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Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Burgundian harvest: part III

lovely Clos de la Roche grapes

Guest blogger Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac continues his harvest report from Burgundy.

23 October 2006

I love it when a plan comes together! I also love using that line, having been an avid watcher of the A-team as a kid…

On Saturday 23rd September, exactly a month ago, we met with our pickers at 7.30 AM, separated them into two teams, one for me and one for Lilian Robin, our vineyard manager, and set out to the vineyards. We went to Puligny-Montrachet, a white wine only village, while the other team began in the Echezeaux, one of our Grands Crus. As a quick reminder, if I am talking about white wine, the grape varietal is Chardonnay, and if I am talking red, the varietal is Pinot Noir, unless stated otherwise. In Burgundy, most of the differences between the wines of any producer come from the different terroirs, i.e. they are differences due to vineyard location, rather than to things such as blending. We put in a long day of picking as the grapes appeared to be riper than I had anticipated, and picked Bonnes Mares and Charmes-Chambertin as well as the aforementioned vineyards.

Allow me to give you a little more insight as to how the picking takes place at Domaine Dujac. We ask the pickers to sort as they go along, rather than use a sorting table. We have found sorting tables to be hypnotic and anyone who spends any lengthy amount of time in front of one is likely to go crazy and/or stop sorting efficiently. The pickers put the grapes in buckets which they then empty into a large hotte carried by a porteur. Here's a picture:

Bucket into hotte

The porteur then brings the grapes over to a large bin on one of the trucks. The bins can fit about 300kg of grapes. I will inspect the contents of each hotte after it is emptied and if the sorting is not up to scratch, I will ask the porteur to ask his team to be more attentive. I will then conduct a further sorting, removing any leaves that might have gotten into a bucket, second generation unripe grapes, etc. Here's a picture of some of the grapes we brought in from Clos de la Roche, after sorting. Aren't they pretty?

lovely Clos de la Roche grapes

The whites are pressed as soon as they get to the winery. Here's a picture of my father and Cassie filling the press.

Cassie and Jacques

We pump all the freshly pressed grape juice into a tank, let all the heavy sediment settle for the night and put it into barrel. The alcoholic fermentation takes place entirely in barrel, which is quite different from the reds. Here is a picture of our intern Thomas filling a barrel with Puligny. Once the whites are in barrel, they make themselves. We do some monitoring; occasionally we will give the lees a stir; we gradually fill the barrels all the way to the top. It's pretty hands off really.

Thomas barelling Puligny

This year, we ended up destemming an average of about 20% of the red grapes, the rest being left whole. So 80% were put straight into tank, as they were, by gravity, while the other 20% were tipped into the destemmer using a forklift. The destemmed grapes then joined the whole cluster fruit in tank. Following this, a few days will typically go by while waiting for fermentation to begin.

Just in case you're not familiar with destemming and the reasons for this practice, let me take a moment to explain.

If you look at a cluster of grapes, ie "a bunch", you will see that it is made up of the berries which are blueish black in Pinot Noir and of the green rachis or "stem". The berries are obviously where the interest lies for winemaking (or eating) as they are juicy, fragrant and in the case of winemaking grapes like Pinot, they have a skin thick and full of what makes red wine interesting, aromas, color, tannins, etc. The stem,it has to be said, contains little of interest. Destemming is the removal of these stems. The destemmer is a mechanical device that removes the berries from the stems. It is typically made up of a big rotating cyclinder with holes in it so that the berries will go through
it, but not the stems.

While the rachis contains little of interest, it does serve some very interesting mechanical purposes during fermentation. First and foremost, destemmed berries will release its juice far more easily than berries still attached to the stem. In a tank full of destemmed berries, you will therefore have a lot of juice in which the berries will float, and fermentation will begin in the juice. In a tank full of whole cluster grapes, much of the fermentation will take place inside the berries, in a more anaerobic environment, or at least that is our explanation. Having conducted a number of trials, we have found that our preference goes towards whole cluster fermentations in most vintages as the wines are more exuberantly aromatic and more complex, with some compelling spicy aromas. My father never used a destemmer except in trials. I have convinced him to use a slightly more pragmatic approach. It seems the destemmed "style" works better with some vineyards than with others as well as better in some vintages than in others. For instance I think that Clos de la Roche and Clos St-Denis do really well as whole cluster wines, Charmes-Chambertin less obviously so. As far as what vintages do well whole cluster, I am still working on that one. I get a feeling that in vintages where berry ripeness happens very fast, we would probably do better to destem a little more, but there are no
absolute rules to go by. Growing grapes and making wine in Burgundy is still very very far from an exact science.

