31 oktober 2009
Vlaamse wijnblogdagen: Wijnboeken - Château Monty van Monty Waldin
"This was the moment of truth. I very gently opened the bottom valve on the tank to fill two glasses, knowing that if I opened it even a fraction too much the pressure of the wine would send me flying across the winery floor as if I had been hit by a water cannon.
As Bill Baker, the proprietor of a highly regarded wholesale company, took the glass, notebook in hand, I realised just how powerless I was as a winemaker, despite the effort and physical pain of managing the vineyard for the past year. It made me understand how powerful I had been when I was leading the easier life of a wine critic.
Bill was free to judge my wine in any way he wanted and go back to England to pass the word around that my wine was either a hopeless non-starter or a promising commercial proposition.
To get to this point, where I was actually about to taste the wine produced from the organic farmed vineyard that I had rented in France, I had faced a number of trials and challenges.
My first attempt at wine making had been an unmitigated disaster. I became interested as a teenager through my father's cousin, who showed me his home-winemaking kit and explained how he made wine from elderflowers, blackcurrants and plums.
There was something of a self-sufficiency boom in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s and my father and countless others had been inspired by the TV sitcom The Good Life, in which Tom and Barbara Good leave the rat race when Tom hits 40. No sooner had we watched this than my dad had dug up our garden and converted it into a vegetable plot with a chicken coop. My contribution to our self-sufficiency drive was to make wine using the ingredients recommended by my new home winemaking kit: sugar, yeast, water and fruit.
Rather than using home-grown fruit, I opted for a bag of oranges. But because I had put too much sugar in my orange concentrate and too little yeast, my wine was a disgustingly sweet, vomit-coloured concoction with a slimy texture. Not particularly alcoholic, it was barely even wine. After this, I knew I'd never be satisfied unless one day I could make proper wine. By proper wine, I meant wine made from the sweetest grapes of all, those that only grow on one type of vine, the wine-grape vine or Vitis vinifera.
As my 40th birthday and its trusty travelling companion, the mid-life crisis, headed inexorably my way, I asked myself what I had done with my time. Could I have used it better?
I'd written five wine books but had never seen the return I had hoped for. Of my peers I seemed to be the only one that was neither married nor a father, which suggested I was either unable or unwilling to handle responsibility.
I decided to stop watching life from the sidelines. I would use the advance money and travel opportunities I'd get from writing over the next year to find a place where I could make my own wine. After going to see various sites I settled on a vineyard an hour or so's drive outside Perpignan, whose owner Eric Laguerre was in his late 30s and had a mane of Viking-style hair matted with tractor dust.
'We don't really need chemical fungicides here, as it's so windy, or pesticides as it's too high up for most pests,' he explained. 'The only downside is that grape yields per vine are low.' This didn't put me off. Low yields normally mean good wines, or at least wines with a bit of oomph about them. Eric led me along an unsurfaced road with vines to the right.
'That's my grenache blanc,' he said pointing immediately right, 'and that,' pointing in front of us, 'is a carignan noir vineyard planted by my grandfather in the 1950s. You could take that one if you like.'There wasn't a power line or main road as far as the eye could see, and any land not covered by vines was either forest or scrubland. I could feel my blood pressure dropping in such a tranquil place, and the view to the highest peak across the Pyrenean foothills, the snowcapped Canigou, was awesome. I held out my hand to agree the deal. 'Good,' said Eric. 'Chateau Monty. Ha ha!'
(foto Channel 4)
I had met my girlfriend, Silvana, in Tuscany, where I was based while writing a wine guide. Silvana was, ironically, teetotal.Her explanation was, 'I asked for a spoonful of beer from my grandfather when I was 14 months old and vomited for the next three days.'To pay for her university studies Silvana held down a full-time job in a famous winery. She'd get up at 4am, spend three hours studying, then drive to work for a ten-hour day in the office working on the winery budget. Each evening she'd study for a couple more hours before catching five hours' sleep. At 26, she was the youngest-ever Italian to combine an accountancy doctorate with seven years' work experience. When I told her of my plans, she offered to do me a rough budget. Unless I could get to grips with the costs, the vineyard would turn into an expensive nightmare before I'd picked a single grape.
Soon after I'd rented my plot, I was on a shopping trip to buy essential equipment when the unthinkable happened. One moment I was chatting away to Francesca, Silvana's mother, in the people carrier and the next I saw a car hurtling towards us. The face of the driver was not visible but he was holding a mobile phone to his ear and driving with one hand. Time, as the saying goes, stood still. On impact our car left the ground. It was pushed so far off the main road that it flattened a lamppost and part of a wall. Somehow, we hadn't hit a single pedestrian, although we were surrounded by them.
foto Channel 4)
My car's front and left side were crumpled like a piece of used tin foil. I could walk only a few steps before my back seized up. I knew I had to get horizontal, but to do this required an excruciating manoeuvre into the back of the car on my elbows and knees, my backside in the air, while my nose ended up in the magazine rack behind my seat because my back was now banana-shaped and in spasm. I remained there until an ambulancewoman strapped me to a stretcher and placed me in an ambulance. It seemed to take an eternity to pull away, leaving Silvana's mother to argue with the police about who was responsible for the accident.
Although the doctor advised me to rest for 35 days, I didn't have that luxury - I was at least two months behind schedule and had 15 tonnes of organic compost to spread on the vineyard. The compost would require hours of slicing apart with a shovel and although my shovel slipped easily enough into it, I could barely twist my shoulders in the way I normally would have done when shovelling. The medical corset I wore supported my torso, but restricted my ability to bend and made working uncomfortable. It wasn't long before I could feel the cold sweat trapped between my back and the corset running up or down my spine with every motion.
