Friday, December 2, 2011

Hi All

WOW - I just realized how long it has been since my last bad, SORRY!

Fall/winter has arrived here - plants are starting to lose their leaves, and the vineyard is quiet.

OK - so .... Bad news / good news

As many of you know, sales have not been meeting expectations for quite some time (like forever!) and I have been struggling with how to improve that. WELL….it looks like there is no help in sight… fired lots of flares, but no rescue.

So, I have had to take a drastic step. This last summer I started looking for an escape valve and approached a local real estate group and asked for their advice. They suggested, and I agreed, that initially they would informally (and quietly – Chateaineuf-du-Pape is a VERY small community and word travels fast!) ask in the local area and see if there was any interest among the locals.

Almost immediately ( 3 days !), a local winemaker expressed interest, and subsequently made a VERY lucrative offer – but ONLY for the VINEYARD.

Uh oh..turmoil !!! What to do? Sell the piece or hold off and try to sell it all. How long might that take if I hold? What kind of price could I get if I did...

And the biggy: Where would I go if I sold the domaine – and what would I do?

In my now-typical fashion, I allowed myself one whole weekend to contemplate these issues and decide my fate. (no SUPER COMMITTEE for me!)

The OUTCOME (drum roll please)

I agreed to sell the vineyard to the local winemaker – Isabel Ferrando at Domaine Saint Prefert – at a very good price. With that sale, she also bought this year's harvest, so that she could get instant results.

With that, I decided to stay and keep the house and the winery………..and the olives and the view and the sun and the food and the wine……..and the life.

The down-side of course is that I am no longer a real 'wine farmer', a title which I will miss.

But, I have stock of the 2009 wines left to sell AND the 2010 wines still in tanks and ready to be bottled.

And I have created a new LLC to allow me to continue to make wine - as a 'negociant'– using juice and/or grapes from local producers - so Mas de la Lonne wines will continue, they just will no longer be from estate grapes.

Also in this new LLC, I will be operating a new venture – TOURS DU RHONE – providing custom designed guided tours of the local wine region. NEW WEBSITE WILL BE UP SOON !!!!!

SO – I am still here…. still waiting for visitors to arrive!

Still waiting for you to come and SHARE THE DREAM !!



Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hi All

I know its been awhile.

Summer has come to the vineyard - the vines are doing very well. Versaison has begun, with the berries starting to turn blue and purple.Its going to be a great crop this year - the plants are healthy and the fruit set we got is great - will be a very good harvest - for all of the valley!!

As I have in years gone by, I took a day and traveled up to Nyons (known for its great olive oil !!!) - about 1 hour away - to see the Tour de France as its passed by. With no real hero to root for, it was a good chance to watch the entire peleton pass, and see just how FAST they really one minute, and gone the next!! By the time they reached this stage, Thomas Voekler, a Frenchman, was still in the maillot jeune (Yellow Jersey) and the local fans were very welcoming and supportive.

I also took a long day-trip around the country-side to catch the sites - those places that I travel past but never really stop and 'see'.
The Luberon valley, with all its lavender in bloom and its sunflowers was a great study in colors.

And the hill-towns of the Cotes du Rhone, like Sablet, were out in fine form on this sunny day.

The new wines continue to develop. The 2010 Cotes du Rhone will be ready for the bottle shortly. Its going to be a nice well-bodied grenache, with plenty of dark red fruit. The new 'Ombre du Chateau' is still in barrels, and has a bit to go yet - but its develping into a very nice wine, with lots of fruit and spice. I think the 2010's will be by far my best so far.

Meanwhile sales continue to not quite meet expectations. The 2010 vin de pays rose is selling well, but at the lower price the return is not what I would like. The 2009 reds are selling, but slowly, not unlike the 2008. And still no US importer in sight.

Must run - I have watering to do for the new plants in the vineyard. All for now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


What a difference a week makes!! Last week went really well. We got the Spring pruning (ebourgenage) done - that's where we go through and do both pruning of wild shoots and thinning out of the shoots without flowers - to concentrate the energy into those shoots where the grapes will grow...its ALL about the grapes !! you can see how nice and neat they are. This will last another few weeks,and then they will take off again. By the time harvest comes, it will look like we've never been 0out there!

Anyway, we finished that on Monday - most of the work is manual, with only a 'topper' on the tractor for cutting off the really wild-growing shoots Its like a multi-sided, multi-bladed weed whacker - it cuts off the long shoot on the tops and sides).

So this week was/is plowing and watering and spraying and weed killing week. I set myself up to be very busy (as is the case when the vines are growing like crazy). And that's when things started to go bad.............

First, on the wine side. I had sent samples of the reds to England to be tasted in a couple of competitions - Decanter Magazine's World Wine Awards, and The International Wine Challenge (a competition run by a reputable English publication - similar to the Dallas Wine Competition). Anyway, I sent both the 2009 Cotes du Rhone and the 2009 cuvee 'Ombre du Chateu'. One of the interesting side-lights in both these competitions is that they also offer entry into their "New Discoveries" show- for those wines that do n9ot have representation in England.

So, I thought..what a deal. I can hope for reasonable showings, and gain an audience with those folks looking for something new.

