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Three Down, Three to Go

Three Down, Three to Go

Apologies for the radio silence, as you can imagine, things have been a little bit hectic here at London Cru in recent weeks. The following will give an insight into what you’ve missed.  

Chardonnay

Chardonnay grapes from our man, Maurice, in Limoux, arrived at the beginning of the month. Good picking conditions greeted us in the foothills of the Pyrenees and the grapes themselves were at a perfect level of sugar ripeness and acidity.

When the grapes arrived in London they were whole bunch pressed with minimal sorting (having received a primary triage in the vineyard before transit). Clear juice from this year’s Chardonnay, a new site and region for us, meant that once again we had no need or desire to add enzymes for clarification. Instead, we allowed the juice to settle in tank for around 24 hours before transferring to barrel to begin fermentation and élevage.

Gavin has made Chardonnay in both his native Margaret River and under his own label in Burgundy, so knows more than a thing or two about how to bring out the best of this grape. Our first two Chardonnays have shown unmistakable varietal character, textural complexity and fresh acidity. With a fantastic new vineyard to work with, we aim to deliver another wine in a similar vain. To achieve this we must carefully select the yeast strains we use as they have a significant impact on the resulting wine.

We have used three cultivated yeasts, isolated in Burgundy, and have left three barrels to naturally ferment. By using different varieties, we are able to augment and promote particular characteristics. For example, one of our yeasts has the ability, due to its enzymatic profile, to promote the appearance of varietal aroma precursors, producing a wine with an elegant nose. Another aids textural complexity by producing more polysaccharides. These build suppleness and volume, promoting a ‘rounded’ mouthfeel. The natural yeasts bring added complexity to the party.

At the time of writing, all but a handful of our Chardonnay barrels have completed their primary fermentation.

Barbera

A particularly warm and dry summer in North-west Italy meant that our pick date for this year’s Barbera was atypical. The grapes for both the 2013 and 2014 wines were harvested well into October, whereas this year we’d barely gotten beyond the half way stage of September before the call came through from the Codero family to say the fruit was ready.

Early indications suggest that the 2015 Barbera is going to be special. All 7.8 tonnes of fruit, our biggest single pick to date, was pristine on arrival, allowing us to sort through in record time. Appearance aside, the grapes have incredible acidity and sugar, as well as delicious flavour.

Once sorted and destemmed the grapes were loaded into two steel tanks and one of our new concrete fermenters. After a few hours skin contact we drew around 700 litres of juice from the bottom of the tank, a method of rosé production known as Saignée. This was then sent off to a separate tank where it will ferment and age, eventually giving us a delicate rosé in a Provençal style.

The grapes had a few days to cold soak before fermentation, a useful process for the extraction of aromatic precursors, after which all three tanks were then inoculated to allow the ferment to begin. Fermentation management is split between a regime of pump-overs and punch downs. The colour of the young Barbera wine is a stunning, intense purple; needless to say, we’re all now proud owners of perpetually stained hands.

At the time of writing, the ferment temperatures have risen to around 30°C and we’re now under a week from their completion at which stage we will press and send off to the wine to steel, concrete and oak for ageing.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Last Tuesday Gavin and I headed down to Puimisson, Langudeoc to pick our third grape variety of the harvest; Cabernet Sauvignon. In contrast to the unusually early pick date for the Barbera, we found ourselves picking the Cab two weeks late (according to the 2013 and 2014 harvest).

Things have a strange way of working out though, as what appeared like a setback early on has worked out ideally in terms of the ripeness of the grapes and how they fit into our schedule.

I’ll admit, I only lasted around 3 hours in the vineyard, all the time being put to shame by the speed and efficiency of the team of Moroccan pickers who made light work of a big task. After this, I moved on to helping Jeff and Michel load the tractor, before helping Gavin to load the truck.

One of the merits of organic management is that wildlife is able to flourish, including some audacious individuals trying to hitch a ride back to the UK (see below). On top of spiders, mites and the occasional mantis, the most successful passengers were hordes of organic escargot. If we’d had a larger team we might have collected them and seen if any of our neighbouring French bistros could've taken them off our hands.

