Posts Tagged ‘Côtes du Rhone’

The Vendange at Morlanche

October 12, 2014

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What a strange summer we have had!  The late spring was bone dry – by June the fields were scorched and we all feared we were in for an epic drought.  Then everything changed: July was  unseasonably cold and wet  and things did not improve much in August.  Fortunately the long-awaited Indian Summer showed up in September and the grapes put on a spurt.  The date of the vendange, which at one point looked like being in October, was finally fixed for September 27th.

This is not just a random selection but has to be assessed by the vintner, in our case, Hervé Souhaut.

Markus and Hervé

Markus and Hervé

We took a small sampling of the grapes to his cave at the Château des Romaneaux in Arlebosc, where he crushed them and tested the juice with a little gadget which weighs the sugar content and calculates the potential volume of alcohol.  We were relieved to get a reading of over 11% which meant that the picking could start.

This year we were able to defeat any potential onslaughts of Black Rot with timely sprays of sulphur and Bordeaux mixture and there was not a wasp in sight, but just as everything was looking perfect . . . . BIRDS discovered the luscious grapes and set in for a feeding frenzy!  We responded by constructing a scarecrow, but they obviously were neither crows nor scared.  We made noisy mobiles out of empty beer cans, strung up yards of aluminium foil and old CDs, (we hoped that they disliked Céline Dion as much as we do!) and even netted some rows, but it was depressing to see how much they were able to chomp their way through in just a few days.

In the end, we calculated that we had only lost about 10% of the crop and Hervé was pleased with the quality of the grapes.  His motto is that it is better to have fewer grapes, but healthy ones and he is confident that this year’s vintage will be very good.


As usual the vendange was a cheerful family event and once all the grapes were harvested there was pétanque to be played, a new baby to be admired, news to catch up on and of course plenty to eat and drink.  The next day all the bird scaring devices were cleared away and we left the vines in peace to take on their beautiful tawny autumn colours.  There are plans afoot for replanting this winter and a date has been set to cut down the encroaching trees in the wood above the top terrace in a bid to keep our pesky little feathered friends at a safe distance!

Late grape harvest and the endless struggle with nature

October 3, 2013

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Bossing nature about is the key to all the wonderful vegetables and fruit that we find in the garden, on trees and bushes and finally in the markets and supermarkets.  But sometimes plants don’t like to be pushed around and want to feel weak and feeble and ill and to give up the ghost.  You can be nice to them, learn their first name, weed all around them, give them some medication – but when they want to feel sick, they want to feel sick and they often do it fast when your back is turned.

That was certainly the case with the Morlanche vineyard this year.  The team had pruned the vines carefully, weeded around their feet, tied them to the wires, kept the unwanted shoots under control

and then . . . .

from one day to the next, BLACK ROT arrived on its black horse with its evil spells and turned the vineyard into a leper colony.

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Quick medication in the form of sulphur did save some of the grapes, but we already knew in July that this year’s harvest would be done in half a day – which will admittedly give us much more time to eat and drink than in other years (quite a challenge!)

IMG_1190 (800x600)The only consolation is the fact that 2013 has been a very strange year for French wines.  With the awful weather in May, the growing cycle of the vines was delayed by two to three weeks.  Even when the sunny summer finally arrived the grapes never managed to catch up and in all vineyards across the country the harvests are one to three weeks late, an event which, according to Ministry of Agriculture statisticts has not happened since 1988.

This year the grape picking and general festivities at Morlanche will be on October 12.  Never, since 1990 when we first started to be part of the Morlanche vendanges, have we harvested in October.  What the same statistics predict is a harvest below average in terms of quantity.  Better to make a mistake in a bad year than in a good one!

Now for the good news. In June, the beatiful Hermitage hill,  where we usually take our Walksweeks visitors for a walk followed by a winetasting, was listed as a French Heritage site.

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Here is a good place to observe how humans have succeeded for generations in bullying nature with the help of a horse or two, manpower and a bit of bouillie bordelaise and sulphur.

We are not quite there yet at Morlanche – need to find a horse first!

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La Saint Vincent

January 27, 2012


Assiduous readers of this blog will have noticed that Markus is deeply involved with the vines at Morlanche. He has always dreamed of having his own vineyard and by helping the family to keep this old one alive he is able both to learn and experiment the different techniques needed to maintain and hopefully revitalise the old Gamay ceps.

January 22nd, St Vincent’s day, is traditionally thought to be an auspicious date to start the winter pruning. Various reasons are attributed for this choice – most of them somewhat far-fetched, such as the fact that the word vin is contained in the Saint’s name, that he may have been martyred by being crushed in a wine press and that his hungry donkey chewed at the vines in winter, thus inventing the notion of pruning. More prosaically this is probably just a good time, when the plants are completely dormant. Pruning too early means struggling with foliage and springy stems, too late and the vines weep distressingly copious tears of sap.

So here he is with friend Amaury studying each plant carefully to determine how to encourage vigorous and crucially, fruit-bearing, new growth. They spent a couple of days in the vines, enjoying the quiet short days of winter, the birdsong and the hazy sunshine. There was not a lot of conversation, because they say that each plant presents its own conundrums and the job requires a lot of concentration before making the fateful cuts. Presumably a lifetime’s experience makes the job a bit easier!

Various other family members stopped by to help, and the newest baby girl was much admired in the kitchen whilst the lunchtime roast boar was being prepared.

Now the vineyard looks trim after its new haircut and there are neat bundles of cuttings ready to be used on summer barbecues. The next job will be to till over the soil between the rows and work in a load of manure – we don’t know if there is a patron saint for that task!

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