Grapevine Archive for October, 2015
‘There is wine here?!’
Not the most encouraging of questions to be asked by your taxi driver as we attempted to locate the turnoff to the Borovitza winery, deep in the north-west of Bulgaria some 5km from the Serbian border.
He had a point though. Beautiful though this part of the world undoubtedly was, we could see no vines and certainly no winery. I was with The Society’s PR manager, Ewan Murray, ahead of a conference in Plovdiv the next day. We had decided to pop up here a day before to meet the team at this far-flung estate, whose wines are among the best respected in the Balkans, and which The Society has been stocking for a couple of years now.
Here are five things I learned from this fascinating visit:
1. Borovitza takes the definition of ‘remote’ to new levels.
After seeking directions and pulling up the small track in the shadow of the great Belogradchik Rocks (whose pine rock – ‘pine’ means bor in Bulgarian – gives Borovitza its name), we learned that were not alone in having difficulty finding the place.
‘At no point did we have any idea there was a winery here,’ said winemaker Dr Ognyan ‘Ogi’ Tzvetanov. ‘We used to pass through here all the time and have lunch in that clearing over there,’ pointing out a scenic spot on the road we’d just come from. ‘My friend told me one day that it existed and that it was up for sale at a ridiculously low price because it was derelict. We have him to thank for Borovitza.’2. Theirs is a range of wines that would send covetous shivers down the trendiest of sommeliers’ spines.
To microbiologist Ogi, a veteran of Bulgaria’s wine industry but tiring of the sharper commercial end of his duties, Borovitza offered a new and altogether more satisfying challenge.
Here he and his partner in wine, Adriana Srebrinova, make a portfolio of terroir-driven wines that is as artisanal in its production as it is dazzlingly eclectic.
‘I always say that making these wines is more a philosophy and a way of life than a business,’ he said, beaming.
This is a team that is not afraid to take risks or have fun with the wines they are making, proven in some style by the range tasting we were treated to. Chardonnays, gamays and Bordeaux blends rubbed shoulders with indigenous Bulgarian grapes and crossings, a pinot noir aged in a barrel containing a meteorite (!) and even an extended-skin-contact sparkling orange wine which they are now considering bottling commercially.
There are plenty of vines in this part of Bulgaria but Borovitza is the only winery. As such they are able to vinify nearby growers’ wines (often in miniscule quantities – one lot we were shown totalled less than a single barrel, but the smallest lot he has ever made is 6.5 bottles!) and work their magic with fruit purchased from market too.
3. Visit their vineyards at your peril.
Ogi and Adriana have two vineyards here as well, but the bad news was that we would not, apparently, be able to see either. ‘There was too much rain last night – even with our ex-military vehicle I don’t think it will be safe for us,’ explained our host. At this point a colleague became animated and a short but loud exchange ensued. ‘Ok,’ conceded Ogi. ‘We will have a go. This man has years of experience driving ambulances in Sofia – we will do our best.’
‘If you say so…’
I do not quite know how my lumbar vertebrae came through the next hour unscathed, but it was a vineyard trip I will never forget. Nor has buyer Sebastian Payne MW, who had taken the same trip a few years before when The Society first started to list Borovitza’s wines, and told us to watch out.
We survived, and were treated to some spectacular scenery and an insight into their unique terroir: the 7.5 hectares of vines at their nearest vineyard is planted on 240-million-year-old red sandstone, just down the slope from the Belogradchik Rocks.
As the initial amazement of this beautiful setting died down – and the shock as we blundered around it at gradients that no vehicle should be able to negotiate – I became just as taken with Ogi and Adriana’s infectious enthusiasm.
Their experience and boundless energy (‘I go to bed about 3am,’ said Ogi with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, ‘There is too much to be done here!’) make the team as skilled in winemaking as they are popular and respected among their peers, in the Balkans and beyond.
5. Borovitza has earned its plaudits for a reason
Which brings me to my last point: for its remoteness and the team’s risk-taking, tiny-production approach to their craft, this is no novelty act, but a fiercely passionate enterprise making high-quality wines that we feel deserve members’ attention.
