It’s grape harvesting time in France, and the news from the country’s Ministry of Agriculture is not so good. The harvest this year will be exceptionally small, and volumes haven’t been this low since 1991, the minister announced last week. The culprits? Frost, hail, cold weather, rain, mildew. Winemakers are worried, although some experts say the wine could still be tasty. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Jean-Pierre Alaux, one of the authors of Treachery in Bordeaux, about the industry and all the vices you find in it (great mystery material). The weather always wins out, though, was our conclusion.
The said minister also pledged to fight a massive vineyard expansion plan set afoot by the European Commission. I tell you, great material for whodunits.
With all this in mind, I thought that today I would side with the optimists, and share with you a short excerpt from Treachery in Bordeaux that is a condensed version of how to make a grand cru wine.
“They left nothing to chance here, and the Moniales could have served as an example for any winemaking school. They set their planting density correctly at 9,500 plants per 2.5 acres. They grew grape varieties that corresponded to the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée for Pessac-Léognan, with 40 percent merlot, 15 percent cabernet franc and 45 percent cabernet sauvignon. The average age of the vines was 30 years. They neglected none of the necessary steps in caring for the vine’s development, with experienced personnel removing shoots, pruning buds and thinning out leaves and plants. Hand harvesting meant that each parcel got the greatest care. Each batch spent a reasonable period of 15 to 24 days in tanks. Barrel aging lasted around 18 months, favoring the most traditional malolactic fermentation. And nobody could reproach sanitation on the premises.”