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!

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.

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.  😀

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.

I took some exterior photos of O’Vineyards Bed & Breakfast now that it’s nearing completion.  Things are looking good!

bed and breakfast in the vines

You can really see how close the rooms are to the vines.  How clear the sky is.  This is life on a vineyard after all!

the cabardes room window and merlot vines

This is the window of the Cabardes room.  You can look out over the Merlot vines from here.  Sit watching the high road of Villemoustaussou with Carcassonne off to the south.  Soak in the sunny south of France in the privacy of our vines.

cabernet and montagne noire seen from the Cabernet Room

What a view!!  That’s Cabernet Sauvignon stretching off toward the valley in Villegailhenc and La Montagne Noire beyond that.  This photos taken from inside the room so it’s actually the view.  Hard to believe, right?

We’re still building at O’Vineyards Bed & Breakfast, but the windows are now installed.  It’s such a beautiful day.

It’s funny how putting in a window can really focus your attention on just how much beauty you’re exposed to every day!   We’re surrounded by these gorgeous vines and mountain views so we can easily take them for granted.  But they’re stunning.  And days like this are reminders to stop and enjoy the view.

Montagne Noire & Cabernet SauvignonThe Cabernet Sauvignon. In the distance, contreforts de la Montagne Noire


Pyrenees and Merlot VinesThe Merlot with the Pyrenées in the background


The full photo album of O’Vineyards views is on our Facebook page.  Excuse the mess, the scaffolding, the ladders, stuff taped to windows, etc.  We’re really going forward at full speed with construction and we just wanted to take enough time to stop and enjoy the view. 🙂

While this blog can sometimes go on tangents based on my strange, exploratory moods, it is still a winemaker blog.  And it is late September which means HARVEST in the south of France.  So here it is, my first obligatory vineyard harvest of 2010.

Merlot grapes at 2010 harvest

We’re starting with the Merlot, as usual.  It’s all by hand this year because we’re worried about the disparity between maturity levels of the grapes this year.

joe harvesting at O'Vineyards

I’ll be posting about the particularities of this year’s vintage.  But for now, just pictures of Merlot being harvested … with a vengeance!!

merlot on sorting table

merlot  at 2010 harvest at O'Vineyards

Our friends at Naked Wines wanted us to film a video to say hello and present O’Vineyards to their online community. My dad and I figured it would be fun to show them what we’re doing at this time of year. You have heard me talk about it like ten times now. We are lifting wires in the Merlot. But in this video, we are lifting them a SECOND time. So pretty new and different.

And how about the slogan, “more leaves, more flavor”?  That’s not strictly true when you look at the science, but it’s pretty catchy and is true in this context.  Do you like it? Hate it?

Wow, the last couple of weeks in the vines at O’Vineyards have been absolutely mind boggling! After some nice warm weather and the ideal  rains  the vines have kicked into overdrive with the Syrah leading the way. We found it necessary to temporarily leave the Merlot to attend to the Syrah where the growth has been phenomenal, and that is why you have not seen my wire-lifting in the Merlot as of yet.

I probably would not have thought to include this little lesson for you if everything had gone as planned, but the Syrah is very unpredictable and also very fragile.  Is it possible that is something to do with the fact that the syrah is one of the only feminine grape variatels? (just kidding ladies). Anyway, when the Syrah grows in a sudden burst like this, we have to immediately raise the wires to support the new growth or the heavy winds in the region can often break some of the new vines.

before wire lifting

before wire lifting

We finished lifting the wires in the Syrah and  we are now lifting in the Merlot. I have taken photos of our galvanized posts with the attachment holes to show our capabilities to ajust the height of the wires. Every winter, we lower these wires to the ground after the pruning. Once the vines grow, they start to droop a little bit and we can lift the wires to support their growth and encourage vertical growth. We will go back and lift the wires a few inches higher in just a few weeks to match the plants’ continued development, but this will take much less time than the first lifting. I have posted photos of two rows of Merlot before and after the lifting to illustrate the difference before and after we pass through and lift wires.

after wire lifting

after wire lifting

Lifting the wires is an important process. The shoots holding the grapes are now “trained” by the wires to go upward which allows us to maintain a well balanced canopy of leaves to feed the grapes throughout the growing season.

Thanks for following and I hope this gives you a little better understanding about how much time and labor go into the making a bottle of good wine. Next week I plan to show you the flowering of the grape buds.

galvanized posts and wires

galvanized posts and wires

Well, we knew  the warmer weather had to come eventually and our beloved merlot is finally off to the races. I don’t  know how familiar you happen to be with “normal” Carcassonne weather but I was telling a local that the past couple years we seem to have only 2 seasons. Sping and fall have somehow disappeared. After a little contemplation I came to the conclusion that this recent climate trend has been benificial to our type of winemaking. We have always harvested later than most in our area and this is especially true for the past 2 years when we found ourselves bringing in the grapes at temperatures between 3 to 10 degrees. We keep the grapes at these low temperatures for a few days and find ourselfs with a fresher fruitier wine. Meanwhile the slower starts we have had at the begining of the growing period seem to have little to no effect throughout the vineyard. On the contrary the slow starts have helped us to keep pace easier and have also limited the number of times we treat our vines. In the year 2009 we treated only 2 times and believe me this is well below the norm. As you can see from the photos we finally got the growth I expected  a few weeks back. By next week we will need to lift the wires on the trellis sytem,which are designed to keep the growth going upward. I will cover this in detail next week. Thanks for following

welcome to week 3 of winemaking 101. To begin this episode I would like to apologize for my often inept ability to convey my thougths clearly  in writing. It has been brought to my attention that the  literary  skills, I aquired at U-Mass Dartmouth sometime back in the 70’s, may be deteriorating a bit. I have promised myself to make a more conscience effort from this point forward but what the hell its all about the content N’EST-CE-PAS!

OK back to the vines. There has been no recognizable change in the vines this past week, probably due to the cold weather and SNOW that I wrote about last week.  I have never seen such little activity in the growth of the vines at this time of the year but things appear to be back to normal with plenty of sunshine, warm days, cool nights and steady winds.

The winds of the langaudoc region help to keep the vegatation dry which limits the risk of diseases and should limit the amount of treatments (chemicals) used on the vines.  By simply following the advice of the local chamber of agriculture  we seem to treat half as much, if not less, than other grape growers in the area.

But I digress, and the treatment story should be an entire post on its own. Anyway, although there was limited change visible in the photos this week, I have a strong feeling next week’s photos will show impressive growth. Thanks for visiting and feel free to comment.

note from Ryan: I was just driving back from Montpellier and the vines closer to the cost are like ready to lift wires (i.e. way ahead of us). It’s crazy what a huge difference there is between our medium altitude micro-terroir and the lower plains on the way to the coast.

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

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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.