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Allô, allô, Bonjour!

So, how do you actually pick grapes?
Read all the dirty details in this harvest issue, hot of the press.

Allez, à l'attaque!

In this Slurp!
How do you make red wine?
The Winegrower's lunch
Merlot-pie: recipe

How do you make red wine?

Good wine isn't made in the wine cellar, but in the vineyard. That means that 8 hours a day, 7 days a week and 12 months a year, you'll have to pamper your grapevines as if they were your 100.000 love children.
You must protect them from diseases and scary critters with organic means, and make sure to create an environment of lively bio-diversity.
In this way you'll generate a little grape paradise full of happy buzzing bees, burrowing badgers and tirelessly shagging rabbits'.


This past month our entire lives were dictated by a single question. Every day again we asked ourselves: 'will we start the harvest tomorrow?
Or will we grant our grapes another day of sunbathing, allowing them to get even sweeter, riper and more delicious?'
A Russian roulette because while an extra day of ripening means better wine, a sudden rain shower at this stage can be lethal.


It has been relentlessly sunny for months, with temperatures soaring in the thirties. Yearning for water, the grapes are dangling from their stems. But in the case of a sudden deluge there is a real danger that those thirsty little blue balls suck up the water so greedily that they burst open and mould gets its claws on their delicate insides. The chance of any sort of half-decent wine is then inexorably annihilated.
But Bacchus be praised, as this doom scenario did not come to pass, and on Wednesday the 28th of September we headed into the vineyard at the break of a sunny dawn.


At the entrance to each row we put down crates in which the grape bunches shall be laid to repose before being transported to the cellar. This doesn't quite happen with the white kid glove of a jeweler, but we do use great care and gentleness in handling the grapes. That is how we make sure the grapes don't burst in the crates and start the yeasting process too early.


The grape pickers are set up across from each other on either side of the vines.

ilja shipley

While the spring was a little too generous with its showers, the lengthy sundrenched summer more than made up for it. The grapes are therefore of an impressive quality.
While the winegrower is still silently pondering his first bunch, winemaker Shipley can no longer control herself, and zealously she sets about harvesting grapevine number 000001.


The winegrower's lover is more than ready. She and the camera have been charged to the max and she is itching to capture all the saucy details of the 2016 grape harvest in pixel form.
The workers put a serious pace on. And they really need to because...


...during the course of the morning the temperature among the vines shoots up. And if concentration lags, the chance of a slip of the secateurs increases incrementally. Fortunately the winegrower, in possession of various helpful first-aid skills, always looms near.


When he offers mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the gorgeous Babette she politely gives him 'Le Doit', the French version of 'The Finger'.


''Hottistes' are those pickers who have been assigned the job of carrying four full crates of grapes on their backs and dragging them across the entire vineyard over to the tractor in the scorching heat. Maître de Chai Philippe decisively appoints the two daily hottistes.
'Haha', castle carpenter Frédéric (L) grins. 'Moi? I don't think so.'
'Pas de problème,' grunts the winegrower's son on the other hand. 'Do you think I can fit five crates instead of four in here?'


With an ease that never fails to impress the winegrower, the tractor is reversed to 1.3 inches from the door of the 'Chai'- the overground wine cellar.


Grape stems contain high levels of tannin, which gives a hard vegetal taste to the wine. We don't want that and therefore we put the grape bunches through the 'Égrappoir', the destemming machine first.

ilja philippe

Don't ever press grapes. That only makes for rock-hard wine, useful for nothing but giving to friends you hate.
So when our grapes have been liberated from their stems they are transferred to the tank in their intact state, to make sure the seeds don't get crushed. But of course not before they have been subjected to a stringent entrance exam.
Conducting this exam is a meticulously difficult job reserved for only the most intelligent and good-looking pickers.


Unripe grapes too, give an acrid taste to the wine. Hence we follow a rigid zero-tolerance policy during our grape harvest. If you are not ripe you don't get in.


Thanks to the biodiversity which we have been promoting for years, there are creepy crawlies galore in the vineyards. This is perfect for when the grapes are still on the vine, but not for in the wine. Jake (see photo) has been rescued. So our wine does not have a 'slight cricket-esque finish'.