I can't remember exactly how many of the ultra-strong painkillers I had taken by the end of the day when I crawled into the bath in my rented house in St-Martin.
The other challenge was to prune the vines, all 6,000 of them. To prune them properly I'd have to make two cuts to create a new spur from last year's growth. Each shoot might produce two bunches. So, if both shoots from all five spurs on each vine produced two bunches of grapes, that made 20 bunches per vine, enough for two bottles, or 12,000 bottles in total. Eric had warned me, though, that as my vines were old, not every shoot would produce two bunches. My problem was that I was unable to bend my back well enough to see where I was cutting. Neither could I pull out pruned shoots from between the supporting wires. So when Eric appeared in his Jeep later that winter afternoon I had no choice but to ask if I could hire two of his best pruning men to do the job.
I also had to start thinking months ahead about how to protect the vineyard from the wild boars before harvest. Winegrowers here would erect temporary fencing to keep the boars out, and as my grapes began to change colour the boars had begun to take a real interest in the ripening crop. Every morning I could see fresh hoof prints and topsoil that had been disturbed overnight, while whole bunches had had every grape sucked off as if by a powerful vacuum cleaner. Eric had said that they were after the moisture the grapes contained, and I considered putting water troughs out as a decoy before the rational side of my brain told me that if I did that I'd have every boar south of Paris camped around the vineyard. All I could do was keep checking the electric fence and scream and shout every evening at nightfall into the forest, scaring the wits out of Harry, my Jack Russell, who I had brought to France with me.
At this time, I couldn't afford to keep renting a flat in Tuscany while renting one in France, and Silvana didn't want to live in our Italian flat on her own so she moved in with her parents. Luckily, I had Harry to keep me company. He slept on my bed at night and would only jump off if it was too hot or I was snoring loudly.
foto Channel 4)
After a few weeks, as soon as I had picked my first couple of bunches, my adrenalin levels dropped off the radar. I had a real sense of contentment: scuffing around the vineyard eating handfuls of grapes until my chin was stained with juice and watching bin after bin be filled with perfect-looking grapes. The team that I had hired to pick included Silvana, her mother and a group of friends. Realistically no one was going to pay top dollar for the simple but smooth red I had planned to make. But to work out my selling price, I had to know exactly how much wine my grapes would produce. 'Lucky for you,' said Silvana, 'the spreadsheet I devised will save your brain a lot of work. You need to add in the number of picking bins we filled and the weight per bin and it'll tell you how much wine will come out the other end.' Silvana calculated that I would have up to 6,500 bottles of wine. I was not registered in the UK as a wine importer, so I would have sell to a company that was. They would collect the wine from France and pay to transport it into the UK. Once it crossed the English Channel, excise duty of about £1.50 would be levied. Then they would sell it either to the public via mail order or their own shops, or to someone with their own wine shops, restaurants or bars. VAT would be payable on every bottle sold. 'In a wine shop your wine will sell for £6-7.99,' said Silvana, 'depending if the importer is looking for a 20 or 30 per cent margin. In a restaurant where mark-ups are much bigger it might sell for £20-35.' At my kind of price level I knew that I'd make less money per bottle than anyone else in the sales chain, but I'd known that from the start.
Back to that moment of truth when Bill Baker came to taste the wine. First he gave the glass a swirl up to the light to check the redness of its colour. Was it deep enough, or too light? Then Bill stuck his nose into the glass and grimaced. This wasn't going well, until I realised he was wiping a stray wisp of hair away that had been getting in his way all morning. Then he tasted, slurping the wine around his mouth before spitting it out on the floor. Was that the spit of a man angry at yet another wine selling itself only on its green credentials, or was that the spit of a man confident he'd tasted a potential winner? As Bill scribbled a note, time stood still. Then, finally, he spoke.
'In my opinion,' he said, 'you're absolutely on the right track with this wine. It's got good fruit and should soften up without losing that gutsy, southern French character that'll make it very popular in restaurants.' It took me a moment for what Bill had said to sink in. On the right track? Gutsy, southern French character? Very popular in restaurants? I couldn't stop a smile spreading across my face. It took all my English reserve not to let out a whoop of joy.
As I took a sip of wine - my wine - with Bill nodding his approval and Harry at my feet, it was one of those crystalline moments that you want to go on forever."
Extract uit het boek Château Monty (A corking wine adventure) van Monty Waldin.
Het is vanaf vandaag wijnboekenbeurs dus het moment om iets over een wijnboek te schrijven. Momenteel lees ik het het boek van de Engelse wijnjournalist Monty Waldin. Waldin heeft nadat hij enkele wijnboeken heeft geschreven (o.a. over organische en biodynamische wijn) zelf een wijngaard gehuurd in de Roussillion om er zijn biodynamische wijn te gaan maken en dat avontuur wordt helemaal in dit boek beschreven. Er is ook een reality show van gemaakt door de Engelse tv zender Channel 4.
Het boek heeft een 300tal pagina's waarvan ik er nu 200 achter de kiezen heb. Het is boek is zo geschreven dat ook een niet wijnfreak hier zijn gading in kan vinden en dat is wat ik een beetje jammer vind. Het is hierdoor een beetje een slow-book geworden maar ik heb dan ook nog niet alles gelezen. Het interessante gedeelte namelijk zijn allereerste oogst en het maken van zijn wijn moet nog komen dus ik ben benieuwd....
Dit artikel maakt deel uit van de "Vlaamse Wijnblogdagen" waarin een reeks wijnblogs over hetzelfde onderwerp een artikel schrijven. De deelnemende blogs en websites:
orbis "fratres organoleptici"
genieten van wijn
een leven vol wijn
avonturen van een wijnmens
Have a nive wine today!
Den Bloeyenden Wijngaerdt