Fri 14 Nov 2014

Domaine Jones: What We Did On Our Holiday, Part Two

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This is the second part of my report on helping out with the 2014 harvest at Domaine Jones. Read part one here.

Checking to see how ripe the grapes are at Domaine Jones

Me, checking to see how ripe the grapes are

The 2014 vintage
Back to the 2014 vintage and the grapes that had already been harvested – all the whites (except carignan gris and a little muscat) plus a few select vineyards of syrah. The whites were bubbling away nicely in stainless steel and barriques and we were to take their temperature and measure their densities twice a day to check on how the fermentation was progressing. Katie’s eighteen-year-old nephew, Owen, who had arrived at the same time as us and was at the start of a gap year, transcribed our daily readings onto a graph – if only science had been this much fun when we were at school!

Putting a foot in it at Domaine Jones

Putting a foot in it

The syrah grapes had come from selected vineyards and cold macerated for 15 days before being put into barrels to extract extra colour and flavour from the skins. The grapes from individual vineyards were put into separate barrels. When Katie suggested we removed our shoes and socks and got into the barrels we thought she was teasing us! But no, this is one of the best ways to punch down the cap of grape skins that rise to the top (pigeage) and also gives them a gentle pressing.

It also proved to be quite an enjoyable sensation – people have probably paid spas a great deal of money for something similar! This exercise was also to be repeated twice daily… putting the feet into Fitou! As the yeasts did their thing over the time we were there and the density went down, getting into the barrels started to become a bit more precarious for those of us shorter of limb!

Going out the next day with Jean-Marc to test more vineyards for picking (prélèvement), we discovered just how valuable local knowledge is to interpreting scientific readings. The differences between our grape samples were explained away as Jean-Marc knew from experience which parts of the vineyards ripened better.

Checking the pH of the grapes at Domaine Jones

Checking the pH of the grapes

On the way back to Tuchan we carried out the same exercise on a plot of syrah (still not ready) and on a plot of grenache vines on flatter ground right under the Château d’Aguilar on river stone soils not unlike the famous pudding stones of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This and the next plot of syrah vines, virtually in the town itself, were deemed to be ‘nearly there’…. perhaps we would get to pick after all!

Ready, set, go…
After tourist trips at the weekend down to impossibly pretty Collioure on the Côte Vermeille, where we were treated to a flash-mob-style sardana (traditional Catalan folk dance) and an energetic postprandial climb up the craggy Quéribus castle – last stronghold of the Cathars, we found out that we would be picking on Monday morning. We were to meet at 7am ready to get going at first light, the aim to get the grapes in before the heat of the day – in the interest of the quality of the wine (and us)! The venue for our first pick was the last vineyard we’d visited on our sampling trip. A plot of 15 rows of syrah vines on the outskirts of Tuchan which we had fondly named ‘Molly’s vineyard’ (having mis-heard Jean-Marc telling us it was named after a demolished church – La Chapelle Démolie).

We got an early night after re-acquainting ourselves with Katie’s instructions for pickers:

Your back will ache. It will ache so much you will want to find your own unique way of cutting grapes – sitting, kneeling, lying down – but years of experience tell us that there is only one way to cut grapes and it kills your back… rest assured the first couple of days are the worst!

I could almost see my osteopath rubbing his hands in anticipation.

Sunrise over Domaine Jones

Sunrise over Domaine Jones

The morning of our first pick
We were treated to a spectacular sunrise the next day and the sleepy streets of Tuchan were the busiest we’d seen them; the narrow streets alive with little tractors trundling through the town with orange warning lights flashing on their roofs, looking a little like over-sized Tonka Toys than real-life vineyard machinery. Perhaps it was like this every morning and we’d just missed ‘rush hour’ up till now.

After a quick demonstration by Katie of how to pick (see below), we chose our row and got started. Katie had said to avoid the grapes at the end of the stalks and to stick to the centre of the plant. She showed us how the syrah grapes sometimes had a shrivelled appearance but that this was a good sign, showing ripeness not rot.

Picking syrah at Domaine JonesWe had a couple of brief stops for water and biscuits but managed to pick the whole vineyard – a total of 900 kilos in one go, and yes it was back-breaking. The suggestion that we would hurt in muscles that we didn’t know we had was pretty accurate. Probably one of the most back-breaking aspects was carrying the little crates to load them onto the van at the end of the morning. They look quite small but each carries enough grapes to produce about a case of wine, so perhaps it is not surprising they weigh as much as they do.

