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


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