Beginning of the harvest at Domaine de l’Arlot

I was at Domaine de l’Arlot last week for the first day of the harvest. The day before I spent the morning with Jacques Devauges tasting both the 2011 and 2012 vintages, his first two at the property. Both showing very well indeed. I was particularly struck with how good the 2012s are.

It was a strange year, with many problems, particularly at the beginning, when rain during flowering led to serious coulure problems, and as a result tiny yields in general. There was also serious mildew and oidium pressure during the spring and summer, so it was a constant struggle to save the grapes and keep them healthy. But the resulting wines are outstanding. Jacques’ theory is that vines had to work so hard to resist the various pressures of the year, that the result was a concentration of energy in the grapes which is observable in the final wines.

The Arlot 2012s certainly have a lively and energetic character, and remarkable density and purity. There is quite a lot of tannin in this millesime, but perfectly enveloped in some wonderful many layered fresh and vibrant fruit. I liked the wines a lot. Alas there was not very much, but I think that what there was will come to be considered as a great vintage, however unlikely that outcome might have seemed while we were battling with the elements during the year.

Jacques Devauges taking wine from barrel

Jacques Devauges taking wine from barrel

In the afternoon a pre harvest visit of the vines revealed an exciting quality potential in 2013 as well, with very healthy ripe grapes, practically no botrytis so far, and only a few days to full maturity. These are moments when one realises the extent to which we are in the hands of nature: just a few more days of wonderful weather of the sort we had for my visit, and we should have something great in the cellar.

The harvest began on Thursday morning, in the small parcel planted with white vines that is known as Montre Cul, for the simple reason that when you are working there you are giving passers by a good view of your posterior. Here is a picture of Jacques (on the right) giving a demonstration of this, and also one of the team, happy to be beginning such a promising harvest in such beautiful conditions.

Jacques Devauges harvesting in Montre Cul

Jacques Devauges harvesting in Montre Cul

Grape pickers in Montre Cul

Grape pickers in Montre Cul

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Marathon du Médoc – 29th edition

This was the 29th Marathon du Medoc, and we had a great Château Pichon-Longueville team this year.

Château Pichon-Longueville team

Château Pichon-Longueville team

This annual event is one of my favourite moments of the year, a chance to celebrate the idea that an enthusiasm for wine is not only compatible with, but part of a healthy and balanced life. The thousands of fit and happy runners who participate every year, enjoying judicious sips of wine at regular stops at the chateaux along the route are joyous proof that the puritans have got it all wrong.

Château Pichon-Longueville was at Kilometre 18 this year and we were besieged by enthusiastic wine tasters. As usual we offered the 9,000 runners a taste of wine (Les Tourelles de Longueville 2011) in proper wine glasses.

Jean-René Matignon, Directeur Technique du Château Pichon-Longueville, dans le rôle du serveur volant !

Jean-René Matignon, Technical Director of Château Pichon-Longueville, in the role of flying butler !

This operation is quite a logistical challenge and fortunately we have an enthusiastic group of benevolent volunteers who man the tables each year, happy to participate in the generally euphoric and celebratory atmosphere of the day.

La joyeuse équipe de bénévoles

The enthusiastic team of benevolent volunteers

We had some distinguished runners this year in the Château Pichon-Longueville team, notably Victoria Moore and Jamie Goode, who was running his first marathon, and whose coverage of the event can be seen on this link: video Jamie Goode.

avec Jamie Goode

with Jamie Goode

I ran with Jamie and with Port lover and expert Axel Probst, who is an ex Luftwaffe pilot and living proof that regular consumption of Vintage Port is perfectly compatible with being terrifyingly fit.

avec Axel Probst

with Axel Probst

We stopped at most of the chateaux to verify the quality of their offerings, purely for professional reasons, and had a great morning. It should be admitted here that I only ran the half marathon, having decided a few years ago that the first half was rather more fun than the second. Of course I have my duties as host at Château Pichon-Longueville to attend to also, so it would be quite irresponsible to run the whole way. But I am full of admiration for all the runners who finished and who proved by their presence and by their performance that an enthusiastic enjoyment of great wine is perfectly compatible with a condition of perfect physical fitness.

