13 January 2012

les vendanges 2011: jura: ludwig bindernagel, poligny

In defense of what may appear to be my extreme lateness in posting on my experience harvesting in the Jura this past September, I'll just say I don't give a hoot. My impression is that up-to-the-minute harvest reports are only really useful to high-end retailers who must make large purchase commitments daringly early in order to avoid losing out to, say, the burgeoning uncritical bootleg-happy Chinese market. Almost none of these large early buys are being made in the Jura, I expect.

In any case, I wasn't there for long, and certainly can't give a coherent cross-section of the vintage. What I got was just a snapshot of how one small-scale vigneron, in this case my friend Ludwig Bindernagel, manages harvest. He manages harvest with serious magnanimous grace, it turns out, making time for picnics and numerous educational asides for first-timers like myself, even while understaffed.  

I made the trip up with my friend J and his wife C and the two members of his service staff who were able or motivated to wake up in time for departure, S and F. J and I both felt bad about this, as we'd promised to bring a somewhat bigger picking crew. I actually had to turn down friends who wanted to join, thinking there'd be no car space. The lesson here is this: if you say you're going to pick grapes somewhere, you really ought to show up. Not doing so evinces a real idiot disregard for the exigencies of the life of a winemaker, whose whole vintage and therefore livelihood will be affected by how he or she schedules harvest.

Also, J had brought what turned out to be far, far too much top-quality Auvergnat sausage. He thought he'd be feeding a small militia, not just a couple of skirmishers.

We got right to it, anyway, or tried to. We had lunch with the morning's pickers, friends of Ludwig's who were on their way back to Paris, and then drove 30min to the parcel where they'd stopped, only to realise acrucial bucket of clippers was gone, probably en route to Paris in the trunk of the car of the morning pickers. Poor Ludwig was pretty livid, he couldn't reach them on their phones. Then it began to rain.

Sort of a model stressful scenario for harvest time, in short. (Rain can be disastrous, as it increases the risk of mildew in the vineyards, and the added moisture intake can cause berries to split, while diluting their sugar and flavor content.) Luckily Ludwig was able to borrow clippers from a friend at a neighboring vineyard, and no one minded working in the rain. By that time we were all so eager to help that we would have worked through a volcano eruption. I discovered that my Junya Watanabe x Le Laboreur waterproof workwear jacket was only nominally workwear, and not very waterproof at all. We finished a full carload, but by that time the rain had increased and we were obliged to call it a day.

The parcel where we worked the first day and the next morning is called Le Vernois; Ludwig tells me there are 10m of limestone below the surface there. He calls it a "true grand cru of the Jura," and I believe him, although in my experience most winemakers say that about at least one of their parcels.

There we harvested Pinot Noir, although as in many older vineyards there's some diversity of grapes planted among the Pinot. I learned quickly to tell the difference between Pinot Noir and the native Jurassien grape Poulsard, which latter has fatter grapes, looser clusters, and thinner, more violet skins than the tighter, blacker Pinot.

I was also introduced to Chardonnay Rose, a amethyst-colored variant of Chardonnay I'd never encountered before.

Bindernagel has several vines of it planted among several of his vineyards, but not, he says, enough to make a real micro-micro-cuvée. We'd snack on them while picking, or chuck them in with the Pinot Noir.

Back at the chais in Poligny we occupied ourselves before dinner by de-seeding the buckets of already-crushed stems that were lying around. The seeds would later be distilled and turned into a marc de Jura.

Chez Bindernagel the process just involves raking the stems over a perforated wooden rack and collecting most of what falls through into big buckets. It is sort of the busywork of harvest time, the least urgent least sensitive task, but J's staff members took it very seriously.

By next morning the rain had stopped and brilliant sunshine was drying things off nicely. We charged back over to Le Vernois and finished the parcel in no time, before moving on to pick two parcels of Chardonnay, with a picnic in between.

Back in Poligny we set aside the Chardonnay and crushed the Pinot we'd harvested that morning and the day before.

I then had my first experience 'punching down the cap,' a bit of winemaker jargon that I remember used to totally mystify me before I worked in the wine industry.

It just means mashing up the 'cap' of grape skins that rises to the top of a fermenting tank of juice, in order to extract more phenolic compounds. For this I was required to take off my shirt, as things tend to splatter.

I was only too happy to take another day off from work to continue harvesting the next morning, but J's staff members needed beauty sleep before their dinner shifts the following day, so we departed Monday night after another of Nathalie's stunningly lavish dinners.

I should say that I did get a chance to ask Ludwig the usual questions about how he felt about the 2011 harvest overall. He feels it should be a good enough vintage, neither spectacular nor awful, though he has concerns about a loss of acidity due to a heat snap in July, and another in late August. I assume the rain we experienced during harvest time probably didn't help anything either. But any actual evaluation will have to wait until the wines are released, and I get to taste the fruit of our minor enjoyable efforts.

Ludwig Bindernagel
Les Chais de Vieux Bourg / Les Jardins Sur Glantine
30 Grande rue
39800 Poligny
Tel : 03 63 86 50 78

Related Links:

Lunch with Ludwig Bindernagel at Aux Deux Amis, 75011
Jura Bike Trip: Dinner Chez Bindernagel
Jura Bike Trip: Chez Bindernagel: Les Jardins Sur Glantine

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