Now that we're all clear about destemming, let's get back to making wine. Fermentation starts naturally in the tanks (picture of fermenting grapes). Once it has started, we will do pigeage also known as punch downs. Most of the tanks are equipped with a pneumatic punch down, but some still have to be done by foot. Perhaps some of you will recognize this sommelier from NYC who came in to help us? (Robert Bohr, from CRU in NYC)

Robert in Chambertin

This is the thing with harvest: there are many things going on at once. But I must return to tales of picking, as that is where the winemaking process begins. Essentially, we were very fortunate to have the weather cooperate. Other than the Sunday we had planned to take off, which was full of rainy misery and gloom, the rest of harvest went smoothly.

Rainy day in Morey

There was many a misty morning, but nothing that didn't turn into beautiful sunshine by noon. We were able to get all the grapes into the winery in record time and finished picking on 1st October. End of harvest was celebrated with the Paulée (the real harvest Paulée, the Burgundian end-of-harvest celebration, not one of the bring your own parties that are becoming popular in places like New York City). My brother Paul honored us by cooking this celebratory meal. He prepared (for 50 no less!) the perennially popular menu below with wines to match:

Apéritif, Bourgogne Blanc 2004 en magnum
Salade verte et foie gras de canard, Morey St Denis Blanc 2003 en magnum
Entrecôte grillée au barbecue, sauce marchand de vin et gratin dauphinois, Clos de la Roche 1994 en mathusalem
Fromages, Morey St Denis 1980 en mathusalem
Mousse au Chocolat Coffee!

No rest for the winery team though as fermentations were just beginning and it was now time for winemaking. Everyday, we take a sample from each tank and measure its density and temperature. Prior to fermentation, the grape juice has a density of somewhere between 1095 and 1100. As fermentation goes on and sugar gets converted to alcohol and CO2, the density will drop. Once fermentation is finished, the density of the wines will be under 995. Here's a picture of the chalk board of the Vosne Romanée 1er Cru "Malconsorts" on which we indicate temperatures and densities:

We taste the samples each day and decide how many punch downs we think the wine needs to try to extract everything the grapes have to give without going so far as to extract hard tannins. We want to keep the wines delicate and elegant, with plenty of depth.

This year, fermentations went quickly and it felt like the grape's thick skins were happy to give all they had to give, so after an average of 12 days after picking, we began to press the reds. When we press, we begin by running out all the free run juice out of the tank and into another. We then jump into the tank and pull out all of the grapes and load them into the press. Here is a picture of our intern Caroline doing just that.

Caro emptying tank

And here is a picture of our guest winemaker Nick Farr loading the press with the forklift while his fiancée Cassie and my father help guide the grapes in. This is Nick's third vintage at Dujac. His father Gary Farr came every year from 1983 until 1993 and we are pleased that his son is following suit. Together, they are making some of the very best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Australia under the labels By Farr (Gary) and Farr Rising (Nick).

Filling the press

Because of the whole clusters, a lot of the berries are still whole when they go into the press. A lot more wine comes out at pressing and we almost always blend it with the free run wine. Some sugar comes out too and so we let the wine ferment a little further before putting it in barrel.

Once all the reds are in barrel, we can at last relax and begin the job of cleaning up. There's a lot to be put away until next year and we need to look after the vines for next years crop! We have begun replacing any vines that died this year (from disease or accidental tractor-related death) and in a month and a half, we will slowly begin pruning.

Malconsorts board

At this stage, it is time for your correspondent from Burgundy to sign off. I will gladly answer any questions you might wish to ask. And here's a picture of my team before I sign off.

Jeremy's picking crew

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