Wednesday, 17 October 2018

For the birds

We slaved all year to produce a decent crop only to have about half of it eaten once again by the birds. Last year it was more like 2/3rds. We suspect the pheasants.

Knowing this we thought we might invest in some bird-scaring equipment but the word was that none of these was effective. Indeed, one UK producer said the only thing to do was 'shoot 'em'. Perhaps that's why chasseurs and cacciatori in France and Italy massacre the birds routinely every spring?

Netting is the other way to go but we have neither the time nor energy to do that.

So this year we thought we would just keep a closer eye on things and pick at the first sign of depredation. That was to underestimate the cunning of whatever blighters were doing the picking for us.

the one that got away
Do they have a built-in refractometer? It seems so. From one day to the next they decide now is the time and before you can do anything the crop is decimated.

We would have liked to leave the remaining grapes longer but the birds know what's what.

a Bacchus vine
what the birds left
So we picked the remaining grapes, red and white there and then, optimally ripe or not. What alternative did we have?

our entire crop of Pinots Noir, Precoce and Meunier

this box was all that was obtained from these two rows

10 grapes left out of an original 30 or so.

Bacchus crop - 4 boxes each of about 8kg.

All together we got 4 boxes of Bacchus from 141 vines - about 32 Kg.

Macerating bins, from left white Field Blend, centre and right, Bacchus.
this translated into 20 litres of Bacchus which we are making with a long maceration

15 litres Field blend from our other white grapes. 17 days' maceration.
These 141 vines had had to be treated 10 times during the season with sprayings of various chemicals including Microtheol, Karamate, Stroby, Kindred and Filan. All this cost us back problems (lumbago) not to mention great expenditure of time and effort. And all for the birds.

red grapes were also popular - these were Dornfelder

a mere 5 litres field blend of our red grapes.

6 bottles only

We are not a commercial operation; we'd just like to make a bit of wine experimentally to see how it's done. How soul-destroying it must be for vignerons whose livelihood depends on producing a decent crop. Consumers should spare a thought for these poor souls when pouring themselves a glass.

For next year we might try one or two of those sky dancers around ripening time.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

St. Jeannet, wine of - St. Jeannet

Saint Jeannet is a pretty Provencal village not far from Vence. It is on what is called the Route des Villages Perchés, a number of places perched on hills (another of which is called Tourette). Together with Bellet it could claim to be the wine of Nice but sadly it is even less well known.

two of 13 siblings, Georges Rasse and his brother Paul Denis are the only vignerons left in Saint Jeannet. Georges told us that when he was born, the population of St. Jeannet was 700 and there were about 700 vignerons. Now the population is 4,000 and there are only two!

This would be a pity in any circumstances but in this case it is particularly poignant because not only is the wine unique but there was even a St. Jeannet variety of grape up to the beginning of the last century.

We have already told the story in this blog of how immigrants to South America took St. Jeannet cuttings with them and planted them in Argentina. Meanwhile, the variety had become extinct in its native habitat. Georges Rasse explained that in fact it is a dessert grape and a rather acidic one at that but he was bringing it back with plantings of his own. He and no doubt his brother too are enterprising people.

Unique wines? Yes, because at least some of them at George Rasse's vineyard 'Domaine des Hautes Collines' are 'eleve en bonbonne au soleil'. The Bonbonnes are demijohns. As can be seen from the photo they are set out in the sun without their straw or plastic covering. This 'elevage' can last between 3 and 8 months.

M. Rasse maintains that this gives his wines their special quality and futhermore, obviates any need for sulphur. In case you might like to adopt this method he adds that it is only the sun of St. Jeannet that can do this because it shines on average 300 days a year. Other climactic or geographical conditions would not work. That's real terroir for you and who know, maybe he is right?

The actual grape varieties used in the Rasse family wines are eclectic if not unknown;

Grenache Blanc
Muscat d'Alexandrie
Rolle (Vermentino)
Sauvignon Blanc
Ugni Blang (Trebbiano)

Cabernet Sauvignon

and 'coming soon' according to the website are


Nero d'Avola
Tibouren (Rossese)

All this on only 4 ha.

The apellation is 'Indication Geographique Protegee Alpes Maritimes.'

St. Jeannet sits under a famous rocky feature called the Baou. Labels of some Rasse wines with paintings by George Rass's brother depict this Baou as can be seen above.

Roman remains of a wine press have been discovered on the property so many wines are named 'Cuvee du Pressoir Romain.'

Unsurprisingly M. George Rasse makes a broad range of wines (his brother rather less extensive).

They are varied and interesting;

Cuvee St. Jeannet Tardif dessert wine (from Sauvignon Blanc?).

Cuvee Rancio aperitif wine.

Tuilé de Saint Jeannet 'eleve en bonbonne au soleil' rose. Tuilé means curled or tiled so we're not sure what the name signifies.

The Cuvee Longo Mai is made from the best red grapes from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Braquet. Longo Mai seems to be the (Provencal) name of the vineyard.

 It is difficult to obtain details but 'A l'Unisson' (meaning in unison) might be a field blend of white grapes.

Blanc Prestige. The best white grapes picked at maximum maturity and aged in American oak.

