Let the Wine Decide: Go, Go, Go! Harvest 2012 begins….

September 20, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Let the Wine Decide? No, this time the grapes decided when they were ready to be plucked. So Go! Go! Go! The Boutinot Rhône harvest 2012 begins….at last!

So far the weather has been perfect (sunny clear days with a good mistral blowing) and now it’s full steam ahead in the vineyard and the cellar. Days are busy and long but satisfying….the grape-pickers stride out into the dawn and we finish hosing everything down in the cellar by dusk! So no time for a long post so here are some images from the past week. A full 2012 post-vintage report and initial assessment will follow in time but we’ll keep you abreast of developments as they happen.

Syrah harvest Boutinot Rhone Cairanne

Syrah, ripe and ready for picking

Picking finally started on the 13th September 2012, five days later than 2011. Perfect weather for the harvest greeted us as we stepped out into the crispness of dawn with the cockerel crowing hoarsely as if to say: “Get on with it!”

1s day of Syrah harvest 2012 Boutinot Rhone, Cairanne

Perfect conditions for picking Syrah at La Ruche

A clear sunny morning, but just 13°C due to the freshening mistral wind. So a bit chilly for us as we scrunched across the gravel to the cellar, but ideal for grape-picking: fruit picked cool and fresh is best, too hot and things can start to happen which you don’t want. Syrah was the first to be picked at La Ruche….rows in front of the cellar last week then the rows behind today…

Hand harvesting Syrah or Shiraz at Boutinot, Cairanne, Rhone

Hard at work hand-picking Syrah

A few hours into picking and the second tonne of Syrah arrives at the cellar.

Syrah in basket with vines in background, Cairanne, Rhone

2nd tonne of Syrah picked

Into the tanks they go, not destemmed unlike the first few bunches…

Syrah going into wooden tanks, Boutinot Rhone, Cairanne

The first of the open-top fermenters starts to fill up and the maceration process begins. Our wooden tanks hold 38hl in volume of wine (but you need to start with about 4 tons of grapes).

We ferment only using the natural yeasts the grapes bring with them (mostly on their skins). These will differ from each other (depending on the grape variety and the locality from which they were picked) and so each yeast will bring its own natural, fizzing personality to the winemaking process. These ‘wild yeasts of terroir’ we can’t control of course. This can mean that sometimes it’s a little tricky to ‘wake up’ the yeasts in the first fermenter; if you have children, you can imagine what it’s like trying to be patient for that to happen!

Fermentation isn’t a process we want to rush but we prefer not to leave the grapes macerating for more than 4-5 days before the process starts. So this year we decided to try ‘un pied de cuve’ – manually pressing about 5kg of grapes to get their juices running and then set this open-top bucket out int the midday sun for a few hours to encourage the yeasts to start the fermentation process for us. We then dropped this ‘fizzing grenade’ into the open-top fermenters to spread the fizzle of the fermentation throughout the mass of whole bunches of grapes and stems.
open-top-fermenterThis is a delicate stage in the winemaking process; decisions are made almost hourly and often made even while standing on top of the tanks…
Meeting on top of tank sent 20th Sept

…such as which tank is ready  for ‘remontage’ or pumping over: where juice is siphoned off from the bottom of the tank, pumped up and splashed over the cap at the top to start mixing everything up. This is how we aerate the must, encourage the spread of fermentation and soften the cap ready for ‘pigeage’.

Remontage during the 2012 harvest, Cairanne, Southern Rhone

Five days after the first grapes have arrived in the cellar then it’s time to start ‘pigeage’ – punching down the ‘cap’ to extract colour and tannins. Pigeage can be done by a machine shaped like a pneumatic drill; but more fool us, we prefer to do it manually!  This way we can finely judge exactly how much pigeage each individual tank needs. You really do wonder why though, when your body is aching as you skim, roped to the ceiling, from one fermenter to the next; and stare blearily and despairingly at the array of others still left to do!

We say manually, but of course we really mean with our whole bodies: feet first, then legs stamping down, building up to a bicycling action and at the crescendo thrusting down using every ounce of strength you can muster from your torso and arms. It would be romantic to think you emerge like Aphrodite smiling from the sea at birth but in reality you look more like Poseidon, trident in hand, dripping in red juice like some image from a Gothic horror movie!


So far this year ‘pigeage’ seems to be easier than last – perhaps due to the condition of the grapes, or maybe because we are getting stronger! With eight tanks to tread daily it can be an exhausting task. Luckily as the cap gets softer we can use the pigageur instead of our feet!


Out in the vineyards our Syrah plots – front and back of La Ruche – have been picked and we are waiting for the Grenache Noir from La Pauline and Les Six Terrasses, our old plots high on the La Montée de Ventabren to ripen.

Terraces of Les Sept Terraces and La Pauline, Boutinot Rhône, Cairanne

Back in the cellar each day ends with cleaning duties. Just like chefs wash down their station at the end of each service, we have to make sure all our equipment is scrupulously clean and ready for the next day.

Cellar being cleaned during harvest