winter is coming

The other undeniable French connection with wine is just over the provincial border in Québec. There is a wonderful relationship between Québec and Bordeaux – I actually learned more about what Québec had to offer after I moved to France, as thanks to a particularly difficult inter-provincial flow of alcohol, there is little to no representation in the local monopoly stores. Frankly, it didn’t occur to me that it was even possible to grow grapes in Québec, as I assumed (as most people do about all of Canada), that it was too cold.

There is a beautiful quote that is often mistakenly attributed to Aubert de Villaine of Domaine Romanée-Conti, perhaps due to how regularly he references it:

“Il n’existe pas de vignoble prédestiné, il n’y a que des entêtements de civilisation.” – Pierre Veilletet

“There are no predestined vineyards, there is only the stubbornness of civilization.”

Aubert de Villaine, standing before the iconic cross of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. As a pioneer in biodynamic viticulture, he understands very well how to be stubborn. What else drives us to grow grapes on steep mountainsides like here in the Mosel, or in hot climates, like here in India?

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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

(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

reign of terroir

It is terroir week; a week for industry professionals to join us in the classroom for an intensive module on the concept of terroir-winemaking: the interactions of the vine with climate, soil, water, nitrogen, rootstocks, etc. and their impact on our ability to make good wine.

I took this sole picture of Green Park in London, and felt it summed up enough.

I took one picture of Green Park, and felt it summed up London terroir fairly well.

I, holy terroir of a student that I am, decide to take off to the UK for a day to participate in the Davy‘s portfolio tastings. Davy’s Wine Merchants are a family-owned, fifth generation, importer/distributor/wine bar and wine shop group based in London. I’ve mentioned them briefly before: I’m connected through a good friend who works there (also responsible for my initial introduction to the Becker wines from the last post), and have had the opportunity to meet with several of the producers in Europe with whom they work. As I’m busy pouring wines (mostly for other people, even!), I somehow manage to pass the entire day without taking a single photo of the event. Instead, I’ll take this opportunity to dig up stories and tasting memories about the wines in their native habitats; isn’t that the essence of terroir, after all? Read More