Thursday, 15 November 2018

10 November

It’s been a long while since I wrote and with so much happening in between where to start? so you don’t or you start with what is true now so I will write about living in a cloud. 10 November 2018 and the Ardèche is sink-sponge yellow-green shaggy grey skies and sodden. The vines cling to their leaves shades of neon with gold skeletons their grapes two months-long gone into juice now quiet the last of the garden's green tomatoes fridge-top in jars next to the cooking spoons oh, and I brined olives today. Life is in muted sage green mist mottled with tones of brass door handles, burnt quince and ochre shades of corduroy, brushing off lazy flies and baguette-bending humidity, there was to my dismay no goat milk yoghurt thick as walls at the market today I'm told no more until spring and the mushrooms we picked were orange and poisonous but: quince! Meaty spice orbs turned slabs of fridge-cold jelly and an illicit harvest of hand polished chestnuts means they are brown in their basket with the walnuts on the windowsill while beyond I see a calico cat landscape of quilted army fatigue olive sheen, winter tomato ghostly greens copper pots fading into sad soup brown plus blush of rose gold pear and like I said, sodden. 


Thursday, 19 July 2018

Czechs and chateaux in week 2

The Czechs were coming and the toilet was blocked and Andrea, god bless mobile home plumbing proficiency from the 80s, didn’t have a plunger. Nor did anyone else we knew and I know 'cus we drove around asking. Sylvain Bock thought I was locked in the toilet and wasn’t sure what he could do about it, and when we asked our soon to be landlady (like I said last week, I started these posts late so will need to catch up but yes: in August we'll move from the future bistro to a future house!) she looked confused. Only dry toilets here she said. We knew that. 

Good thing there’s a load of crap in the bistro and a cabely thing we thought could work but didn’t. In Dutch there's the phrase ‘water ballet’ but in plain English this was us locked in the bathroom with the door locked and a family of Czechs fresh out of a 15 hour drive drinking beer just outside so: panic all around until...glughlug. On closer inspection we saw that the pipe veered off at a right angle. Friendly of the plumber to have foreseen future disaster and to have factored in a screw cap and left a pre-rolled cigarette on it.

Next drama was next day when we burnt out our engine 600 km from home and 30 from Fountainbleau where we had to be. But first — this is France — there was lunch. I say ‘this is France’ but this is not the France of A Year in Provence every weekend of which seemed filled with good honest lunch. This is 2018 and we have Raisen and Le Fooding and they are well intentioned and full of potential but then so was dial-up and it is still very, very difficult to find good lunch (by which I mean something not leftover from the 90s). I like that Le Fooding has a filter for restaurants ‘open on Sundays’, but couldn’t they add one for ‘No square plates and/or balsamic squiqqles?’  

But it wasn’t the fault of failing apps that meant the place I finally chose (based on the fact it looked like it had the roundest plates with the least piled-high food) in the Beaujolais turned out to be somewhere we’d actually eaten before, after Bojalien at Romain des Grottes' place last year. Oh well. It was nice to drink wine (a '16 Dutraive) you can see through again.

You win some you lose some, and we lost the Volvo. I was driving when it started shuddering and lost control and a lot of smoke from the hood. The oil had run dry. Actually it hadn’t run dry but evaporated after we broke a critical part off the bottom when taking the wrong, incredibly steep dirt road on our way to talk to Gérald Oustric about buying grapes the other day. Thank the gods for Dutch roadside assistance which not only managed to galvanise the French to tow two foreigners on a Friday afternoon, but which has repatriated the car for gratis and set us up with a rental BMW with… AIRCONDITIONG!! (He said yes).

Good thing we didn’t break our car in vain but as volunteers for the Django Reinhardt (gypsy) jazz festival but more importantly, for the bar. When Le Carton grows up it would like to be Le Garde Robe. Even Cyril Zang helped out.

