Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Up the apples and pears (stairs): a video guide to making cider

Another video-supported** how-to!

This time on making cider, in IV parts.

Pt. I

Pt. II


Pt. IV

— Combrailles, Auvergne

** For more Essential video-guides see:


Friday, 17 June 2022


I’m looking for help this harvest and I’m asking anyone who’s (seriously) interested to write to me and I will write back with more. And yes two months before is maybe a bit late* but late is better than never: although never is also a possibility considering I still haven’t found a cellar. 

Simon says I'm a pirate without a boat. I say boat or no, the show must go on. 

Some other things you should know in the spirit of full disclosure: I am no good at sales (read below). Yes, I can take nice pictures but basically what you see is what you get. Expect zero frills. Expect late nights. If experience is anything to go by, things will go wrong probably more often than they go right. 

Your job description in the shell of nut: You will be making wine á la main which is not a French-ism for ‘artisanal’ but means exactly that: your only tools will be your hands (and your arms and your legs and your head and yes, I do at least have a press). 

If you are a city person like I was and want your rural idyll straw hat dreams crushed like I’ve had, come! But only if you really understand what I mean when I say +/- 6.8T of grapes will not pick, drive, carry nor de-cuve themselves oh, and the T stands for tonnes.

What kind of person should you be? You will need to be strong, both of body and of mind and you must. be. able. to. drive. 

(If ever a negociant tells you they don’t use machinery in their vines, ask them how many thousands of KM they make to buy their grapes). 

You must not be afraid of camping because you will almost certainly be camping! But whatever I can do, you can do too. I’m a wimp and I made wine in 2019 on crutches while living in a cave. Last year I managed without a shower. Remember: there is always someone somewhere doing worse off than you.

Please like cooking? Please understand that we will always be cleaning? For the rest there's a lot of drinking, schlepping and boring, repetitive tasks. No pump means the holy trinity of siphon + sweat + buckets and if everything goes to plan, there might also be stairs involved which gives you a picture of how practicality is not my best-fitting hat :)

If you’re the kind of person who can just get on with things without me having to explain everything — know that I already love you. Not that I don’t relish directing people (I don’t), it’s just that I don’t know what I’m doing either and will be busy figuring it out as we go along. 

Other desirable skills include: French! Maths! The can-do attitude that late at night I lack. If you’re not a problem-solver, please stay home. If you're a trained engineer take all my money and Pass Go. Sense of humour is a must! Winemaking is fun, but often it's not and it’s at these times you need to know how to laugh. 

So to re-cap. There will be long hours driving. There will be more things to carry than you can shake a stick at. When things go right it’s a miracle. When they don’t, we’ll have to do it again. I can promise you very little sleep, but rest be assured I have a good friend who makes great coffee. I've have another one who brews beer. You will be dirty, constantly, your body will learn to run off adrenaline effortlessly. You'll want to do everything you can to somehow capture in the bottle all this crazy energy. I mean I haven't quite managed this yet, but that's the idea.

I don’t like being a boss and I’m learning too, but — wait for the sales pitch — if you’re hands on, here’s your chance to have your hands in my 2022.

Too much?


Some deets:

  • Dates are from end-ish August to beginning October, with the last grapes coming in end-ish Sept.
  • I buy my grapes. There will be 4 trips. There will also be two actual harvests in actual vines in Auvergne which, oh yeah, is where I am. One in my vines and one in vines I share.
  • I appreciate you probably have a real life and you probably can’t stay for it all. We can talk! I am open to people on rotation, but let’s say minimum ‘stay’ shouldn’t be much less than 2 weeks.
  • See! What a boss! 
  • You will be fed and watered, and in exchange for your time you will get wine.
  • If you stay long enough, we can talk about you borrowing a tank and buying some grapes.
  • Bring sturdy shoes, a headlamp and your passport.
  • hfuellenkemperATgmailDOTcom

See you in T-two months!

*in my defence I already wrote about looking for an assistant du cave in January and you can re-read it here. 

F R U I T!



         OLD  F R I E N D S! 

                         N E W  F R I E N D S!                                     



 BAD THINGS!        


           OVER-FULL THINGS                                           

           LIVING IN A VAN-REALITIES                                    ENGINEERING 

                                    RAN OUT OF SPACE, PLEASE HELP ME






Thursday, 16 June 2022

Tirage des bois

Thirty points about pulling wood arranged in narrative order: 