There is perhaps a cynical cliché in parts of the wine world that wines from more unusual regions are given something of a free pass on quality – unusual trinkets rather than wines to be assessed on merit. I would counter-argue that had Borovitza’s ‘The Guardians’ MRV hailed from the Rhône and was available at its £14.95 price, people would be buying it by the truckload. It is a full-bodied, creamy, complex and delightfully balanced food white, and at its price it is a fantastic buy.
So too is the red Gamza Black Pack: a succulent, cru-Beaujolais-like wine with an added richness and constitution from this grape that Ogi makes so well.
Do give them a go – thanks to Sebastian’s efforts, the wines at least are now easy to find…
Borovitza: at a glance
• Established 2004 and situated in north-west Bulgaria near the Serbian border.
• The only winery in this part of Vidin province.
• The winery is in the shadow of the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature’-nominated Belogradchik Rocks.
• Makes a large range of often tiny-production terroir-focused wines from French and indigenous grapes.
• The Society currently stocks two wines: The Guardians MRV (white, £14.95) and Gamza Black Pack (red, £10.95).
So my second week as a part of the buying department came to a rather spectacular end the Friday before last, as I was lucky enough to taste the new-vintage Penfolds wines with buyer Sarah Knowles MW.
Penfolds ambassador Sam Stephens brought all of the new releases with him (mostly 2013 reds, and 2014 whites) along with a number of older examples of similar vintages so we could see how ageing changed the wine.A standout for me was the £20-per-bottle Bin 28, which was shown in both the 2013 and 2001 vintages. The opportunity to show the two side by side really highlighted how unbelievably well this wine can age. The 2013 was packed with intense cassis and was as fruit-forward as you would expect a young wine to be. The 2001, however was just stunning, still with incredibly fresh blackberry fruit but now showing hints of leather and a touch of pepper. The ability to age this well at the £20 mark is something so rarely seen in the modern wine world.
A little further on and equally stunning, was the Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz, from both 2013 and 1999. The herbaceous, fresh and spicy 2013 was good but the 1999 was better. Still surprisingly fresh for the age, it had the most luscious nose of milk chocolate, spice and red fruit and a super smooth texture to match.
What does this all mean?
Well, for me, it just goes to show how much you can get from these wines if you invest a bit of time. If you aren’t patient enough though, you can browse our Penfolds offer, which is now available online. Here you can find the wines that I have written about (although not quite the same vintages), plus a number of others. This is selling well and some wines have sold out already, but do have a look and see if there are wines which take your fancy.
Perhaps it was a ‘fruit day’ or simply a Friday, but I honestly couldn’t pick a disappointing one out of the bunch.
Sam kindly talked to camera for a minute or two about the wines so please have a look at the video here:
Trainee Wine Buyer
A few weeks ago, I took part in what must be the world’s most unusual marathon, also known as Le Marathon du Médoc.
The famous 26.2 mile/42km route through the scenic vineyards of Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac and Saint-Julien encompasses 20 wine-tasting stops along with 22 refreshment stations, and various food points serving croissants, oysters, steak, cheese and ice cream. Yum! What a great way to tick off ‘marathon’ (sitting patiently at the top of my bucket list), I rather misguidedly thought back in April.
My running partner/boyfriend did not need much persuading to do this with me – this was his kind of marathon. So after a short discussion and 5 months of not quite enough training, we were at the quayside in Pauillac with a large crowd of fellow crazy runners from all over the world.
This year’s fancy dress theme was ‘dressed up to the nines’ and we were surrounded by a sea of tuxedos, top hats, suits, bow ties, ball gowns and tiaras. We went for the comfortable option and picked up some novelty shirts during a last-minute shopping trip at Camden Market.
The race started off quite slowly as anticipated, and our initial strategy to get to the halfway point before eating or drinking didn’t quite go to plan – the breakfast station at 1km being our first stop. Everyone crowded round for fresh croissants.
The trouble with running and eating at the same time came to light rather quickly with a minor choking incident taking place, and I was wondering how I was going to explain to everyone that we didn’t manage to make it past the first stop. Fortunately, after a short rest, we were able to continue with no further mishaps. We were merrily greeted with food, wine, music, bands, and people dancing at every stop thereafter.
