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The Ball Starts Rolling in Châteauneuf

Jean-Charles Cazes says harvest is starting off slowly at his family's estates in southern France.

Posted: Sep 11, 2008 5:38pm ET

By Jean-Charles Cazes

Posted by Jean-Charles Cazes

The harvest has slowly started in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where, since 2006, we have owned the 67 acres of Domaine des Sénéchaux. We bought the estate from Monsieur Pascal Roux, who had started to restructure the vineyard in 1993 and equipped the winery with state-of-the-art equipment.

The vineyard is composed of three parts, situated on some of the very best parcels of the Châteauneuf appellation: Sénéchaux, Revès and Montolivet. The youngest vines are now 15 years old, and the oldest are more than 60 years.

In 2008, the flowering was spread out over a long period, due to rainy conditions in April and May. The crop is smaller than that of '07, and we are about 10 days behind the average harvesting dates in Châteauneuf.

Although some producers have started picking their reds, we have only begun harvesting our five acres of white varietals planted on a north slope named Coste Froide (literally, "Cool Hill"). We brought in our Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, which are the earliest ripening varietals, but the good conditions of the grapes allow us to wait for the Clairette and Bourboulenc to mature a little bit further.

So far, the musts taste very aromatic, without herbaceousness, with a potential alcohol level of 13.5 percent and a good pH/total acidity balance.

I am told it should start raining tonight, but the weather forecast also predicts that the much awaited mistral (north wind) will blow for a few days, giving us time until next week to start picking the Syrah.

Further south in Minervois, in the Languedoc, our estate in La Livinière, called L'Ostal Cazes, is also preparing for a slow-maturing vintage. We will start harvesting the young Syrah next week; the older vines should be ready for harvesting around Sept. 22, which will be a week later than last year.

In La Livinière, where we purchased our estate in 2002, we are still to experience a "text book" vintage. This year, the conditions look particularly favorable so far. We hope that the weather will remain stable through the next few days. We were lucky to avoid the hailstorm last week—let's keep our fingers crossed.

Next time we'll talk about Bordeaux where things are shaping up and we will probably start the harvest of the Blanc de Lynch Bages in a week.

John Wise
milwaukee, wi —  September 11, 2008 11:32pm ET
The Cazes family makes great wines- Bordeaux, Rhone or Languedoc- always excellant and pretty good value also! You have to try the Senechaux-gets better every year. Bravo JC!
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  September 12, 2008 7:58am ET
Jean-Charles do you make your Chateauneuf du Pape in a more New World or Old World style. I hope to try it someday. Thanks.
Jean-charles Cazes
Bordeaux, France —  September 16, 2008 3:15am ET
Mark,I am not sure how to define a "New World Style" for a Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine. What I can say is that we have always been keen on respecting the specificity of our terroir and of the appellation; not forcing any radical change in the winemaking since we took over in 2006.In my opinion, the difference has been made on smaller details, especially in the vineyard, where we have gone a step further in our parcel characterization. In the cellar, we have fine-tuned the winemaking process, aiming for more density and finesse adjusting the blend to 54% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre and 21% Syrah. I guess that remains a very traditional blend for Chateauneuf ...

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