News

Sparkling Winter Mixed Case

Back by popular demand, this year’s Christmas case includes 2 bottles of Decanter bronze medal winning Champagne from small organic producer Pierre Brigandat et Fils.  The Brigandat vineyard grow all their own grapes and farm organically on the south facing hillsides in the village of Channes, these are the southern-most vineyards in Champagne.

The Brut tradition is light yellow with a mature nose with creamy, lemony aromas and an almond note. A full palate with a refined texture the milky, lemony aromas reoccur, capped off with a sensation of crispness.

champagne-2        champagne

Perfect as an aperitif,  this Champagne also complements almost any kind of meal excluding heavy meat dishes and desserts.  Fortunately we have just the thing to pair with your Christmas pudding – a bottle (50cl) of our 2015 Sweet!

This 100% sauvignon blanc sweet wine has a rich golden colour. On the nose, the first impression is citrus followed by honey and caramel. On the palate, an unctuous sweetness is balanced by a fresh acidity, followed by flavours of honey, apricot and caramel. A long smooth finish follows. Perfect for a rich dessert or mature hard or soft cheese.

img_2153  home-wines

With only 134 bottles made they have all been bottled, corked, labelled and capsuled by hand so please forgive us for any wonky labels or creased capsules!  Also due to the tiny quantities the wine is only available in this mixed case.  Please see below for the feature from Paul about how we grow, pick and make this unique style of wine.

The Christmas case is £175 for 12 bottles and includes:

2 x Champagne Brut Tradition    :    3 x 2012 Prestige   :    3 x 2014 Classique   :   2 x 2015 Blanc Sec Exceptionnel  :  1 x 2016 Rose   :   1 x 2015 Sweet

(if you would like more than 2 bottles of the champagne, please visit our stockist Carte du Vin at www.carte-du-vin.co.uk)

Making Sweet Wine

To coincide with the release of our 2015 “Le Sweet”, we’ve put together a guide to how sweet wine is made.

The basic idea is to increase the sugar concentration in the grape juice, such that as the wine ferments, some of the sugar, but not all, turns to alcohol. The residual sugar then gives the wine its sweetness. For example; in a dry white wine, the grapes are picked when the amount of sugar, measured as potential alcohol, is about 12 – 13%. All that sugar turns to alcohol, so the result is a wine at 12 – 13% with no left-over sugar. In other words, dry.

For a sweet wine, however, the sugar needs to be at a level of between 15 – 25% potential alcohol, so when our 13% is turned to alcohol, there is enough sugar left to give the required sweetness.

How this concentration is obtained varies. Here are the most common types of sweet wine;

  • Ice wine, where the grapes are left to freeze on the vine, which concentrates the juice. The grapes are often pressed whilst frozen. This is common in Canada, and some colder parts of Europe and China. Difficult to make, and is of high quality and high price, normally.
  • Fortifying the wine, which is simply adding sugar to dry white. This can be made anywhere, and tends to be for the cheaper wines – it adds sweetness but no complexity or character.
  • Raisin wine, where the grapes are left to dry and shrivel, concentrating the sugar content. This method originated in Roman times, and nowadays in Italy is known as Vin Santo. It can also be found in the Jura region of France where it is known as Vin de Paille, named after the straw mats used for drying the grapes.
  • Noble rot wines, where the grapes are left to over ripen on the vine, and the changing weather conditions in the Autumn cause rot to develop – just the right combination of sun and damp and you get the precious noble rot, which reduces the water content and adds complex flavours, such as apricot and honey. Too wet, however, and the grapes just rot away, so location is very important – best would be a South facing hillside overlooking a river or stream. The world’s most famous sweet wines are noble rot, for example Sauternes (just down the road from us here at Chollet), Tokaji in Hungary, and German Trockenbeerenauslese (try saying that after a few glasses).

Here at Chollet, being positioned in between Sauternes and Monbazillac, another good ‘noble rot’ zone, we have the right climate and South facing slopes, so we use this method.

As well as relying on the weather, the vines need to be handled differently during the season, notably early ‘leaf pulling’ to allow the grape to better prepare for the longer ripening required. Typically, we would pick our white grapes for dry white in the first or second week of September, and for sweet a month later – sometimes even the beginning of November if the weather allows.

