It is beautiful in Bordeaux right now: the temperatures are comfortably in the teens – Celsius, that is! Lest you think my cold-blooded Canadian genes allow me to survive in frigid conditions (they do… but that’s a secret superpower we don’t talk about…sorry!) – and even the 20s. While I, I am taking the road less travelled by – not travelling at all. By that I mean locking myself in my apartment to work on the big year-end audit, spinning the threads of our analysis into gold for the final report.

I’m following the “down the rabbithole” scientific method.

The benefit of my corporate experience, particularly my Procurement role where I had to sort through mountains of sometimes incomplete data to create solutions, is that I have become very comfortable with scaling said mountains of data quickly, and sketching out assumptions and insights . The downside is that it has not prepared me well for scientific research, which requires a more methodical approach, building insights and conclusions step-by-step from complete and verifiable data. Leaps of insight need to be documented, vectors calculated, rough sketches need to be fully coloured in and referenced. Each attempt to fill in the details leads me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole. Hmmm… this gets curiouser and curiouser…

Hours, or maybe days later…

Phew, it’s time for a break! I take off to Morocco for a week, but will not write about it here because I don’t think writing will do it justice, certainly not compared to the photos I took while I was there. Feel free to click on the link and check them out if you haven’t already.

A teaser of a few of my favourite Moroccan sights and sites: a lantern shop (looking magical) and a colourful weaver’s cooperative in Fez. The Casablanca Mosque, stunning at sunset. And my view from the camel train in the Sahara.

Back in Bordeaux, I return to hitting the books, this time to work on a business plan. For this assignment, I am drafting the plan for my future winery in Ontario. In the context of my own business, it’s fun to fill in all the details, and examine the implications of starting small (planting 1-2 acres) vs. leading large at the outset (planting the vineyard as well as building the hospitality operations right away). Red and white wines are a given, but it would be interesting to make a few other things: sweet wines from late harvest or noble rot, sparkling wines and maybe even fortified wines.

Or I could buy this winery that is for sale in Prince Edward County… can’t you just see it?

The ultimate surprise (to me, for whom the ‘practicality’ of supply chain and operations runs in my veins) is how much the brand identity matters to all the business decisions, even the non-marketing ones. If it were purely a financial thought process, the smartest thing to do would be to start small and build the operation slowly, as profits grow, to minimize debt. But the idea driving the engine is fired up by the dream of making wine, as naturally as possible, and creating a space to not only enjoy it, but also to educate. A few guestrooms (let’s be honest, if you come out to the County to taste my wines, you might not be driving home right away), a market garden with a few chickens, a kitchen and dining space (I hesitate to call it a restaurant; I’m no chef, but I do enjoy cooking simply with fresh ingredients – maybe I’ll just call it the Kitchen Table.) and of course some space for the music. The more I think about what I want the brand to stand for, the more strongly I feel about the importance of each element being present from the beginning. Of course, the practical side will always keep the plan grounded, but there is exhilaration in taking one big leap – much like quitting my job back in 2015 – instead of proceeding one step at a time.

Map of the Burgundy wine regions.

Before we get back to the audit, there’s just enough time for another tasting, this time a tasting of Burgundy wines. We decide to focus on Burgundy red wines, and in our case tasting wines from Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. This means that we’re drinking Pinot Noir, as the other major red grape from the area, Gamay, hails from the Beaujolais region to the south.

Even though it is the same grape in all the wines we are tasting, the difference between each is quite pronounced, not only because of the different methods used in vinification, but also because of the vintages.

2009 was a particularly warm and dry vintage, although there was a little rain in Côte de Beaune late in the season. According to Decanter, this generally meant that CdB winemakers picked a bit earlier (so you might get more acidity, young tannins, fresh fruit aromas), while the Côte de Nuits winemakers tended to wait a little longer (lower acidity and higher alcohol). The first two wines we sample are from the villages of Volnay and Pommard, both in Côte de Beaune. Despite Decanter’s notes on tendencies, one of our winemakers clearly decided to wait a little longer, as the ripe fruit notes and stronger tannins from the Volnay are indicative of grapes that hung on the vines a little longer.

The 2011 and 2008 we are trying from Côte de Nuits are both pleasant surprises, considering how challenging the vintages, with hail, rot/mildew and uneven weather conditions, leading to inconsistent results. It’s incredible how complex the aromas can be – with spices, herbs, cherries and blackberries – despite close vineyard proximity and similar weather conditions, the decision when to harvest and what steps to include in the vinification process make such diverse and interesting wines.

The most famous vineyard in Burgundy is the Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Côte de Nuits. Pinot Noir on the slopes, distinguishable in the fall by its red leaves. We followed a similar vinification style in Alsace: whole berries (destemmed here, but Burgundy winemakers sometimes choose to leave the stems on) are left in the vat to macerate. Maceration allows a better breakdown of the compounds in the grapes – colour, tannins, and aroma molecules.

Well, pens are down. The audit report is submitted, as is our vinification exam. One more exam, and the final presentation and then school will be over. I’m heading off to Niagara at the beginning of May, to a summer internship with Tawse Winery where I’ll also be writing my thesis.

Celebratory wine and pizza in the sun after the report is written. I may need several of these to get through the thesis!

 

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