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Quinta do Noval is now in China

I was in China earlier this month for the launch of Quinta do Noval there with our new importer Kerry Wines. This is an exciting development. Of course it is very early days, and Port consumption in China is still extremely low. But the recent history of Bordeaux’s development there shows that there is enormous potential, and our experience with other markets has often been that an initial discovery of red wine is followed by a development of interest in other great wines of the world, of which Port is incontestably one.

It was a fascinating experience to host the various tastings we organized and to receive the impressions of the people who had come to try our wines. Naturally for some the experience was extremely novel, and some of them may need a little time to understand and appreciate Port better. But a sizeable number really enjoyed the wines, and of course there are many sophisticated collectors in China who knew about Quinta do Noval already. To mark the occasion of Quinta do Noval’s launch into this exciting market, we opened a few rare bottles of Vintage Nacional. It was highly enjoyable to share these great wines with wine drinkers for whom in some cases the experience was entirely new, and with others who had already come across Quinta do Noval elsewhere in the world.

A glass of chilled Noval Black to start things off – Photo Credit: James Jiang

A glass of chilled Noval Black to start things off – Photo Credit: James Jiang

Shanghai – Transmitting the message - Photo Credit:  James Jiang

Shanghai – Transmitting the message - Photo Credit: James Jiang

Shanghai – The Tasting- Photo Credit: James Jiang

Shanghai – The Tasting- Photo Credit: James Jiang

The moment recorded - Photo Credit: James Jiang

The moment recorded - Photo Credit: James Jiang

With Kerry Wines CEO Simon Wang (Right) and Brand Manager Crystal Edgar (Left) - Photo Credit: James Jiang

With Kerry Wines CEO Simon Wang (Right) and Brand Manager Crystal Edgar (Left) - Photo Credit: James Jiang

Beijing – Still Preaching

Beijing – Still Preaching

Beijing - The Tasting

Beijing - The Tasting

Great Wine – A universal language

Great Wine – A universal language

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A seminar between work and pleasure in Mosel

L’équipe de direction d’AXA Millésimes travaillant durement  au cœur de la Moselle

AXA Millésimes management team hard at work in the heart of the Mosel

I was in the Mosel this week for the annual “réunion plénière” of our company.

Each year we take all the winemakers of the AXA Millésimes properties, together with our principal commercial and administrative managers, to a wine region where we mix business with pleasure (as in fact we usually do in this particular business) by holding our internal meeting, exchanging information about what everyone has been doing over the past year, but also visiting a few wine producers from regions other than our own.

It is a great opportunity for everyone to catch up -as you can imagine, the team from Hungary do not often meet the team from Portugal during the course of the year- but also a chance to broaden our horizons by immersing ourselves in a wine world that is a little different from the ones we know.

Last year we had a great visit to Jerez. This year was the turn of the Mosel.

Daniel LLose et Thomas Loosen dans le vignoble

Daniel LLose and Thomas Loosen in the vineyard

Jacques Devauges du Domaine l’Arlot et László Mészáros de Disznókő au dîner dégustation Joh.Jos Prüm

Jacques Devauges, of Domaine de l’Arlot, and László Mészáros of Disznókő at the Joh.Jos Prüm tasting dinner

Marielle Cazaux de Château Petit-Village et António Agrellos de Quinta do Noval

Marielle Cazaux of Château Petit-Village and António Agrellos of Quinta do Noval

Jean-René Matignon, de Château Pichon-Longueville, analysant avec sérieux d’excellents Riesling avec Pierre Montégut de Château Suduiraut

Jean-René Matignon of Château Pichon-Longueville seriously analysing some great Riesling with Pierre Montégut of Château Suduiraut

The photographs may give the misleading impression that every one is just having a good time. But I am sure it is obvious that in order to understand fully a wine region it is necessary to taste extensively the wines that are produced there. And so we make a big effort to do this.

It was in fact a great learning experience. This is perhaps the moment for me to admit that the German wine labelling system has not always been entirely clear to me. I am sure that I am in a small minority here, which is why I hesitate to make this admission. I have so often opened a Kabinett expecting it to be dry, only to find it fruity and sweet, or a Spätlese expecting to find it fruity and sweet and finding it dry or half dry that I have always been a little confused about how it works.

