30 August, 2022

The day begins in the cellar. From different casks I put together different blends of the 2021 vintage of the cuvée Le Rayon Blanc. The Dame Janes that Thomas and I filled last year will also be tried. Otherwise we tidy up, vacuum in the basement and clean hoses and barrels, for which we use a sponge and water as well as a cleaning agent that is highly concentrated and should therefore only be used with protective gloves.

31 August, 2022

It is cleaning time again! This time it’s the turn of the buckets that the helpers use to pick the grapes. Who is going to clean  the large, several thousand litre tank into which the 2021 vintage of Le Rayon Blanc will soon be filled? From the inside? That’s right. It’s Thomas! In the afternoon we visit Thomas’s vineyard and take a closer look at the vines and the grapes. The impression is heterogeneous: some grapes have already burnt, some are still very hard and barely ripe. Everything points to a very selective picking. In Michel Autran’s plots, which we also visit together with him and his new trainee, it is no different. This is my first time seeing the Gamay Teinturier grapes that Autran grows. Unlike most red grape varieties, their flesh and juice are actually red. In Michel Autran’s cellar I am shown how the winemaker masters his gas-powered forklift with virtuosity as he heaves a tool into his van for Thomas. In Thomas’y cellar we taste wines together that have been stored in barrels owned by Michel. Thomas had wondered if they left too much woody flavor in the wine, and Michel wanted to test that with his own taste buds. I actually forgot the result of the review.

1 September, 2022

In the morning we are preparing a delivery to Belgium – wines from Thomas, as well as from Anne-Cécile Jadaud and Thibault Stéphan. We place the boxes close together on an empty pallet. At the end everything is fixed with a tear-resistant transparent film. Next, we consider how to best place a tank with a capacity of several thousand liters in the cellar. When full, it will weigh several tons. Using an ingenious system, we place several stones on the ground and cover them with an insulating board that is supposed to protect the tank from the rough stones. In the afternoon a technician comes and connects the new, second-hand pneumatic press Thomas bought recently. He gives u an introduction to the various functions of the press. At the end of the day, Thomas talks extensively to the owner of Aquitaine Liege and asks for advice on cork issues – a science in itself!

2 September, 2022

We’re preparing a racking (›soutirage‹ in French). We use nitrogen, which gently presses the wine out of the barrels and at the same time protects it from air and oxidation on its way back to the glass fiber tank. Later I clean the press from the outside. Unfortunately, in the afternoon we have to realize that the large tank, which now contains the entire 2021 vintage of »Le Rayon Blanc«, is leaking – the lower door does not close properly. We take out the wine and replace it with water. Ultimately, the crucial tip comes from winegrower friend Michel Autran, who suggests on the phone that the door seal should also be lubricated with grease that is approved for contact with food.

3 September, 2022

In the morning I fill a glass from my barrel to check how the wine behaves in the glass over several days without chilling. Will the taste of ›mouse‹ appear? The result will give us opinions on whether or not we should lightly sulphurize the wine before bottling. From different barrels I put together different blends of the 2021 vintage of the cuvée »Le Rayon Blanc«. The Dame Janes that Thomas and I filled last year will also be tried. Otherwise we tidy up, vacuum in the basement and clean hoses and barrels, for which we use a sponge and water as well as a cleaning agent that is highly concentrated and should therefore only be used with protective gloves. We then continue with the racking. In the afternoon I clean the crates that are used to transport the wine from the vineyard to the cellar to the press. In the early evening I pick up the harvest helper Christine from the train station. We have dinner and continue racking until midnight.

4 September, 2022

We blend several experimental wines of Thomas’s, including the contents of three Dame Jane glass bottles with a more sweet wine, and then bottle them by hand. The bottling line we set up looks very primitive, but it is effective. We have a lot of fun at work! Among the various experiments is a new wine from Thomas, which, like the infamous »266«, finds its home in a half-litre bottle. Together with a very adventurous neighbour, Thomas has made this wine from Chenin grapes and the powder of dried Cabernet Franc mash. The powder should protect the wine with its bitter substances and make the use of sulfur superfluous. I think the wine is awesome.

