Changing of the Colour: Véraison

Even though friday was un jour férié, or Bank Holiday, there was work to be done in the vineyard, and on saturday too. Working on a saturday in mid-August doesn’t go down well with the troops, let alone on a Bank Holiday, but the merlot grapes are changing colour from green to red, a process called véraison. And when it’s about a third of the way through, we spray to protect against botrytis or rot, as do most of the top estates in Bordeaux – even if spraying dates don’t feature in the brochure. This was the second preventative measure against rot, the first having taken place during flowering in early June, and the timing can be tricky to judge. As I walked down the rows I thought “that’s 10% veraison”, “that’s 40%”, and so on until at the end of the parcel, I stuck a finger in the air and said, ‘we’ll do this parcel on friday’. And I’d forgotten about the Bank Holiday.

I wanted to get the timing spot on this year as 2008 will be a later harvest than the norm, and to achieve optimum ripeness, we will need to give the bunches the longest possible time on the vine before rot could set in later on at the crucial stage of the harvest. I’m not after over-ripeness, as one might find in some styles of St-Emilion, but we are a few days behind our more illustrious neighbours due to our cooler soils and altitude, so I need all the ‘hang time’ I can get.

Even some ‘biodynamic’ vineyards sprayed against rot in 2007. Allegedly.


The pulvérisateur I bought in early 2006 has served us really well, especially when mildew attack is never far away in damp summers like 2007 or in May or June 2008, which were also damp. In action, it looks a bit like Bill Nighy’s squid-like character, Davy Jones, in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, with all those tube-like tentacles slithering about. 

Last week we also had to spray to protect against mildew – the protection lasts about two weeks once applied – as well as the anti-rot treatment, and both have to be carried out separately. Winegrowers get a bit nervous about mildew, although it’s one of the dullest subjects on earth and you can feel yourself losing a grip on reality when talking about it. As an example, here are two text messages from my friend Sean Allison of Chateau du Seuil (pictured) on yet another holiday: ‘The stress is killing me: I’ve just run out of sun-cream’ and ‘I can confirm there is no sign of mildiou in the Greek Islands’. 

With Daniel our vineyard manager on a three week holiday, Hafid has been hard at it before he goes on his (three-week) annuals today. He’ll certainly be pleased to get away from his fussy patron, who makes him work when he should be relaxing. Monique our assistant is also on three weeks’ holiday, and Nellie has just come back from three weeks off.

We had a wet week in Cornwall. I think we’re missing something.

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