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Harvest in Chablis

Another weekend, another region and a new Harvest Experience Day!  This time we were at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis with some of our Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients to harvest the Chardonnay grapes!

Harvest Experience in Chablis, Burgundy, France at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard

As soon as the clients had all safely arrived, we headed straight into the vineyard to receive our orders from Frédéric Guegen, the Vineyard Director.  He split us into two teams of harvesters and porters.

Armed with a pair of secateurs and a bucket, the harvesters paired up to pick the grapes from both sides of the vine rows.  Paying particular attention to their fingers, the harvest began!

Harvest the bunches of Chardonnay grapes in the vineyard at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard

The grapes at the winery hold much promise this year.  They have a good balance between sugar and acidity, and have grown in abundance!  At the end of the harvest, the yield should be about 25% more than last year.  The buckets were therefore filling up quickly, and it didn't take long for the first cries of "Porter" to resonate!

Chardonnay grapes ready for picking

Each member of the porter team found themselves with a big basket strapped to their back, their mission being to carry the bunches of grapes to the trailer located at the edge of the vineyard.  As soon as the bucket is full, the harvesters call for to the porters to come, and then empty the fruit into the porter's basket.  It's a physical job, especially as a full basket can weigh up to 60kg.  You often think that the basket is full long before it actually is! With the rolling landscape of Chablis, you also have the slopes to deal with!

Emptying the harvested grapes into the porter's basket

Emptying the baskets is not as easy as it looks either, especially the first time.  You have to climb a ladder and then let the grapes fall over your head.  Some porters almost followed the grapes in!

Emptying the harvested grapes into the trailer without falling in

Working together, it's impressive how quickly the vines are stripped of their fruit.  It gave us more than enough to work with afterwards though!

Grape Harvester in full action

Back at the winery, the moment for the wine tasting came.  First up, a Petit Chablis 2010, followed by a Chablis "Domaine Sainte Claire" 2009 which we then compared to a Chablis "Vielles Vignes de Sainte Claire" 2009.  We continued the tasting with the wine from the adopted vines of Gourmet Odyssey clients,   "La Boissonneuse" 2009, before savouring a few of the Chablis Premier Crus; a "Vau de Vey" 2009, a "Montée de Tonnerre" 2009 and a "Vaulorent" 2008.

Tasting the Chablis wines

Overlooking the vines, we tucked into the Harvesters Meal!  The tasting continued with a few of the estate's Irancy red wines and a few of the older Chablis vintages, served in magnums, such as the Chablis "Vielles Vignes de Sainte Claire" 2001.

Savouring local Chablis delicacies during the harvesters lunch

Each day was a little different.  On Saturday, the winery was in full action because the team of professional harvesters was also working.  This meant that the mechanic presses were up and running.  We rejoined our grapes that we had lovingly harvested at the fermentation hall, to see them emptied from the trailer into the press below.  The press then buzzed into life as it extracted and separated the juice from the skin, pips and stalks.

Pressing the chardonnay grapes for white wine

Continuing the journey of our harvest, we ended up in front of the tank where the fermentation will begin.  Glass in hand, we tasted the fruit of our labour, an oh so sweet grape juice!  We then had the chance to compare it to the juice from another vat, where the alcoholic fermentation had already begun for several days.

Tasting the freshly pressed grape juice and bourru direct from the fermentation tank

The estate's harvesters had been working in a pinot noir plot of vines, located in the nearby Côte d"Auxerre.  How the grapes are treated and put into the fermentation tanks differs from the chardonnay, so we were able to contrast the methods used for red and white wines.  Our first observation was the use of a sorting table.  We each took up position either side of the table to sort the good from blemished or unripe grapes.   Then we watched as the grapes are stripped from their stalks and then put into the tanks without any pressing.

Sorting the Pinot Noir graoes on the sorting table

Sunday being a day of rest for the harvesters, the electric presses weren't operating.  That gave us the opportunity to discover how the grapes were pressed in days gone by!  The estate still has a few old wooden pressing machines, and one of the longer-serving members of staff, Jean-Bernard, helped us get one of the legendary presses up and running!

Traditional wooden wine press in action

Once filled, we put in place the wooden planks and the gearing that would press the grapes.  To work the press, we had to move a long iron handle to and fro.  Easy at first, but it became more and more resistant as time wore on! You have to be patient because if you go too quickly, the juice doesn't have time to flow out.

Working the wine press

Even if it takes much longer, the grape juice, tasted directly from the press, was still as sweet and delicious as the day before!

Tasting the grape juice direct from the press

Many thanks to Céline, Frédéric and the team at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard for having welcomed us so warmly.  We're longing to taste the finished 2011 vintage!


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