Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hello Again

Sorry for not posting sooner, but there really hasn't been much news until recently.

Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving.........I suspect some of you are particularly thankful that Mr. Obama was victorious. The French folks here I speak to about it are all really excited about "The Change" that they see coming.

As for me -the French do not do Thanksgiving...duh....BUT as a bit of a last minute thing, Deb's brother Ken and his family (Joanna and Will) decided to use the holiday time to come and visit France, and me!!! They arrived last Wednesday and we had a delightful 4 days together. the weather wasn't the best but we made do, and it was great having guests in the house (hint..hint). We toured the area - both the Rhone and Luberon valleys; ate good food, drank great wine (reds and roses) - they bought typical Provencal things (table linens, pottery). They left for Paris and Normandy on Sunday, and will return to Seattle (Sequim) next week. Great time!!

Wine - everything is fine - its all resting and waiting for bottling of the rose and the regular red the end of January or first of February. I have lined up the bottler, the bottles, the corks, the labels and the capsules, so now we just wait for the wine to settle a bit and we bottle.

House - All done for now. Got curtains up and rugs down where needed, and I have hung a few pieces of art - all local artists' works - so the place actually feels 'homey' now. Having the fireplace really helps make it comfy. Ken and Joanna enjoyed the new guest room - thought the bed was particularly comfortable (hint..hint).

The vines have now dropped all their leaves, (we've had some snow mixed in the rain today, and it has been below freezing a couple of nights) so its time to dig up the old dead vines (about 300 out of the 10,000) and then prune away this year's growth. I'll do the digging-up and will hire-in help with the pruning. My friend and fellow winemaker Jean Marie Royer is coming to give me counsel on how to prune correctly. Hope to have all that done before I leave for Seattle for the holidays

And - Just finished harvesting the olives from the nine trees in the yard. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that i should have started as sonn as they firstr began to turn color - I mis-understood Julien when he told me they needed to be 'noir'. So - we lost a bit from the interim rain and heavy winds we've had over the last 2-3 weeks. But the trees did still yield about 100 pounds - so enough to take to the local 'moulin d'huile' to have turned into oil. And I learned another lesson to add to my "Lessons Learned" file for next year(pick olives earlier -as soon as they start to turn color and fall).

Well - thats it for today - off to the mill.

Be well.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Its been a week or so since I last checked-in, so here's the latest.

Nothing new with the wine. It all sits quietly while it settles out and turns nice and clear. All is as it should be. In this down time, I have been spending my time working on the label design (following the previous label for its obvious name recognition) and talking with bottle, cork, and packaging suppliers.

Also talking with the local mobile bottling guy about what I need to do to use his service: how many people it will take; what the label format needs to be; what bottles are acceptable;, etc, etc.

For those of you who were aware of what GRAVES CELLARS had done in the past, the mobile bottler here is the same kind of outfit. For those unfamiliar - it is essentially an 18-wheeler with all the equipment contained inside the van to fill the bottles, put in the corks, put on the labels, and spin on the capsules -all you do is hook the truck's hose up to the tank of wine - put empty clean bottles in on one end...and take the finished bottles and put them into cases on the a rate of about 150 cases an hour! And when he's done - he drives muss - no fuss. Its perfect for the small operation like this.

On the home front: The electrician came and we got all the heaters installed - so the house is quite comfy. Of course it hasn't hurt that since the day I panicked (cause it was starting to get COLD) the weather has improved a bit..figures. So now its on to rugs, and window coverings and decorating - all the little foofy stuff.

OH - yeah - and I have started to cook...some. I decided that every Sunday I would try something. Go on-line and find a recipe and give it a whirl..... Yesterday it was homemade stew....that was actually not bad...though with a loaf of bread and a bottle of French wine, just about anything will taste good.