Flat-beaded along with all the wine we were bringing for the festival bar

We stashed a bottle for the rest of the ride — by train

Cyril, dressed as normandy a cider maker as they come

Driving back south on a Sunday we had time. Initially the idea was to leave Saturday via the Auvergne but if you read my guide on how not to visit a winemaker written for Terre magazine (soon Pipette) you'll know you don't do this on a Sunday. (To be honest we tried, but after a complicated conversation with the complicated Pierre Beauger we said we'd rain-check.) Instead we drove through Burgundy. It’s beautiful, and to think of all those times we just blasted past on the A6, eager to get somewhere grottier. The aforementioned apps yielding nothing, we decided to just ‘get off the road’ and ‘find an auberge’. So we did and we did and it worked in that the food was at least honest and happy we continued on the 'small roads’ which is actually just one road and not at all small but sweeping and undulating with chateaux on hills and open golden spaces both sides until you hit the vines and you’re struck by their density! Golly is Burgundy full. Not with people (this would be a worse place to break down) but vines on vines on vines and where there’s any space left, the postcard villages one after the other and in some of which, we stopped. Dinner was three boudin (for me) in Lyon.

I thought this a fantastic but pretty unlikely fireplace for a Chateau

Happy to be back to the (h)ardéche, the crickets loud at night and back to wine. This week I was back at Sylvain Bock’s and to bottling Les Grelots, a blend of Grenache Noir, Merlot and Syrah. Bottling is called mis-en-bouteille but they just call it ‘mis’ (like vinification is just 'vinf'). Here’s what I learned:
  1. You can get blisters just about anywhere/I will be the worst winemaker ever because I managed to get blisters on the front side of both index fingers.
  2. Any process can be made more efficient. Do all you can to make everything more efficient.
  3. That smell Sylvain kept complaining about hovering around the machine? That’s how my opa’s cellar smelled and it’s VA. (A note on the great winemaking dynasty from which I do not come: my opa bought grapes from California, had a crony at the dump save him old champagne bottles  and made enough wine for home and friends for the year).
  4. Bottles must rest upright after bottling for at least 5 minutes for the cork to settle.
  5. When the wine level is too low in the cuve for the pump to pump, Sylvain pumps it into a cube, tops it off with CO2 to protect against oxidation, raises this on the forklift and lets gravity do the rest.
  6. Sylvain keeps the wine from the end of the bottling separate (it’s inconsistent with the rest, has more sediment).
  7. How making wine is mostly about moving stuff.
  8. I got a lot ‘transpallet’ practice. Failing wine, Amazon here I come.

Pumping the last bits with the help of gravity

Good and volatile

We also continued with ébourgenonnage (leaf thinning, lots of which happened last week) on Calek’s Merlot and old Syrah. July is meant to be downtime but we’re still up every morning to start at 6 pulling leaves to make space for air and prevent disease. Things to take away here are we only pick on the side with exposure to the east otherwise grapes will burn, and that the ‘technique’ was different for the two varieties. For the Merlot, trained along wires "à la baguette", the instruction was pull everything i.e. don’t leave anything like we were used to doing for shade. Old Syrah was different. These are pruned according to the guyot method and hang differently (and in tighter bunches) so instead we pick off the leaves from beneath the bunches and only lightly within the canopy above them to make a sort of hollow.

In other news:

We went to see an acrobatic rendition of Hieronomous Bosch's heavy-going triptych 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' at Le festival de l'Alba.

Two books arrived: Simon Woolf of The Morning Claret's kick-started The Amber Revolution (c o n g r a t u l a t i o n s Simon! And you should order yours here) and Vinifications & Fermentations by Max Léglise.

I'm trying to make kvass (a fermented bread drink) but having no luck with the fermentation part. 

It's a constant 33 degrees out.

We were asleep the other night when I heard a van drive in and watched as a man fiddled with a flash light. We thought someone was trying to robe the cave and went to check it out. Turns out to be Olaf Schindler setting up his sleeping bag in the driveway and we didn't need the knife.

C'est ça! For last week, read here.

Doing the dishes


 3 x boudin in Lyon

Books sent c/o Andrea Calek. 