The weather was warm and dry most of the day although there was a period of heavy downpour in the afternoon. This was, at first a welcome break from the heat. However, when it continued coming down thick and fast 45 minutes later, the hard work truly set in.
We were over half way by this time and watching everyone struggle in their now drenched ball gowns and suits, I was glad we had not decided on wearing more elaborate costumes. The course consisted of some mud and gravel tracks and the puddles made this difficult. My lack of training didn’t help the cause and I found myself having to stop at every stop point and in between. I was in good company though as there were a lot of walkers by this stage and being towards the back also meant that there were no longer any queues at the wine stops.
The successful completion of the race is restricted to a 6 hour and 30 minute time limit. Not knowing how strict they were going to be with this, we had agreed just after 15 miles that Dave would run ahead so at least one of us would definitely make it to the finish within the specified time. I was really paranoid during the last few miles that the sweep cart marking the 6 and a half hour pace (driven by a bunch of scary clowns apparently) would turn up behind me at any second. Thankfully, I made it to the end without having to see this.
I was hugely relieved to reach the finish. Dave was already there, and I was allowed through the barrier to collect my medal and wine. This meant I had finished within the time which I later found out to be 6 hours and 28 minutes. All part of my master plan to get my money’s worth and maximise wine-tasting opportunities (of course).
Whilst I’m in no rush to take part in another marathon any time soon, this is a unique experience with a fantastic party and carnival atmosphere. A brilliant bucket-list event for all wine lovers who enjoy running… and even those who don’t!
Janet Wynne Evans finds pots of pure gold at the end of the Rainbow Nation tasting…
Last week, I attended an extraordinary wine tasting at South Africa House. I fully expected to taste great wines. What I didn’t expect was to have one of my founding food-and-wine matching principles shaken to the core.
As with all big, generic tastings, I had plotted my agenda, which was Western Cape blends. These innovative combinations – chenin, chardonnay, roussanne, grenache, viognier and semillon for whites and syrah, touriga nacional, grenache, mourvèdre for the reds – are godsends for a food obsessive. The whites, in particular, quite simply go with everything I throw at them, from garlicky to Gujarati. What I can’t throw, having neither the skill nor the imagination, not to mention the training, are the gastronomic and the gourmet.
With sustaining solids provided by my compatriot, Michelin-starred chef Roger Jones, what better opportunity to complete the set?
Lest fellow members deplore the kind of lifestyle we appear to enjoy in the wine trade, may I also point out that this event was also open to retail consumers in the evening? The 800-plus canapés Roger had painstakingly prepared were testament to that.
The wine list at Roger’s destination Wiltshire restaurant, The Harrow in Little Bedwyn, is famous in the business for championing the new world. It’s also famous for ungreedy mark-ups. An example I’d cite is Australia’s iconic Giaconda Chardonnay – a me-too Montrachet if ever there was one – which is offered at not much more than you’d pay at a top-end retailer. The bottom end would never have heard of it.
At the ‘South African Flavour’ matching seminar that concluded my visit to the tasting, the first of many surprises for me was that no blends were included. Lined up before us were six monovarietals of the kind the Rainbow Nation does best, selected to complement Roger’s inspirations by Fiona Beckett of The Guardian and matchingfoodandwine.com. Sadly, Fiona couldn’t be with us as planned, to present the workshop and to join Roger for a well-deserved bow, because it was a revelation.
Firstly, Stellenbosch sauvignon blanc with citrus-cured wild salmon, coaxed into succulence after a 24-hour stint with clementine, lime and salt, and topped with a smoked sun-dried tomato. The rapport was a complete success, illustrating Roger’s comment that southern hemisphere sauvignon blanc has completed the transition from ‘bar-fly’ to high table, thanks to this poised, piquant rather than trenchant style. No surprises here, other than how such an exquisitely complex mouthful of food could be created from so few ingredients.
Next up was chenin blanc, also from Stellenbosch, with a crab mousse sandwiched in a darkly stylish caviar macaroon, tinted with a whisper of squid ink and seasoned with caviar salt to temper the sweetness. The fullness of the chenin carried both sugar and salt beautifully. Again, all was as it should be, but this was the lull before the bombshell.