And finally - an anecdote for the week. I got a call (actually several calls and messages over a two day period) from a local gentleman who needed my help (!?!?) His message, and subsequent call led me to believe (based on my rudimentary French) that he knew I was an American, and that he was an American, and had a 'paper' and needed my help. I thought 2 things: first - why if he and I are both Americans is he speaking to me only in French, and second - what kind of paper - maybe it was a local newsletter for Americans in the area, and he either wanted a story - or an ad..So - I said fine, stop by. He did. Turns out he is American - but only by birthright - his father was a GI in WWII, who stayed (returned) and married a French woman. The man who came to see my was the GI's son. So he was / is a Frenchman but holding dual nationality. Not a big thing - lots of folks do that. Well, it seems that his passport had expired like 10 years ago, and he was trying to apply for a new one - - and the forms, of course, are in English - which he does neither speak nor read. So he needed help in filling out the form. No problem - took about 20 minutes to, DOB, address, etc....standard stuff. We got done, and he turned to leave, and I asked him -in my French - why he came to me - and how did he find me.

To which he replied: "I went to the office of the Marie (mayor's office) and the Prefecture (Municipal Police) to get help and they told me I needed to find an American to help. And when I asked if there were any Americans living in Sorgues... they told me that you (ME) were the only one they knew - and they gave me your number (my cell phone) - and so I called".

SO - it would seem that I am the ONLY American resident in the I got that going for me. As Steve Meineke mentioned to me when he, Julie and their friends were here - - there oughta be some way to capitalize on my situation.....hmmmm........well maybe if the wine turns out to be good I might just try.

In the meantime - you all stay well.

More later.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hello All

well - Fall has come to the Vaucluse. We are having what I would call a typical "Seattle" set of days - cool, rainy and a little windy. Feels just like fall anywhere else (rats - I had hoped it would be different somehow...more French or Provencal or something...).

Anyway, here's what's new:

Wine - Everything has now been racked and is settling nicely. As I mentioned last time, I think the rose is going to be pretty nice. The Cotes du Rhone red needs a little work - its a little too acidic..but we'll wait and see in a month or so how it evens out. The cuvee I think will be quite good when its ready in a year or so - has some of the same attriubtes my GRAVES CELLARS syrahs have had; i.e. good balance between fruit and acid, with nice spicy undertones and subtle tannins - not an overpowering wine - and should be very food friendly!

House - with apologies to Peter Mayle and his writings about getting things done in Provence. I have to tell you it IS possible to complete a project without losing your mind. As I mentioned last time we were about to embark on the second bedroom (which had been used by the previous tenants as a storage room). This 'Before' picture depicts where it had been......They had added a fake wall (on right in this picture) to make it into more of a walk-in closet. So my job when I returned form Seattle was to open the room up to expose the real walls, etc. That also, however exposed all the plumbing and electrical lines for the kitchen. With concrete construction, the renovated plumbing and electrical has to go on either one side of the wall or the other - not inside it.

And then the plan was to build facade wall all the way around to cover the plumbing and electrial lines and the old window (which opened into the garage) and the old fireplace (filled in 30 years ago). Then put up a smalll closet to surround the water heater that is out of frame to the right, and put in a new window - in the wall on the right - that would open onto the back 'yard'.

So - a week ago Monday they started - Michel and his assistant. And on Thursday - 4 DAYS LATER - they were DONE!! Walls up, water-heater closet in (with door), new window in, exterior restored to match the rest of the house, trim up, ceiling re-varnished, 2 coats of paint on everything...and they even washed the floor.......WOW.Align Left

And so now I a real guest room, with a view and everything( if you look closely you can see the vineyard through the trees - OK - so its a 'Peekaboo' view).....just waiting for guests to arrive....?

By the way - did I mention that this house has no central heating? Heating here is typically electric 'radiator' - - sorta like baseboards - - in most rooms. For this house, there were electric heaters in the office and the first bedroom....and that's it. When I bought the place they were using these gigantic heat sinks in the kitchen and entry hall along with the fireplace...and that was it. So of course I had the big ugly things removed, with every intention of getting something to replace them....Well, one thing led to another and I didn't - until yesterday - and now they need to be wired...all 6 of them (one each for the 2 bedrooms, office, kitchen, salon and entryway). So - with the temperature dropping, and the rain falling - for now I am either close to the fireplace or in my room....not much heat anywhere else until the electrician comes.....tomorrow...YEAH.