  1. This is my least favourite work.
  2. Except maybe for attachage which is also called liage and which makes the months that follow pruning my least favourite months because the one I'm writing about here comes before the other.
  3. But let’s start at the beginning. ‘Pulling wood’ means ‘removing wood you’ve cut during pruning from the wires’ or ‘tirage des bois’ for short which is French for 'war'. (I'm quoting myself here).
  4. Imagine a vine. Vines like to grow up, but humans like vines to grow sideways (*). This is because a vine needs support or will flop, and a sideway-supported vine is easier to work read: control than one with a support that trains it up high.
  5. (*) unless the vine is suited to a self-supporting system like goblet or pole-training and so don’t need wires hence don’t go sideways.
  6. Anyway so you’re imagining your vine trained along wires and you’re imaging the fruiting wood being supported sideways along these wires and you’re imagining how much easier all this linear-ness has made treating the vines, controlling foliage, controlling sunlight, harvesting and finally: pruning, because you prune last year’s fruiting wood which is — you guessed it — stretched out sideways along the wires.
  7. So now you’re imagining yourself pruning! (and if you can't I wrote a pretty descriptive piece about it here).
  8. And pruning!
  9. And pruning! You've been pruning for months! And finally you're done.
  10. But the wood you’ve cut (hopefully in three pieces but at a minimum more than once) is still clinging to the wire. 
  11. And because it is February, March or April and it better not be May because in May the buds will be out which makes May too late, you need to pull this wood off the wires so you can attach next year’s fruiting wood to this same wire.
  12. Easy, right?
  13. Personally my idea of easy doesn't stretch to activities with a high probability of blindness but I've heard I have impossibly high standards :)
  14. Yes, pulling wood is easier in plantations because first year vines don’t produce a lot of wood to pull. 
  15. Ditto for not very vigorous verging on dying vines like mine (no wood = no pull).
  16. And true: pulling wood in rows that are planted wide and that are flat is easier than when they’re narrow and up a mountain.
  17. And pulling wood, cramming it in a frizzled pile you've ish got jammed under one aching arm (even twigs get heavy) so you can pull with the other and leaving this pile at the end of the row is slightly easier than number 18 which is:
  18. pulling wood while pushing a burning wheelbarrow while stuffing the burning wheelbarrow with wood you’ve pulled to keep it burning without burning you nor anyone around you. 
  19. But this is hell, so it's in a different category.
  20. A vine is a vine, so even if you don’t work with vines, you understand that vines cling to stuff. 
  21. I think the botanical term for this is: vines cling to everything. 
  22. In layman's terms this is infuriating. 
  23. Call me bad at being an advanced species to let a dead piece of wood get the better of me but O-M-G is it  a n n o y i n g.
  24. HairEyesButtonsPiercingsZipsWiresOtherSticks:youNameIt,It’llCling!sThenWillWhipYou! 
  25. Can't they be mulched? 
  26. Some people do!
  27. But you can't if you don’t have the machine and not if your wood is plein de maladie and apparently it’s also not a good idea to mulch every year 
  28. (too much nitrogen you see),
  29. so instead you continue to twist and wrench and get cat-scratched as you pull and pile and the piles un-pile and then you re-pile and then you strike a match and they turn red then blinding violet white which is when you put on the côte de boeuf on what is now a grill. 
  30. My buddy Aaron also wrote about triage des bois! Two pieces in two months is I'm guessing probably the most anyone's written about it ever! A world record! For more on the same theme, read: 'Pulling wood:the least-exciting vineyard task in one of the Jura's most exciting vineyards.'


Thursday, 12 May 2022

Undocumented moments in wine | Note(s) to self next time someone comes to taste

Seem like you know what you did even though you don’t.

People will try to take photos of you. Work with them or it will not work. Multiple chins are not a good look.

Know thy prices!

Know the quantity you have left to sell!

I repeat: Don’t talk down your wine,

let the taster give their thoughts first.

Expect them to be late, you know you would be if it was you.

Open question: Is showing photos of you harvesting on crutches cool?

Provide guest with a clean glass. 

It should not smell. 

It should not be schmered with finger grease, lip prints or ex-cassoulet fat.

Provide something to spit in that's not so shallow it spits back. 

Read the room: some people like the x day maceration blabla, others less so.

Snacks are nice! 

This is France!

Call it casse-croûte.

Watch your dose. Don't serve to drink nor stingy-drip low.

You've had millions of problems this year, yes. They don't need to know (about them all).



Rinse your vanne! Check your chapeaux!

Don’t stir the lies with your pipette. It's awkward to have an audience watch you sucking up barrel-overflow yelling suck-suck-go-go

(three men deep in a cave plus me, trust me I know.)

Leave the wines with sugar til last? They're not a pro? Maybe don't bother with them (the not-finished wines I mean) at all?

Don’t seem insecure even though you are because you've forgotten what got mixed into where or when or why or what's actually in this damejean or how.

Do try to breathe, slow it down. PEOPLE ARE VISITING YOU TO TASTE YOUR WINES! You are an imposter only as long as you feel you are.


Thursday, 5 May 2022

undocumented moments in wine: a video guide to bottling tiny quantities of wine


— wine
— bottles
— boxes
— buckets
— siphon
— gravity
— corks or caps
— a corker or capsuleuse
— 3 people and more time than you think

Let's begin.