For the harvest of sweet wine grapes, the key is selection, as not every grape will be good. Often, several harvests will be required – first pass in October when the first noble rot develops, then a second and third pass over the following couple of weeks. Yields are also tiny, as there is that much less juice and not all the grapes are used.

See the pictures below to show how semillon grapes develop in that crucial period;

semillon-bunch-of-vines

The above grapes are ready to pick for dry white in early-mid September. No rot as that is not desirable for dry wine which needs around 12.5% of potential alcohol with good freshness and acidity.

semillon-to-sweet         noble-rot

The picture on the left shows noble rot developing on some grapes, normally around early October. These grapes are good for sweet wine, but could either be left on the vine for a few more days, or picked now for the juice content and acidity. In that case, we would return later for the more concentrated grapes, as in the second picture, which shows noble rot developing on all grapes – now is the time to pick as these may disappear altogether if left out there, in particular if it rains.  As many bunches as possible like this is great for sweet wine.

Below, nicely rotten grapes with added wildlife!

tree-frog

Once the grapes are picked, they need pressing. For that, we use a basket press, which gently squeezes out the precious sweet juice. It looks awful at this stage, a murky brown colour, but quickly settles once in the tank, at which point it is run off (separated from the heavier stuff we do not want) and put in the tank or barrel for fermentation.

sweet-juice

For a sweet wine, fermentation is often problematic due to complex sugar polymers released by the noble rot which do not always react correctly with the yeast. To counter this, the juice needs to be at just the right clarity and temperature, and some yeast is also added. Once fermentation is going, it is important to monitor it as these same substances can lead to a build-up of volatile acids later on, and we also need to stop the fermentation at the correct point (when the right amount of sugar has converted to alcohol), either by quickly cooling the wine, the addition of sulphites or filtering out the yeast.

All in all, sweet wine is expensive and tricky to make, but an interesting challenge for a winemaker. If you do buy any of our “Le Sweet”, whilst you sip you can think of those lovely rotten grapes!

Down at the Vineyard – December 2017

Chai Refurbishment

We’ve got some exciting plans for our chai in 2018.  We are taking the opportunity of the tanks being empty (due to low yields in 2017) to do some refurbishments, this will involve taking all the tanks, barrels and other equipment out.   We are installing air conditioning so we can more easily maintain the temperature at a constant 18 degrees.  Stability of temperature through the summer highs and winter lows will help us to more efficiently make and keep the wine, for example, after picking, the grapes and juice need to be cool when the outside temperatures can still be up in the 30’s, and then later the juice needs to be between 18-20 degrees for the malolactic fermentation by which time the outside temperatures can drop to below 0.

To ensure the air conditioning is as efficient as possible we will be adding extra insulation to the roof, pointing the walls (they will need sand blasting first – hence the need to get everything out!) and replacing the doors.  We’re aiming to get all this done in March, so visitors in the summer season can look forward to a nice cool wine tasting environment!

new-tanks

In wine news, the 2017 white has finished its fermentation.  It will now settle over the winter (natural cold stablisation), be fined, if necessary using an organic, vegan friendly product,  and then be bottled on 2nd February.  The 2017 reds have finished their malolactic fermentations and been blended – we have the classique which is a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc and a small amount of prestige which is a blend of merlot and cabernet franc and will mature in french oak barrels.

Out in the vineyard we have weeded, ploughed and sown a green fertiliser.  Ploughing is essential to the health of the vineyard, it decompacts the soil allowing air and water in so the microbial life in the soil can flourish.  In vineyards in particular it also cuts up any side roots, which forces the main tap root to go down seeking water and nutrients.   This year we have used broadbeans and black oats as fertiliser, the broadbeans replenish the nitrogen and the roots of the black oats break up the soil, these will be mown and then ploughed in in the spring after the broadbeans have flowered.

img_2215    img_e2218

                       Ploughing                                 Broadbeans and black oats 

Whilst ploughing I was delighted to be followed by a flock of what I think are Cattle Egret (yellow bill and black legs), who stopped over on their way south for a good feed on the worms and bugs which had been turned up.

 img_2182    img_2191

                                                       Cattle Egret

The next job is the pruning, followed by the removal of the pruned stems, tightening up of the wires and replacement of broken posts before tieing the cane (next years growth stem) to the bottom wire – this all needs to be completed before mid March when the buds start to swell.

