Why Cabernet Day Makes Me Proud to be a Winemaker

This is a strange year with NO Spring. One day in June…. we just switched the heater to the Air Conditioner… and it looks like we will not have an Autumn!!!!

Anyway, while Joe is harvesting and making the 2013 wines, I want to get into the Holiday spirit and offer our Clients a Special on O’Vineyards Fine Wines!

Enjoy our older vintages dating back to 2005 at today’s prices!
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Posted by Joe The Winemaker:

“Finnnnnnnnnnished! The 2102 harvest has finished fermentation and the pressing of the skins was completed Saturday 3rd of November!

When you grow grapes and make wine, you sometimes wonder whether the months of September and October exist. You start to clean and prepare for harvest in late August and the next thing you know; you are getting ready for Christmas!
During the harvest season, visitors are always amazed at how much happens on a daily basis.

Anyway we are extremely happy with the quality of our 2012 harvest and look forward to tasting with all our visitors!”

The Merlot came in last week nice and clean and everything feels great. Another 3AM harvest so some of the photos are a bit dark. But that means the grapes could come in really cool and do a pre-fermentation cold soak.

The juice is tasting yummy and we’re inducing fermentations in two of the tanks. A third tank will ferment spontaneously (hopefully) with the wild yeasts that live on the grapes. Yay!

Yesterday, we harvested the Chasan for our first ever white wine!

We harvested by machine starting around 4 AM so that we could bring the grapes in extra cold. We also used dry ice in the harvester and intake trailer to keep the grapes cool on the short journey to the winery.

Intake was very simple compared to the red. We used a destemmer at first (although we eventually decided the destemmer on board the harvester was sufficient). The grapes then go into a pump where they’re lightly crushed on their way to the press. We drain the free run juice into one tank and then press the grapes for the rest of the juice in another tank.

We sort of had a mini disaster which I’ll get into some other day when I’m less exhausted. We now have a white wine! Or juice at least. Wine is on the way. :)  100% Chasan!

In September 2011, we did a special harvest and micro vinification with part of the Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah. It was a natural, extended whole cluster carbonic maceration.

The experimental fermentation

Natural means nothing added.  We counted on wild yeasts and used no sulfites.

Extended means that I let the maceration run for about six weeks.  That’s a long time.  Especially for a carbonic.

Whole cluster means I left the grapes on the stems.

Carbonic maceration means the tank was completely sealed throughout the maceration so there was virtually no oxygen.  The chemical reactions during fermentation result in totally different flavors when there is no oxygen in the environment.  Lots of candy like, bubblegummy flavors (often associated with beaujolais nouveau).

Harvest

I previously posted about harvesting the grapes for this micro vinification experiment.

Decuvage

After the six weeks were up, we opened the tank and checked on the grapes.  I really had no idea what to expect.

It smelled great and looked like most of the grapes had stayed intact.

whole grape clusters on top of fermentation tank

We drained juice from the bottom of the tank and took density measurements to see how much sugar was left.  It turns out that we had almost finished fermentation on the free running juice.  It was at .999 the density of water.  Almost! Tasted great.  This was definitely killer wine.  The grapes also tasted delicious.  I froze some for use in cooking recipes later this winter.

density measurement on o'blivion

Once we drained all the free running juice, it was time to tip the tank over and scoop out all the remaining grapes into a vertical wooden press.  So many of the grapes were still intact, the entire fermentation happening INSIDE the grape.  When I would reach in with the bucket, I would hear lots of popping noises as my fingers pressed into the grapes.  It was like wine-scented bubble wrap. PS somebody should make wine scented bubble wrap.

decuvage into vertical press

I pressed the grapes.  This juice was slightly sweeter/denser.  It’s clear the fermentation stuck.  Such is life.  I guess I’m supposed to restart it with a tete de cuve (when you make a little bit of the juice ferment and then double it in size after a day and double it in size again after another day and so on until you get the whole container).  But the amount of juice we got is pathetically small (maybe 2 hectoliters / not even a barrel).  So a tete de cuve on this would be like a glass of wine.  And then the next day a bottle.  And then maybe a jug.  :D

manual vertical press

We’ll see.

All the photos of our decuvage

 

In September 2011, we did a special harvest and micro vinification with part of the Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah. Two of the WWOOFers (volunteers learning about farming) staying at O’Vineyards spent a couple days hand-harvesting grapes for a small project of mine.

Harvesting O’Blivion

We brought the harvest in and did a natural, whole-cluster extended carbonic maceration in a small stainless steel tank I have. No sulfites added. No yeast added. No air. No nothing. We just put a bunch of grapes in an airtight container and sealed the lid for six weeks. And the results are impressive!

The codename for the cuve has been O’Blivion because the WWOOFers were Cronenberg fans and we watched Videodrome a couple nights before starting this project. (There’s a character in Videodrome named Brian O’Blivion.)

