Riaan Heads Home

Riaan showing the French how Le Braai is done.
Riaan showing the French how Le Braai is done.

Winegoggle’s temporary French correspondent, Riaan Smit, heads home after his harvest in Provence.

Every morning and every evening I check the density and temperature of about 20 remaining tanks. It is usually a mundane task, but the last couple of days have taken on new significance for me. Every day one or two of the tanks go dry and every day hastens my return to South Africa.
My time at Ch?+¦???+¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¬teau La Gordonne in Provence is almost over and I am going to miss it:
Smelling the pungent fermentation aromas ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ a mixture of strawberry, grapefruit, and apples – in the cellar first thing in the morning; walking through an old Mourv?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ëdre vineyard to the village of Pierrefeu ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ a 15 minute uphill slog – for a baguette sandwich at the Ronde des Paines boulangerie, and then coffee at the Caf+¬ du Commerce; watching the sun go down over the Provencal hills from on top of the big outside tanks when I take samples in the evenings; shoveling red wine must out of a claustrophobic cement tank with only a top and side hatch. I am fitter, stronger, wiser. It has been good.

Lunch at the Ch?+¦???+¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¬teau La Gordonne.
Lunch at the Ch?+¦???+¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¬teau La Gordonne.

We had our end of harvest celebration lunch on Friday. How does a South African help with preparing food? Hy braai vleis. I do not know what they feed the sheep here, but it tasted like real Karoo chops. Maybe I have just been away from home for too long.
The crew were impressed with Mooiplaas Chenin Blanc 2008, and the alchohol (15,5%) of the Veritas double gold Nitida Pinotage 2003 was met with Gallic shrugs of disbelief. Drink it five years from now and it will still be an awesome wine. I should have brought a couple of bottles of Beyerskloof Pinotage Ros+¬.
So, you want to be a winemaker? I suggest you spend some time at a big winery such as La Gordonne. It strips away all the usual romanticism people tend to associate with wine-making. This is large-scale, commercial winemaking. Its efficiency alone is a management lesson no winemaking degree is ever going to teach.
When you taste the rough, new rose’ in a 70 000 liter tank (that is 93 000 bottles) and it is good, fresh, aromatic, and this gives you the satisfaction of a job well done, then you and wine, as a day job, maybe okay.
Sure, I would like to be an Eben Sadie or an Adi Badenhorst (by the way, happy birthday Adi. I absolutely loved the comment on Neil Pendock’s blog about Adi and his agter-Paardeberg friends looking “a bit scary” and whether they may be “longing for” the Old SA ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ presumably because of there rugged boer look ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ avec facial hair).
But this harvest experience at a big cellar has opened my eyes to wine as a product, a commodity, bought by 95% of consumers who just want a good drink and could not give a cellar rat’s arse where it comes from, who the iconic winemaker is who made it, what proportion of, and how long it spent in new French oak, and all that anorak stuff.
I drink to their health, because they keep this industry going.
Even the other 5% of “Fine Wine” has to sell, it has to pay its own way. The investment in it cannot just be, as Tokara’s GT Ferreira famously said, a return on ego.
Wine is not a scarce product, on the contrary, there is far too much of it in the world, and probably too many wine makers, too. So, if you are an aspirant wine-snob-winemaker who cannot see the business merit of a bottle of Chateau Libertas, I do not think you should be in the winemaking business. Or if you already are, good luck (and please, may I have a peek at your business plan?)
Also, volume winemaking does not necessarily equate to nasty. La Gordonne received one star (out of a possible three stars) for its 2008 AOC Blanc in the just released 2010 Le Guide Hachette des Vins ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the French wine bible. For a producer just to be mentioned ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ even without any stars awarded – is considered an honour.
The wine was made primarily of Vermentino, a variety, I was told, originating from Corsica and widely planted in the C?+¦???+¦?+¦????tes de Provence. It tastes like a Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend: crisp, good acidity, full mouth-feel, and a hint of oak/spice (20% was fermented in 400 liter new French oak barrels).
A final note: The guys at Nitida in Durbanville, who inadvertently started my wine journey by encouraging my first garagiste effort in 2007, have been crowned Top Producer at the Michelangelo Awards with something like six gold medals, including a double gold for Sauvignon Blanc. Not bad for a 15 hectare patch of dirt, in the right spot, and great dedication by owner/winemaker Bernard Veller and winemaker Jacus Marais ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ going into his 11th Nitida vintage.
Je n’arrive pas a’ croire que?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-+?-+ I find it hard to believe this is over and I will be in class at Elsenburg coming Friday. But, alas, it is.
Au Revoir!

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