 The tasting room is cosy with the myriad cuvees on display. Georges Rasse is happy to open as many bottles as you like and to give you a shot of even his rarest wines such as the Tardif and Rancio of which he makes only a handful of bottles.

The Chaix is just around the corner.

We bought

the Cuvee du Pressoir Romain 2017 at 13.5%

and the Cuvee du Pressoir Romain rosé 2017 also 13.5%. This is a really aromatic rosé, totally different from what you might imagins as a rosé de Provence.

Over at the other Rasse family vineyard, they produce this red which we found in the market in Vence.

Rasse family wines are not widely available even in France. In any case there is not a huge quantity but they are well worth seeking out and a visit to the vineyard is absolutely fascinating.

Just for the record, there seem to be no less thjan three wines from Argentina which use the St. Jeannet variety in their blends;

Finca El Reposo Cuvee St. Jeannet

and Allamand Cuvee Saint Jeannet

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Bellet, the wine of Nice

Long fascinated by Bellet, we finally made the few kilometers up from Nice for a visit.

They don't want to make it easy for you; the road where most of the vineyards are, the Chemin de Cremat has been closed for months.

So making our way literally around the houses, the first property we came across was Domaine de la Source.

Eric Dalmasso and his sister Carine have taken over from father Jacques
Surviving the amorous attentions of a large dog, we met M. Dalmasso the younger who kindly poured us his red made from 80% Folle Noire and 20% Grenache.

The Domaine de la Source website rightly has it that AOC since 1941, 'Bellet' is rare, a southern wine with character! Folle Noir is the characteristic grape for the red wines and the equally rare and mysterious Braquet mainly for the roses. Whites are made from Rolle (Vermentino). Domaine La Source wines are imported into the UK by Yapp Bros.

There is a special red called Cuvee Fuella Nera at E.48. Fuella Nera is a synonym for Folle Noire. Other synonyms are Dame Noire, Folle de Nice, Fuola and Jurancon Rouge. There are only 19 ha. of this variety in the Alpes Maritimes, the only department where the variety is permitted. Braquet is even scarcer at only 12 ha. Is it our imagination or were the reds of Bellet more frequently blends of Folle Noire with Braquet in the past? On our visit as mentioned Braquet appeared to be used mostly in rose these days. Other permitted varieties are Grenache as above but also Cinsault.

Bellet prices reflect the 'boutique' nature of the apellation.
Folle Noire is described as 'minor but aromatic' in 'Wine Grapes'. We assume the 'minor' refers to quantity. We love it because of its aromatics. 'Wine Grapes' adds that it is often confused with Negrette and Jurancon Noir - two other varieties we love for the same aromatic reasons.

Domaine de la Source is certified Agriculture Biologique. We bought the red right away.

M. Dalmasso allowed is to take a peek at the vineyard.

these were Braquet grapes coming along nicely. Braquet is unrelated to Brachetto by the way.

Next door was another Domaine - de Vinceline - unknown to us hitherto. No visiting hours were posted so we moved on.

Nearby was the famous Chateau de Bellet, one of the most prominent names of the apellation.

Closed unfortunately.

Next stop the actual village of Bellet.

tres francais

Next, the Chateau de Cremat.

3 x 2Cvs!

Here the tasting room had a group of visitors earnestly tasting their way through a flight of wines and then piling into the 2Cvs from an enterprising rental firm called 2Cvloc. Make a note of it!

The chateau itself is remarkably imposing. Built in 1906 in the Tuscan style with battlements, much modified since. The property serves as a venue for events accommodating up to 500 guests.

What a contrast with the charming but decidedly rustic Domaine du Fogolar nearby.

Domaine de Fogolar is the most southerly vineyard in the Bellet apellation.

Here was the owner and founder Prof. Jean Spizzo who had his own group of international tasters. Prof. Spizzo set up the vineyard in 1974. Ex-professor of Italian Theatre and literature at Nice University, M. Spizzo named the vineyard 'Fogolar' - a Friulian name in honour of his grandfather who had been a vigneron in Friuli. His wines are called 'Collet de Bovis.' These wines are available in the UK from a French exporter called Ivinio.

Collet de Bovis wines are more modestly priced than some but no less excellent. The label has an image from Goya's 'La Vendimia'
Both the red and whites of Collet de Bovis have won prizes recently at the Concours des Vignerons Independants and Concours generale de Paris

Prof. Spizzo planted the vineyard in a former olive grove.

There are now 4.5 ha. His wines are certified 'Agriculture Biologique.'

Domaine de Toasc is another prominent Bellet property with wines available at Nice airport duty free.

Sadly closed when we passed by.

the pillars just visible on the portal of the pink house are reflected on the Toasc label:

Toasc is another Domaine making Agriculture Biologique certified wines.
Toasc has quite a lot of Grenache as well as small amounts of Syrah and Chardonnay.

The vineyard is supposed to date back to Roman times.

It had been a most interesting little excursion. Certainly one to do properly one day when there might be more time. There are actually three roads you can follow on the Circuit des vignobles de Bellet;

1. Circuit par route de Bellet
2. Circuit par Chemin de Cremat
3. Circuit par Chemain de Saquier

when the route isn't barre, that is.