One nice thing about fall - here, like elsewhere, the leaves all change colors with the season. The vineyard is now a lovely mix of green, gold, yellow, brown, and red (with a spot here and there of purple grapes where we left the green ones hanging at harvest and they have now finally ripened). Really quite stunning.

All for now - my fingers are getting cold.

Be good out there.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hi All

Its been a couple of weeks since I last updated you all on what's what, so here goes.

Wine first: The rose is settling and clearing up nicely - going to be a lovely fairly true pale pink, as its the combination of 30% grenache (more orange-oriented) with 70% Cinsault (red-hued). And the flavors are following the color - bright red fruits (strawberry and cherry) with citrus undertones. I thinbk its going to be good.

The reds are finishing secondary fermentation - the "Cuvee" is done and gets racked today- and the Cote du Rhone red should finish by Wednesday- then racking....and then we wait for a month or so for things to settle..and voila..WINE!

By the way - they have an interesting twist here on what to do with the refuse from the winery. All the by-products, both the skins and seeds from pressing as well as the lies from racking - MUST be sent to one of the local distilleries for their use in making marc and eau de vie, etc. Not only is it mandatory, but there are reporting checks and balances to ensure that what you say you had is the same as what the distillery receives. Its a real symbiotic relationship - and also one that makes use of what would otherwise be landfill. Someone's been thinking......

House next: Not much new - we've started on the second bedroom (room with a view) - hole is in the wall for the new window, and we're starting on the new walls. New front door is due in by end of the month. So no new pictures this week

Everything Else: Not much new. Made it safely to and from Seattle (with the stop in San Francisco for the VISA). Nice visit (way short) with family and friends - and hurrying back to look after the wine...after all, it IS my job.

Now that I am back, VISA in hand - my first thing to do was to go and apply for a residency card - you can't live here without it - you can't get it until you have a VISA, and then you HAVE to apply for it within 1 week. And it takes a month or so to get, so I am not yet quite street legal - but getting closer.

And I have spent a couple of mornings with Julien (M. Marignane) going from one Wine Coop/Agency/Customs Office / Interested Party to another - seems like we've been to 6 or 7 - to get various required registration numbers. Turns out you need one for reporting winery operations, and another for paying the taxes on said operations, and another for knowing where the winery is, and another for who's AOC you are in,and another one if you sell to stores, and another if you want to export ...and on .....I will tell you, however, that there is NO WAY I could have accomplished what we did in those mornings on my own. With him beside me, as the previous owner - with all the previous records - it was a no-brainer to get things transfered over...and of course every one was very helpful. But - I would never have known even where to start. And Julien just said .." well - we go here, and then here, and then here"...and it was I am very lucky he has stayed to help - and we have come to be friends.

AND THEN, today I went with my accountant to the MSA - which is the Medical Insurance office - and found out that I don't have all the right paper from all the right agencies from when I bought this place..?!?!?!? One more group - the DDA - apparently needed to be involved and wasn't, and they have to give me ANOTHER different registration ID number.....which will make like about 25 of them I have.....and then I can go and register for health insurance -to get another number (26th?) - -but, of course, I need my residency card too.....which I won't have for a - LOTS OF PAPER. But I am getting closer to being a real person here.

On a brighter side, some friends from home are in the area (biking in the Luberon - two valleys over). They came by this weekend and we spent some time in Chateauneuf-du-Pape tasting wine and telling tales. They got to meet my friend Jean Marie Royer - a fabulous winemaker in Chateauneuf. (By the way - if you spot his wines - Domaine Jean Royer - snatch them up - he continues to get great reviews and his wines are wonderful.) Had a great dinner up at the ruins of the chateau. They're a great group - and it was nice to see familiar faces.

Well - all for now - I need to get to racking - the barrels are calling. More soon.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Wow - October seems like I just got here...and its 2+ months time flies.