We have a couple of vineyard projects for 2018 : we will be adding an additional wire to one of the parcels of merlot to give additional support to the young shoots, and we will be planting a new area of semillon.

Making White Wine

After the second-earliest white harvest in our 11 years here at Chollet (31st August, beaten only the precocious 2011 vintage which started on 28th August), we thought you may be interested in knowing a bit more about how we make our white.

Firstly, though, given the early start, a quick word on harvest dates, which have followed a similar pattern in all areas of France (and globally) for many years, that is the harvest is coming earlier and earlier. Further to the long-term trends shown below, it seems to us, and many others, that this has accelerated over the last 10 years.

The two graphs below will tell their own story – firstly a view of the evolution of harvest dates in several different regions in France, followed by a specific view of Château Haut Brion, a famous Bordeaux vineyard from the Pessac-Léognan area.

evolution-des-dates-de-vendages

dates-des-vendages

 

There are various reasons for this pattern, including more detailed vineyard management, scientific farming practices, and a better understanding of grape ripeness, but it’s hard to argue against the theory that global warming is playing the major role. The debate around global warming and its effect on farming and, in our case, wine, is not for the pages of this newsletter – many in depth studies have been done and are ongoing, and we’ll pick up in the subject again in the future.

Back to making the white wine. Compared to red wine, making white is a simpler process, however this is balanced by the fact that is easier to upset the more delicate flavours in white through rough handling, or less than perfect general health of the grapes on the vine.

The principles are easy enough; as ever, the most important is to grow a healthy, ripe crop; then, use careful judgement of the correct time to harvest (if the weather has not already made the decision for you); careful handling (hand harvesting) and pressing (new, gentle, pneumatic presses are the best); judicious use of oak, cool fermentation and lees work; stabilisation over winter then finally, a fairly early bottling. See below for a bit more detail;

  • Healthy crop: this is the result of months of work, starting way back with the pruning in the winter which sets the vine up to grow a certain number of grape-producing shoots (about 10), continuing with all the vineyard work in Spring and Summer, along with lots of crossing of fingers during spells of bad weather (eg: in 2017 the rare Spring frost, which only had a small impact on the white grapes which are higher up the slopes. The reds, however, are further down and reduced by half compared to the normal crop).
  • Harvest time: a combination of sugar, acidity, PH value, phenolic maturity (the complex molecules that affects the taste) and more prosaic matters like availability of pickers and the weather.
  • Careful handling: in order to preserve the delicate aromas and flavours of white wine, it is important to not damage the grapes during the harvest. To do this, we pick by hand, then load the grapes via a conveyor belt into a modern, pneumatic press that is gentle and presses over a period of 2 – 3 hours.
  • Use of oak: an interesting subject in white wine. The aim for us is not to make the wine taste of oak, but just to add a bit of roundness. This is done by fermenting the wine with oak, not ageing it in any way in oak.
  • Working with the lees: the lees are the residue of the fermentation, comprising mainly yeast cells, which have broken down during the fermentation into sugars and amino acids. When stirred back into the wine, these compounds give a certain ‘weight’ to the wine, and a slightly creamier texture.
  • After all the above is done, normally we are about the beginning of December. The wine then sits over the winter and naturally will drop to around 5 deg C, which enables a natural precipitation of tartrates (a process known as called cold stabilisation), thus avoiding the addition of a chemical product or use of an ion exchanger.
  • Bottling: typically we bottle our wine in February, which allows enough time to get the wine in stock for Easter, when people (optimistically) get their warm weather wine ordered!

sauv-blanc

                                             sauvignon blanc ready for picking

conveyor      press

Conveyor to transport grapes without damage                            Pneumatic press – good for gentle pressing                                                                                                                            

Down at the vineyard – autumn 2017

Harvest time is always exciting at the vineyard, and with the whites safely in the tank we have already started thinking about the reds.  Th e forecast for the merlot is mid September and about 10 days later for the cabernet, again this is going to be about 2 weeks earlier than last year.  We use a machine to pick the reds, they don’t require such gentle handling as the whites and with larger quantities it is logistically easier for us.  The real bonus is that we can leave the grapes to the very last minute to get them as ripe as possible.  We’ll be using out neighbours super duper new harvest machine, which now has integral cleaning and de-stemming so the grapes arrive in the chai in optimum condition.

