Around here, the start of harvest is like opening day of the baseball season, full of anticipation and uncertainty.
Is all the fruit truly ripe? Are the rookies ready?
Will the old vines continue to produce? Do the veterans have another year in them?
Will this year’s pickers work hard and well? Will the free agents produce?
Yesterday, I went out with Marcel and Carrie and the crew from Domaine des Enfants who were picking the first whites of the season: Muscat, Grenache Gris and Blanc, Maccabeu. Not all the fruit is ripe, but sample testing had shown some vines that were pruned early were ready to go.
Marcel and Carrie feed me often and keep me in wine; in exchange, I wanted to update their photo library. My pix from five years ago were ready for retirement. I also needed to see if I still had the legs to scramble up and down a steep hillside vineyard, kind of like tracking down a liner in the gap. Not bad. I may have lost a step but I was able to keep up with the kids. My average wasn’t great but it’s early and I did manage a few hits.
Back at the cave, a little cathartic foot stomping before refrigeration and pressing, followed by a sausage grillade lunch, which I followed with a nap.
Harvest 2012 is here and it’s a completely different animal. The crop is very small, the yield cut down by multiple hailstorms and the proliferation of the wild boar population. The weather has been extreme: very hot for a while, now cool, cloudy and rainy. It’s not often you get temperatures in the 60s early in September. Feels like San Francisco.
The white grapes are all in, reds still in progress and there are great differences among the winemakers. The Cooperative growers are finished. D66 hasn’t started yet. The Calvets are almost finished; Marcel and Carrie are just beginning. Some of this has to do with the location of your vineyard – the vines ripen in an east to west pattern, – and the elevation and exposure to the sun. Some of it is due to philosophy: in general, the longer you wait, the higher the sugar content and therefore the resulting alcohol content.
But there are dangers to waiting including the weather and the pigs. Marcel says he may have lost as much as 30% of his crop to the beasts and I expect he’ll be eating a lot of sanglier this winter.
I’m not planning to shoot as much this year but I couldn’t resist another opportunity to go chasing after Marie Calvet. I’m definitely a year older but I’m not sure about Marie. She’s just incredible. If you’re working on a crew with Marie, there’s no way you can slack off; she simply leads by example and she does it with good humor, compassion and the understanding that no one could possibly be as committed to this work as she is. She may not need a break, but she knows that her crew does. This is her life, her land, the source of everything she has and what she will have to pass on to her children.
As usual, harvest is a family affair: Jean-Roger is in the winery, processing, but his dad, Roger is there, along with Marie’s brother Cyril, a coop member who had finished picking his vineyards.
And the vineyard was extraordinary, high in the hills, just below Queribus; you can see Estagel from one end and Maury from the other. These are very old vines, farmed with very little chemical intervention and the yield was very small. I asked Marie, if they were going to have to rip them out for new plants and she said no: “There’s not much fruit but these were among the first vineyards my father bought and we love them. There are some vines here that are pre-phylloxera.”
One of those days that makes you feel privileged just to be there.