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.


Monday, 13 April 2020

Andrea Calek

I call this dish,
Would you like more cream?
On my plate, meat.


Monday, 6 April 2020

Undocumented moments in the vines | Liage

Liage, not 'pliage' which is what I keep calling it thanks or rather no thanks to my memory bridge to bend > ballet > plié is one of those things no one writes about, is just another of those uncelebrated, undocumented moments in wine where 8 hours a day turn into 40 hour weeks bent down head down i.e.: labour, the manner in which basically I spend all my time so why don't write about it? and so I did and here it is: 545 more words to go on the thankless task of attaching the baguette to the wire with wire.

Liage happens after pruning and after you’ve pulled the wood which is simply the act of pulling the wood you've cut while pruning off the wires and which I'll write about later. It is, as I said, the name for the act of attaching your baguette (this is the honest to god technical term for the wood upon which one day very far away the grapes will grow) and it is this, as I said, that you must attach; assuming you have vines on wires. I’ll explain why now and this is to ensure everything grows evenly and not too densely in one direction and not everywhere like corruption and lonely people and plastic headed to the ocean because of two reasons and these are one: if you work with a horse or a quad-bike or a tractor you will break their arms, and two: to prevent acrotony.

Acrotony is a property of vines by which she will zap her sap down the baguette >>> to the last bud which will grow first, blowing all the vine's fruit-power and energy so out go people paid to spend their days ideally in the rain (this so it only cracks but doesn't snap) cajoling wood into long twists or bending them into arcs which is called 'l'arcure' the point of all this is to stop the flow or rather re-direct the sap with each crack to each of the buds which means FRUIT which is what we do this for but which, I must admit, can be hard to remember hence all the times I've 'quit' like when three weeks of liage in we were told 'There’s only 20 hectares to go' which for context I would like you to know means what was left was four times more than the biggest domaines I’ve worked for and we’d already done 15. Size, friends, is everything.

Liage also hurts. It hurts your back like all tasks head down bent over for days worth of hours do, my middle finger is four weeks later still swollen from feeding the wire and gripping the wood and quite blue, and it hurts your face when it whips you and my advice is don't do this when hungover or in a bad mood. On my first day maybe minute five it whipped me in my eye and it flashed through my mind that while I’m still being grateful I can walk again, how would I tell mom this time what’s happened is I’ve gone blind? But when I say it's thankless work don’t think I don't know it's Just Work that Needs to be Done that I think life's a peach or at least all harvest because there are more of these as of yet undocumented tasks I find gratifying like ébourgeonnage which isn't so bad and la taille which I like when you take the time for each vine because it’s the first time you see her again after you’ve rushed out hot with all her fruit rushed into the cold cellar in a rush of friends and drinking and people and drinking and late nights listening to the drip drip of the press rather than sleeping the whole crazy mad rush of everything at once necessary to transfer a year’s worth of energy into all that we celebrate in wine which is what we do it for, remember! and with all this going on it’s easy to forget to look back and say thank you, goodbye.


Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Etienne Thibaud | Domaine des Cavarodes

Savagnin merman:
dreads, oh sage jurasienne. 
Lune noeud donc on boit.

— Visit 10 March 2020. Cramans, Jura

(Photo and merman credit to Christina Rasmussen)


Sunday, 8 March 2020

Alice Bouvot | Domaine de l'Octavin

A gnome is a gnome is a gnome though hers are rainbow-minded not mould-hided, living their best lives in technicolour rather than forgotten somewhere at the bottom of the garden. If black-hats means home-grown: pizza-Ploussards and opera-curtain soft Trousseaus; this white-topped chorus represents team négoce, a colour-by-number medley of compass points singing in voices of sweet gravity Grenache and pithy Alsatian suns but also honeydew drops of far-south Muscat and pistachio-shades of Sylvaner in an orchestra that Alice, chieftess of insane harvest logistics and curl-haired cuve conductoresse, leads in whispers. 