You've made a tiny amount of wine!
It's dry!
You think! 
You live very far away from your wine!
Anyway on Wednesday you have some time!
Time to bottle it, no matter if the moon is badly aligned.


You are full of hope and expectation!
Imagine if it turns out to be good!
Even great!
You smell!
It's just OK. 


The siphon!
It is an art!
Don't also make wine hitting the deeper most part of your lungs a surprise! 
Suck from high!
Keep it art.


When you bottle wine, you must re and re and re-try your wine.
You'll get drunk.
It's fine.


You've successfully siphoned your wine from the big bottle you fermented it in into the small bottle you'll drink it from.
It's time to cork!
The corker of course won't work!


Force (generally) works.

!! Now let's bottle a tiny cuve !!


Deflate and remove the chapeau.
This will be the first time in months you've checked what's going on inside the tank.
This is a good time to pray.


You have learned how not to choke on the first suck of the siphon.
 And you probably already knew that for a siphon to work, the level at which you bottle will need to be lower than the liquid line.
But you probably forgot at the crucial moment to remember: when the tank is empty.


Stop to eat snacks.
Always have snacks.


I wouldn't recommend doing this.
I recommended they didn't do this.
Doing this means you shake up all the muddy stuff at the bottom and mix it in your clear wine = muddy wine.
Why are they doing this? 
The tank wasn't high enough to siphon from.
(If you DO do this, I would recommend you leave the tank to rest a bit so everything settles.)


Now the tank is high but the siphon is too short! 
So you bottle directly from the tap.
This is making wine!


Here's something nifty I learned!
You saw Gaspard filling the jerobaum, right?
Well the jerobaum didn't fit in the corker thing.
What to do?
What Gaspard did was use the corker to compress the cork then jammed it down the neck of the bottle a la main.
as they say.

You have successfully bottled your tiny quantity of wine!
You are drunk!
You will bring your wine everywhere you go, give a big proportion away.
You will realise you now have only but the tiniest quantity of wine left.
But that's what wine's for!
so it's OK. 


With thanks to Aaron Ayscough and Gaspard Valette for a great day.


Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Undocumented moments in wine | the first time I saw my wine on a shelf

The times I’ve wished ‘someone had written a guide’ to doing all the stuff left right and centre of making wine are generally the times things are not going well. Such a guide would ideally include simple but visually appealing how-to’s, extensive lists of what NOT to do, very precise FAQs and absolutely no contradictory advice from winemakers. There would be check lists and capitalised lists and if-you-win-the-lottery wish lists and lists of the things you will forget so before you do, better tear it out.

If I was its writer I could fill a good couple chapters with the things I wish someone had just told me but would invite an expert to explain stuff like dealing with the douane and what to look for when buying a pump. I'd also like a crash course on the relevant chemistry and whatever you call the field between magic and alchemy oh and some breathing exercises! One for during harvest and one for when you realise you’ve fucked something up.

But life’s not all bad! So my guide would also be a guide on navigating the insanely good, like the time I take my parents to a place I know from Before Wine that’s now i m p o r t i n g  my wine and the restaurant treats. I'm in the dark here: What, under these circumstances, would a cool person do? Or when for the first* time (the same time) I see my bottles next to bottles with actual stick-on labels made my real-life winemakers on a physical, bricks and mortar shelf? Or how to prepare for how it feels to put your wine on a pallet, wrap it with heartbreaking layers of plastic and hope your papers are in order so the transporter will accept it DID I MENTION DEALING WITH THE FEELING THAT YOUR WINE IS GOING SOMEWHERE AND IT'S GOING BY BOAT?!

If there's space towards the back it would be cool to have a list of things to say and not to say the next time I’m invited to give an informal tasting and bar staff chat. Here are some key takeaways: golden nuggets of easily recite-able info are the goal; long-winded life story not so. Also! Don’t talk down your wine! Also: breathe! First time’s happen once and life moves on fast. Maybe someone could develop an App to remind me of that.

My forever-love to the team at 40 Maltby Street and Gergovie Wines. It is a total stroke of good luck my path has loop-de-looped back to you.

*actually it's the second time, but the first (and last) was in 2018 and the wine only half mine.


Sunday, 20 March 2022

Undocumented moments in the vines | a video guide to planting posts

You won’t need to plant posts unless you’re unlucky, or planting a vineyard, or unlucky to have rotten posts which you won’t if they're acacia like these are (chop-chopped from the forest and hand-cut too). But here's a six-step how-to in case you do — and in new format to boot! At the time I didn't know the words so I gestured and made sounds, but here I'm calling the format "onomatopoeic video".

Step 1: tchhur-tschuur

Step 2: ffflupt

Step 3: schliing-schliing

Step 4: tschik-tschik

Step 5: thread


Step 6: schlick-shlick

et repeat!