With the wine aging nicely, I have taken a little time to start seeing the neighborhood, so to speak. I have already made it to Mt. Ventoux (in the Tour de France for me) again, with the weather a bit better than the last two attempts..and today went south-east to the little town of Venasque. Its one of those small, quaint, charming, gorgeous hill-top towns...with a fabulous view of the surrounding countryside. And on this Sunday, with the sun out and the tourists all gone, it was great. And made a quick stop on the way back in Pernes. These are both towns with remnants of their Sarrazin background - they changed hands over the centuries a multitude of times, from Gaul to Roman to Anglo/Norman, to Roman to Provencale to French...and the towns have the architecture to show for it.

This upcoming week's big adventure - a return to AMERICA!! I got notified by the French Consulate in San Francisco that my long-term VISA application had been approved, so I need to go back to the US to get that, and will wind my way up to Seattle for a couple of days before returning. I plan to only be gone a week all told - after all the wine is here - so I will only have 4 days in the States. I have asked the neighbor's younger (17) son to look in on the wine in my absence.

They are an interesting set. He, Richard, is British - and teaches English as a second language - mostly technical translating into English - at the University in Aix en Provence. She, Doris, is Belgian, but with extensive family in Italy - and was working in Avignon as a translator. She speaks 5 or 6 languages fluently, and in conversant in several others. Their 2 boys, Simon(19) and Alan (17) are great - both speak French, English, Italian, and Dutch. And both are very smart - - Simon is off to University in Belgium - studying astrophysics, and Alan (my temporary cellar rat) is in his last year in school in Avignon. They have taken me somewhat under their wing - particularly Doris who is helping me with my French, AND is doing the translations for the website.

All for this week. Got to get ready to leave early Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another Week

Another week has come and gone...with lots to show for it!

First the wine:

As I mentioned before, its going to be a very small vintage - we got hit by mildew pretty hard. We've pressed everything now, with the cuvee in barrels, the rose in a petite tank and the regular red in a large stainless steel tank - about 52 hectoliters (enough for about 600 cases ). The cuvee and the rose are going to be really small this year (100 cases each). bath

Now the house:

We made great strides this last week or so in getting the remodeling work behind us. In this last week, we've finished both the bathroom and the kitchen.

As some of you know, the bathroom was in dire need of help. The small little room with the sink and shower was small, closed-in, poorly lit......not much going for it. Add to that the fact that the room just next door - which was the laundry room - had all the things the bathroom was missing - including the WC (toilet). So, to make it more hospitable, we've turned the laundry room into the full-on bathroom,with its seperate toilet room, and decommissioned the old bathroom and turned it into a storage area.

As for the kitchen. It was last touched probably 25+ years ago - and showed it. With dark wood cabinets and dark gold tile, it was a wee bit on the dark and gloomy side. So, we;ve ripped out all the old cabinets and tilework (incuding the counter) and replaced it all with new. Mostly in white, with the 'inox' (stainless steel ) apppliances, and a dark counter top, the room has really brightened up...and just feels better.

NOW....its time to start learning how to cook. As many of you know, over the past few years my cooking ahs been virtually nil - so - as one of my resolutions on moving over here is to get myself starting really cooking. And with the nice new gas cooktop and new oven with convection heating - there really isn't anything stopping me.....except me.

On another note - perhaps more serious - it has been interesting to 'watch from afar' the trials and tribulations of the US economy. I must admit I am a bit isolated and insulated from all that, what with all my financials tied-up in the vineyard here. The same is true for most of my neighbors. They are much more concerned with the current harvest than international mortgage financia; issues, although some share with me the concern they have as to whether or not, when the next release of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine is made, will there be a market for it at a reasonable price. But they always come back to first things first - - -make the wine - - make it well - - then it will sell itself. Great philosophy, and one that has continued to work for them for I plan to follow as well.

Back to work - the barrels need topping and the rose needs a little something added. More later.

Be good out there.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Winemaking Hiatus

While the various juices are 'burbling' away, it gives me an opportunity to fill you in on every thing else going on here, now that I have been here about 2 months. For those who have not seen a picture of the place.....