debourbage-white     yeast-white    harvest-machine

                 Debourbage                                                           Yeast                                                         Harvest Machine

Now we are harvesting we are finally in a position to fully assess the frost damage.  The white was largely unaffected.  Of the reds, we have two parcelles of merlot, the first parcelle by the house and the pool (for those of you that have visited) is about 15% damaged at the lower end of the last 5 rows.  The other parcelle of merlot (by the lane and facing our neighbours house) is about 80% damaged and we are as yet unsure of the ripeness of the grapes, we need to wait another week or so before testing to see if it worth picking at all and if it is we will probably do it by hand to ensure we get only the ripe grapes.  The cabernet franc (by the drive) has about 20% damage and the cabernet sauvignon about 30% – for the two cabernets we will manually remove the unripe grapes before picking with the harvest machine.

Apart from the harvest is it fairly quiet in the vineyard at this time of year – the ground is as yet too hard to start preparing for next year and the grapes need leaving alone to finishing ripening.

The 2017 white has already started fermenting and we need to test the density and temperature every day to monitor the progression of the fermentation.  Also in the chai we need to get the big red wine tanks clean and disinfected and check the rest of the harvest equipment is clean and in proper working order.

We also have a bottling on 22nd September of the 2015 Prestige, so still plenty to do!!

A Word from LME CBE – A label review

Many of you will remember that when we started out at Chollet, 10 years ago, the vineyard had not been making its own wine for many years, but was selling all its grapes to the local co-operative.  We always wanted to make our own wine, so that wasn’t an option for us.  But it meant that we had to do everything (and buy everything!) associated with wine making from scratch.

One of the most important things we had to do was to design our label.  Being a marketing man (or having been one, once) we did this by researching amongst our ‘target customers’ – many of you may remember this, because we had Mike Barlow, of Mi Creative, design 10 labels, all of a different nature, after careful study of different forms of labels, and ‘market tested them’ by e mailing them to everyone on our family and work contact lists to ask them to rate them.  We tried labels from the traditional to the contemporary.  (One was called ‘Fat Bird’ – not a sexist/sizest joke, but an acknowledgement of the success, believe it or not, of ‘Fat Bastard’ wines in the US and in Europe, and the fact that a fat pigeon (a ‘palombe’) is an emblem of our area in France and we have a ceramic ‘Fat Bird’ perched on the top of our tower.

‘Fat Bird’ didn’t make it through to the next stage, which was to ask a focus group (inevitably, and with better results than Mrs May’s, carried out by Kim and Teresa from B different, who Mrs May should have asked to do hers……….) to discuss the four labels which scored best and choose a ‘winner’ from them.  The clear view, as you can see from our label, was actually really quite obvious – if what people are looking for, when they buy wine, is classic Bordeaux, then when they open the case on arrival, it ought to look like classic Bordeaux. Hardly a shock, but the fact that we sell most of our wine directly to peoples’ homes, through specialist merchants, independent restaurants, or ‘at the Chai door’ means that there is not the need to try to catch the eye on a supermarket shelf.

We did do one or two things deemed ‘radical’ in Bordeaux, like putting the grape varieties on the labels (revolutionary!) and adding an informative ‘back label’ with details of the harvest, alcohol content, tasting notes etc.

90 x 120  Our existing label

So that is where we were, and still are.  It seems to have worked.  But 10 years in, is it still the right call?  To help us judge this, around 80 ‘friends of Chollet’ got together to try some of our latest wines at the Royal Over Seas League in St James’s, earlier in the year.  By way of a task, they had to go round the room and give a score to each of a dozen alternative label designs on display.  The labels were a selection from the specialist French printers who we use, of what they thought were the best of the latest designs they had been asked to print.