It was a late harvest and it had its complications. At that point, we were already seeing a lot of shriveling and a bit of rot too so we had to be pretty selective in the hand harvest. Only picking the best grape bunches that seemed least affected by the adverse conditions of late harvesting, we managed to get about 5 hectoliters (500 liters) of grapes.

Photos of harvest

Help and credit

We should give a shout out to Matt and Erica, the WWOOFers who contributed so much to this little tank of wine. And Laurent and Alexandra from Tonton Marcel also helped out on the day they were at O’Vineyards.  A lot of the photos above were taken by them.

2011 Syrah being machine harvested at vineyard in Languedoc2011 Vintage Report

People have been asking me about how the vintage is going to turn out since back in August.  I’m always hesitant to guess at quality that early in the game, and this year is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t be too confident in our speculation.

All year, the vines were ahead of schedule and carrying a pretty bountiful crop of grapes.  But in the last stretch, conditions changed drastically and how winemakers responded to those changes will lead to  a wide spectrum of results.  I think that quality of 2011 Languedoc wines will vary wildly depending on yield, microclimates, and harvest strategy.  While this variance is always something to consider, it’s especially crazy this year.

O’Vineyards 2011 Vintage

The grapes were tasting great since mid August which is unusually early.  We taste them daily with the tour groups that come through to visit the vineyard.  Normally they don’t start tasting good until closer to harvest.  As I explained to the tour groups, the flesh of the fruit tasted good but the seeds were still green.

As we continued tasting, I felt confident that the ripeness would be there by the second week of September.  Muse the dog was also eating grapes in the second week which is usually a good sign!   The lab was telling us to wait and was predicting that the grapes would be ready late in the third week or fourth week of the month.  I thought that was ludicrous and we went ahead and started harvesting on the night of the 14th.

Grapes came in very well and very ripe.  In retrospect, we sort of look like genius wine wizards.  People who followed the textbook guidelines on how to harvest may have been taken off guard by several of the unusual circumstances this year.

Unusual circumstances of 2011 harvest

It was a very late summer with tshirt and shorts weather through most of September and part of October. This had an incredible effect on the late ripening period for the grapes in my area.  Lots of shriveling and therefore less water and higher sugar content.

There was also a special kind of late season mildew which knocks out the youngest leaves on the plant.  This wasn’t a problem for us because we had low to moderate yields and lots of healthy leaves.  But if you had a lot of grapes on the plant, you might have needed those young leaves in the final stretch.  Then again, most of the producers that really push yield also treat more against mildew and it seemed like my neighbors weren’t much affected by this.

It seems like there were less pips this year.  We didn’t really notice this until decuvage, but it seems significant.  2-3 seeds per grape instead of 2-4.   The grapes also stained our equipment a lot less than usual which might be related to the fewer seeds observation.

It’s also worth reminding you that the vines were very far ahead of schedule earlier in the year.

All this combines for a crazy late season.  Winemakers who harvested later might be facing extreme concentration levels.  The grapes started shriveling very quickly in the record-breaking heat we had at the end of September.  Judging by the dates some people were harvesting, I imagine some of my neighbors were bringing grapes in at 17% and 18% potential alcohol.  These concentrations are obviously TOO high to be making typical terroir wines.  Independent wineries can counter this by illegally adding water (although that’s not an alternative that fills me with joy).  And this sort of cheating can be harder to pull off in larger more public wineries like cooperatives (depending on the visibility and honesty of the winery).

On the other hand, winemakers who brought things in early might face some other issues.  For example, if you prune for high yields, you were looking at exceptionally high yields this year.  But exceptionally high yields can mean it takes longer for the seeds to ripen.  So if you brought in your harvest early, you might still have green seeds.  But if you waited too long you might have ripe seeds but you’ll also have huge sugar levels.

Anyway, we hit some kind of magical middle path.  We pruned for low yields.  The bumper harvest just meant a normal amount of grapes on our vines (floating around 40 hectoliters/hectare).  So we got seed maturity early enough that we could bring the grapes in at a reasonable 14-15% potential for the most part.

And there are lots of other variables I’m probably not noticing or forgetting to mention.  Components like surface area of foliage, depth of roots, deep water reservoirs, and so on.  And there are much finer variables that people hardly mention like leaf attrition, cane width, migration of African swallows carrying coconuts by the husk, etc.  ;)

Hopefully this has been helpful and gives people some insight into the 2011 vintage.  Should be a fun one. ;)

Tonton Marcel, a French and German guide to agritourism, dropped by O’Vineyards toward the end of harvest.  They’re on the lookout for the  unpretentious, country relation of Mr. and Mrs. Smith who also runs accommodations on the farm. :D

Photos they took while here

 

Tonton Marcel separates the wheat from the chaff

I think this is a guide that needed to exist.  One of the big problems with agritourism is that you’re never sure if you’re getting a cool, modern farm experience or a cheap little cot in a hayloft with a farmer who seems to dislike visitors.  This second group is often a historical artifact resulting from the way farmers used to make a little spare cash.

