The popular (my?), romantic image of the grape harvest involves happy groups of pickers in the vines, singing and joking, and much stamping of the newly picked grapes. Well, after four days of picking biodynamically-grown grenache and syrah grapes at one of “my” producers, Cédric Guillaume-Corbin’s Domaine La Péquélette in Vinsobres, I can tell you from first hand experience that it’s tough. Yes, there’s lots of laughing and banter, but you try spending 10 hours bent at a 45 degree angle and you’ll see what I mean.
Day three was up on the heights of Vinsobres, in a rock-covered, mountain-goat steep vineyard given over to old vine grenache and syrah. To my untrained eyes the grapes looked fabulous. Cédric, too, was very happy, especially when his œnologist’s technical analysis of the juice confirmed my opinion (I must be born to it). Cédric clearly loves this vineyard and thinks that in years to come it may supply the grapes for a separate super-cuvée. Having tasted the 2005 vintage of his two existing cuvées, “Emile” and “Les Muses”, at a Saturday night pickers’ dinner, I wonder where he can go to top them.
In the afternoon we had to abandon picking a plot on the plateau of Valreas. As a picker, it is your job to ensure that only healthy grapes go to the winery. But so many rotten bunches were being dumped on the ground, giving off clouds of mould spores in the process, in the end it wasn’t worth the effort of picking. Those that had been kept were distinctly pinkish – underripe in other words. Despite the strong sun, the soil was still damp and slippery, clay clinging to my boots. The contrast couldn’t have been clearer. And it wasn’t the first time I’d seen a difference between Cédric’s biodynamic vines and conventional plots right next door that showed the same crumbly, dry/slimy, wet difference. Is this a demonstration of one of the foundations of biodynamic winemaking – healthy soils lead to healthy vines and so to good wines? Or could it be subtle changes of “terroir”, or even farming methods such as ploughing between vines or using cover crops to break up the topsoil and thereby avoid standing water? I honestly don’t know, all I can say is that I love Cédric’s wines. Which is good, as my reward at the end of the vendange was a case of the delicious “Les Muses” 2007. It won’t pay the bills, but it certainly lessens their pain.