Cooking on vine wood


Monday, 9 July 2018

Send c/o Andrea Calek

For those of you looking for a short answer to ‘Have you died and if no, where'd you go? I’d like to send you mail’ I say no but thanks for asking, Ardèche, send c/o Andrea Calek.

For those of you now thinking 'That’s strange: weren’t you meant to be working in Banyuls?' I say yes, I was, thanks for listening, and for a full-ish explanation on why I'm not anymore and what's happened in the meantime, you can read my incredibly late and latest piece for The Morning Claret: "How I ended up livingin Andrea Calek's barn by mistake".

And for those of you who know nothing, Hello I'm Hannah and in April I moved to France for six months' work in the vines and I intend to write weekly about what I'm doing and what I've learnt and so, July 1, around 2 on a 33 degree Sunday afternoon three weeks in, I reluctantly, finally, begin.

This, by the way, means I'm writing about wine stuff.


If doing 10,000 hours of anything makes you an expert, then at 20 hours this week, I'm (basically) an expert in picking "maladie" out of vines. Rain + heat = steam = heaven for fungus (or as the French say, “champignon”) like powdery mildew ("oïdium"), downy mildew ("mildiou") and le black rot of which there is less but also quite a bit; all mostly in the Grenache, apparently more susceptible than the other varieties here. Is there an alternative to hand-picking out the sick? No. Is it a joke we talk about hand-harvesting when that only happens once a year and hand-picking leaves potentially multiple? Yes. 

Anyway, even if you can't cure you can help prevent it by making sure to thin out the leaves for aeration and by applying "Bouillie bordelaise" treatments, a mix of copper sulphate and calcium hydroxide. These are sprayed early mornings weekly throughout the growing season but the smell will stay on your skin, your hands, your cat and your clothes for what now seems like forever. Mildiou and le black rot, however, are actually forever. Mildiou sleeps through the winter in fallen leaves and black rot in the soil and grape mummies. Initially we were told to destroy any leaves affected so as not to reintroduce it to the soil, but this endeavour was abandoned. 

Ok, so what to look for? For downy mildew look for patches of new-growth green, sometimes verging on yellow. This makes it very difficult to spot in the greenish pre-storm glow of sunrise. On the leaf's under side you’ll see the white fuzz. Oïdium tends to appear later in the season as circular white powder patches but apparently it's not been a problem here for the last 6 years so I haven't seen any. You can spot black rot by its terracotta-coloured splotches (and when on the grape, the dried out dead the "mummy" it leaves behind. Pick this out!)

Downey mildew

Le black rot

Sunrise at 7

With expert leaf-picking status comes great appreciation of the fact some leaves, namely the "entrecoeur," are easier to snap off than others. Entrecoeur are the vine's secondary growth. Their purpose is to create new foliage as a sort of back up. As a leaf grows older, it's capacity for photosynthesis decreases — the fresh green from the entrecoeur acts as a booster, transmitting the sun's energy to the ripening grapes once the older leaves slope towards Florida, so, retirement. The entrecoeur also produce grapes, "grappe secondaire" or, "grappillon" as I learned in the context of the "PAS DES GRAPPILLIONS!" yelled on what seemed like 30-second intervals during last year's harvest at Oliver and Baptiste Cousin's. These are also a backup in case none of the others make it, which, I guess, they mostly don't; we harvest them. Can you make wine from them? Yes. People use the "verjus" (another name) to add acidity when the grapes are too rich.

So why were we breaking these off? Well, for starters we only removed those around the grape clusters and then not entirely: you leave enough to shade them from the sun. But “éliminer les entre-coeurs” is necessary not only to divert the energy the vine would spend developing the entrecoeur into the grapes, but to let in heat and light for sugar production; air to help prevent fungus, and to create space for the treatment to reach the bunches. This thinning out is also called "ébourgenonnage" (and the last type of leaf-picking we did was “épamprage”: picking unwanted growth off the stem).