That was elegantly dropped in the form of a curried lobster dumpling, lively with a jam of subcontinental spices, along with the startling advice that when it comes to matching wine and food, you should not serve like with like. I would have instinctively reached for an equally spicy gewurztraminer, but I found myself sipping a very elegant, discreetly oaked, almost Burgundian chardonnay from Hemel-en-Aarde in Hermanus. It was perfect, the richness of the lobster lifted beautifully by the citrus notes in the wine. Note to self.
Next was a Stellenbosch petit verdot rosé and more spice, this time Moroccan, pepping up a carpaccio of tuna and packing one or two agents provocateurs in the form of mint, yoghurt and mushy peas. Such a line-up demands a bit of sweetness for me, and that means grenache. Nevertheless, the uplifting, freesia-like bouquet of the wine primed the palate for the spices, while the dry, clean finish closed them off.
For me, Cape pinot noir feels like work in progress, though a cool Walker Bay bottling shone here with an outrageous combination of seared venison, foie gras toffee, truffle and mushroom. Anyone planning to uncork a similarly luxurious mature Burgundy with the gamey, sous-bois flavours here should take note of the second demonstration of the like-with-like fallacy. Young and juicy (and cheaper) does it much better.
As if to rub it in, the last combination of Stellenbosch syrah with a sublime grouse bon-bon, enriched with black pudding and belly pork and finished with a smear of lime pickle, perfectly complimented the bird’s rich gaminess.
Conspicuous by its absence was pinotage, that polariser of palates, so a spot of heckling was in order. Again, I instinctively think of something similarly smoky and brooding to match this grape but the immediate answer was lamb, and not just because Roger is a Welshman. Hearty breeds like Karoo, which graze on wild herbs and basically marinate themselves, or our own Herdwicks come to mind. The scales fell from my eyes, as they are increasingly doing with pinotage these days.
Before I eat it, I’ll first take my hat off to Wines of South Africa, and any other generic wine body that resopnds so imaginatively to the challenge of engaging already pampered wine-drinkers in this way. The CIVB did it for Sauternes and savoury food (and I don’t just mean Roquefort and foie gras), and the inspirations of some very upmarket Bordeaux caterers will be posted shortly on our website. Prepare to be amazed!
Yes, it’s been an eye-opening autumn for accepted wisdom. All of which goes to show that if you think you know it all about food and wine matching, that’s all you know.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
Our new Liberator ‘Midnight Bakkie’ (£9.95) is a fine example of a white Western Cape blend. Try also Fable Mountain Jackal Bird (£20). A very small parcel of Giaconda Chardonnay 2010 will be released for sale in our Christmas Fine Wine List, coming to our website and to members’ doormats very soon.
To celebrate the arrival of the first English wine under The Society’s Exhibition label we wanted to mark the occasion by getting members involved in the festivities.
To that end, with the support of Ridgeview Wine Estates, we are running a photo competition with a six-bottle case of The Society’s Exhibition English Sparkling Wine up for grabs.
All you need to do to enter is send us a photo of you enjoying the wine (preferably somewhere in the UK) to firstname.lastname@example.org, or upload to our Twitter or Facebook page using #PhotoFizz.
Of course, at The Wine Society staff love to get in on the fun as much as anybody and whilst they can’t win the grand prize we have had some entries from a couple of departments.
Here are Chris, Drew, James, Allan and Dulcie grabbing a quick moment between calls in Member Services.
… and a raised glass from some of the ever-welcoming Showroom team in Stevenage
We have already had some entries, but would love to see more.
About the wine
The Society’s Exhibition English Sparkling Wine is a special cuvée put together exclusively for us by the award-winning Ridgeview team at their estate in the South Downs in Ditchling, West Sussex. This blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier is made in the same way as Champagne and has vibrant freshness and ripe fruit, and also now a touch of that toasty bready complexity you get with ageing the wine carefully on its fermentation lees. A delicious (and patriotic) way to start a celebration or toast the end of the working week!
