Lordy lord, grapes are ripening on the vine, now what do we do?

Our little dream of making some plonk has always seemed quite far off. You know the kind of thing, whilst having a wee cup of coffee for elevenses your mind wanders to how nice it would be to have a job that required some outdoor work and ended up making a real product that you and other people could enjoy. Even though it is coming up to four years since we came over here looking to do just that, the prospect of actually doing it has never seemed particularly real and certainly not imminent.

This week though, we returned from a couple of weeks camping and then glamping to see that all of a sudden we seem to have a very big and very shiny press, a few frankly enormous steel tanks, a refrigeration system (without instructions of course, but hey who reads that kind of thing anyway?) pump, vats, barrels and even some sulphur to keep the barrels healthy. Umm, this is getting a little bit serious eh?

Vats, barrels, stuff for the press. Help, we need a bigger winery! Oh yeah, I should move my bike, that will free up a load of space…

It really came home to roost when we noticed that the table grapevines that we have in the back garden seem to have little bunches of grapes on them.

We may have grapes, but who knows if they will be any good or not? This is a single hailstone that fell onto our garden last week – now I know why winemakers fear hail!

Panic time. After all this time, do we actually have any idea what on earth we are doing?

Well, to answer that directly, no we don’t. We have taken the

  1. stupid
  2. naïve
  3. stupid

decision (delete any one of the three possibilities above) to make our wine largely without any local advice at all. I know, not enough stupids to choose from eh?

There is some method to this madness though – we want to make a wine that has taken some of the practices that we have seen in wineries across the world and apply it to some grapes that we think have wonderful characteristics. It might surprise you to hear that we believe that only 3 vineyards in Jurancon use picking crates rather than large bins, almost zero sorting is performed in most domaines, 100% destemming is the norm, virtually everyone good uses an inflatable bag press, and choices such as sulphur levels, barrel regimes, battonage, and amount of pumping required to make the wine seem rarely to be considered. And yet in spite of all that, the wines are often wonderful. So what would happen if you took those fantastic grapes, and made it a little differently? Could we possibly harness the things that we love in great white wines (zip, concentration, lees-related complexity, length, subtle oak, etc)

So, what’s the plan?:

  • pick into crates
  • sort on a table before going into the press. I’d like to say this will be a vibrating, ultra-violet automated picking table, but I strongly suspect it will actually just be a table
  • manually fill a slow and hideously expensive steel basket press with whole bunches (not destemmed)
  • before pressing, foot tread the grapes in the basket (to reduce the total amount of time for each load to be exposed to the air)
  • press into a stainless steel vat followed by a day or so of pre-fermentation cold settling
  • a single low dose of sulphur pre fermentation to clean up the must
  • ferment in carefully chosen oak barrels of between 2 and 4 years old, selected from some very famous domaines that we happen to know and which we have begged some barrels from
  • prior to any racking, we reckon that this can all be done by pumping the juice just two times
  • ageing on the fine lees in barrel with battonage and racking when we stick a finger in the air and decide its time to do it
  • bottling if it ever tastes drinkable

Now that sounds all right doesn’t it? The only problem is:

  • we dont have power in the winery
  • the press is too tall for both the winery and the shelter beside the winery
  • the drainage currently drains into my mother-in-law’s living room
  • I have no idea how to connect the cooling system to the vats
  • we have no way of climbing into the press safely and cleanly
  • I can’t work out how to connect the 30mm exit pipe from the press to the 40mm connections that everything else has
  • the customs police havent actually given us permission to make wine yet
  • oh yeah, and we don’t have any firm commitments to supply us with grapes

More on all of that next time, I hope! Until August…… gulp



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