Friday 4 October 2013

Visiting the Vines in Vouvray

Charles Morand from Chateau Gaudrelle rang me recently to tell me that they had been approached by a journalist who wanted to interview them and some visiting American tourists at the winery. He thought we might be interested in 'supplying' the American tourists. We were happy to suggest some suitable dates for the meeting and asked our clients if they would be willing to be involved. Charles and I finalised our arrangements and then we waited for the journalist to confirm. In the end the journalist didn't turn up, but we went ahead with the visit as planned without them.

Charles talking about the vines to me and one of our clients.
It included not just visiting their winery caves on the Quai de la Loire as we usually do but also going up on to the top of Rochecorbon and seeing the vines too. Charles took us to an area called Montgouverne, where Chateau Gaudrelle owns about 2.5 ha of vines. They purchased these two parcels about 2 years ago and are converting them to a near organic form of management known as agriculture raisonnée ('intelligent agriculture'). The former owner practiced a full-on 'nuke all the pests, diseases and weeds before they even make an appearance' approach, so the vineyard isn't yet in the condition they would like it to be (for example, very little grass grows between the rows yet). They've decided not to go completely certified organic because they feel that it could result in them losing the crop if the weather was particularly poor. They manage the parcels in ways that reduce the risk of fungal diseases and pests, and are aiming to increase the biodiversity, especially insects and wildflowers. However, they want to retain the option of being able to use fungicides to save the grapes if absolutely necessary, but they do not use pesticides routinely.

 Youngish vines on flint clay soil.
Charles showed us the two different types of soil in the parcels, how to tell the age of the vines and what variety they were. We also discussed the problem of the fungal disease esca and how the grapes were picked.

Rochecorbon is in the Vouvray wine appellation, so only chenin blanc grapes are grown. They have to be planted in rows 120 cm apart and the number of plants must not exceed the density per hectare specified by the authorities. They are also not allowed to produce more juice than the appellation rules specify.

 Claudette on her second proper job, lurking about in the vineyard.
The vines are 15 years old in one parcel and 35 years old in the other. That makes them fairly young and middle aged respectively. Chenin blanc grapes don't produce a useable harvest until they are 5 years old and the grapes produced by very young vines are just left on the plants to be consumed by birds. Deer are apparently not a problem. We saw their tracks but Charles says although they might nibble a few grape berries it's nothing that warrants the vineyard being protected from them.

Most of the grapes are picked by machine. It goes along the rows, gently shaking the bushes. It is calibrated to shake with just enough force to make only ripe grapes of a certain weight fall off into collecting baskets. These grapes will go to making the dry and semi-dry wines (including the base wine for the sparkling Vouvray). At the end of the harvest, if weather conditions have been favourable, hand pickers will go through and selectively pick grapes from certain parcels for making sweet wine. This is a practice known as passerillage where the grapes are allowed to dry to currants on the vines before being picked. The last time Chateau Gaudrelle was able to make sweet wines was 2010, so everyone is hoping for fine weather and a continental (east) wind in mid-October to replenish the stocks.

Middle aged vines on limestone clay soil, full of fossils of marine creatures from 90 million years ago and only a few metres away from the flinty soil in the photo above.
We sampled the grapes, but they were still not quite ripe on 25 September. The harvest is scheduled for between 10 and 20 October -- the latest ever due to winter hanging on until June this year. Although Chateau Gaudrelle lost 60% of their crop on 17 June due to a hail storm, September was looking very promising for maturing the grapes, with very warm and mostly dry weather. The day we visited the vines were starting to brown at the tips, indicating they needed a bit of water. Worryingly, they got more than a bit only a couple of days later, with the weather deteriorating from warm and a bit humid to a day of heavy rain followed by several warm drizzly days. This is just the sort of weather the winemakers don't want at this time as it promotes fungal diseases and rot.

Update: Simon, who took these photos, tells me I had the soil types back to front so the photo captions have been corrected now.
Orchard News:  I picked the last of the Reine de Canada apples and gathered some more hazel nuts. Actually, the hazels appear to be filberts according to information provided by Pauline. I've got enough now, so the rest can go to nourishing various foraging small mammals (squirrels, voles and the like). I'll continue picking a punnet of grapes every day or so for the next couple of weeks. 

One of the apples weighed 350g (average apple weight is half that). Its friend next to it on the tree attempted to break my nose by leaping off and landing smack in the middle of my face from a great height.

The harvest mites (aoûtats in French) are driving me mad. I never see these microscopic creatures, but they bite, leaving me with itchy red welts around the line of my bra and underpants and in the crook of my elbows. Thank goodness for Onctose cream, with its antihistamine and local anaesthetic.
A la cuisine hier: A veritable tomato led frenzy, with Simon making 12 jars of pasta sauce and me whizzing up a dozen little pots of Ken's salsa for the freezer. I also cooked up some quinces which are currently suspended in the jelly bag.


Jean said...

Is it possible that these mites were active a month ago?
I had at least twenty tiny, very itchy bites along the line of my bra and the waist of my trousers and thought they couldn't possibly be mosquito bites.
I must get some of that cream !!

Susan said...

Jean: yes very likely they were active. If you spend any time in the garden or walking in long vegetation they'll get you.

Jean said...

That was it then, I blame Lulu...........all those long walks in the lanes around the château !!

melinda said...

are harvest mites the same as chiggers? sounds like they like to bite in same places.....

Susan said...

Jean: Yes, definitely Lulu's fault.

Melinda: Yes, chiggers are the same thing.

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