As part of his masters degree program, Mark finished a four-month vineyard and winery internship (known as a stage here in France). He worked for Denis Dubourdieu Domaines, the umbrella of five chateaux owned by the family: Château Doisy Daene, Château Cantegril, Clos Floridene, Château Haura and Château Reynon. All are located in the southern area of Bordeaux:
- Barsac in the Sauternes region
- Pujols sur Ciron and Illats in the Graves region
- Béguey and Laroque in the Cadillac-Côtes de Bordeaux region
This is a quick overview of particulars and photos.
At first he spent days in the vineyard tending to vines, counting clusters and such. In the heat of summer they started before sunrise and worked until temperatures put an end to the work day. Standard practice in the area is to stop when the temperature reaches 31C (about 87F) as measured by a thermometer placed in the vine canopy. Not that hot for a guy from Sacramento!
And at first he came home on weekends or joined me when I was house-sitting in Monestier, relishing the country vibe and exploring wines. Friday nights were treasured. I had dinner on standby and a bottle of wine popped. After his intense and often chaotic week, relaxing together over an educational download was delightful.
Just before harvest started (late September), things kicked into overdrive for Mark. Twelve hour days were average, some peaking out at 16 and the work week spilled over to the weekends.
Racking (soutirage) of the previous year’s white, red and liquereaux wines from barrels into tanks was done. Then the emptied barrels were washed and sulphered, and stainless steel tanks (cuves), presses and other equipment were cleaned with caustic soda and disinfectant.
Then harvest started. First it was the reception of white grapes for dry whites- Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon mostly. They were machine harvested and destemmed by the harvester then brought in large trailer mounted bins by tractor for processing (see video). Grapes were loaded directly into presses and basic sugar and acidity analysis was done on the pressed juice. The pH of juice gradually increased as the presses increased pressure, so they monitored pH and separated juice once pH exceeded about 3.3. The press juice above that is kept separate for bulk wine sales or possible blending. During the subsequent fermentation process, the juice requires aeration to keep the yeast healthy. Some white wines are then transferred to barrels to finish fermentation and age. Periodically the barrels need to be stirred in a process called bâtonnage. They had a special barrel with a clear head so you could see what happens in the barrel when it’s stirred. Pretty cool (…at least for wine geeks)!
Next were grapes for red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot) which came either in bunches, or were machine harvested. If in bunches, they were destemmed, crushed and pumped into the cuves for fermentation. Analysis was done for basic sugar and acidity. The tank was then mixed (by pumping) and the temperature adjusted at about 15C (59F) for a few days of maceration.
He also got a chance to work with the sweet Sauternes wine harvest. This involved the harvesting of grapes that had been covered with a special type of mold called ‘botrytis.’ The mold dehydrates the berries, concentrating the sugar, and adding special flavors to the remaining juice. The harvest of these grapes was all done manually with the harvest being loaded directly into the presses. Once inoculated with yeast, the juice was pumped into barrels for fermentation and aging. The process of stacking and filling the barrels was hard work, but Mark enjoyed it.
On several occasions the crew would cook dinner together. Sometimes the Italian cellar master made pasta dishes. Other times entrecote was grilled over vine trimmings. Their extremely physical days called for lots of guilt-free eating!
An upside of harvest was daily lunch as staff had no time to cook. The downside- weekends no more. You see when the grapes are ready, they are ready. It’s not like you can tell them to report back to work Monday at 8:00 a.m.
The last grapes came in the end of October. While work at the chateaux is far from finished, Mark’s work commitment ended October 28th. I am one happy lady to have my man back!