Who serves the wine consumer best? Families or corporations?

I participated in this very interesting debate during the 2010 edition of the Symposium of the Institute of Masters of Wine which took place in Bordeaux last June.

We were on after lunch, always the worst time, so we kept it friendly and light hearted, in the hope that the audience of MWs and MW studients would stay awake. It ended up being a lot of fun. You can watch my contribution on video below.

To see the whole of the debate with Sylvie Cazes and Eduardo Chadwick speaking for families, and Margareth Henriquez joining me with a vigorous defense of corporations, click here.

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What constitutes a general declaration of Port?

I am not aware of any particular rule about the definition of a general declaration, but my own view is that it is exactly what it says, a Vintage that is generally declared by everyone. Or at least nearly everyone: sometimes there will be one or two producers who don’t but this would not be enough to stop it being considered a general declaration. Broadly speaking it is to do with the weather. As we know from the Bible it rains on the just and the unjust, and the same is usually true for Douro Vineyards.

Quinta do Noval has always had a slightly eccentric approach to Vintage Declarations, and indeed the house to a great extent made its name with its declaration of the great 31 Vintage, at a time when most other houses did not declare. We have also not hesitated to declare two years in a row when we have felt the wine merited a declaration as Quinta do Noval: in 1966 and 1967; in 2003 and 2004; and just recently in 2007 and 2008. A Vintage declaration is something which I, like any Port producer, take extremely seriously, and I would only declare a wine as Quinta do Noval if I were certain that it is a great wine worthy of the Quinta do Noval label. In the case of 04 and of 08, neither of them generally declared years, there were just a few lots that were so lovely that I could not resist making a small amount of Quinta do Noval Vintage, though in both cases, the quantities were much smaller than we made in the preceding generally declared Vintages.

Christian Seely

Published by Roy Hersh in For the Love of Port July 2010 Newsletter (No.53) in the section “A Question for the Port Trade” www.fortheloveofport.com

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Romaneira Tour

I was in the Douro a few days ago with António Agrellos, who has bought himself a camera. We decided to film a virtual tour of the vineyard and winery of Romaneira. António was cameraman, I did the talking. We probably both have a little progress to make in the production of movies, but I post up the result here in three parts as it will give you a global vision of the Romaneira vineyard project.

Click on the following videos to discover it.

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It is flowering time here in Bordeaux.

Here is a photograph of a bunch in flower,

A bunch in flower at Pichon Baron

together with another from further away showing Pichon in the background.

Flowering Time at Pichon

As you can see, we are having wonderful weather, perfect for flowering. This is a crucial time in the vineyard. Cold or wet weather during flowering can lead either to “Coulure” or “Millerandage”, which can seriously damage the potential of a crop. In either case yields would be lowered, sometimes significantly, but also the irregularity of ripening that can result from millerandage can affect the quality, unless great care is subsequently taken with the trie in the vineyard and at the winery.

I find this a magical time in the vineyard. Winter is now far behind us, and the summer is beginning to assert itself with the vigour of youth. Above all, the extreme fragility of the tiny flowers forming on the individual bunches reminds one of the miraculous precariousness of life, and of how entirely dependent we are on its natural processes for what we eat and drink. Without these little flowers, with their fine and delicate scent, there would be no grapes, without the grapes, no bottles of Pichon Baron! Remember the flowers when you next open a bottle.

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Epamprage at Pichon Baron

I just came back from a quick promotional visit to Singapore, and it was a pleasure this morning to be walking in the vineyard of Château Pichon-Longueville Baron again, on a lovely sunny spring day. The vines have developed rapidly over the past week, and we are in the middle of epamprage. Here is a short sequence of photographs to show exactly what is involved.

Pichon Baron - vine before epamprage

Vine before epamprage.  There is vegetation shooting from all over the vine, which needs tidying up.

Pichon Baron - Michaël begins the work of epamprage

Michaël begins the work of cleaning the vine. On the ground you see one or two shoots that have been cut. These shoots were not fruit bearing, and would only have taken the vine’s energy away from the fruit bearing buds, which only grow on the shoots of the previous year. The other buds from the older wood are generally non fruit bearing and are eliminated.

Pichon Baron - epamprage - serpette

The work progresses. You can see in Michaël’s right hand his rather deadly looking tool, the serpette.

Pichon Baron - epamprage - shaving the vine

This is the phase of shaving the vine, making sure that the old wood is perfectly clear. Essentially, the shoots that come off the old vine will be non fruit bearing, and have to be eliminated. Try to imagine that this has to be done on every single vine at Pichon Baron, and you will begin to have an idea of the work that this represents. One person can normally do about a quarter of a hectare per day on Merlot vines, or about 2/3rds of a hectare per day for Cabernet-Sauvignon.

Pichon Baron - epamprage - thinning out the shoots on the left hand side of the vine

A little thinning out of the shoots on the left hand side of the vine.

Pichon-Baron - Michael's satisfaction - The vine has been thoroughly cleaned up

Satisfaction. The vine has been thoroughly cleaned up. Scroll back to the first picture, to see it as it was. All shoots from the old wood have been eliminated, the fruit bearing shoots at both ends of the guyot double have been thinned out. The vine is now ready to concentrate its efforts on the fruit bearing shoots that remain. Because the clearing up, these will have maximum exposure to the sun, and also good aeration, which could be crucial in periods of humidity, when an un-tidied up vine might easily be subject to rot.

This is the kind of work that has to be done on every single vine, in order to make great grapes for Château Pichon-Longueville.

It is perfectly true that the great wines of Pichon Baron would not be possible without the great terroir that produces them. But sometimes one talks so much about the importance of terroir, that one does not give enough importance to these essential tasks, which require the dedication and the skill of the people who work in the vineyard, and without which the great wine of Pichon Baron would not be possible. When you raise a glass of Pichon, spare a thought for the work that made it possible.

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