You can see the labels displayed below.  Numbered 1 -12.  We asked everyone to rate then from 1-10 and also to give a rating to our existing label. Not a process I would submit to the Royal Statistical Society, but the result was clear enough.  Of the ‘new’ designs, only two scored an average of over 6/10 – Number 8 (which scored highest with 6.2), and Number 5. Both quite traditional.

no-1  no-2

                                                        No.1                                                                                                      No.2

 

no-3       no-4

No.3                                                                                         No.4

no-5  no-6

                                         No.5                                                                                                     No.6

no-7  no-8

                                                    No.7                                                                                                     No.8

 

no-9     no-10

                           No.9                                                                No.10

no-11

No.11    

 

no-12

                                          No.12

By contrast, our label scored an average of not far off 8.  Of course, one has to account for a bias, everyone there being familiar with the label as it stands.  But there doesn’t seem to be a great reason to rush to radical change.

So over the winter, Kirstie and Paul will mull over the findings and think what, if anything, to do next.  The best brands – think of BP, Mars, Cadburys, Coca Cola – may evolve a bit over the years, but are still immediately recognisable from their first evocation.  So a bit of updating might be right – or maybe we could borrow something from one of the high scorers, for a ‘special cuvée’ one day.

Watch this space – or, rather, watch this label! If you have any views, we would be very happy to hear them.

Best wishes to you all, and thanks to Marie Williams (formerly Marie Belsham, whom many of you will know) for organising the evening and the analysis.  Marie is running her own ‘virtual PA’ and events management business now, so if anyone needs anything in that line…….marie@mariechristine.uk.com.

Laurie

How to Make Rosé

Rosé is made from red grapes, it is not a blend of red and white wine, as many people think (not in Bordeaux anyway – it can be a mix in some places).  Here, we can use one of two different methods, and sometimes both in the same year, depending on the harvest quantity and overall ripeness.

The first is called ‘saignée’ or ‘bled’. The principle is to ‘bleed’ a portion of a red wine off before it has turned red. Juice in a red grape is clear, and it needs contact with the skins to give colour and flavour, so at harvest time the juice, pips and skins all go into the tank, to make a red wine.  For the red, the skins stay in the tank for the full duration of the sugar to alcohol fermentation, about 2 weeks.

For the rosé, 8 to 24 hours after harvest, if you run some juice out of the red wine tank it will have started to pick up some pink colour.  The pink juice is then fermented separately, as if it were a white wine (ie juice only – no skins), then is fined, left to settle and bottled late winter or early spring.

The second method is called ‘rosé de presse’, where, instead of starting to make a red wine and taking part of the juice to make rosé, the batch of red grapes are used exclusively for rosé. The grapes are placed directly into a press, left an hour or two and then slowly pressed (a similar effect to treading by foot, incidentally). The action of pressing causes the clear juice to turn pink, and then the remaining skins are taken away. The juice from this method is often paler that from the ‘saignée’ method, and the wine more delicate. Fermentation progresses the same way as above.

The choice of method does depend on various technical aspects in each year – we simply try to choose the best for each year that will produce the fruitiest wine with no ‘hard edge’. So, if you see a Chollet rosé that is a bit darker (or paler) one year compared to another, now you know why!

Down at the Vineyard

May and June are our busiest times in the vineyard as the vines grow rapidly, they go from buds to small shoots to full size in a matter of weeks and to support all that growth there are a number of jobs to be done.  The mature vines need the wires raising to support the growth and then they need trimming.  We trim to prevent each each row overshadowing the rows next to it, and it also helps the vine to push more energy into the grapes instead of into the foliar growth –  you can see a before and after photo below.

before-raising-wires     after-raising-wires

The new vines we planted in April, fortunately weren’t damaged by the late frosts as they hadn’t yet sprouted.  Now they are growing well and have pushed out 3 or 4 shoots, this needs to be pruned back to 1 strong stem.  You can see in the photos below the same new vine before I removed 3 excess shoots and with then with just 1 strong shoot remaining.  This shoot then needs to be tied to the support post – then repeat 1,156 times!!

new-vine-2        new-vine

Another job at this time of year is protecting the vines against mildew.  As we are organic we can only use a copper/sulphur mixture.  This coats the leaf and will last for 10 days or 20 mm of rain.  Non-organic / systemic treatments will last for 14 days no matter the amount of rainfall.  We don’t spray pesticides but instead use pheromone diffusers which are attached every 5th vine throughout the vineyard, these encourage the pests (specifically the European Grape Vine Moth) to go somewhere else to lay its eggs.

