5 – First harvest

Grenache variety old vine we managed to save

End of septembre 2007. Our very first harvest. I was so impatient. I found the grapes to be beautiful, of course and I hoped the first wine would be as good as I wished.

With the few surviving varieties, it was only possible to make Red wine during this first year. I could not have made any other colour anyway, because I did not have any wine presses, essential for Rosé and White wines.

vendanges
Looking for racemes

Only a small number of people were present for this first harvest, family and some friends; this moment remains unforgettable for some and especially for me. The first harvest, to make the first Vallons de Fontfresque wine. A key moment!!! We paced the 5 acres of vines which we were able to save, armed with pruning shears and grape collecting buckets. Each vine tree was checked thoroughly to make sure we did not miss any raceme; there were so few of them, missing any wasn’t an option.

Repos vendangeurs
Well deserved break

We had good amounts of collective belly laughter during this first harvest, but also good amounts of lower back pains. We started collecting the grapes very early in the morning so that they would be as cold as possible, the vine leaves were covered with morning dew and we were quickly drenched in water as we were getting close and personal with the vine trees. The mid-day sun quickly solved this issue and after we walked in each and every vine row and carried dozens of buckets full of grapes, we were finally dry again.

caisses et seaux
First grapes

We only had enough to fill a small tank with the amount of grapes we collected but, I was sure of one thing, this would be my Collector cuvée; it would, obviously, be magnificent!!!

raisin tombe dans cuve
First ‘homemade’ harvest before all the chai construction work started
Sophie sous l'égrappoir
My daughter Sophie, under the stalk separator

After many acrobatics and gym sessions in the chai to get from the upper level to the lower level via the tiny wooden ladder because the stairs were not ready yet, we managed to master the winemaking right away, with ageing in oak barrels.

This was also a great moment, getting our first barrels. We went to purchase them in a prestigious vineyard in which they were already used to make wine. It really helped to mitigate the wood strength of brand new barrels and take advantage of subtle aromas infused into the oak of these used barrels, coming from previous wines. Pro oenologist tip…

je goute le 1er jus
Me, tasting the initial grape-juice.

For the following harvest, in September 2008, the chai construction work was almost over so we needed massive stainless steel tanks because we were about to start making White and Rosé too.

We were eagerly waiting for these stainless steel tanks to arrive, we absolutely needed them. We were still waiting for the tanks, one week before the harvest was set to begin. Each day, we were promised an immediate delivery. Two days before the start of the harvest, still no tanks. The contractor calls me, panicked, and we were even more than he was and for good reason, our whole vintage was at stake. His truck, the one in which our tanks were loaded, had been stolen during the night!!! I must admit I only thought about my tanks at that point, and did not care about his truck at all. Fortunately for me, a lucky star was shining somewhere, the truck thieves had the excellent idea to unload the tanks with the onboard crane so they would not prevent them from driving away as fast as possible with their ‘prize’. The contractor borrowed some other truck to deliver those long-awaited tanks.

Cuve dans travée
The tanks almost did not make it into the chai

Ohh, the angst!!! It looks like the tanks are bigger than the huge chai door. How could such a thing be possible!!! We had made all the measurements. There was no choice, they HAD to get in. Two centimetres… was exactly the distance between the door sides and the tank itself. Had it been slightly askew, it would never have entered the chai, it was quite clear. After a few hours, advancing one centimetre at a time into the main corridor, the two tanks were lodged into their assigned resting spots. We had taken huge risks; they finally got in and it was a matter of millimetre adjustments. They would have to stay in there for a long while because there was no way we would move them later.

2 cuves
The two tanks, in their resting spots, millimetre adjustments

See you next week, for a new chapter of the adventure.

Please leave any comments you may have in the section below.

Adapted from the original French by Yann Sicamois.

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