the Vin de Pays. We’ve even found the time to pass in the vines to aerate the soils in the white parcels that we have already picked. This “pause” is no doubt just a brief respite before a hectic second half of the harvest when everything will be ripe at once!
« To be continued »