5 September, 2022

The specialist from Bordeaux who cleans the barrels from the inside is due to arrive tomorrow. My job is therefore to move the barrels from their dark storage areas to the bright entrance of the cellar. I use a wheelbarrow specially designed for this purpose. In the afternoon, the winemaker and friend of the house, Julien Pineau, visits us, with a new beard and hairstyle, to look at Thomas’s new press. The rest of the afternoon is then very sweaty. I roll the barrels onto two inclined rails and pull the stopper that closes the wine barrel. The yeast left in the barrel shoots out, onto my arm, and then into a bucket. This process should also make the cleaning specialist’s job easier. Harvest worker Christine then cleans the outside of the barrels with a steam jet.

6 September, 2022

Early in the morning we drive to the vineyard to determine where to harvest first thing tomorrow. We have a refractometer with us to determine the potential alcohol content. However, what is decisive for Thomas is the gustatory perception. How do the grapes taste, what is the texture of the skins like? We find out that many plots taste heterogeneous, in some cases the berries on one vine are at different stages of development, which will not make harvesting any easier. Each of us finally collects 100 berries, without looking, which we press by hand at home to analyze the juice with the alcoholometer. A table shows us a potential alcohol content of around 12.5% ​​vol. alc., which is good. The acid is also measured, and it also has a good value. I spend the afternoon preparing a ragù. In the evening we welcome all twelve harvest workers who have traveled from the surrounding area, from other parts of France, from Germany and from Italy with a dinner. The aperitif is accompanied by the local specialty Rillon and cheese and salami from Haute-Provence, which a helper brought back from his recent internship in a goat cheese dairy. This is followed by the spaghetti bolognese that I have prepared. For dessert there is cheese again. Everything is accompanied by Thomas’s wines and two red wines from magnum bottles from winemaker friends Marie Rocher and Julien Pineau. It’s a beautiful evening!

7 September, 2022

The harvest begins! We meet at 7.30am and drive to Thomas’s vineyard in Vouvray where we start work at 8am. My task this time is to ensure that the harvest buckets are emptied and the harvest boxes distributed evenly and sensibly. The helpers’ buckets should never be too full and heavy, so that the tedious work does not become even more tedious. I always have two empty buckets in my hands, which I swap with the respective helpers. If I’m not there in time, »Seau!« (bucket) is shouted and I rush over. The full harvest boxes are transported away with the help of a human train. Each picker carries two boxes with the person before and after her:him. I do not cut a single grape until noon. We harvest more than expected and are done. In the vineyard we were visited by Antoine Sauvignon from the Canon wine shop in Poitier and Sylvain Deletang, inventor of the natural wine offshoot Drunk by Nature by the Berlin wine merchant Suff. Sylvain has been selling Thomas’s  wines very successfully in Berlin since 2021, starting with the 2019 vintage. In the cellar, back in Nazelles-Négron, we try various wines that are not yet commercially available with our two guests. We have lunch in Thomas’s conservatory. Then it’s time for pressing – Thomas’s new pneumatic press is being used for the first time. Unfortunately, individual programming is not possible, so we use the pre-programmed program »6«, which presses gently so as not to extract too many bitter substances from the skins and stems. The first juice is greeted with joy. With an alcoholometer (mustimetre in French) we measure its density and can deduce the later alcohol content. It is below 12% vol. alc., which will make for a lovely Pet Nat! We still haven’t found the best method for emptying the press, so we use a method I invented: A tarpaulin is placed under the press. The press is moved, the mash falls onto the tarpaulin, the tarpaulin is pulled out; the pressed skins, kernels and trunks can now be disposed of.