Speaking of verjus: You can actually make wine just from the grappillion and I know because I had one the other night by Christope Comté at an event organised by Anders Frederik Steen at Valvignéres hot-spot, La Tour Cassée. The idea was for the winegrowers of the valley to gather, taste and talk about their wines at a level of detail you normally wouldn't while drinking with your neighbour. Everyone brought food and we fired up the grill and ate together. I had two portions of clafoutis.

The first vintage of Le Mazel as Le Mazel                   Dinner at La Tour Cassée

In other news: 

The vide-greniers of France! An old Creuset, load of books, two bowls and a demijohn for €15.00... 

The cicadas start whirring at 08:30

There are wild figs everywhere and they're ripe

We visited Gerald Oustric of Le Mazel for a tasting and went back the next day when I heard he'd turned a whole vintage into vinegar

News maybe for some, but our cat is called Ibie and so is the next valley and this is not a coincidence 

And I tested it out: it really does work if you send things c/o Andrea Calek :)

Our inside kitchen

 Our outside kitchen

Valvignerès, our other village

Tasting vinegar 

Local cult

Me and Ibie <3


Monday, 14 May 2018

Hashtag unicorn wines

I’m sitting here in the sun one week into a six month unpaid internship in the vines thinking about some of the things money can’t buy. I’ve got: fulfilment, the Italian home-cooked lunches I enjoy double portions everyday, a sequel to Brideshead Revisited and unicorn wines.
What’s a unicorn wine? Whatever the super-somm says. For the rest of us, #unicornwines, like Pokemon, are a human construct. Despite thousands of mentions on Instagram (3,095 at the time of writing), they don’t exist. Unlike Pokemon, they’re so rare you’re never gonna catch ’em all. Elusive if not extinct, their mythical unobtainability makes them the ultimate big game for today’s trophy hunters. They’re so late stage you can’t even throw money at them. And in a world where beef-heart tomatoes from the farmer’s market cost more than beef burgers, Apple doesn’t have to pay taxes and €100+ yoga mats and eight dollar slices of toast are just some of our everyday realities: that’s the thrill.
Not that conspicuous consumption – from the 17th Century tulip mania to my spending much of the 90s bored in the back seat as my parents trawled antique stores hunting antique decoy ducks – is anything new. Nor ever in good taste. But it’s reached a new low now that we can instantly take credit for everything we do or drink (or worse, haven’t) whenever we have 3G.
Social media has created a bottle oligarchy while winemakers work like monks. It allows anyone with the means (and followers) to spend the workweek in bars and restaurants claiming kudos for someone else’s achievements. It’s a stage on which to showboat by association, to transubstantiate liquid into likes. What you drink is how cool you are and extra points if the winemaker’s deceased.
With all the noise we think we have to generate in order to be noticed, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a snapshot of a 2011 Pierre Overnoy speaks louder than the thousands of words the man himself has to say about his craft. But in worshipping what speaks loudest, the super hip and the ultra rare, we’re building alters to the wrong gods. We’re missing the point.
If only our pursuit of the world’s most un-pursuable wines translated to genuine concern, appreciation or sophistication and not just “HEY GUYS LOOK @ ME”. If only we did more questioning than scrolling, double-tapping and following. Did more quiet, un-recorded drinking. Permission to drink alone if this gives you the stillness to remember that before our icons were icons, they were pioneers. That they worked for what they believed in and that the real reason your last post ‘broke the internet’ should be because they succeeded against all the odds, not because you have an allocation. If drinking wine was less about show and tell than enjoying, we’d care more about the wines we drink every day than those we most likely never will. And if it was less about hype then it could be more about a wine’s true value; about the heart, patience, skill, soul and sweat that a human — not a hashtag — put in to create it.

Written for and originally published on The Morning Claret


Thursday, 3 May 2018


Hotel de Goudfazant, 19 March 2018


'The time we drank 35+ litres of wine on donation on a Monday.'

And yes there was a tonne of mac n' cheese. 

And hot sauce. 

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