As most of you know, I bought the house/winery 'as is', which in European parlance means 'without anything'. So I have been spending my non-winery time outfitting the place - everything from light fixtures for the various ceilings, appliances, furniture, kitchenware, etc. At the same time I have been working with a local contractor here to remodel the bathroom, kitchen and 2nd bedroom( a 'Room with a view'). And the yard was a disaster, so I have had to tear that out and do a 'Do-Over'. And, of course have had to arrange for electricity, telephone, cell-phone, car (utility vehicle actually - a Renault Kangoo),

Most all of this has gone well- everyone has been real accomodating.....except for the INTERNET. I don't know why, but it has taken about 7 weeks to get the service installed. Here in France, internet service runs over the phone lines - operated by French Telecom -Orange. OK - no problem there, right? - you just call them up like you would COMCAST or AT&T and they add it to your land-line phone. Been there - - did that - - and several weeks and several calls later.....

UNLIKE what we are used to, they don't have A GUY who comes out and gets you hooked up.

They have A GUY who comes out and works from the pole in the street to the house.

And A GUY who works inside the h0use to set-up the phone line.

And A GUY who will come and install the modem (called a LIVEBOX here - it can give you wireless internet, internet-phone and cable TV).

AND A GUY who turns the system on for your account ..somewhere.

Unfortunately, these GUYS don't talk to one another - to get EACH GUY, you need to make an appointment.

So - after multiple calls and appointments, I got all the way to the end - the LIVEBOX guy was here...but THE OTHER GUY hadn't turned on the that meant another appointment....and another week. And then the GUY came back with the LIVEBOX, after the system was turned on....and voila...EUREKA...INTERNET!

And then 2 days later... 2 GUYS show up to fix my internet (which I didn't know was broken).....and worked for about 1/2 day - took everything the OTHER GUYS had done apart and re-did it all.......and then had trouble getting it to work again ( I of course, explained to them in my broken French. that it "was working just fine BEFORE THEY GOT THERE!!"). But - good GUYS that they were - they - THOSE GUYS fixed it...and now I have internet at the house

and I am now a Happy GUY.

All for now.

Oh -by the way...the olive trees in the picture...we have 9......and we take the olives to the local coop to make oil...Mas de la Lionne Domaine-bottled Olive Oil.....hmmmmm...we do it in November......and Christmas is coming......

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Here's the latest from wine country-France:

All the wines have about finished fermentation. The cinsault rose finished last week, and is just waiting for the grenache, which should finish tomorrow or Saturday.

The Cuvee finished yesterday - and now it will sit on its skins (extended maceration) for about a week to extract the necessary tannins and polyphenols to make it special. I can tell you, however, that at this point it is tasting pretty good - good fruit, with spice and a little licorice. I think it will be ready to press late next week. As you can see the barrels for this wine have arrived and are nestled snugly in the lower caveau.

The regular Cotes du Rhone red, which we finished picking last Friday, should also finish alcoholic fermentation tomorrow. Then we'll let it sit for a bit and press. This wine will not get to see the barrels - it will stay in stainless steel tanks until bottling.

So far so good. Wish we had more juice, but......what can you do??? Just wait till next year!!

I spent the day working in the vineyard - trying to stay ahead of the excess vegetation. Today was plowing day, with more tomorrow. Ah, the retired life................

All for today.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Harvest - the Rest

Hi all

Well - its over. We finished harvest yesterday (Friday) evening. We picked the entire vineyard of its grenache, which turnbed out to take us just about 2 1/2 days.
The crew was a bit larger for this effort, as you can see - we were about 18 total. We started on Wednesday morning with the old vines to the north of the house, and worked our way around the vineyard. By mid-morning Thursday, we had picked the older grenache for the 'Cuvee' , crushed it into the middle tank (cuve 3) and moved on to pick the rest.