Welllll, &@^#& $, I got the results yesterday. In a nutshell, I got skunked. In BOTH competitions. Decanter gave out 8000 awards, and the IWC gave out 5000, and my wine failed to get an award!!!!! So much for increasing the PR; so much for having something to brag about; So much for finding potential clients; so much for having SOMETHING TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT!!!! you can tell....VERY DEPRESSING.

And then the week went on (today). With a litany of issues.

Seems that the attachment on the 'water wagon' for watering the new plants took the opportunity to fall apart - welding will be required...will lose at least a day.

Seems the red tractor's battery decided to go toes-up. Need to replace it....will lose 1/2 a day

Seems I failed to pay my hail insurance bill as I was suppose to (who ever heard of paying for insurance AFTER the year is up - I assumed you payed in advance, and I decided to cancel - turns out..NOPE) now iof course now I have to pay a that's not days lost , just EURO's.

Seems the big pump, for filling water tanks, and cleaning the cellar, etc, decided to go bonkers. I don't know if its the pump..or that the water table has gone down and I might need a NEW WELL! this will lose a week.....

This has NOT been a good few days...ah well next week is coming soon.......................................

More then

Friday, April 29, 2011

Hello to all

Spring is busting out all over. The vineyard is growing by leaps and bounds. When I left for Seattle, just about 4 weeks ago, the vines were just starting to sprout. I had just finished fertilizing and weed controlling, and thought I had finished just in time - as both of those tasks need to be finished before the new shoots really get going. Well - once they started, they have really taken off!!

The lack of sustained cold weather over the winter has allowed the vines to awaken about 2 weeks earlier than usual, and the pre-flower buds are out!! Each of the clusters of buds will, we hope, fully flower. The result will be a grape cluster for every cluster of flower buds. This year's set looks really good.

Here, they predict the harvest as 100 days after flowering. So if flowering occurs in the next 10 days, as the budding would suggest, then harvest could be early - like the 1st of September.

Work this last week had been all about getting the new little plants put into the ground. The T-handled tool is for making the holes for the bare-root vine and for the stake. The flat end of the handle is used for making the 'piscine' (pool for water) around the plant to ensure as much water reaches the vine as possible. The blue netting gets wrapped around the vine and the stake to protect the new plant's growth from baby rabbits...they LOVE new vine shoots..and we HATE rabbits!!

With a crew of three guys planting, one person driving the 'water wagon'.. and me - placing the supplies at each planting location, we were able to get about 600 of the little guys planted in 18 hours!! ALL BY HAND !!! The planting team is the same group that comes and helps harvest every year - what a hard-working gang. The tractor driver is the father of my neighbor, who I coerced into helping while he is here visiting on vacation - he seemed bored when I saw him the other evening, and so I offered him something to do...and he took it!

WINE SALES are growing , albeit very slowly. Without a US distributor, it is difficult to move enough wine to stay afloat, but I keep scratching...we'll see..................

On a personal note, two 'happenings';

First - I finally received my 'Carte Vitale', which is the ID card for using the French National health system. SO now if anything happens to me, they will act first and ask for insurance second. And, Oh Yeah, I have been wrangling with the French administration FOR 2 YEARS to get this.....

Second, and a little disconcerting, is that after the 5+ month wait for my renewed Carte de Sejour,I came back to town from Seattle to find, in my mailbox, a request for MORE documentation. Where had they been since December?? Where had they been since January, or February, or March when I asked and was continually told"No Problem - just a little delay".....So now I have to scramble to pull together some of the same documents I gave them before - - so I can give them to them again!! ARGH!!!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


SPRING is coming!! The weather has begun to turn warm - 60's during the day and 40's overnight. Frost is, hopefully, behind us, because the vineyard is starting to wake up. New green buds are beginning to sprout at each of the spurs we cut off last winter.

So it looks like I got my winter work done just in time! I have been spending the last weeks getting the vineyard ready for the new season - spraying with weed killer and anti-germination products to make sure the weeds do not take over and keep the vines from getting the rain water and nutrients they need for good growth. I use the old, old tractor for the 'spraying'. It carries a tank on the back and a series of hoses and spray nozzles for putting the products right around the base of the plants. This is the small area which is impossible to reach with the plow because to run the plow so close to the vine risks either catching the vine and uprooting it or cutting the vine underground and killing it. The nozzles sit in front of the front tires and spray to the sides and down - to get the solution around the vines as the tractor passes. I've been lucky in that with the warmer weather and sunshine, there has not been much wind - so the solution goes just where I want it to go. After doing all the rows of vines, I can then re-position the nozzles to cover a strip that is the entire width of the tractor - then run it around the outer edges of the vineyard to make sure I get all the dandelions that are close by ..they would love to re-germinate out in the vineyard. It takes about 2 days to cover the entire vineyard and the surrounding areas.