The other non-stop job is the weeding, at this time of year when the ground is dry and hard we have one mechanical tool to use – the brush, this brushes any tall weeds away from underneath the vine.

brush

When it rains again and the ground softens we will re-plough to keep the ground decompacted, aerated and grass free.

Frost Update – June

It seems incredible that less than 2 months ago we were looking at a wintry scene of frost, shortly followed by the severe damage to the young shoots and grapes, as reported in our Spring newsletter. We have had a pretty warm Spring since, and a heatwave early June with temperatures in the high 30’s. This means the vines have quickly re-grown new shoots to replace the frost-damaged ones, but not always grapes, unfortunately.

In the areas undamaged by the frost, the vines are growing well, business as usual, apart from a touch of mildew, but nothing sinister as yet. In the damaged areas, it is a mixed bag. Certain areas have grown new shoots and foliage but no grapes, some have grown new foliage and a few grapes, and some (the partially damaged ones) have developed straggly bunches of grapes, a phenomenon called millerandange which occurs when some grapes in a bunch fail to properly form. The new foliage is also growing extremely rapidly, causing a bit of extra work trimming and tidying up.

Where we do have new grapes, they are of course somewhat behind the grapes that were undamaged.  A first for us, we have some grapes at ‘petit pois’ stage (see below right), and others still flowering (below left), all within the same area of vines. That’s about 1 month difference, which if maintained until the harvest, will cause severe headaches – we cannot afford to throw under ripe grapes into the mix, neither can we leave grapes to over ripen whilst waiting for others to catch up.

cab-sauv-late-flowering-2                  cab-sauv-grapes-june

The vegetal cycle will be shorter for grapes that came later, as the days are longer and warmer by definition, so that one month gap between the maturity of original and re-grown grapes will narrow. However, we still need a good, hot summer to narrow that gap to around one week, which can be managed.

Vegetarian and Vegan Wine

You may be forgiven for thinking that wine is automatically vegetarian – after all it’s just fermented grape juice. However, it is not as simple as that, as there are a number of animal-based products that are permitted for use in winemaking, including gelatin (from boiled animal bones), isinglass (fish bladders) and other milk and egg-based products. These products are used for fining, a process which traps heavy organic particles that are suspended in the wine, which then sink to the bottom of the tank. After fining, the wine is pumped out of the tank, leaving the suspension behind. This process clears the wine and stabilises it to a degree.

We at Chollet don’t always fine the wine, as in certain years the wine will settle naturally, and in those years where it does not, we use a clay-based fining agent for the white, and a pea-protein for the red. Therefore, no animal nor dairy-based products are used in the making of our wine, meaning it is vegetarian and vegan friendly. Being certified organic is not enough – it is down to the approach of each winemaker (organic and non-organic). Not always easy to know therefore – although an increasing number of supermarkets and other suppliers are including this info for their range of wines.

As there is no official certification for vegetarian or vegan wine, however, there are still open points of debate. For example; if an animal based product is used, but is not (in theory) in the final, bottled wine, is that OK (for vegetarians)? Most people would say no in my experience, as the product was used to make the wine, and also there may well be trace elements left over, but some would be OK with that risk.

Also, what about the use of egg and milk-based products in fining? In theory, OK for vegetarians but not for vegans. But, still debatable for some.

Finally; what about the use of animal-based fertiliser out in the vineyard (meaning the waste products of animals). It is for sure a natural and environmentally friendly way to use manure from chicken, cows or horses, particularly sourced locally – but some ‘hard’ vegans would object. That one, I am afraid, we are guilty of in some years, as we use guano as a fertiliser. In other years, we use a ‘green fertiliser’ such as leguminous vegetable planted between the vines to replace nutrients taken by the vine.

Given all that, we can comfortably say our wine is vegetarian and vegan friendly. We are listed on Barnivore, which is ‘the’ list of vegan wines, and the wine is served in vegetarian restaurants.

We are always happy to receive feedback on subjects such as this, or anything else we raise in our newsletters, so don’t hesitate to drop us a mail or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

vegetarian-symbol       vegan-symbol