About the competition
Upload a photo of you enjoying the new Exhibition fizz to our Facebook page (facebook.com/TheWineSociety) or tweet them (@TheWineSociety) using #PhotoFizz by Friday 4th December. To find out more and to read the terms and conditions visit thewinesociety.com/photofizz
Members who attended The Society’s lunch at Montreuil on 5th September were also guests of the local history group – Memoires de Conflits en Montreuillois. Together with French and British residents, the visitors were treated to a fascinating presentation on the battle of Agincourt by Dr Rowena Archer of Oxford University. Society member Terry Hughes shares a little of the presentation below, as well as details for the next talk, which we hope you enjoy reading.
Drawing on the wealth of records on both sides of the Channel, Dr Archer gave an account of how the battle was fought six hundred years ago (October 25th 1415) at Azincourt, a short drive from Montreuil.
Perhaps bearing in mind the Franco-British composition of the audience, Dr Archer dispelled some of the myths surrounding a battle that has become such a hallowed part of British history celebrated by Shakespeare’s play and Sir Laurence Olivier’s classic film. She described Henry’s rather hapless campaign before his epic confrontation with the huge French army at Azincourt.
Setting out an array of medieval weapons, Dr Archer told the story of what really happened when the armies faced each other. These weapons illustrated how Henry V used the deadly effect of archery to wreak havoc on the French nobility as they advanced on a narrow front.
Yet, military operations were not Dr Archer’s only theme. The human side of the story was revealed by details in the muster rolls of Henry’s army that recorded the names, skills and origins of the king’s individual soldiers.
More poignant, however, was the record discovered by Dr Archer of the advice written by a French noblewoman to help the young widows of fallen warriors. Dr Archer is carrying out further research on the experience of women in the aftermath of Agincourt.
M Bruno Bethouart, the French Co- President of the Memoires des Conflits en Montreuillois thanked Dr Archer for her excellent presentation and looked forward to welcoming Wine Society visitors to future events. Their British Co-President, Siobhan Stevens, is a resident of Montreuil and welcomes UK members.
The next presentation will be on 11 November. The speaker will be Charles Goodson-Wickes on the experience of his great grandfather, Sir Frank Fox , who was a staff officer at Field Marshal Haig’s GHQ in Montreuil during the First World War.
David Mitchell, digital insights manager and a keen wine student, is seduced during a special staff tasting here at Society HQ in Stevenage with Beltran Domecq…
‘The most undervalued, dynamic and complex wine I have ever come across’To be completely honest, I have always seen sherry either to be mouth-puckeringly dry and bitter or teeth-achingly sweet and only really to gather dust at the back of a sideboard ready for the visit of an aged aunt.
I can now say that after this tasting this cannot be further from the truth!
What have I been missing over all these years!
The tasting started with a general history of sherry and how it has been made for more than 3,000 years; indeed the Romans made mention of it. It was known as ‘Sherry Sack’ in the UK – ‘Sack’ is believed to be a corruption of the Spanish name for drawing the wine from the bottom of the complex solera ageing system.
The soil that the main grape – palomino – is grown in is known as ‘albariza’, which has a high chalk content to help retain the high rainfall in the vineyards for the very hot summers. The palomino grape is used for the dry styles of sherry, whereas Pedro Ximenez (PX) and moscatel grapes are mainly used for the sweeter styles and used in blending.
I found it amazing that so many styles can be made from the palamino grape alone; depending on how the base wine (known as mosto) was aged through the solera system, and how the flor (yeast covering the top of the wine) developed over time.
The first few sherries that were tried were fino, the driest style. These wines are aged under floating flor yeast, meaning that they develop ‘biological’ flavours rather than oxidative flavours as would usually happen in oak barrels. This gives finos a relatively light character with floral aromas and flavours of green apples, as well as a light nutty character of salted almond.
Manzanilla is a fino, but from around the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda: the close proximity to the sea gives a much more pungent and intense flavour than a fino further inland. However, both gave very fresh flavours – great with tapas!
An aged fino was also tried, which had an average of between 6-8 years, and there was a slight increase in some of the oxidative flavours and slightly more woody and oaky notes due to a longer period of time in contact with the oak.
One thing to note is that the older the sherry is aged for, the more concentrated the flavours and alcohol. This is due to the fact that there is a 3-4% reduction in the overall volume of the wine where water evaporates from the oak barrels but retains the alcohol. This means that the alcoholic % increase over time but also brings added complexity.