We drove back to base so that the grapes could be de-stemmed and put in the chiller straight away, stopping briefly to pick up (a for once deserved) pickers’ lunch of homemade meatballs with olives from Jean-Marc’s mother, which was so appreciated after our hard morning’s work.

Finished!

Finished!

We all slept well that night.

What next for our grapes?

Sorting syrah at Domaine Jones - harder than it looks!

Sorting syrah – harder than it looks!

The next morning we went to the winery for the next stage in the process. ‘Our’ grapes now needed to be sorted on a sorting table (table de triage) – another piece of kit that Katie and Jean-Marc had acquired for this harvest and another important process in the production of hand-crafted wines. I hadn’t expected this to be that taxing but watching 900 kilos of grapes jump about on a vibrating table at considerable speed is actually quite intense! Four-a-side, we had to keep our eyes trained on the moving table, picking out any stray leaves, stems, stalks and less-than-perfect grapes as they moved quite quickly into waiting tubs at the end of the line. That night I dreamed of tiny specks dancing before my eyes and jumping around at a tormenting distance just out of reach!

The sorted grapes would go then go straight into vat to start fermentation. Katie said that they would more than likely go into her Domaine Jones Syrah, but each vineyard would be vinified separately and it might be bottled as a single-vineyard ‘Perles de Jones’ syrah. We would have to wait and see.

Homeward bound
The next day we would have to leave our ‘babies’ behind and return to our corporeal off-spring, but before catching the plane we had just enough time to go and watch a vineyard being picked by a team of experienced pickers. The team was made up of Polish, Portuguese and local pickers and it was exciting forming part of the procession of vendangeurs in the early morning light, creeping our way through the dust thrown up by the various vehicles up a mountain road to the vineyard.

The grapes being picked were muscat; the boar had been spotted trying to snaffle them up, so they needed to be harvested quickly, and the speed with which the experienced team did this was phenomenal. The vineyard was in a beautiful spot on a rocky slope surrounded by pine trees and as the sun came up it shone through the amber grapes making it look as though it was little nuggets of gold that were being harvested, not grapes. The multilingual chatter up and down the rows and the common aim of filling up the caskets was exactly how I had pictured the vendange.

But though this had been a holiday and a fantastic one too, we had also learned so much more than you can from a text book. There’s no substitute for getting your hands (and feet!) dirty and we are eternally grateful to Katie and Jean-Marc for letting us be a very small part in their 2014 vintage.

As we left for the airport the Tramontagne had started to blow; a good sign and we left Katie and Jean-Marc fully geared up to getting the rest of the grapes in. We were sorry to miss the full thrust of the harvest but delighted to have played a part in looking after the whites and reds in barrel and vat and to have brought in and sorted OUR syrah grapes. We will now have to wait to see which wines buyer Marcel-Orford Williams chooses when the wines become ready for tasting and hope that maybe some of our efforts will be coming home to Stevenage.

But what else had we learned?
1. It takes guts to start up a winery.
2. Fitou – it’s actually an appellation within Corbières.
3. Grapes for Fitou – must have a minimum of 20% carignan and a minimum of 20% grenache but together must account for at least 60% of the blend (syrah or mourvèdre making up the rest.)
4. Being a small winemaker you need to be able to turn your hand to everything – electrician, DIY expert, mathematician, farmer, host/hostess, scientist, salesman, designer, inventor.
5. The vineyards of Maury where Katie bought her first vines (the next valley along – where the local dialect switches from Occitan to Catalan) once produced 800k hectolitres but now only make 100k hl – mainly due to the decrease in demand for sweet wines.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

You can find wines currently listed by Domaine Jones here

Categories : France, South of France

Comments

  1. David Wright says:

    The sweet wine from Maury is one of the few that can stand up to chocolate. I’m sure that if more people knew that, sales would increase, and perhaps some of the old vineyards would be brought back into production!

  2. Indeed! A good suggestion. I believe the production of Maury has declined from something like 800,000 hl to 100,000 hl – sadly sweet wines seem unsophisticated for modern consumers. We do talk about Maury and Banyuls being good matches for chocolate here at The Society, but perhaps we need to make more of this!

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