There was a time when your horses got tired and you’d ask one of the locals if there were any pensions before the next big town.  A place where you could tie up your horses and shut your eyes until morning.  Those places still exist.  A lot of farms and vineyards run their chambres d’hotes or gites in a similar manner.  You show up, get the key, and then they’ll avoid you at all cost for the rest of your stay.  The room is located on a farm, but otherwise you’re as separated from the farm experience as possible.  These places also tend to be a little run down.  A little rusticity can be charming, but people also expect a certain level of comfort.

Modern agritourism, especially in wine, can result in massive investments like four star hotels with a view on the vines.  Every comfort imaginable.  But then these accommodations can go a bit too far and you forget you’re even staying at a farm.

Tonton Marcel seems to seek out the special sweetspot between authenticity and modernity.  They’re looking for operators like my family.  We actually make wine and we’re winemakers before we’re hoteliers.  But at the same time, we understand that you should show your guests a bit of hospitality and we’re savvy enough to include them in the winemaking process when we can. Guests at O’Vineyards will almost definitely remember the winemakers as they look back fondly on their stay.

So the guide finds farms like mine.  And I think a lot of kids my age are looking for this sort of experience.  I say kids because the average age of our B&B guests so far is about 35.  That’s exceptionally low for a B&B.  It’s eye opening for a lot of operators who think that only older couples are interested in the bed and breakfast concept.

So here’s hoping that Tonton Marcel becomes as much a household name as Mr & Mrs Smith.

We started the machine harvest on September 15, 2011.  The weather’s been perfect and the grapes came in very cool as we started predawn (4h45AM).  A few surprises but lots of good things to report.  High hopes for the rest of harvest and the potential of this vintage for the entire Languedoc Roussillon!

I don’t really have time to wax poetic but there were some take away points worth mentioning:

  • After much talk about increased yield, Syrah seems to come in at a very low average of 35 hectoliters/hectare
  • WWOOFers are very helpful around harvest time
  • Merlot came in very clean with this new harvester
  • Syrah was a lot of work at the sorting table (mostly snails) and I think we should do more by hand
  • Everything tastes great showing a full maturity despite slightly higher yields in some parcels

Some harvest photos

I just saw off the last of my Cabernet Day friends.  It’s been a real blast.

Seeing Local Winemakers

2010 was a really heartwarming Cabernet Day because it was one of the first events I organized to really get a great deal of support from local grape growers and winemakers.  I was worried about 2011 because the slightly early harvest means a lot of winemakers are too busy to celebrate with us.

Some winemakers managed to send samples to be tasted in their absence.  Notably, Gerard Bertrand sent a few bottles of his Cabernet Franc from Cigalus.  That’s a big name in the region and I’m so excited that he decided to participate.  And everybody enjoyed tasting the wine while watching high def video footage of the Corbieres vineyard from a helicopter!  Bling bling.  We’ve come a long way from  #Cabernetday’s humble beginnings. ;D

I was also really pleased to see some winemakers tore themselves away from harvest to come in person.  And they brought wines!  Which is also very exciting because a lot of the growers around here are very shy and don’t like promoting their own wine. I’m very proud of them for coming out and braving a mostly anglophone audience to help share some of the Cabernet love.

Sharing with Anglophones

And it should be noted that this year was VERY English-speaking.  Many English families retire to this region around Carcassonne, and I feel like they make up a really strong community that will enjoy a lot of local wines.  Probably 90% of the attendees were speaking in English.

And I’ll add that almost everybody tonight was a wine novice, which is great.  I was happy to have a very professional/wine trade crowd in 2010.  But I’m even happier to share the joys of Cabernet with an amateur/novice crowd.  People who just love life in the south of France and want to drink some good local wine.

We got to spend a lot of time sharing simple winemaker pleasures like “how to taste grapes for ripeness“.  We all went out to the rows of Cabernet Sauvignon and tasted how the fruit was coming along.  Chewed the skins and seeds separately.  Talked about the importance of sugar and phenolics.


It was a lot of fun because we had a huge deal of neighborhood support.  I’m getting too mushy, but it felt wonderful to have such a big block party here at O’Vineyards all around some Cabernet.

Lots of good friends!

2011″s Cab Day turned out very different from 2010 here in the Languedoc, so I’m anxious to hear everybody’s reports.  I hope everybody has a piece of the magic we had here in the Languedoc Roussillon!  Thanks again to Rick Bakas for organizing a wonderful Cab Day.

How to find us

Domaine O’Vineyards is just a few kilometres north of Carcassonne. GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

Domaine O’Vineyards
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

  1. Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou until the D118 (the last straight road) and the Dyneff gas station on the roundabout.
  2. Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
  3. Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which goes up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire.
  4. At the last juction, bear left at the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
  5. After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.