A Russian wine lover is running a series of updates from me on his website, WhyWhyWine. It’s always fun to see yourself translated into a language you can’t read.
It’s even more fun using Google Translator’s limited engine to decipher what’s being said. There’s an odd sort of poetry in the computer generated translation: “These weeds are not any terrible pest, but if they become too high or grow too thickly, they begin to overshadow the fruit.”
But when you get bored of the Google translation, here is the English version, an update describing the end of August at O’Vineyards.
It’s a beautiful time of year in the rolling, sun-drenched hills of the Languedoc. The vines are hard at work, soaking in the Mediterranean sunshine all day. And at night, the cool breezes of the Atlantic Ocean sweep in from the west and bring freshness to our grapes. But this poetic and beautiful weather is HARD to work in. It is perfect for vines, but it is HOT for humans.
That’s why we try to work as much as possible in the morning when the sun is still gentle. Because the earth is tilted slightly in relationship to the sun, the rising sun in the northern hemisphere is much gentler than the afternoon sun. The morning is far from cold, but it is cool enough to work in. The afternoon however is sweltering so we stay in to enjoy big French lunches with fresh local ingredients. Then we have la sieste, a well-deserved nap. And around 3 or 4, we can get back to work. On cooler evenings, we can head back into the vines, or we can decide it’s still too hot and stay in to welcome tourists visiting the winery.
We have just passed veraison, the season when grapes change color from green to dark purple. The first part of the year, before veraison, the plant devotes almost all of its energy to growing new vegetation. Long stems and vines that reach up toward the sun and form a great canopy to receive the sun’s light. Once the grapes change color, the plant shifts gears and begins to put most of its energy toward maturing the fruit. Putting lots of sugar in those delicious grapes and allowing phenolics and acids to present interesting flavors and aromas in the skins and seeds.
This is a time of year when many winemakers take a vacation, but we use this time to do a few extra tasks. It’s those little jobs that aren’t entirely necessary but make the difference between a good wine and a magnificent wine.
Some weeds have come up in the Syrah, so my dad goes out to remove them manually. We avoid passing with the tractor because we don’t want to compact the soil and use up lots of gasoline for a job that is feasible by hand. The weeds aren’t terribly harmful to the vines, but if they grow too tall or too dense, they can begin to cover the grapes. We would rather have our grapes exposed to a bit of the warm Mediterranean sun which will allow them to ripen over the course of the entire summer. Sunlight is good! So we slowly make our way through the vines to pull out the weeds.
Normally, the weeds are not so active this time of year, but 2010 has been a very strange year. We had an unusually high amount of snow in the south of France last winter and snow fixes nitrogen in the soil. That nitrogen allows for a lot of growth the next year. But don’t worry. It doesn’t just mean weeds; nitrogen also helps the vines grow! In fact, we have unusually large foliage this year. Some of the vines stretch more than three meters into the air before curving back down under their own weight. This means we have lots of leaves to soak in the sunlight and feed the plant to get good, mature grapes. Perfect for the big wines we make in this region!
Also, the fig trees and blackberries that grow in the brush around the vines are now fruiting. We can pick the seasonal fruit and enjoy lavish dinners made from local, organic ingredients.
This time of year, we get to sit back at the end of the day and enjoy the new life we’ve chosen. Being a winemaker can be a lot of hard work, but it’s also a beautiful life full of delicious food and wine. The vineyard provides for us in many ways as long as we are there to nurture it and take care of it.
When people come to visit the sprawling 45 acres of vines and 15 acres of local wildlife, they are in awe at the work we have done. The magic of the south of France rubs off on everybody who visits Domaine O’Vineyards.