Harvesting at O'Vineyards 2011

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

2011 has been a very peculiar year.  Throughout the year, virtually all of France’s wine regions were reporting very advanced vine growth and early harvests (Bordeaux, Loire, Languedoc among others), and some of those predictions came true while other areas are now reporting perfectly normal harvest dates.

Some people are harvesting early

Some readers never scroll down to read the whole post, so I’ll start off by saying some regions are harvesting early this year.  And some microclimates within the Languedoc Roussillon are significantly early as well.

clairette pressing at pech d'andre

photo: Pech d'Andre

You can see that harvests have started in August in various parts of l’Aude and the Roussillon.  Michel Gassier in the Costieres de Nimes (the part of Rhone closest to Languedoc) harvested his Vigonier on the 18th and 19th of August.

Also, a quick glance at the blogs from this year and last year show some regions are very far ahead.  Champagne Tarlant reported a 27 day difference between 2010’s first day of harvest and 2011’s first day of harvest. Pretty epic.  And according to Terre de Vin, the earliest harvest since 1822!

Cremant d’Alsace is also a couple weeks ahead of schedule while still Alsacian whites seem to have normalized according to Harpers.

Some winemakers are only slightly early

As Carol Emmas mentioned in Harpers, many regions overestimated the advancement of their vines.  Especially the Languedoc Roussillon seems to have normalized its harvest dates.  Emmas quotes Pascal Fulla and me and we seem to agree about harvest dates being pretty normal this year.  Emmas also talks to Gavin Quinney at Bauduc who says harvest will only be 10-12 days early (a significant drop from the 3 week advance earlier in the year).

It might be interesting to look at the specific areas where these winemakers are.  Pascal Fulla and I are both in relatively special areas of the Languedoc.  Tiny appellations that are known for slower ripening than the lower plains of the region.  So maybe that’s why our harvest dates don’t seem so exceptional while other people in the region are still looking at very early harvests.

I’d also point out that some of my varietals are very far ahead and others aren’t at all.  So the global harvest date doesn’t necessarily change even though some later varietals are coming in early.

Blogs are awesome

I guess this post got really nerdy.  But if there is a general interest point to take away, it’s that blogs are cool.  We can check in with winemakers and get real updates about weather in vineyards around the world.  We have access to so much information and we get true insight into the vineyard’s growth cycle.  Sometimes that information can be misleading, but if you’re interested, then you can learn at the same pace as the winemakers.


Grape harvest in the south of France

The grapes are changing color and that reminds us that harvest time is right around the corner.  We get exceptionally busy around harvest, but we leave the door open and let tourists come to the vineyard and see exactly how harvest goes down.  Some people actually roll up their sleeves and work for a bit too!  It’s the perfect way to get immersed in the wine from the region while you visit Carcassonne.

Who is this workshop designed for?

This is great for anybody who is curious about how wine is made.  You don’t need to know a lot about wine.  It’s interesting to every level of wine drinker.  We’ve actually had visitors who don’t even drink wine but still love the tour because they get to see a really fascinating process that defines the life of our entire region for an entire month.  Wine is really the backbone of the Languedoc Roussillon and visiting a vineyard is a quintessential experience!

All that said, if you do already know a fair bit about wine, this is a great way to take it to the next level.  You’ll see soooo much in a short period of time.  It will certainly be time well-spent.

When is harvest 2011?

Harvest should start around the second week of September.

But this is the toughest part of planning the harvest workshops.  Folk lore says that harvest starts 45 days after the grapes change color. And they’re changing color right now.  According to that, you can expect harvest to start around the second week of September.  But that’s not set in stone.  On the bright side, if you come right before harvest, there is still a lot of interesting stuff going on.  We’ll be tasting the grapes to see whether they’re ready to be harvested.  We’ll be setting up the winery for harvest.  And we’ll be doing some last minute work to prepare the parcels that are going to be machine-harvested.  You might also get to peek in at our extremely limited white wine production (just a couple of barrels).

Harvest should end around the second week of October.

But even toward the end, there are lots of interesting things going on.  Vinification for example!  How do we turn that grape juice into wine?  In many ways, the end of harvest is the most interesting time to visit because you’ll see freshly picked grapes (generally the Cabernet Sauvignon comes in last) side by side with the first grapes we picked (and they’re generally finishing their fermentation by the end of harvest).  The downside is that we’ll be exhausted so you’ll meet a much less energetic version of the O’Connell family. 😀  But we love to receive people and share the harvest so don’t be shy!

What do you see and do at harvest?

You’ll see everything.  There are no closed doors.  You’ll see how we pick the grapes and bring them into the winery.  You can see the sorting table in action.  You’ll see how we bring the grapes up to the tanks without any pumps.  You can see us mix yeasts or sulfites that will be added to the fermentation tank.  All this is open book.  Last year, a group from Barcelona took some brilliant harvest photos that really showcase how much access they had to every step of the process.

A lot of tourists choose to participate actively in some of the easier jobs.  Spend fifteen minutes at the sorting table to contribute to the quality of O’Vineyards 2011!  Help pick a row of grapevines.  Or do more technical stuff like learn how to take sugar density measurements on the incoming juice and calculate the potential alcohol level.  Whatever tickles your fancy (within reason… we have to be careful about insurance issues).

How to book a harvest tour

You should email us at ryan@ovineyards.com and let us know what day or days you can come by.  We’ll tell you what’s likely to be the best day to visit.   Also tell us if you want the tour (25 Euros / person) or the more involved harvest workshop (95 Euros / person, lunch included and more time with the winemakers).

I hope to see a lot of you very soon!

How to find us

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
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North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

  1. 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.
  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 curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
  4. At the last juction, bear left. 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.