8 September, 2022

In the morning I prepare black tea and coffee for the harvest workers, and I also put apples and nuts in the baskets. Together with Christine, I load the delivery truck with 201 empty harvest crates. I stay in the house and keep busy in the cellar: I clean up, sweep up leftover grapes, prepare hoses and pump and clean a big vat that will »welcome the result of today’s harvest«, as Thomas always puts it so beautifully. The harvest arrives in the afternoon, four of us load the grapes into the press. Two harvest workers get the full crates out of the small truck that Thomas has rented from the local supermarket for the duration of the harvest, and two others tip the crates into the two open hatches of the drum. Thomas decides on a different preset program (»Cremant«) and manipulates it a bit. Three and a half hours later there are more than 1000 litres of grape juice in the tank. I clean the scissors with water and dry them with a cloth. We transfer the juice from the previous day to a new tank and along the way we say goodbye to unwanted matter that has settled on the bottom.  This technique is called raking. The work doesn’t end until 11 p.m. – a long day!

9 September, 2022

I can sleep in! I spend two and a half hours and a meditative morning cleaning the press and removing the mash. Newcomer Ola comes and helps. Thomas and harvest worker Ettore return around noon with the first load of grapes. Feli, it’s her second harvest, and Ola take care of the emptied boxes – some are loaded back into the truck, they can still be used in the vineyard in the afternoon and only have to be cleaned in the evening. The crates left in the cellar are hosed down with water in the afternoon while I oversee the pressing and transfer juice to a tank whenever the tub under the press fills up. In between, Thomas, Ettore and I take yesterday’s mash to a rubbish dump where winegrowers leave their leftover grapes during the harvest. I fill the wait of handling the press with Alice Feiring’s new book »To Fall in Love, Drink This« (and writing these notes). The second batch of grapes arrives, we take them to the cellar to be processed the next day. Their amount is too small and would not fill the press completely. Finally, we transfer the previous day’s juices to new tanks, one time with the help of a so-called Chinese hat, in order to get rid of the sediments.

10 September, 2022

Same procedure as the day before, more or less. I first met Thomas exactly two years ago, my calendar says.

11 September, 2022

Everyone has a day off. Feli, Ola and me have lunch at the beloved Le Berlot in Montlouis-sur-Loire. The afternoon I spend (and finish) reading Alice Feiring’s entertaining book.

12 September, 2022

In the morning I work on the computer on a new film I’m music supervising for. After lunch the first batch of grapes arrives. Together with Ettore and Rémi I unload the truck and then start first press. The grapes taste gorgeous. With the upcoming pressing we have already reached the total amount of juice that was harvested in 2021 – and it’s only harvest day five (out of approximately twelve). I clean boxes and pump the juice from the press into a 1000l vat. Whilst making everything is running smoothly I detect a common earwig in the juice. How did it make the from the press through the tube into the vat? It must have been an exciting ride. It’s still alive. I take a sieve, manage to catch the earwig and bring it outside the cellar.

30 August: blending different barrels of the same wine

30 August: blending different barrels of the same wine

30 August: neat! A stack of pallets, so handy in the cellar

30 August: neat! A stack of pallets, so handy in the cellar

30 August: cleaning hoses (red) from within using water, a cleaning agent and a soft ball

30 August: cleaning hoses (red) from within using water, a cleaning agent and a soft ball

30 August: The black rubber ring protects the hose and its thread from touching the ground when the hose falls into the floor (which happens all the time)

30 August: The black rubber ring protects the hose and its thread from touching the ground when the hose falls into the floor (which happens all the time)

