Saturday, August 22, 2009
Wine Harvest just around the corner.
It's time. In the morning I hear the neighbors' machine harvester at work. Grape juice stains have sluiced onto the pavement as the tractors bring the over-full bins down to the village cellars. The heat of August -- and lack of rain -- have brought the promised conditions. Mildew and Oidium (variation of mildew) have attacked a few of the bunches and leaves over the season, but no further. The worst has been held in check by as-needed treatments of copper and sulfur (both permitted in organic agriculture), prudent pruning, and frequent scratching of the earth. Today, the breeze has lightened the heaviness of the heat, and any threat of an untimely thunderstorm.
Here at Mas Madagascar the harvest begins Tuesday with the Viognier, a white grape known for its heady perfumes of apricot and flowers. As of Thursday, it was already at a potential alcohol level of 15! This is quite high, but typical for this grape which can make nearly syrupy, heavy white wines. However, as Domaine Cabanis prefers a tart, crisp and lower alcohol white... this element has him just a wee bit anxious. The last week's heat has risen the degree in a flash, and plans to begin harvesting later had to be readjusted.
You'll notice in the photos that there is quite a bit of leaf coverage over the grape bunches. The syrah (the red pictured here) are pruned in the goblet form, and the extra leaves are left by design to limit the intensity of the summer sun's heat. But the grapes are low to the ground and benefit from the radiated heat of the earth and stones through the night. The viognier (green) is trained on lines, but there again, the abundant leaf coverage has been purposely left.
However, all is set. The team has been alerted (all but the Mourvedre grape -- a late-ripening variety-- are hand-harvested here), and will be here 7AM on Tuesday morning. Today, Monday, and perhaps part of Sunday it is clean-up time in the cellar. All week the machines have been rinsed and prepped. Mechanical elements have been fixed. The tractors have been tuned up (ancient that they are, they're still running). The electric pump tested. So much, so many strands to be gathered together for a harvesting season to flow smoothly.
I can see the tension in the eyes and face of this vintner. Stressful days are around the corner. He'll survey the harvest, but also be at the cellar to receive the bins, which will be pressed immediately (this being a white wine). The juice will go straight into tanks to be chilled over the next 24 hours. The chilling holds off fermention and encourages the solids in suspension to descend to the bottom of the tank as sediminent. The clear juice above will then be transfered to a different tank for to ferment. This technique is Débourbage (known as racking must or musts clarification), and permits a cleaner and brighter flavor as it removes potentially vegetal, bitter or ascerbic flavors. It's an added step that improves the final product, but if there is a glitch and the fermentation gets going before the wine's been clarified... you just need to go with it and say, better luck next year. Yet another crucial step requiring attention and control.
And thus shall begin Harvest 2009. May the good weather hold, and cool breezes be many.