The next few sherries tried were amontillados. These were selected fino barrels which had lost the flor layer part way through the aging process and were then fortified. Arguably these wines had the best of both worlds: they possess a fresh initial flavour but with the additional complexities of nutty flavours, mainly of hazelnuts. We tried a medium-dry blend which had the initial hit of sweetness much like a port, but then some of the vanilla characters from the oak barrels and a hazelnut finish.
A Palo Cortado was also tried. This is a sherry which was destined to become a fino or amontillado but then loses its protective layer of flor and starts to age as an oloroso (see below) and then fortified to stop the wine spoiling. This doesn’t happen that often, making this style relatively rare. The wine still had notes of fresh apples but with a light oxidative character and was both elegant and full-bodied.
We then tasted some olorosos: sherries which have no flor protection and so age oxidatively. These have a much darker colour and an intense, nutty aroma. You can definitely sense that these are fortified wines: they are much fuller with a much longer finish and have more of a hazelnut flavour rather than almond as found in the fino.A medium-sweet oloroso blend had some additional notes of raisin on the nose; this would be due to part of the blend being made up from the Pedro Ximenez grape to give the additional sweetness. This sherry had an initially sweet hit, much like a port, but then evolves into the characteristic hazelnut flavours of an oloroso with a fantastic long finish. This went down especially well with those present.
A 30-year-old oloroso was fantastically complex with the nutty character, very concentrated flavours and an amazingly long finish. At £21 per bottle, the price worked out on average at 70p per year, considering the whole solera in which the wine was aged would be 40-50 years. This is fantastic value for this level of ageing!
The last sherry we tried was a 30-year-old Pedro Ximenez, one of the sweetest of all wines with intense raisin flavours, along with notes of figs, dates, caramel and fudge. Despite its sweetness and fullness, the wine was still in balance and very enjoyable.
I hope the above shows that that there will be a style of sherry to suit everyone!
Types of sherry and their flavours:
• Fino sherry is the lightest and freshest tasting with flavours of apples and almonds.
• Manzanilla is a more intense version which is fuller in style.
• Palo Cortado is the most elegant and intense version of fino-derived styles, with fantastic freshness.
• Amontillado has the initial freshness of a fino but also has the added complexity and nutty character of an oloroso – a great ‘best of both’ sherry style.
• Oloroso has a more intense nose with added aromatics and colour, and the flavours lean towards hazelnuts rather than almonds with a long finish – a joy to drink and savour.
• Pedro Ximenez is very sweet and used in blends to increase the sweetness, on its own it gives flavours of raisins, figs and caramel.
A few other tips…
• The longer a sherry is aged for, the more intense and complex it becomes. There is also a slight increase in alcohol due to water evaporation; however, this adds additional flavour concentration.
• Treat lighter sherries much like you would a white wine: it should be served chilled and be used within a week or so. Other Sherries such as oloroso will last slightly longer once opened, but should be consumed fairly soon after opening – not stuck in the back of a cupboard!
• Sherry is very good value for money considering its long ageing and complex nature, not to mention the joy of trying so many different styles.
• Most importantly, perhaps – treat sherry as a wine! Use a normal wine glass and enjoy the aromatic notes and flavours that develop in the glass.
• No other wine give so much complexity and enjoyment for the price – find as many opportunities to enjoy sherry as you can!
Some suggestions to try:
• Light but intense – Alegria Manzanilla (£7.95)
• Still light but with added nutty complexity and a whisper of sweetness – Romate Maribel A Selection of Amontillado Medium Dry (£8.50)
• Slightly sweet but with complex nutty flavours and amazingly long finish – The Society’s Exhibition Mature Medium Sweet Oloroso Blend (£11.95)
Digital Insights Manager
A quick update from my recent trip to Bordeaux:
Right bank merlot
At Château Pey La Tour in the Entre-deux-Mers the Dourthe team headed by Frédéric Bonaffous was busy with everything but picking! Some of the merlot grapes are in but the cooler (thus higher-trained) vineyards here are still a healthy verdant green and the grapes still maturing happily on the vine.