After the weedkiller, its on to fertilizing. I use a chemical mix that is suited for the specific soil content - to make sure the necessary nutrients are still in the soil after last year's growth (which pulls the nutrients to feed the vines) and the winter rains (which causes leeching). I get the soil analyzed every other year to make sure I am tracking what elements are needed - such as nitrogen and potassium. I use the big blue tractor for spreading the fertilizer - it works just like the kind you use on your lawn - except it holds a LOT more (about 150kg), and you don't have to push it!! The spreader is designed to cover 5 rows of vines at a pass, so it only takes about 3/4 of a day to cover the entire vineyard. It takes as long to stop and refill the spreader (a full load is good for about 1 pass down the long rows) as it does to drive down the row.

I am seriously considering moving toward bio-dynamic farming. I have been observing the neighbors, and while there is little more work, the yields are still good, and their results suggest it is worth it. In addition, of course the environment will be better for it. I can apply for Bio-dynamic farming - but it takes three years to become certified. What it means specifically is changing from chemical to bio-organic fertilizers and composts and stopping the use of both herbicides and chemical pesticides. Use of organic compounds for mildew resistance, etc. is still ok. I think it really makes sense, so I am thinking to apply later this Spring. That way, by 2015, the wine would be Certified Biodynamic.

On the wine side, both the 2010 IGP Vaucluse rose and the 2009 'Ombre du Chateau' Cotes du Rhone rouge are now labeled and ready for sale. With the help of my neighbor's son Alan, I have been out schlepping these new wines around town. So far, the rose is being well received - it has been picked up by a couple of shops and restaurants. The 'Ombre' is making a good impression, though because of its higher price point it is a tougher sale. But, I have been able to get it into at least one of the local restaurants - l'Arts des Mets - here in Sorgues, and others have expressed interest.

All in all, I now have wine in two wine shops and 5 restaurants in the area, with a few more that have shown interest for later in the year.

On the personal side, I did get my new passport from the US Consulate in Marseilles - took just the 2 weeks they promised. So now I am legal again...sorta...My Carte de Sejour (Identity Card) that I have here has to be renewed every year. Mine expired in January - just as it had the previous year. And so, like the previous time, I went to the local Police station in November and submitted my request for renewal. It takes about 6 weeks, and so they will not accept renewal requests earlier than 2 months before expiration. So I gave them the application package and waited (my old Carte expired January 28). January 28th came and card. So back to the Police I went and asked, and they inquired, but had no answer other than...'they would let me know'. So I waited 4 weeks, and went back on 2/23. Still no word. So I waited a couple more weeks, and went back..AGAIN..on 3/6. And then I told them that I planned to make a return trip to the US in April, and I really really needed an unexpired residency permit to get back into the country !!! After another weeks' wait, and no word, I went back ONCE AGAIN (4th visit), and the lady there, who has been very kind and helpful, told me that if I provided my airplane ticket that perhaps they could at least get me a 'receipt for renewal'. So I did that, and a week later I got my 'Receipt' for a renewal of my residency now I am legal for another 60 days....and then...I guess we'll see....

All for now.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hi All

Winter is here. the weather has turned nice and clear and cold. The vines have dropped all their leaves, and winter pruning is now done.
This heavy pruning removes all the year's growth - back to 4 or 5 arms, which allows the vine to re-shoot next spring. In addition, by selecting the branches to be trimmed vs. removed, it helps to shape the vine into the desired "goblet" shape - a wine glass shape - or - imagine your hand inverted with the fingers extended upward as though you were setting a plate on top.

In addition, I have finished digging up the old dead plants from the main vineyard. I have to get back out and work oin the "Old Vines" in the next week or two - as soon as the weather warms up just a bit to make it bearable to sit out on the backhoe in the wind.

In the winery, the work has been to get the 2010 rose (Vaucluse) and the 2009 Cotes du Rhone reserve cuvee - "Ombre du Chateau' (trans. 'Shadow of the Castle') ready to go into bottles. The mobile bottling truck arrived the morning of the 7th and away we went. Hooked up the hose from my tank to the truck, loaded corks in the hopper, and bottles on the end of the line, and voila - BOTTLED WINE!

In the course of 2 /12 hours, we bottled 1500 bottles of rose and 1500 bottles of the reserve. Wine is resting now, and should be ready for labels and then release by February.

On the personal side, I had to send my US Passport to Marseilles to get it renewed at the Consulate. It takes about 3 weeks, so for the moment, I am With Out Papers. So I need to be sure to mind my manners while I wait.

All for now. Stay Warm

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year !!

Back from the Holidays. Had a great visit in Seattle with friends and family. Also did a small tasting at All Things Wine in Renton on the 23rd. Was great to see all of you who came out to join me - I know it was right in the middle of all your shopping and wrapping and cooking and other preparations for Chrsitmas.

As I mentioned last time, I am getting ready to bottle the 2009 red Cuvee - "Ombre de Chateau" - and the 2010 rose. Corks and bottles arrive today and we will be doing the bottling the end of the week.

On a more somber note, I met with Noble wines while I was in Seattle over the holidays, and they have decided to no longer carry my wines. So I am starting work on finding a new importer/distributor. There is a little of the red and rose left on Nobles' shelf, but when its gone its gone. I want to thank you all for your great support, and I will let you know as soon as I locate a new outlet.

Need to run - the truck with the bottles is waiting.