— Visit 7 March 2020. Arbois, Jura


Thursday, 15 August 2019

Consider the sieve

Consider the importance of the sieve 
silver guardian at unapologetic gates restraining humble pasta and floaty bits in wine 
or don't—
and re-consider feet grape-deep in buckets


Sunday, 11 August 2019

On sales on souls

The funny thing is that for months I ignored the wine sitting downstairs unless there was a problem which when you consider the cuve was leaking and the heatwave and chapeau losing air there was frequently enough but even then I didn't regard it as ‘wine’ it was just there and we would take glasses from the tap and it was OK because it tasted like what it was: a basic red made in a shed with no running water fermented in plastic and exposed to plenty of air because we didn’t know about ouillage so there wasn’t much length but it did it must be said and others did say it had a delicate nose. 

But then we bottled and suddenly it wasn’t a worry it was wine it was a product and not only that but stock: a shed full of more wine than we ever had stacked quietly after the rush that is bottling on a pallet and in caisse and on the shelf there was wine  e v e r y w h e r e  it felt so much and we made it and it was ours and it was wine and now it also looked like wine and we brought it everywhere here this is it, here it is and we felt very rich. We weren’t of course rich, still aren’t, we are this year more poor than any year before, but we were rich in wine and in spirit and when we felt bad we could drink and this year has been very hard so we drank and anyway it wasn’t for sale, never considered it would be for sale because we made it for fun and for friends and for us and so we drank and we didn't count had never counted never knew never will know how many bottles we drank or made.

But then someone wanted to buy it and suddenly we started counting and stopped drinking and stopped giving because someone actually wanted to buy it and this was a surprise and at first we thought maybe a joke and because here was someone who I repeat wanted to BUY it and he wasn’t a fool nor family nor sympathetic friend this was business based on taste and we couldn’t believe it and just like that something had changed: the wine was no longer just for us for fun but a product for SALE and this goes to your head and like I said we started counting. Now it had a label and people saw it and they wanted it and it was us that had it and if we drank it then it would be gone and we were no longer naive and rich now we knew it had worth outside of us but suddenly poor, saving and stretching and counting and reserving and weighing because suddenly there could never be enough 
and there we were in our shed and we felt so rich and that we had so much.

(Thanks to Florence for the photo of our wine on a shelf (!!) in her shop Levain et le vin in Amsterdam).


Thursday, 11 July 2019

On bottling in forty-two degree heat wedged between suitcases and an old fridge

I will write one day about the toothpaste factory twisting boredom of bottling which is a likeness I haven’t conjured up from behind my computer but one that struck me with the dull thump of anti-progress while actually bottling after which I couldn’t stop thinking about factories and empathy and all the people ever to have existed in such existential poverty and those who continue to do so. I have never thought more about industry and heavy duty machinery as I do nowadays working with people I would describe as more or less artisanal but it’s true, I do, so it's good that it doesn’t always make me sad when I think about factories but sometimes Wow cool like the time I drove via Champagne to Mars in the enjambeur of Dufour Charles and which I keep calling entrejamb meaning between-leg which makes the French laugh. There are other times too where I think Wow like when I’m scrolling through agricultural websites search term ‘cuve fibre’ and for sale I find tanks as big as concrete houses and I try to imagine how many grapes these need to be filled and how full France is of grapes and I can't which is the thing with industry: incomprehensible scale. But bottling doesn’t have to be in the controlled conditions of a factory it can also be in forty-two degree heat wedged between suitcases and an old fridge whose coiled back is thick with rust left as it was for years in a shed with the outside world clearly visible through the 1 cm gaps through its slats and not only visible but tangible, the heat pushing through and long-ago boiling the last eighty-odd litres of wine we’re finally bottling having only that morning secured the magnums brackets thank you Anders although I can think of a more exact of description of this than ‘bottling’ namely holding each mag up arm heavy to the tired déguster to catch drip by drip the liquid jam as you sit behind the fridge next to the suitcases amidst the hairy confusion of a million flies rubbing together their dirty feet as if gleefully at your misery and you are, you are miserable because in this heat you can’t eat, you can’t work, you can’t sleep, you can’t live and you tell yourself It's day eight of a wave of heat you just have to hang in there, It won't, you tell yourself, Go on forever but what if it does? What if we're at the beginning or maybe even already the middle of the end of the world and who cares which it is? why split hairs the flies are thirsty, the ants are thirsty and they are coming into the house to collect around the dripping fridge like elephants at a mud pool and humans around a lake.

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