A pause at Château Durfort-Vivens in Margaux
All was quiet on our visit to Durfort-Vivens. With the merlot safely in and the weather set fine, there was ample time to prepare harvest and grape reception equipment for the first of the cabernets. A shower or two was forecast for the weekend but with a healthy crop on the vines, bright warm sunny days, cool dry breezes and markedly cool nights there seemed to be no reason for concern.
Indeed there were smiles all round. Owner Gonzague Lurton, just back from harvest at his property in Sonoma (small in quantity, but good quality), was happy and relaxed. Growers can afford to wait, especially those with the best terroirs, and even if the pressure to pick does come, the grapes are looking good enough to produce a very good harvest at least.
Harvest action at Château Branaire-Ducru in Saint-Julien
Sorting tables were busy when we dropped in to see Jean-Dominique Videau at Branaire-Ducru.
Even with the remarkably healthy-looking grapes coming in, after destemming there are still a few leaves and small stalks to be picked out, all of which is done by hand here. The grapes were small and sweetly flavoured (they don’t always taste so good at this stage!) and the majority of the cabernets yet to be picked are in great condition.
We finished our visit with a tasting of second wine Duluc and several vintages of the grand vin which only served to underline the consistent high quality being produced here, from great (2005) to more modest (2007 & 2004) vintages. Less well known than many crus classés, Branaire tends to be very fairly priced and deserves a greater following in our view.
Joanna Locke MW
Last Christmas we asked members to send in their favourite recipes for using up leftovers from festive meals. One member, Anne Stevenson, sent us a poem instead. As today is National Poetry Day, we thought we’d share it …
Life is too short to drink bad poetry or read bad wine.
And if by this turnabout of terms you’re puzzled
Please don’t think I’m off my head or sozzled.
Think of the long dependency between
Insatiable poets and the cultured vine –
Of Li Po drowning in the moon’s embrace,
Ecstasy not anguish in his face,
Of psalmist David’s purple stainéd mouth
And Keats’s draught of vintage from the south,
Of Omar’s jug of wine beneath the bough –
Forget the loaf, but hang on to the ‘thou’,
Lord Byron, lifting high his Samian bowl
To women and wine, then paying with his soul.
O poets! Neglect to your cost this golden rule:
Without a wine of the mind most poems are plonk;
Without its poetry, wine just makes you drunk.
Marry the two and merrily go to it,
But don’t go o’er the top and overdo it.
For if you do, and rue it, Christmas Cheer
Could be a memorable Lament by the New Year.
Anne Stevenson, Wine Society member
We discussed the seasonal nature of winemaking and the difficulty in finding time to travel the world actually selling the wine that they make. However, they agreed that now is the right time – winter is coming to an end in New Zealand and although there is much to be done – as discussed below in their newsletter – this is the time to travel, giving them time to dash back ready for spring.
It also happens, coincidentally I am assured, to have worked out quite nicely for the guys to catch one or two games of the Rugby World cup too…!
Sarah Knowles MW
While winter may seem like a quiet time of the year there is, in fact, plenty that happens in the vineyard as we prepare for the growing season ahead. During July the vines are pruned and crops, such as tic beans and oats, planted between the vines to add organic matter to the soil. Vine prunings are mulched and mixed into Dog Point’s compost heap which is then mixed again and turned many times (up to six in total) to create a healthy organic compost. We use this compost in the vineyard and around the property throughout the year.
During winter sheep are moved around the property in order to keep grass and weeds down, and to add organic matter to the soil. Towards Spring the sheep are shorn of their woolly coats in the Dog Point woolshed, then drafted and weighed as some of the older lambs are sent away.
2015 has been a winter of records. We’ve experienced an extremely dry winter, yet it’s been a very cold winter with a large number of consecutive ground frosts. This assists in keeping good vine health and pests at bay.
Winter is also a busy time in the winery. In August the Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2015 was bottled and we look forward to releasing this wine into markets from October 2015 onwards.
Around the same time the 2014 Pinot finished a period of 18 months secondary fermentation in French oak barrels and was transferred to tank for blending. The Pinot will be bottled in October and released in February 2016 onwards. This process has kept Murray busy in the winery doing one of the less glamorous jobs in the winery; cleaning barrels!