Dr Llosen

During our first tasting at Dr Loosen I had a sudden moment of illumination when in one magic phrase Thomas Loosen made everything clear. I had never understood before (and this is rather embarrassing to admit) that the terms Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese etc. refer to the richness of the must after pressing and before vinification. After that the winemaker can vinify them dry, semi-dry, or sweet. This was an astounding revelation.  I felt that I once was lost, but now was found, was blind, but now I saw. All my previous confusing experiences now had an explanation.

And I am full of admiration. I find it quite glorious to have created a whole complex system of classification that gives no idea whatsoever to the consumer what the wine will taste like. Brilliant. In a world where people are always trying to simplify what is complex and fascinating (think restaurant wine lists that depressingly try to classify wines as “rich and fruity” “full bodied” “dry and refreshing” – which I normally take as a sign that I might be in the wrong place), I find the opacity of this system, and the degree of hard work that is necessary to begin to understand it, very refreshing.

Dégustation Kesselstatt

Kesselstatt Tasting

Or I did. I discovered later in the trip that as from 2012, this classification system will only be allowed for semi-sweet or sweet wines, so the possibility of a dry Kabinett or a dry Spätlese will no longer exist. I admit to being a bit disappointed by this. Having mastered the full extent of the system’s complexity, I was slightly taken aback to hear of a simplification. But perhaps I misunderstood.

Be that as it may, we tasted some wonderful wines. Both dry and semi dry, sweet and very sweet. My own preference has always been for a spatlese with some residual sugar, a low level of alcohol, and ten to twenty years’ bottle age. We tasted some magnificent examples of these wines, at very generous, informative and extensive tastings at Loosen and Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, and finally at the Joh.Jos Prüm tasting dinner at the end.

 Daniel LLose avec Cédric Loiseau de Mas Belles Eaux, notre vignoble du Languedoc

Daniel LLose with Cédric Loiseau of Mas Belles Eaux, our Languedoc vineyard

Voici Pierre Montégut du Château Suduiraut dégustant de façon très studieuse Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt

Here is Pierre Montégut from Château Suduiraut tasting very studiously at Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt

Christian Seely et Katharina Prüm

Here is a photograph of me being bewitched by the beauty and charm of Katharina Prüm who very kindly came to dinner with us to show a selection of her great wines. (They have not started making red wines as far as I know: we finished with a glass of Quinta do Noval Vintage Port).

image10

It was a wonderful visit and I think we all came away with a glowing impression of the quality of the wines and of the warmth and friendliness with which we were received.

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Vintage Tour 2011 in the US

A few days ago, I was on tour in the US to launch the 2011 Vintage Ports. This was a joint exercise with the Taylor Fladgate Group. It was a real pleasure to go on tour together and to share our enthusiasm for this great Vintage with the journalists, members of the trade, and Port lovers from all over the States who came along to the tastings.

We visited Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, in each city putting on a tasting, the aim of which was principally to show the great wines of the 2011 Vintage, but also to show some of the Vintage Ports of the past decade. The 07s and the 03s shone, even if the 11s were the stars of the show.

With David Guimaraens
With David Guimaraens
With Adrian Bridge
With Adrian Bridge

As the photographs show, the ambiance was great. I think we all enjoyed the opportunity to show our wines to these very distinguished and enthusiastic tasters. The 2011s seem to have caught the collective imagination of the wine world, and with reason: I am sure it is one of the greatest Vintages ever.

Presenting the Nacional 2011
Presenting the Nacional 2011

But the strong showing of the back Vintages we were showing helped to remind everyone how great these wines can be, and not just in the very greatest years: the 04s and 08s, which we were showing at the Quinta do Noval and Quinta da Romaneira tables, and neither of which were general declarations, were lovely, in both cases rather good to drink now. I say this perfectly objectively, as I have almost none of either of them left. Anyone who has is sitting on something rather good.

This was the final leg of a round the world trip as I had been in Hong Kong on Bordeaux business before that. One thing I reminded myself of on the journey: there are some fantastic beers being made in the US today. There are few things more agreeable than a day spent tasting Vintage Ports, but at the end of such a day, a pint of some microbrewed ale exactly hits the spot – I have heard Australian winemakers describe this precious moment as “a PH adjustment”. I enjoyed one or two PH adjustments with David Guimaraens during the trip: all Port lovers will understand.

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