At day's end on Thursday it looked like we had just about a day's work ahead. And then DISASTER. We had a horrendous thunderstorm that hit late Thursday afternoon - right after we were done for the day. By 8:30 pm, it had mostly passed - but in the 2 hours or heavy heavy rain it left the vineyard with standing water!!! Not a good thing. So we called all the pickers and told them to wait - that it wouldn't be until at least the afternoon, and maybe we would needs to wait for Saturday...something nobody wanted with grapes in the tank. Fortunately, dawn came, and with it some sun and the Mistral wind. By 10:00 am, as we walked the vineyard, it looked like it would be OK to pick that afternoon, so we called everyone in after lunch. The folks really got into it, and they ended up picking the rest of the vineyard Friday afternoon - though it took about an hour and a half extra to get it done...but it was done!
And today, all the grapes are in - the Cinsault rose has completed fermentation, and is now resting awaiting the grenache for assembling into the final blend.
The special 'Cuvee' is in tank 3 and fermentation is well under way. We are 'pumping over' twice daily at this point, and using water cooling to maintain temperature for the right flavors.
The Cotes du Rhone grenache - the last to be picked - is just starting fermentation in its tank - so pumping over won't start for a day or so.
We did, however, saignee (bleed off) the grenache today - taking juice out of the larger tank, without skins - to make the grenache portion of the rose. This small amount of juice, like the cinsault, will be fermented seperately, and cooly, to retain its fruit characteristics. Its in the little tank all by itself for now. Once its finished, including settling and racking, then we'll add it to the cinsault and assemble the finished rose - according to how it looks and tastes.

All in all, harvest went really well. For my first time at this, I thought I did OK. We got all the grapes in - the various tanks are fermenting - and we haven't spoiled anything - so far so good!!!

One down side, however. Due to the cool wet Spring, and the onset of mildew throughout the vineyard, the yields are very low. This year's crop is about half a normal harvest. That means ultimately fewer bottles of finished wine. This is a common complaint throught the Cotes du Rhone this year, including Chateauneuf-du-Pape - everyone's yields are down this year.

So we will have to re-think the 3-wine plan. It may be necessary to cut back on the 'Cuvee' this year - perhaps doing only 6 barrels instead of 12 - and use the balance for the standard wine. Its going to be a question of we'll see. For now, the important part is to successfully get through the pressing (in about 10 days) - and then decide how much of the 'Cuvee' gets into barrels and get the others into their respective tanks.

I think that's it for wine news for today.

Oh - by the way - for those of you tracking along, I should get intenet service at the house the first of next week and we have started on the 'Room with a View' for friends and visitors.

More as we get further along.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Harvest - Day 1

As promised, we did start harvest yesterday - picking the Cinsault, which lies in the middle of the vineyard. We brought in only a small crew, and with the 4 of them and Mr. Marignane and myself, we were done by noon.

Then it was on to the cellar. As you can see in this picture, there are large bins attached to the rear of the tractor - which allows the pickers to dump their small buckets, and then the tractor will move them on to the cellar. And with 2 tractors, it makes for a continuous flow of grapes from vineyard to cellar.

Once at the cellar door, its into the destemmer-crusher and then into the press ( because you need to press off the skins right away to get that lovely pale rosy color.

Here is the tractor unloading into the destemmer - pretty easy and without much manual labor - letting gravity do as much of the work as possible. The hose at the bottom of the photo leads from the must pump (beneath the destemmer/crusher) to the press.

We, Mr. Marignane ( Julien) and I - finished it all - destemmed, crushed, and pressed into the tank - by about 6:00 pm, including clean-up of the destemmer, pump, press, hoses and ourselves.

This first day was small - only about 1 1/2 tons of fruit. Next week will take about 3 days to pick the Grenache - all 35 tons.

The Cinsault is now in-tank, with yeast added, and beginning fementation.

More to follow as we go.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Harvest T -1

Well - been here exactly a month and a half now, and thought it was time for an update, so here it is. I continue to be busy both in the vineyard/winery and in the house and yard....this week we started the remodeling of the bathroom (the works- including new tile floor) and kitchen ( new cabinets and countertop), and the guest bedroom - " A Room with a View".

The new crusher-destemmer that had arrived has been set up and is ready for use - and just in time.

September has come, and the grapes are getting ripe.

So much so that we will start harvesting tomoorow - picking the Cinsault that will be a part of the rosé for this year.

We had planned to start yesterday, but a thunderstorm blew in late Sunday night (3-4 am) and dropped a lot of rain. So we've given the vines a day to digest the water. Pickers will arrive firsth thing in the morning and we'll pick about 3 tons of gqpes - destem and crush and then immediately press off the skins.
I'll fill you in more after we get this first crush under 'our' belt.