Last week Vouvray wine producers, like all the others in the Touraine Loire Valley, were hard at work bringing in the grape harvest. The warm dry weather over the summer initially resulted in small sweet grapes (potentially too sweet for sparkling wines). Then the heavens opened and there were several deluges. The grapes swelled up, thus reducing their overall sugar content. Happily, the rain stopped again for the actual harvest, which took place earlier than normal, but not as early as had been predicted. Now most of the grapes are in, with those who hope to produce sweet wines as part of their range, like Chateau Gaudrelle, waiting for the recent sunny weather with a dry continental wind to do its job on selected parcels. They'll be picked when they are shrivelled like sultanas. You don't get much juice from these grapes but they are sweet.
The new member of staff at Chateau Gaudrelle backs a trailer full of freshly harvested Chenin Blanc grapes into the winery to be pressed (below). He comes from a background in IT support but has decided to re-invent himself in the wine industry. I think I put him off by snapping away with the camera. There was certainly a lot of backing and filling required anyway.
This is what he was aiming for (below). Guillaume, the vineyard master, makes sure the conveyor is correctly positioned to receive the grapes and carry them up to the press.
The grapes are given a helping hand to exit out the
bottom of the trailer and on to the conveyor.
Alexandre Monmousseau, the owner and winemaker, watches like a hawk, ready to pluck out any substandard grapes or vegetative material (leaves, stalks) before they can make it to the press (below). Cyril, the cellar master is on top of the pneumatic press making sure everything is as it should be as the grapes drop in.
And here's some they made earlier. The chalk notes on the old 500 litre barrel below tell you that it was filled with fresh juice on 28 September. The fermentation is using just the naturally occuring yeasts that live on the grape skins (known as indigenous yeasts). The grapes come from vines in a parcel known as Montgouverne, which were not trimmed in the summer but their tendrils wound around each other and the top support wire (tressées = 'plaited'). This parcel is a test of this technique, which allows the vines to use their tendrils as antennae, sensing the conditions around them, responding and growing in a more natural way. The next day when I saw this barrel the fermentation was well underway, with Granny Smith apple tasting foam coming out the bung hole. The barrel will not impart any oaky flavour to the wine, merely allow more of the wine to be in contact with the lees (a sediment of dead yeast and particles of grape) than if it were in a big stainless steel tank. This technique means the wine will develop a fuller more rounded and integrated flavour. It will stay in the barrel for several months, the length of time depending on when the winemaker judges it to be ready to bottle.