In the vines…April 28, 2010
We’ve been enjoying summer sunny weather. The dandelions blanketing the field’s are turning fuzzy giving the girls a new occupation, blowing them into each other’s face. Just this past weekend I saw the first delicious red poppies dotting the roadside. Soon they’ll be mingling with the remaining dandelion’s in the vineyards. The vine’s are in their infancy stage, just coming back to life after the long winter, bursting green with the newly born leaves. With amazing rapidity, each day sees them growing a little fuller and greener.
Spring is a busy time on the winery. The 2009 vintage, an excellent year, is being bottled, ready for the table. Last week, we bottled the Côtes du Vivarais Rosé, a personal favorite. And this week, the Côtes du Vivarais Red. The bottling takes place on the domaine but the ‘we’ is not true. An affiliate company who specializes in wine bottling comes to the winery with all the equipment necessary to put the exact amount of wine in each bottle then cork, capsule and label them. The bottling truck arrives early to begin setting up which involves stationing the truck so that it is out of the way of the small road which passes behind the winery, connecting pipes from the tanks to the truck, getting the bottles, labels and corks in place for the assembly line process. As with machines, many things can go wrong. This time it seemed everything that could, did go wrong. I came home from taking the girls to school this morning and found three of the bottlers along with Raphael huddled under the truck looking like they were taking cover from a hunter gone mad. Apparently the entire electrical system of the machine had gone out and they were, like typical men, studying and discussing the options. Later that morning, with everything in working order, the bottling was underway.
Before the wine can be bottled several steps need to take place. It must be filtered which occurs after the malo has finished. The malo is a step in fermentation that can last between two weeks and a few months. It is a second stage fermentation in which malolactic bacteria already present in the wine, convert malic acid into lactic acid reducing the acidity of the wine by two. Here at Cousignac, we allow this to happen only with our red wine. In our rose and white, we stop the malo before it occurs in order to keep the wine’s freshness.
While all this preparation and bottling is taking place, the workers are busy in the field. The taille, or pruning, of the vines is long over despite the snow and freezing weather which regularly prevented work. In freezing temperatures, the vines risk breakage while being clipped. The women and men work throughout the winter beginning as soon as all the leaves have fallen from the vines, clipping the naked branches. It’s a much slower process than the harvest and usually takes about 3 months to complete with only 5 or so workers. They work in all-weather; light rain, wind and those luscious sunny winter days that make us remember why Provence is, well Provence.
With the pruning complete and spring in full blossom, the workers are busy attaching the vines to wires in the fields that are harvested by the machine. The wires give shape to the young vines. The vines in the photo above are 7 years old and have been providing us with Grenache grapes for the Côtes du Rhône wine for 4 years. This season sees us planting new vines in fields that have lay sleeping for the past two years since the old vines were ripped out. The fields are left dormant for a few years after vines are removed in order to allow the soil to regenerate. These baby vines, grafted French top and American root, give Syrah grapes, a popular staple in southern Rhône wine making. The baby vines are barely noticable in from a distance, the only part sticking out, a slim red tip that will, in a few years, look like its neighbor.
With all the filtering and wine pumping that’s been taking place the last few weeks, and the fact that our living room is adjacent to one of the caves, our house is beginning to smell like fermenting wine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s kind of relaxing in a heady, intoxicating way.