— Volvic, Auvergne


Monday, 27 December 2021

2021 harvest report or: On moving cellar 3 days before harvest

Don’t! Though you don’t need me to tell you that. Something you might not have known however, is that for customs to give you the go-ahead for a last minute move you will need to give customs a serious reason for moving — and the end of a 10 year relationship ain't it. Have an earthquake or something. It’s how you feel anyway so technically you won’t be lying.

2021 was declared a viticultural disaster already in April. Frost, mildew, no grapes for sale anywhere in that order until August when yes there are grapes for sale but I don’t have a cellar. Or tanks! So no pressure but the new place I hadn’t found yet had to have a ceiling high enough for the new tanks I hadn’t found yet and Aimé, so you know: had I not managed to find any I would have blamed you for telling me I could do it.

From henceforth 2021 shall be known as ‘the Year of Thank You Thank You Jerome.’ Without you I wouldn’t have had a second press which would actually turn out to be the only one I own. 2021 is also Year of the Soutirage. Of late night manoeuvres and river (no hot water) showers. Of making double as much wine as I ever have, and by this I mean after combining everything I’ve made the last three times.

Harvest 2021 was a harvest where I had a harvest team cancel for rain that didn’t fall. I have never driven vans so big nor driven so much alone. It’s the first harvest where I’ve been member of a team as few as 3 (we took six hours but we picked 1.2 tonne). It is the year I made wine in a garage. In a milk tank. In a state of constant logistical panic. Mentally I broke down twice, smashed my car once, got halfway through transferring the same damn tank of Chardonnay thrice. I was in the south so much I half picked up the accent. I’ve developed a thing for ropes and ratchets. It’s amazing what you can do with nothing but a wine starter pack: ladder, buckets, thermometer, a broom, bug-light and a borrowed 10hl tank. I have Claire to thank for that.

My trip to Italy in three words: gas-station pizza; hell. I have four barrels of ex-Blanc for my Ardéche Chardonnay and the Rousanne, picked 23.09, is the only cuvée for which I have a name. Patrick tells me Carignan doesn’t ‘work’ in Auvergne, the team who picked the Gamay was high, I made my first ever full tank (Cinsault) and there’s a small one of Syrah, a very serious tasting wine. Home-grown from Auvergne there’s exactly 100L of Pinot Noir into which I put 2 caisse of Auvergne Chardonnay. I’ve insulated the garage by the train station with hay bales, though in the interests of sounding professional I refer to it as the ‘chai’.

In October I finally had a moment to back-calculate what I made and was pretty surprised to see it was six tonnes of grapes. So now I’m putting off doing my expenses. Numbers like these are the kind of thing you really want to have figured out before you’ve paid.

It was in 2019* that I learned you need a fuck load of people to make wine alone, and so a million trillion thanks to all the people this year who made mine. I shouted a lot this year. Here are some more before the end of the year but t’inquiette, of the more constructive type: 

  • Shouts to Café Clandestin! And in the same vein of staying alive: shouts to the engineer who engineered the rental vans to make that horrible noise when you cross a yellow line
  • To Manu for our days of triage and décuvage and pressurage and the trip to the plumbing store 
  • To the Directrice of “Domaine Andrea Calek” for making me promise to take density every day, check under every chapeau, for letting me press chez vous and for sharing with me your time, wood and hopefully, yeasts
  • Anto for all your advice, trading me wine and practically all my grapes
  • Jerome Saurigny for gifting me your press
  • Flo, for your determination to clean all the caisse
  • Magali for your energy! For our night in the van, for always wanting to jump in the press
  • To Lisa and Paul for gifting me my first 3 glasses! For braving the storm of fibreglass 
  • Aurelien: for your playlists and the box of glasses when my others smashed
  • Alex, Manu, Nadia and Max for lending me tanks
  • Thanks to my core team of advisors Patrick, Anto, Ralph and Remi for the 80 / 100 times you texted me back
  • To Alex and Vaughn for the first bottling of the year (a very reductive Gamay pét nat)
  • Our team for Boudes
  • Simon and Steen: EH BEH come get your Cinsault when het is klaar
  • Aaron: after Stefana, my stagier of the day! To you both: for the laughs! For that night we got drunk in Chass!
  • A mention for all the dinosaurs I’ve since burned as gas
  • To the guy in Beaujoalis who gave me money I didn’t have back in exchange for my leaking tanks
  • Henry for your patience this year doing what I know you didn’t like doing last year
  • Vincent Marie for lending and selling me tanks in my moment(s) of need
  • Geoffry for giving me a place to work, a room in which to sleep and for feeding me 

— and to Guy, Claire and Aimé: thanks to you guys I moved anywhere. Thank you for everything.

*Or, the Year I Made Wine on Crutches.

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