the french clos-nection

Once upon a time there was a winery in Niagara named Le Clos Jordanne. It was named thus as the vineyards were surrounded by walls – the French definition of a clos – and was located near the Niagara town of Jordan. Destined for greatness, it was first created as the brainchild of Inniskillin (famed for its ice wine and a subsidiary of Vincor, a Canadian wine company) and Boisset France (a large wine producer, dominant in Burgundy) in order to make world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Ontario. With the earliest vineyards only planted in 2000, the winery was already winning awards by 2005 – the totally famous Judgement of Montreal (maybe only to a select few Canadians though…) awarded Le Clos Jordanne the top award for white wines, among a group of predominantly French and Californian wines. (Don’t worry Bordeaux friends and oak lovers, the 2004 Mouton Rothschild won for the reds…)

What could have been: a scale model of Frank Gehry’s design for the winery, which never came to fruition. A stunning construction, even if my nieces prefer the classic (“It’s a princess castle!”) châteaux of Bordeaux (Château Pichon Baron pictured here). We can negotiate when design for Château Cat begins.

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return of the prodigal daughter

I don’t know when the culture of France became normal and the Canadian culture became foreign, but it must have happened gradually some time in the last two years, and it’s hitting me hard on the return home. For example… when going to class or work, in France one typically greets everyone in the room with a kiss on each cheek or a handshake (unless one is late in which case it is awkward. Speaking for a friend). Even at a social gathering where there may be people one has not met before, a girl still does the kisses as if they were new bosom buddies. I’d forgotten that this is not necessarily normal in Canada. Here, if you happen to make eye contact or cross each other’s path, then a Good Morning greeting is in order, but there is no physical contact (absolutely none!), and one is rarely searched out to be bid a morning greeting. This was normal life for me only two years ago, and upon my return, it feels cold.

Early forays into French social scenes took some getting used to, but the return to Canada is a tad… cold…

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when autumn leaves start to fall

Harvesting the Pinot Gris from the steep slopes of Rangen calls for smaller baskets.

Harvesting Pinot Gris from the steep slopes of Rangen calls for smaller baskets.

It’s been six weeks since my last post, as I’ve been preoccupied with the busy harvest days, and the lead-up to the end of my stage (and therefore my return to Bordeaux). The days pass by in a blur. There’s a rhythm to this faster pace particularly around the end of September, although it is punctuated by slow days when we’re not harvesting due to unreadiness of certain grapes and parcels.

In broad, broad terms, the harvest begins with the grapes in the Pinot family: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Auxerrois, and even Pinot Noir, the only red grape we have. This is followed by the Muscat, Chardonnay and Riesling, and Gewurztraminer tends to be the last to be ready. I emphasize broad terms because many factors can impact the decision to harvest each varietal: the geography – the plains tend to be harvested before the slopes (the generic wines before the Grand Cru wines), and the soil – the granite tends to ripen earlier, and the volcanic rock later. Additionally, the type of wine desired also impacts the timing decision: grapes for drier wines will come in before grapes for sweeter wines, like the Late Harvest planned for some of our Pinot Gris. Read More

the fruit of our labour

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.

Other wineries start harvesting the crémant while we are still gathering our prélèvements, or samples for analysis.

Other wineries start harvesting the crémant while we are still touring the vineyards, gathering our prélèvements, or samples for analysis.

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(ve)raison d’être

The yellow star is where I live and (mostly) work. This domaine has vineyard parcels as far north as Hunawihr and as far south as Thann, all in the Haut-Rhin.

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 (4 white grapes – and a 5th exceptionally – 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