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Allô, allô, Bonjour!

The grape harvest is in the pocket!
All the wine is safe and sound in the barrels. Vintage 2017 was not easily won, indeed it was a wild and violent battle. We fought tooth and nail to get Mother Nature to release those grapes from her iron grasp. The yield is therefore somewhat meagre in quantity. But the flavour, spiced up by blood, sweat and tears, seems better than ever.

Allez, on y va!

In this Slurp!
Picking grapes 2017
Never bother a Frenchman during dinner
Merde! Inspection!

Picking grapes 2017


Half way up the stairs to the tower room is where our resident castle angel lives. Longer than anyone can remember, she has watched over the chateau in stony-faced calm and has guarded the wellbeing of its inhabitants. From the start of spring, when the grape blossoms awoke, we have attempted to get her on our side by, as well as the usual pleas, prayers and votive candles, plying her with a daily bunch of grapes on a silver platter.


Despite such efforts the omens were inauspicious. In the dead of night spiders wove their web amongst the bars of the castle gates. When the sun rose to let their creations sparkle in the morning light, we were speechless with awe.


But the local farmers shudder in horror when they spy these 'pearl strings of death', as they call them. They believe it to be a precursor of doom and dread. They make a quick sign of the cross before rushing home.


But our grapes took no notice.
'Pick me! Pick me!' they beamed at us from the vineyard.
And so we did, every last one of them.


In the fragile silence of the morning, the winegrower dreamily picks the occasional bunch of grapes, submerged in thoughts so deep they cannot be fathomed by earthly mortals.


"HELLOOOO!" bellows head-picker Yvette from a neighbouring row, 'THOSE GRAPES WON'T PICK THEMSELVES YOU KNOW! THE HARVEST NEEDS TO BE IN THIS WEEK!'


After the winegrower's son has been summoned to help bring the lyrical grape poet back down to earth, the harvest can start moving in earnest.


One full crate after the other is carried to the edge of the vineyard, where they will be collected by tractor driver Fred, who will transport them to the cellar.


Halfway through the morning and we're picking up a pace: on the path alongside the vineyard the crates are stacked up high.


'Allez Fred,' cajoles winemaker Shipley the exhausted tractor driver, 'these grapes need to go straight to the chateau, and after that we'll push on to the vineyard across the hill.'


There is hardly time for a cheery family photo, because... picking grapes is one thing, but taking off all the little stems and leaves and sorting them is quite another.
It's a job that needs to be done by hand because only the very best grapes are fit to go into the tanks.

table de tris

Ladybirds, snails, crickets and other by-catch of organic viniculture are carefully rescued from among the grapes. This too is done manually, which means that a true grape sniffer cannot afford to take his eye off his grapes even for a moment.


After this we make sure that only the ripest grapes gain access to the selection hose leading to the Cuves, the chilled stainless steel tanks where the fermentation takes place before the most is transferred to oak Barriques.

ilja klaas

You might be thinking to yourself: What an incredibly shitty job that guy has, but it's not all bad: because during this hard physical labour there is plenty to entertain you. For example: a lucky Mantis Religiosa (praying mantis), rescued in the nick of time from certain death by grape press, being lovingly returned to the vineyard after receiving skilfully administered mouth to mouth resuscitation.


Every now and then the winegrower steps aside to check flavour, aroma and colour of the new product.
'This is the one, Son!', he bellows in between two gulps.


Unhurriedly the winegrower's son takes a sip of the freshly harvested grape juice.
'Sure thing, Moustacio,' he mutters contentedly. 'It'll turn out just fine...'


At the end of a long day we can all pose for a photo, tired but proud: day 01 of the grape harvest 2017 is done and dusted. We carried it off, with our own mini equipe. Nevertheless we're all glad that we'll be getting some reinforcements in tomorrow: twenty or so able bodied pickers from the village.

