October 5th 2016
I’ve been working at Comte Armand for the past 10 days, and though I arrived just after picking had begun (22nd September) I was well in time for the final few days and the gargantuan end of harvest party – the paulée. Clos des Epeneaux was flowing from magnums (the 1999 being a particular highlight), the weary vendangeurs somehow found some more fuel in the tank, and the dancing and singing went on into the early hours of Sunday morning.
Whilst Burgundy had been dealt a brutal blow in April with a widespread and fierce frost, this year’s harvest has taken place under blue skies and an autumn sun which still some remarkable heat (just ask any of the porters carrying the heavy loads of grapes on their backs. Or the strange English girl who still puts on sun cream in September). Volumes are tiny, yes, but the quality is high. Rot is a rarity, and the small berries are beautifully mature. All the cuvées smell excellent, and analyses back from the lab reflect dream figures regarding potential alcohol, pH, total acidity etc. Thanks to the phenolic maturity and excellent health of the grapes, whole bunch inclusion in the red cuvées has been high on the agenda.
I have been working under Comte Armand’s new boss, Paul Zinetti. Paul took over in 2014, having worked with the previous incumbent, Benjamin Leroux. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked in lots of cellars (I’m almost out of fingers to count all my vintages now) but have no formal oenology training. I’m therefore always so thrilled when a grower will let me come and work alongside them. My daily routine this week consists of pumping over all the red tanks (remontage), and taking the density and temperature readings for each cuvée in the morning and afternoon. The first tank of Clos des Epeneaux has really begun to ferment today after its extended cold soak, and punching down (pigeage) is now part of the programme. I haven’t punched down a tank by hand for a few years (the last place I worked had pneumatic plungers) and it was quite a work-out being the first one to plunge the huge tank of CDE this afternoon. I’ve been instructed to bring shorts tomorrow – we’re getting in the tanks. Sometimes the old ways are the best…
The first week was flat out whilst the fruit was coming in and just flew by. But we now have a little more room to breathe, and the chance to go and see some other growers, most of whom are in the last throes of the harvest themselves. You can’t drive through a village in the Côte D’Or at the moment without hearing the klaxons and screams of jubilation of a team of pickers who have just finished. On Sunday evening I was drinking the most delicious 2010 Corton Charlemagne with the Buisson family in Corton Charlemagne as the sun set on another perfect autumn day, and the last few rows of vines were picked. It’s an excellent hangover cure, by the way. And today I headed up to the Côte de Nuits to see my old friends the Ligniers in Morey Saint Denis where I had my first taste of the hotly tipped 2015s. Brace yourself for a cut-above vintage to be released in January 2017.
So onwards, with vinification. And I couldn’t be in a better place to do it.