The first fermentation takes place in what is known as the 'Cuves', big stainless steel tanks. They are equipped with a high tech heating and cooling system with which we can control the duration and intensity of the fermentation process.
After two months of imprisonment in the steel tanks, the wine is released and transferred to oak barriques. Where she can rest and slowly turn delicious over the course of twelve months.


A select portion of the harvest does not go into the shiny wine rockets. Those grapes get to party in the 'Barriques Bourguignonnes', French oak barrels with a capacity of 500 litres.


Bucket by bucket the barrel slowly fills up. The fermentation starts immediately and in order to ensure that the yeast is distributed evenly, the contents of the barrel need to be stirred manually which requires titanic strength.


At the end of a long day, when all the grapes are swimming in their barrels, the winegrower and his lover have deserved a little affair with their competitors' product.

The Winegrower's lunch


A grape harvest is not complete without a real winegrower's lunch. While the vineyard is buzzing with activity, the winegrower's lover has quietly laid the table.


Contrary to popular belief, the French are capable of flexibility of thought, at least in some areas of life. But when it comes to one thing they are as stubborn as a mule: when the clock strikes twelve, wine shall flow.


But the drinkers know their limits; because after this- by French standards 'quick bite' (an hour and a half)-, we have at least another six hours to go. Our winemakers, who are over in the cellar surveying the fermenting must, even considerably longer.



At the end of the meal the castle chickens give the grape-lord grief: 'We have been waiting long enough, boss!' they cackle indignantly.
'You guys are sitting here wining and dining and leaving us to dry out! If you want to see any eggs in the morning, you better cough up!'


With a sigh the winegrower gets up from his seat. Noblesse oblige.



The most beautiful grapes are hand picked by the winegrower himself. He selects large bunches of succulent sweet merlot grapes from the best plots, a little vineyard surrounded by crumbling dry stone walls and mossy wooden fencing, on the western slopes of a hill that is known on ancient maps as 'Le Clos'.


Because the winegrower is planning to manually relieve his love babies of their stems and leaves, he temporarily places his booty to one side. But when he returns an hour later from another harvesting expedition his treasure has disappeared.


'Tadaaaa! Merlot-pie!' the winegrower's lover calls out. 'Who wants a piece?'

Merlot-pie - recipe

Buy (that is the easiest) a roll of 'Pâte brisée' (shortcrust pastry).
Roll it our and place in a pie base on baking paper.
Pierce here and there with a fork and sprinkle with gelling sugar.

In a separate bowl, mix one egg-yolk with a bit of crème fraîche and coat the pastry base and edges with it.


Take the grapes from four large bunches of merlot grapes.
Add half with some butter to a pot and leave to caramelize on a low heat. Gently squeeze and keep on stirring.

Leave the grape confiture (for that is what it is now) to cool and drain of excess juice, then spread it over the pie base.
Arrange the remaining fresh grapes on top.
Stick in the oven for 30 minutes at 180 degrees.

To serve: put on a short skirt and a mischievous look.


'I can't eat any cake!' Phillipe is upset. 'My hands are dirty!'
'Rubbish,' mutters the winegrower. 'It's only grape juice and bits of merlot skin. It will only add more depth to the pie.'

ilja philippe

While the winegrower and his cellar master stuff themselves with the crispy delicacy, a loud disappointed groan rises up from behind the destemming machine.


But the winegrower's lover has not left anybody out, and moments later Frédéric and Yvette too are enjoying the freshly baked grape pie.


Local labourer Bongo, of whom it is said that he can lift an entire barrel of wine all by himself, is particularly impressed with the crispiness of the base as well as the viscosity of the confiture. 'Grm, brm, krm! Brm!' is his expert assessment.

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Very tasty wines made in a modern style, in the Languedoc, for a friendly price. Pure and honest wines, made of nothing else but pure, ripe Chardonnay- and Cabernetgrapes. We wanted very fruity wines, and succeeded: the aroma's burst out of the bottle.

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