Never bother a Frenchman during dinner


When, after a long plodding morning of hard labour, the castle bell announces the repas de midi, the grape pickers attack the food like a pack of malnourished tigers.


Just at the moment they spear the very first mouthful of food on their forks, the winegrower's mistress, as always blind to any conventional sense of timing or relevance, jumps up: "look at this! I've had these new shirts made, specially for this year's harvest! I've got one for each of you, and in the right size too!' Her sparkling North sea-blue eyes look round the room in hopeful anticipation.


But rather than applause and acclaim she is met with dead silence, made even deeper by the contrast with her own verbal explosion. The silence is accentuated by the quiet vibration of cutlery tapping against plates and the chewing and swallowing noises of the equipe.
'Bonne idée' one or two people mutter under their breath with their mouths full.


But the winegrower's lover is not that easily thwarted; foaming with vitality she carries on: 'The print on the t-shirt is the label of our new Chateau wine! And I've had them make a ladies' version as well!' she twitters with delight. 'Aren't they gorgeous?'
Here and there some polite nodding can be seen. 'Oui, oui, très spéciale...'
Maître de Chai Philippe and winemaker Shipley are engrossed in their discussion of the alcohol percentages of the wines, Yoann and Frédéric giggle about the amount of grapes harvested that morning.


The winegrower himself intervenes to save his beloved: 'Would you not rather have something eat, my darling?' His sonorous voice brings calm to the table.
'Nice shirts', the winegrower's son mutters into his beard as he serves another round of vegetarian meat.
'Magnifique' Phillippe consents. 'Anyone for Haricots verts?'


Fortunately, castle secretary Dominique is pleased with her tailor made Chateau shirt, and the rest of the crew (after topping off the meal with a Plateau de Fromages) too.

Merde! Inspection!


It's the morning of the sixth day of the harvest when the pickers are roused by the sudden sound of brass horns coming from the path to the village. Slightly alarmed Père et Fils rush over to find a procession of oddly dressed figures coming over the hill. The Bordeaux inquisition? Are the winegrower and his son about to be decapitated for transgressing some obscure French wine law?


It's not quite as bad as that, but still pretty bad: as it turns out we are subject to an unannounced inspection by the council members of the 'Confrèrie des Vins de Bordeaux Supérieur'.
Would the winegrower be so kind as to demonstrate how to harvest grapes in the traditional Bordeaux manner? His order: 'Pick six baskets of ripe Merlot grapes, preserving them perfectly, in fifteen minutes."


Fearless as ever the Lord of the Grapes plunges into the task, and indeed: fifteen minutes and the same number of 'merdes' later he has managed to fill six baskets to the brim. With rigid eyes the inspectors scrutinize the work.
'Hmmpf' grumbles the Maître Vigneron with obvious reluctance, 'I must admit; not bad'. Under his breath he adds: '...for a Hollandais...'
'I'll just take a quick picture of his vineyards' says his confrère. 'So when we get back to the office, we can count out whether he has kept to the maximum yield per acre.'


The victory high of the winegrower is not allowed to last long though. A next, even tougher challenge is upon him: 'Circumambulate the entire vineyard as 'Hottist', carrying nearly 70lbs of grapes on his back'. In ten minutes.


To everyone's great surprise this rather arduous orbit proves a walk in the park for our deep-thinking grape hoarder. Upon his return he is hailed by the Grand Maître himself.
'Mes félicitations, confrère,' he greets, clearly impressed. 'Yes, you heard me right, I am calling you "confrère", as you have just passed our initiation rites with above average success. So hereby it is my great pleasure and honour to announce your and your son's membership of our Confrèrie des Vins de Bordeaux Supérieur!'



You can find Château la Tulipe de la Garde Bordeaux Superieur at Sainsbury's supermarkets.
Cliquez ici for more information.

Extremely tasty Bordeaux.
Now at Sainsbury's for one pound less.
Until November 21st. only £ 8.

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