Sauvignon Blanc à la Carte

The sunny, dry weather carried on from August up until the last week of September, giving us the chance to harvest our Sauvignon as and when we wanted. Last year, we spent 500 hours cutting out less-than-noble rot from the bunches. This year, none. Tasty.

Tom, 8, with Guy and his harvesting machine

So we’ve been able to pick our entire crop of 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ’à la carte’. This is an expression routinely used by cocky vignerons who have had the luxury of choosing when to harvest each parcel of vines, as and when they ripen, without being inconvenienced by forecasts of rain or other such interruptions.

Dawn patrol

The weather has indeed been kind and there was an important change at just the right moment in mid-September, when the mornings became quite chilly. This allowed us to pick by machine before and just after dawn, while the grapes were cold and delicious. By starting at 5am, as we do routinely nowadays, and wrapping up each day’s harvest by around 9.30am, we brought the grapes in with minimal risk of oxidation at around 12 to 13C.

Sunny days, chilly mornings

Sauvignon Blanc grapes taste delicious first thing in the morning, compared to later in the day when it’s hot, and although I can’t say for sure that this makes a difference to the wine in the bottle, it feels that way.

The machine offloading Sauvignon Blanc into the trailer at dawn

The difference in the temperature on the same day can be amazing. According to our local weather station, when we harvested on the morning of 17th September at 12.5˚C, the afternoon temperature hit 29.5˚C. Earlier in the month, up until the 11th, we had seven straight days over 28˚C.

I should cover why we machine pick the whites in more detail in a separate post (we picked by hand for our first five years) and why most of the top Chateaux harvest their reds by hand. A big part though has to do with bringing in each block of white when the mornings are chilly but while the days are still hot and sunny. The grapes for making dry whites ripen sooner – usually in September – while the Bordeaux reds this year will mostly be picked in October.

Most people have little idea about machine picking – the vast majority of visitors who come here think the French grape harvest across France is all done by hand. I’d guess that no more than 20% of the country’s grapes are picked manually, if that.

Chocolatine time

The end of the morning’s harvesting. Note how parched the grass is after the dry summer.

It’s also comforting to know that by the time I get the chocolatines* in for everyone for breakfast, and Nelly puts the coffee on, the day’s harvest is safely in the chiller tank, with the cold, clear juice macerating with the skins for a few hours before pressing later in the day.

All our Sauvignon Blanc has been pressed and the juice is now fermenting in chilled stainless steel tanks, or cuves. The quality is really good, the yields are fine without being too high (about 54 hl/ha) and the prospects are encouraging, touch wood.

* Bordelais word for pains au chocolat

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2 thoughts on “Sauvignon Blanc à la Carte

  1. Keith Hearnden

    Yet another highly informative and enjoyable read, Gavin. Many thanks again. The "new entrant" this time – the Wine Doctor – gave us a delightful history of your property. I guess much of his information came from you; but this kind of historical record undoubtedly appeals to all of our sense of time and place and puts a kind of metaphysical gloss on those lovely wines, when we drink them in rain-sodden, unseasonably cold GB!

    Best of luck with the weather over the next weeks.

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks, Keith. You've touched on something I've missed on this blog – the in-depth Wine Doctor article on Bauduc. Certainly worth a post. Kind regards, Gavin