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


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