30 August: a great looking industrial vacuum cleaner

30 August: a great looking industrial vacuum cleaner

30 August: the cleaning agent (r) in its white container

30 August: the cleaning agent (r) in its white container

4 September: emptying the Dame Jane’s contents into an inox vat

4 September: emptying the Dame Jane’s contents into an inox vat

4 September: my wine in its final container before it’ll be bottled

4 September: my wine in its final container before it’ll be bottled

4 September: Thomas inspecting a Dame Jane

4 September: Thomas inspecting a Dame Jane

4 September: cleaning a Dame Jane

4 September: cleaning a Dame Jane

4 September: the bottling line – simple but effective

4 September: the bottling line – simple but effective

4 September: setting the right level

4 September: setting the right level

4 September: The juice is taken from a vat and then filled into bottles which I closed by used a cork or a cap

4 September: The juice is taken from a vat and then filled into bottles which I closed by used a cork or a cap

4 September: the Chenin-Cabernet-Franc-powder experiment, bottled

4 September: the Chenin-Cabernet-Franc-powder experiment, bottled

4 September: a balloon over Thomas’s porch

4 September: a balloon over Thomas’s porch

5 September: The special wheelbarrow

5 September: The special wheelbarrow

5 September: a morning’s work after which I had to change t-shirts

5 September: a morning’s work after which I had to change t-shirts

5 September: Thomas Puéchavy (l) and Julien Pineau (r) trying to figure out the new press’s control panel

5 September: Thomas Puéchavy (l) and Julien Pineau (r) trying to figure out the new press’s control panel

5 September: The barrel is now ready to loose the reaming yeasts inside

5 September: The barrel is now ready to loose the reaming yeasts inside

5 September: a close-up of our genius construction

5 September: a close-up of our genius construction

6 September: What to harvest the next day?

6 September: What to harvest the next day?

6 September: an incredible cluster of grapes

6 September: an incredible cluster of grapes

6 September: the 100 berries I picked

6 September: the 100 berries I picked

6 September: the chart telling us the potential alcohol content of the juice we kitchen-pressed

6 September: the chart telling us the potential alcohol content of the juice we kitchen-pressed

6 September: the welcome dinner for the pickers

6 September: the welcome dinner for the pickers

7 September: Tasting various wines in the cellar

7 September: Tasting various wines in the cellar

7 September: the control panel of the press

7 September: the control panel of the press

7 September: The first juice of the 2022 harvest is flowing!

7 September: The first juice of the 2022 harvest is flowing!

7 September: the alcoholometer

7 September: the alcoholometer

7 September: Una and Thomas inspecting the remnants inside the press

7 September: Una and Thomas inspecting the remnants inside the press

7 September: the mash

7 September: the mash

7 September: using tarpaulin to drag out the mash falling down. My invention!

7 September: using tarpaulin to drag out the mash falling down. My invention!

7 September: Thomas, cleaning the press from the inside

7 September: Thomas, cleaning the press from the inside

7 September: A favourite photo of mine; Thomas, cleaning the press from the inside

7 September: A favourite photo of mine; Thomas, cleaning the press from the inside

8 September: leaning up the space in front of the press

8 September: leaning up the space in front of the press

8 September: the vat that’ll hold the second harvest day’s outcome

8 September: the vat that’ll hold the second harvest day’s outcome

8 September: Sticky cutters, straight from the vineyard

8 September: Sticky cutters, straight from the vineyard

8 September: the matter remaining at the bottom of the barrel

8 September: the matter remaining at the bottom of the barrel

8 September: Ola (l) and Feli (r) cleaning boxes

8 September: Ola (l) and Feli (r) cleaning boxes

9 September: y morning’s work. Cleaning the press including emptying the mash and shoveling it inside the trailer

9 September: y morning’s work. Cleaning the press including emptying the mash and shoveling it inside the trailer

9 September: two mountains of mash

9 September: two mountains of mash

9 September: Thomas at the dump

9 September: Thomas at the dump

9 September: the intriguing belt holding the hose we use to fill the vats with

9 September: the intriguing belt holding the hose we use to fill the vats with

9 September: the manual for the new pneumatic press (l) and Alice Feiring’s new book (r)

9 September: the manual for the new pneumatic press (l) and Alice Feiring’s new book (r)

9 September: the second batch of grapes to be pressed the next day

9 September: the second batch of grapes to be pressed the next day

9 September: The so-called Chinese hat makes sure that sediments at the bottom of the barrel do not make it into the new vat whilst raking

9 September: The so-called Chinese hat makes sure that sediments at the bottom of the barrel do not make it into the new vat whilst raking

12 September: an earwig in the juice

12 September: an earwig in the juice