Back in London and back in the winery a few days later, with a team half the size of the previous weekend, we set about processing the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Given the ripeness of this year’s fruit, there was no need to use the crusher to liberate juice from the berries. A consequence of tightly-bound bunches is that our destemmer wasn’t operating as efficiently as it did for the less compacted Barbera bunches. The answer; load whole bunches straight into the destemmer and then onto the sorting table afterwards - effectively hand sorting berry by berry. This method allowed stem fragments, any poor quality berries, snails etc to be removed.

Exactly the same programme of fermentation vessels was used for the Cabernet (2 steel, 1 concrete) but without a cold soak. Punch downs and pump-overs are both being carried out and at the time of writing, the ferment temperatures are slowly rising and the rate of CO2 production is increasing.

Later this week, Albariño will be arriving from Galicia ahead of the arrival of our next red, Grenache from Calatayud, next week.

Pinot & Our Spanish Affair

Pinot & Our Spanish Affair

July was a month of good news for London Cru. We successfully completed the bottling of our 2014 wines following our trip to France. Further positivity arrived in the form of news from our network of growers in Spain and Italy. As it stands, all of our 2015 fruit is healthy and exactly where we want it in terms of yield and expected pick date. In keeping with our desire to push the boundaries and experiment with new varieties, we embarked upon two further trips to find a late ripening white variety and an early ripening red. We approached this with an open mind, considering all manner of regions and varieties. We were initially keen to source some Grüner Veltliner from Austria, but following a few challenging harvests in consecutive years, this proved a fruitless (excuse the pun) endeavour.

Our spirits weren't dampened by this and we set about exploring the possibility of securing another late ripening white grape; Albariño. With a little help from contacts in Galicia, we were able to get around a table with Zarate, a biodynamic and organic producer in the area. After talking about our project, over an incredible seafood lunch with barrel-aged Albariño, they put us in contact with a local grower who showed us around their vineyard (above). Perfect aspect, a soil bed of decomposed granite and wonderfully expressive and aromatic grapes; it didn't take us long to shake hands on a price. Safe to say, we boarded the plane at Santiago de Compostela later that day excited at the prospect of working with a new variety that's stock is constantly rising among wine lovers.

Sadly, we didn't have the same luck on 'Project Pinot'. We took an exploratory trip to Slovenia to try and source this enigmatic grape, in Gavin's eyes; the holy grail. The region of Podravje certainly has potential, but unfortunately this time around, we weren't able to find any vineyards that were suitable for us. Yield, aspect and soil type were the deciding factors in putting our search for the elusive red variety on the back burner. For now....

A Flying Visit

A Flying Visit

At the beginning of what proved to be an absolutely scorching week in the UK, Gavin and I headed down to the South West corner of France on a mission; drink as much wine talk to our network of growers and confirm grapes for the 2015 vintage.

After touching down in Toulouse (an hour later than scheduled owing to a very busy Gatwick airport) we picked up the hire car and headed straight to the small town of Puimisson, Languedoc to visit Jeff Coutelou. Jeff is an exceptionally talented viticulturist and vigneron, choosing to follow the practices of biodynamic and organic vineyard management alongside natural vinification.

Besides a few processes such as tilling the soil, every vineyard process is carried out by hand. This fastidious approach ensures that the soil does not become compacted, as you might find in a commercial, chemically treated vineyard, but also any issues that may arise are quickly identified and mitigated.

The purpose of our visit to this small village, just outside of Béziers, was to assess the Cabernet Sauvignon plots that Jeff has once again agreed to let us work with. The grapes have overcome challenging conditions during flowering, with high winds causing some isolated patches of coulure (when the grape bunches develop unevenly during fruit set). The fruit looks wonderfully healthy and we’re expecting low yields with deep concentration of flavour. Skilled management of vine vigour ensures the grapes enjoy a balance of shade and airflow through the canopy.

This was also a chance for us to see other plots of Jeff’s vineyards as well as the winery itself. On the fringes of his bush vine Grenache vineyards, a group of fig trees illustrates the contrasting effects of organic management versus the use of chemical sprays. The side of the tree facing Jeff’s Grenache bore plump, ripe and luscious figs (albeit a little warm after sitting in the 40oC afternoon sun) whereas the tree facing his neighbour’s chemically treated vineyard had been stripped off all fruit and flowers.

