The harvest is finally here! After tasting and analysing the grapes from various parcels for a few weeks, the domaine has decided that our grapes are ready to be harvested. Some of them, anyway. With so many different grape varieties and types of terroir, let alone parcels with different elevation and sun exposure, we will have roughly 20 days of harvesting ahead of us, which could be consecutive, or spread out over six weeks. The appellation needs to declare the official start to the harvest, based on input from various analyses throughout the region, but domaines can apply for an earlier date if their parcels indicate a higher level of maturity. This year the Crémant harvest is declared on September 12, and the still wine harvest, a week later on September 19. Sparkling wines are typically harvested earlier because the balance needed for the final wine is slightly higher acidity and lower sugar levels than for still, dry wines.
I started sending postcards to my wee nephew the summer I walked the camino, ostensibly in an effort to augment his 5 year old view on culture and geography, but in reality because I was going to miss our bi-weekly skype sessions, and was terrified he would forget who I was. The postcards have now expanded to include my nearly-4-year-old niece, while I wrack my brain to write a) neatly and b) topically, or at least simply enough that they have an idea of what’s going on, on this side of the ocean. I am under strict instructions to send postcards with maps, by all parties involved, as it seems to be a fun pastime to try and identify where-in-the-world-is-Aunt Cat. With that in mind, I’m going to do the same thing for you, as I haven’t really written about the region of Alsace since the introduction to my stage search, and my February visit.
Frankly, it’s a little intimidating to write about this wine region as there are so many different terroirs (13, officially), a big range of grape varietals (6 white grapes and 1 red are considered Grand Cru worthy, although other white grapes are permitted), 51 Grand Crus (!), and many lieux-dit (‘named’ places that are recognized but not considered as high quality as Grand Cru).
I’m currently located in the Haut-Rhin, the high-Rhine, or the south of Alsace. The higher slopes of the Vosges confer better sun exposure and water drainage for the grapes, thus the best wines tend to come from the Haut-Rhin rather than the Bas-Rhin, or northern Rhine. The domaine where I work has vineyard parcels in 5 of the Grand Crus, and 6 of the 7 ‘official’ Alsace grape varieties; in white: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Muscat (no Sylvaner), and in red: Pinot Noir, in very small quantities. Read More
The bites and scrapes are starting to add up. Skin is so exposed with the heat, and mine is extra sensitive, as I’ve discovered it responds poorly to copper sulfate spray, so each new lump and bump comes with a whole host of paranoic wonderment: is it a mosquito bite? Is it an allergic reaction? ….. Is it lyme disease? …………….SKIN CANCER?? (In a dark corner of my room, I KNOW there’s a spider rubbing at least three of his legs together, saying: the Precious tastesss ssssso much better with a dash of fear.) Just kidding… said spider has been satisfyingly vanquished. It made the mistake of hiding behind the bathroom door in plain sight at a time when my roommate and I had enough liquid courage to construct a strategy and take it out. Even though we could see hairs on its legs. (That’s Madame Dragonslayer to you!) Read More
There’s a giant spider living somewhere in my room. I’ve seen him once. I turned away to grab a shoe (to gently convince him to live elsewhere, you see), and turned back around just in time to see him scuttling under my bed (…the horror!) I haven’t seen him since… clearly his intelligence is evolving. He’s biding his time until I relax my guard.
Maybe even gathering reinforcements…
Dammit. Let’s talk about something else.
The carcasses of a deer and a wild boar are hanging up in a cold locker in my backyard right now. The former is roadkill, recovered by my landlord; the latter a prize from hunting the night before. It’s clear we’re not in Kansas anymore… The views here are spectacular but I’m realizing that there’s much more to Alsace than the picture-perfect images of mountains, quaint houses and vines absolutely everywhere. What is certain is that any romanticized expectations I may have previously harboured about working in the vines are well and truly dashed. My arms and legs are covered in fly, mosquito, spider and even horsefly bites, not to mention thistle spines, bruises and sunburn (the latter thankfully camouflages the worst of it). It actually reminds me a lot of my camino experience – physically demanding and exhausting but mentally exhilarating and rewarding. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)