Making a dash for it

This year, the Fete du Cru Saint Chinian took place on July 20 – the Sunday after Bastille Day.  As the poster hinted, it was a jolly occasion, and to my mind, a fete not to be missed!  The Fete du Cru is a once-a-year happening, where the producers of AOC St Chinian wines have a chance to meet the public en-masse.  I have previously written about the “wine” part of this Fete, and you can find the post here.

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On Sunday morning, all 60 stands were manned by either wine makers or local food producers. My favourite goat’s cheese producer was there – Chevrerie de Combebelle – with a great selection of cheeses.

The Confrererie des Chevaliers du Saint-Chinian were inducting new members into their chapter, and they had invited other Conferereries from the area for the occasion.  All were attired in sumptuous robes – I can only imagine just how warm it must get under those robes on a hot summer’s day!  Each Confrererie has its own distinctive colours and the robes are generally designed to echo those colours.

Here are some details from the robes:

The Pena du  Languedoc were keeping up the festive atmosphere with music (e-mail subscribers, please visit the site to watch the video):

At noon members of the Rugby Club of St Chinian were offering a sit-down meal in the gardens of the town hall.  Everything had been prepared, the tables and chairs all set out under the trees, and people were getting ready to take their places when …  it started to rain!!! :(.  The rain wasn’t heavy, but there was thundering in the distance, and it looked as though we’d all get soaked if we stayed outside.  Some quick thinking was done on the part of the organizers, and tables and chairs were carried into the cloisters 🙂 .  We decided to make a dash for it too!

 

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Outside, the cooking continued apace, despite the rain:  huge pans of potatoes and meat were cooking over a fire, the stirring being done with a very clean-looking shovel!

Once we’d taken our seats in the cloisters, the volunteers started to get going with the service.  Everyone received a small plate with a nectarine and a piece of individually wrapped camembert, a set of plastic cutlery, and a plastic cup.  Someone else came by and dropped off baguettes.  We were waiting for the wine, until we realised that we would be helping ourselves to that.   Boxes of wine had been set up, along with a stash of clean and empty bottles, so we could draw off any colour we liked :).

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The first course came in a square dish – a salad of fresh tomatoes, tuna fish, olives and egg – very tasty!

We’d seen the main course cooking outside, so there were no surprises to find potatoes and pork ( 🙂 ) on our plates, seasoned with garlic and parsley!

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We followed that with the cheese and dessert (nectarine) which had already been served.  The whole meal was very simple but delicious, and there was a great atmosphere in the cloisters!

All the time we were eating and drinking, the wine tasting continued in the main square!

See you there next year, perhaps??

Out with the old…

I’m back on one of my evergreen topics:  wine.  For me that never loses its fascination.  At the moment, every wine grower is starting to get ready for the harvest, preparing their tanks, checking their presses, secateurs and all the other paraphernalia required for bringing in the grapes.  In fact, at this time of year the harvest has usually already started, but this year everything is running behind because of the cooler spring we had.

My friends at Domaine La Madura always have a bottling session or two before the harvest starts, to free up valuable tank space.  Because of the location of their cellar on Avenue Raoul Bayou, they cannot have the mobile bottling plant pull up right outside the door.  So the Mise en bouteille takes place on the river bank opposite to where their cellar is located.  Getting the wine across the river is a bit of an adventure:  Cyril, who owns Domaine La Madura with his wife Nadia, dons his biggest Wellington boots, and marches through the river with two hose pipes.  The larger one for the wine 🙂 and a regular one for drinking water.  Once they are connected to the bottling plant the fun can start – or almost!

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The palettes of empty bottles were delivered the night before, and the capsules, labels, boxes and corks are all ready to go.

As you can see, the mobile bottling plant is in a huge lorry trailer, with all the machinery fitted in ingeniously.  Before the bottling begins in earnest numerous adjustments have to be made, to ensure that every bottle turns out just perfectly filled, corked, capsuled and labelled.  The engineer in charge has a fair amount on his hands!

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But once everything is regulated and calibrated the machines are put to work.  First a pump draws the wine from the cellar across the river and into the plant’s tanks, where it is filtered and dosed with a small quantity of sulfites.  Without sulfites the wine could “turn” very quickly, either during the bottling process or soon after opening, giving it a sour, vinegary taste.

Meanwhile, a palette of empty bottles has been loaded onto the platform on one side of the lorry.  The platform can be raised, as successive layers of bottles are taken off and fed into the machine.  Before you start wondering, no they are not grabbed one by one.  There’s yet another ingenious tool, which grabs a whole row of bottles. The operator then swings it across and deposits the bottles into the machine, where they start their journey.

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IMG_8270And what a journey it is!  First the bottles get washed and dried.

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Then they get filled with wine, exactly 750ml in each bottle!

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Next comes the cork.

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The foil capsule is dropped onto the neck of the bottle

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And tightened on.

PICT0068So now the bottles are ready for their labels.  Domaine La Madura puts two labels on their bottles, one on front, giving the name of the Domaine and wine (classic or grand vin) and the year.  The label on the back of the bottles gives information about the wine such as grape varieties used in the blend.

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In the next step the bottles are boxed up and this is done entirely by swift hands!  The cardboard boxes are delivered flat packed and have to be shaped (but not taped yet).  One layer of bottles is put in, a cardboard separator is laid on top and the next layer of bottles is put in, with the bottles facing the opposite direction to those in the bottom layer.  The nimble hands can probably fill a box in the time it’s taken you to read this paragraph!

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IMG_8313Once the box is full, it is pushed through a contraption which tapes the box shut.

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And off it goes weeeheeeeee 🙂

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to be stacked with all the other boxes on a palette, ready for shipping or storage.

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IMG_8284So there you have it – the journey of the wine from cask to bottle.  I’m sure you will look differently at the next bottle of wine you open!  And in case any of you are wondering about 2011 printed on labels and cases – most wineries don’t bottle their wines as soon as they have finished fermenting, but only once they are ready for bottling.  This can mean a year or two after the grapes were harvested.  The year on the bottle always indicates the vintage, the year the grapes were harvested and turned into wine.

And just for fun, here are some “arty” shots.

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