THE HARVEST: CHANGING TIMESO ne could be forgiven for thinking that the transformation of a bunch of grapes into wine is immutable, removed from revolutionary thinking. Yet the past ten years haveseen countless changes in the way we approach the harvest. Field observation, common senseand intuition have radically altered the way we cope or triumph at harvest time.W hat follows are first-hand accounts of these changes from wine growers and wine makers in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and Provence.O ur sincere thanks go to Denis Dubourdieu for his opening insights into the essential changes that have marked the last decade and to Stéphane Derenoncourt for hissnapshot of the technical developments that have taken place in these first ten years of the21st century. DENIS DUBOURDIEU Agronomist, Professor of Oenology at Bordeaux University and member of the INAO Yields Sorting Harder pruning, de-budding and green Every berry that goes into vat should be harvesting have reduced yields by 20% perfect, which now means every sorting in all crus and appellations with the aim technique possible is being used to achieve of making naturally (over?) concentrated this, whether it be manual, mechanical or wines. optical. Chaptalisation and must concentration The return of the Petit Verdot Lower yields and exceptional climatic The proportion of Cabernet and Petit conditions have seen these practices Verdot continues to increase in the disappear, even in Sauternes. Grands Vins of Crus on the Left Bank. Plot identification Organic to the fore Cartography has enabled us to identify The environment is a now a serious issue each plot in detail, in turn allowing us for a growing number of estates. Many are to know and understand the vineyard conducting organic trials. Some (though intimately. The best gravel, clay or rare, it has to be said) have completely limestone terroirs are mapped out to skipped this stage and gone for conversion near perfection. Ambitious estates now to organic viticulture across their entire systematically earmark their sand, silt estates. The rest are looking on with and / or humid soils, with lesser potential, watchful eyes. for their second wines that are not surprisingly growing in proportion. Sauternes Picking dates Remarkable changes are taking place in areas producing sweet white wines. Not From 45 days after the véraison 10 years only are the harvests getting earlier, but ago to 60 days, today, the harvesting of red the Pourriture Noble, which constitutes wines is getting later and later. The aim? the very heart and soul of Sauternes, is To obtain complete and ideal maturity on developing much earlier than before and each plot. On the Right Bank, bringing in is much more widespread. the perfect Merlot has become something of a local competition; it is possible that 1 some may have gone too far.
STEPHANE DERENONCOURT Consultant viticulturist and winemaker The last ten years have been marked they too treat grapes more gently and, by changes in attitude towards how we yes, one can say, with more respect. grow our grapes and how we treat them once harvested. The key words for me are Sorting tables are now equipped to respect and selection. The shallow, plastic, vibrate. Piston and helical pumps are perforated crates we call cagettes have being replaced by peristaltic versions to replaced the traditional metal harvesting avoid the need for mechanical pumping. trailers, dump trucks with screw pumps The most quality conscious are opting for and other forms of transport. De- the conveyor belt. stemmers have been re-designed so that CHÂTEAU CANTEMERLE, CRU CLASSE DE HAUT-MEDOC Philippe Dambrine, Director In the 1980s, when the Société Mutuelle Agricole du Bâtiment et des Travaux Publiques acquired Cantermerle, the vineyard was virtually replanted in its entirety. Today, this means we have a very deep root system and that the vines are reaching their prime – something that is reflected in the recent tasting notes of Cantermerle followers, which all note the wine’s increased intensity. Our approach to viticulture has become more precise and far more respectful of the environment. At the same time, thanks to sophisticatedtechniques of lab analysis, our ability to determine the maturity of the harvest has becomefar more precise and comprehensive. Any form of analysis, of course, has to be combinedwith tasting the grapes at regular intervals as, in the end, only an experienced palate can trulyassess the texture of the skins and the taste of the pips.Harvesting then has become a far more refined practice and, if followed by meticuloussorting, we are now capable of keeping the quality and character of the grapes intact rightup to crushing. CHÂTEAU TALBOT, CRU CLASSE DE SAINT-JULIEN Christian Hostein, Production DirectorWe have torn up the rule book as far as fixing harvesting dates is concerned. Ensuring wehave optimum maturity now means acting quickly and decisively – and taking greater risks.As a result, we have increased our harvesting capability at Talbot. We have not only taken onmore pickers, but we are aiming (by offering better working conditions and a ‘contract’) tomake them feel part of the Talbot team and encourage them to come back to us season afterseason. On the technical front, we are modifying the way we treat the grapes once they arriveat the winery, year on year. Why? To preserve the quality and flavour of the grapes that wehave worked so hard to produce. Using small, shallow crates to avoid crushing the bunches,and optimising berry selection before vatting (we use a flotation system then finally sort thegrapes manually) are just two examples of this. 2
