Harvesting in the dark – in pictures

We like harvesting in the dark. We started the Sauvignon Blanc at Bauduc on Tuesday 16 September and over the next ten days we harvested just a parcel each morning by machine. Thanks to the fine weather, we’ve had the relative luxury of being able to wait for each block of vines to ripen, instead of having to rush everything in at once – and the grapes have been brought in during the coolest part of the day. Although picking by hand has more romance about it, I’m a big fan of picking Sauvignon Blanc when it’s comparatively chilly and away from the glare of the midday sun.

Bauduc 23 Sept 2014 - 060 - Version 2

It’s been a hot and sunny September, yet we faced a worrying shower on Wednesday night (17/9) and then a brief storm on Thursday afternoon. That storm brought hail to some growers up the road, poor sods, but we survived with just some heavy rain for a few minutes.

The man who provides and drives the machine for us is called Guy, and he has two enormous harvesters based here: we have the space he needs and we’re handily located for his other customers. Guy is a viticulteur in the Charente, where his high yielding Ugni Blanc for making Cognac is picked later than our Bordeaux grapes.

Having Guy, his son Nathan, two other drivers and their monster kit on site certainly works for us, as I can (and often do) decide to harvest a block the day before. Most of his saner Chateau customers start the day at a normal time, so he can get the job done here early and then move on to other vineyards. (I guess we could refuse to let him out the gates until his work here his done, but in ten years it hasn’t ever come to that.)

On Tuesday morning, we picked the vineyard called La Sauve. As with the other parcels, we had a team of five or six go through the vineyard the day before, cutting out any grapes that showed signs of rot. With the grapes there so close to being ripe, some rot had developed following those showers a few days before. It was hard work in the beautiful sunshine, with me keeping us all out there until dusk.

The following morning we experimented with not one, but two harvesting machines. Why not, we thought, and Guy’s diary was filling up fast as most Chateaux around here are wrapping up their whites this week.

Harvesting with two machines was seriously impressive stuff: the ten acre or four hectare block was completed in just two and a half hours between 4.30am to 7am.

It was probably the first time this month that you that couldn’t wear only a T-shirt as the outside temperature was around 11°C; the grapes came in fresh and cold, reducing the risk of oxidation. And they taste terrific first thing, so crisp and sweet and succulent. I can’t be sure that the resulting wine tastes better with morning-picked fruit but I believe it does, and there isn’t much to lose apart from sleep. Daniel and Nelly are used to putting up with this madness, as long as I buy the chocolatines or pains au chocolat.

The juice, which we macerate with the skins in a cold tank for 12 to 20 hours before pressing, tastes fabulous; let’s hope we can transfer that deliciousness into the wine itself.

The biggest compliment of all? Guy telling me, as he handed us his ‘4h30 à 6h55’ receipt to sign, that this picking in the dark thing is catching on. “Bauduc was the first of my customers to do it, and now they all want it.”

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