Nice spot for a swim
Nice spot for a swim

After a chilled glass (a revelation by all accounts) of our 2013 Cabernet, an evening swim in the River L’Orb and dinner we made tracks for our overnight stop in Carcassonne, feeling satisfied with the day’s outcome.

Our focus for day two was Chardonnay. Research and intuition indicates that Limoux is a growing haven for the grape responsible for our most popular wine. High altitudes, moderating air currents and free-draining soil all work together to aid the development of Chardonnay with classic varietal character and fresh acidity. We were fortunate enough to have a contact in the area; James Kinglake owner of the highly successful Domaine Begude, who not only showed us round his estate and cellars but also set up a meeting with a local grower; Maurice.

We met Maurice on his farm-come-workshop and briefly outlined our project before being taken to the potential sites. In similar fashion to Jeff’s vineyards, the first thing that struck us was the healthy appearance of the fruit bunches and immaculate condition of the vines owing to Biodynamic and Organic (certified) management. After a couple of hours walking through the vineyards and assessing each potential parcel, we shook hands on a deal and retreated to the shade.

We're very fortunate to be able to work with such dedicated and passionate people and believe our line-up this year, from the Southwest corner of France, is our strongest to date.

Next stop Slovenia and Galicia, watch this space.....

Among the vines in Limoux
Among the vines in Limoux

A Difficult Decision

A Difficult Decision

Late yesterday, we had to make the very tough decision to turn down seven tonnes of grapes due to come from Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. By a stroke of luck, we have managed replace some of the lost grapes with four tonnes of Barbera from Northern Italy, sourced by top Italian producer Luca Roagna

Harvest Time at Corneilla

Harvest Time at Corneilla

Last Monday and Tuesday saw Gavin in France to oversee our very first harvest at Château de Corneilla, working in the vineyard alongside William Jonqueres d’Oriola from the estate. To ensure that all of the grapes reached London in the best possible condition they were hand harvested, sorted and then loaded into large flat crates for their 820 mile journey to the winery.

Mas Coutelou

Mas Coutelou

Jean-François Coutelou (or ‘Jeff’ as he prefers to be known) comes from a long line of proud peasants in the Languedoc village of Puimisson, where the family have been growing grapes and making wine for hundreds of years.

Château de Corneilla

Château de Corneilla

Not many families have history that can match up to that of the Jonquères d’Oriola family – the owners of Chateau de Corneilla, in the Roussillon village of Corneilla-del-Vercol. The estate has been in the family since they bought it in the 1400s following the dissolution of the Knights Templar.

Harvesting at Mas Coutelou

Harvesting at Mas Coutelou

Last Sunday a few of the London Cru team travelled to Puimisson in the Languedoc-Roussillon to visit Jeff Coutelou. We were there for the harvest of the beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon grapes he had agreed to sell us for our first vintage. If you know Roberson Wine you will have heard of Jeff and Mas Coutelou. To say we are fans would be an almighty understatement. He is without a doubt one of the purest, most genuine and gifted winemakers we have ever worked with. We were jumping for joy when he said he was interested in our project and would sell us some of his amazingly well-cared for fruit.

The reason we were lucky enough to get our hands on it is because a few years ago Jeff made the decision to only work with indigenous varieties like Carignan, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache. His grandfather had planted the Cabernet vines and he can’t bring himself to pull them up, so he’s been selling the grapes to a local co-op, but he treats them exactly the same as his other ‘children’, with an incredible amount of love and attention.

Jeff and Gavin at Mas Coutelou
Jeff and Gavin at Mas Coutelou

The thing I find most inspiring about Jeff is that he feels his purpose on this earth is to care for his land and vines, leave the earth in a better state than he found it and spread love and joy through his wines. He is so sure and content about his reason for being here that he only sleeps 4 hours a night (“my mind is always on my grapes”) and sees no point in taking holidays (“I get so much love and joy from my vines, my grapes and the people who drink my wines, why would I need holidays?”)

The fruit was pristine, incredible for an organic, biodynamic grower who uses purely natural methods in the vineyard, and after a long day picking with Jeff’s team (who all seem to idolise him) the refrigerated truck was packed up ready to set off for London. We’re please to say it arrived this morning in perfect condition and is being processed downstairs in the winery as I write this. Now we just need Gavin to make wines as good as Jeff’s. No pressure Gav!