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2008 harvest winemakers' blog

Picking, Plenty of Sunshine and a Birthday on Burgundy's Côte d'Or

Jeremy Seysses has been lucky to avoid rain during the first week of harvest in Burgundy.

Posted: Oct 6, 2008 4:03pm ET

By Jeremy Seysses

Posted by Jeremy Seysses

Saturday, Sept. 27

Big day of picking today: the first. I met the harvesters at 8 a.m. for the roll call and was delighted to find that most of them were there. We've had up to a third of our scheduled harvesters end up no-shows some years and it makes for a tricky start when you have that many missing. This year, we have 48 coupeurs (pickers) and eight porteurs (the guys who carry the grapes out of the vineyard with a hotte). A few more pickers arrive on Monday.

We split up the team in two, as there would be no efficiency in putting that many pickers into, say, six rows of Bonnes-Mares. One team of 30 pickers is led by Lilian Robin, our vineyard manager, and the other team of 18 is led by my brother, Alec.

We decided a number of years ago that we did not do our best sorting at a sorting table (ironic, since our U.S. importer is named The Sorting Table). The fact is that there is a certain hypnotic quality to grapes going by on a conveyor belt, and we found that we got our best results by asking the pickers to go slower and sort as they went along. Our team of permanent vineyard workers—Bruno, Hervé, Stéphanie, Cécile, Olivier and David—make sure that this job is getting done well, and then Lilian and Alec provide them with feedback from the content of each hotte.

Today, we picked our parcels in Echézeaux, Bonnes-Mares, Charmes-Chambertin and the beginning of Clos de la Roche. I had taken a few beautiful pictures of our pickers and porteurs in action, but …

Sunday, Sept. 28

Our office was broken into today during our lunch break (a mere 45 minutes). My camera, as well as my father's and mother's, was stolen, along with a few other things. There are a lot of people in town these days for harvest and clearly not all of them are model citizens. I am most annoyed by the fact that I had not yet uploaded my pictures. May karma (or the law) catch up with the perpetrators!

The skies are still clear blue with the odd cloud passing by overhead. It is cold in the morning and heats up a little in the afternoon in the sun. The grapes look great post-sorting, but the quantities, which were small to begin with, are going to be seriously affected by the sorting. A damp August and September means that some bunches, despite our best efforts, were hit with mildew. I estimate that in some of the more affected areas we picked yesterday, we left up to 25 percent on the ground. Thankfully, there are areas that are considerably less affected, even within a vineyard.

Today, we picked the Clos St-Denis, the Gevrey-Chambertin premier cru "Aux Combottes" and what was left of the Clos de la Roche. Our team is going at a cracking pace and I am thrilled to see all these grapes come in before the rain that is forecasted on Tuesday. The analyses look very good on the first few wines in. Potential alcohols are between 12.2 and 12.7 percent and the pHs hover around 3.15. Nice balance, which should make for good, classically styled wines.

Monday, Sept. 29

Wow! I had to scrape frost off of my windshield this morning. The leaves will be turning yellow very soon. No risk of botrytis going crazy at these temperatures.

Today, we finished picking the end of the Clos St-Denis and the Combottes and began the Morey St-Denis. We have been farming roughly 25 acres of the domaine biodynamically these last few years, with the intention of going 100 percent biodynamic next year. Lilian conducted a trial this year in our Morey parcel of biodynamic vs. what he calls "conventional" (lutte intégrée), which means we use some synthetic antifungal sprays but no herbicides.

Jeremey Seysses asks his pickers to make the selections in the vineyards rather than at the sorting table.

The results so far have been interesting. The conventional postsorting yield was 15 percent higher, meaning less rot. On the other hand, the biodynamic grapes were 13.5 percent potential alcohol vs. 12.7 percent in the conventional portion. I suppose that is a reflection of the yield difference to some extent, but the pHs and acidities were comparable. We are making them separately and will see how they look later on. It certainly brings up a few questions and highlights the cost of biodynamics in a potentially humid area.

Tuesday, Sept. 30

Despite the forecast, there has been no rain today. I wish we had had more so-called "rainy days" during the month of August. The wind has turned to the southwest, however, so it is only a matter of time before real rain comes.

Today was an especially big day of picking, helped by the fact that the grapes were healthier in the vineyards we brought in. In the tanks now lie the grapes from Chambolle premier cru "Les Gruenchers" and Vosne-Romanée premiers crus "Aux Malconsorts" and "Beaux-Monts," Chambertin and Romanée St.-Vivant.

The pickers are beginning to show some signs of exhaustion. We will lighten up the schedule tomorrow.

Wednesday, Oct. 1

Less than 1 mm of rain fell overnight. The ground was dry within 15 minutes. I am thanking my lucky stars and any area that took the rain in our place (probably the Morvan and Chatillonnais).

The dry weather allowed us to finish all of the Domaine reds: Morey-St.-Denis premier cru and Chambolle-Musigny. We also picked the first négociant grapes, also from Morey-St.-Denis, for our Dujac Fils & Père label.

One of our interns, Tim Shand, an Australian from the Yarra Valley, turned 30 today. He is not so much an intern as a guest winemaker as he has plenty of experience and a fulltime job back home, working for the Evil Empire Constellation. In his honor, we drank Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 1996, Clos St.-Denis 1978, La Tâche 1972 and a Côteau du Layon-Rablay 1995 SGN from Domaine des Sablonnettes. All this with some of the world's best lasagna made by Elizabeth Keys, the wife of our other guest winemaker, Christopher Keys, who works for Gibbston Valley Wines, in Central Otago, New Zealand.

Tim wanted éclairs rather than birthday cake, so instead of going for individual portions, a giant éclair was ordered from our local genius pastry chef in Nuits-St.-Georges, Olivier Boureau. He produced a magnificent 2-foot-long, 4-inch-wide, coffee éclair.

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