Plot selection has become increasingly important for producing our Grand Vin. The resultof blending later is greater finesse and minerality in the blend – all of which contributes togreater complexity. CHÂTEAU CARBONNIEUX, CRU CLASSE DE GRAVES Eric et Philibert Perrin, Co-ownersThe one obvious, plain and distinct rule for making good wine is to produce good grapes,which is why the majority of developments in wine production over the past few yearshave all taken place the vineyard. At Carbonnieux, our efforts to follow the rule and thedevelopments are unceasing.Deeper, more precise knowledge of the vineyard now means we can manage each plot moreaccurately and every modification we make to our growing methods is adapted not only toeach plot but to different sections of the same plot. For example, the wire trellises used totrain the vines have been raised in height for some of our vines to improve the size of theleaf area. This kind of expertise and technique has enabled us to better control our yields tothe point where green harvesting has practically disappeared, except for young, very vigorousplants.The red and white vines at Carbonnieux are reaching a good age now which means thatevery year we renew approximately 2% of the entire area under vine. It is a practice that helpscorrect past planting mistakes, notably that of planting early ripening varieties on warmerterroirs to avoid any risk of frost.Carbonnieux has long been known for the quality of its white wines and today we are pleasedto say it has an equally good reputation for its reds. The reds now have more depth andprecision and the whites are a little less oaked but, in fact, the intrinsic style of our wines hasaltered little. We have just one guiding rule: respect the quality of the fruit we have workedso hard to produce. CHÂTEAU SOUTARD, GRAND CRU CLASSE DE SAINT-EMILION Claire Thomas-Chenard, Estate DirectorThinking about the changes that have taken place in harvesting overthe past 10 years, three things strike me:- First, the rise in alcohol levels- Second, the arrival of the optical sorting table, which enables usto determine picking dates with more accuracy, as well as improvingberry selection- Third, the use of cold storage rooms, which evens out the temperatureof all the grapes arriving at the winery and facilitates the process ofpre-fermentation maceration. 3
CHÂTEAU GUIRAUD, CRU CLASSE DE SAUTERNES Xavier Planty, Co-owner and Director How have we made progress? I think most properties now work with more accuracy. There is a general consensus that concentration does not necessarily mean quality. People seem to be more committed, more passionate about wine growing and wine making. MAISON LOUIS JADOT, BURGUNDY Manuela Mouroux, Head of communicationThe acquisition of plots of vines and the setting up of new contracts with producers has ledto a slight increase in the volume of grapes we vinify at Louis Jadot.However, we still pick by hand, we still use small crates to transport the harvest and westill sort our grapes meticulously, although here, three developments have helped us makeprogress:- Sorting now takes place in all appellations, from generic Burgundy through to Beaujolais-Villages and up to Grands Crus – an initiative unique to Burgundy- We sort our grapes non-stop at Jadot, whatever the condition of the grapes. Each and everyberry goes on the sorting table- We have increased the number of trips our transporters make between the vineyard andthe winery. Not only does this avoid the risk of premature oxydisation, it gets the grapes intothe vat house and into the ‘system’ much more quickly. CHAMPAGNES PHILIPPONNAT Charles Philipponnat, President and Managing DirectorThree key factors have changed the way sparkling wine producers approachthe harvest:- A shorter and more variable maturation cycle has meant we have to reactand harvest more quickly than before. In 2011, for example, we took onextra pickers to bring in the Pinot Noir as fast as possible and we pickedthe Chardonnay after the Pinots – something which flies in the face of allreceived wine growing wisdom in Champagne.-We have become more sophisticated in the way we treat the grapes: theobjective is now to bring in the harvest at the absolute peak of its maturity,not before, not after. This naturally means we have to sort the bunches more thoroughly in thevineyard and put in place a stricter picking protocol.Faster harvesting of grapes that are riper and therefore more fragile make these new practices allthe more essential. 4