Harvesting Merlot Grapes 2012 at night near Carcassonne
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!
We planted a grapevine garden in front of the winery this spring. One day, this vineyard garden will showcase all the different types of grape vines that can be found in this part of France. People will be able to tell the difference between Syrah and Grenache and Merlot and Cabernet by seeing the vines right beside each other.
But for now, the vines are tiny and all pretty much look the same. So this year, we’ve been using them to show visitors and tourists how grape vines look when they’re first planted.
It’s an interesting process since we rarely plant from seed anymore. Instead we use bench grafts that connect the variety we want to grow to a rootstock suited for that soil and rainfall.
When young, the graft is sealed in wax. We show everybody this waxy bit and get to use the young vines to illustrate the notion of grafting and rootstock. This can naturally lead into conversations about how deep roots go, why virtually all French vines are planted on American rootstock, and so on.
Photos of young grape vines
Click on any of the photos below for a larger view:
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).
I previously posted about harvesting the grapes for this micro vinification experiment.
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.
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.
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.
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. 😀
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.
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.
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.
The grapes are getting ripe enough to start talking about harvest dates. I’ve been tasting grapes in the Cabernet and Merlot multiple times a day with everybody who comes through on the winery tour. I go out to the Syrah once every couple of days to taste there too. And of course, the real expert tastes the grapes every time we let her outside.
Muse sniffs the merlot grapes for ripeness
My dog, Muse.
Nobody believes me until they see it for themselves. Muse loves to eat the grapes once they’re ripe. I’ve even sworn to that in a recent harvest update published by the Languedoc Pages.
People say grapes can kill a dog, but my dog eats grapes all the time. I can’t stop her once they’re ripe.
It would appear they’re not quite ready yet though as she’s just giving them a brief sniff before moving on. We’ll have to wait a couple more weeks before she starts gobbling up all the profit at O’Vineyards.
Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387
Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
Wine Cellar. Winery Visits. Wine Tasting.
Wine & Food Pairing
North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910
Best by GPS.
Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
At the last juction, bear left. the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.