Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Longest, busiest, most exciting day yet!

June 20, 2012

I'm not sure if I can handle all this bread for breakfast. Oh how I could really go for an egg, or some yogurt, or even just a piece of fruit. At least there's coffee, and for that I am thankful. Especially today, because the weather is miserable. The rain didn't hold off as hoped, but nonetheless, we're still going to Sonia's vineyard today. I'm super excited to see land, and the production facility, too! Perhaps it will clear up in time for the picnic.
At 9am, we climbed into our small travel bus and drove 30 minutes to the Macon wine-growing region. We pulled over to take a look at the mountain top below which the sloping side was covered as far as the eye could see with row after row of vines. The mountain was a 20,000 year old hunting ground and was capped by a tremendous limestone rock, which historically served as the perfect lookout spot.
In New Jersey, you'll find flat farmland that stretches far and wide covered by densely packed corn stalks. In France, on the other hand, on almost every eastern-facing slope, you'll find strategically placed plots of several parallel rows of vines.On this particular morning, given the weather, a random van could be spotted here and there, and nearby, a few men and women in heavy draped rain jackets, checking on their vines. The vines had just flowered and most had been pruned. This rain is troubling for the crop. The job of a grapegrower is demanding given mother nature's inconsistency, and the vines require constant tending.

We'd stepped out of the bus to read a bit about Chardonnay grapes on a nearby plaque, but soon after the rain really began to pick up and we clambered back in to continue the drive to Sonia's. 

Upon arrival to the newly built Perraud facility at which Sonia and her husband produce wine with grapes they grow on land inherited through her husband's family, Sonia gave us an indication of the terroir of the region by walking us to a part of the land which had be excavated. Here we could see the small limestone rocks just below the topsoil, followed by a layer of a mixture of limestone and clay about a meter deep, and finally large limestone rocks a few meters from the surface. We were told this is the perfect terroir for Chardonnay grapes. The rocky top forces to vines to extend their roots deep to the rich, mineral clay and limestone layer, and the large limestone rocks further down prevent the roots from reaching too deep and wasting energy on growing the extreme depths. Thus, older vines, at their best, 45 to 50 years in age, may reach optimal depths.

Chardonnay have very
green leaves.
The vines had just
flowered; now, baby grapes!

We walked over to a plot of vines that extended up hill. The vines were evenly spaced apart, and after flowering a few weeks ago were pruned to only produce about 8 bunches of grapes per vine. This, in turn, limits yields to about 50 hectolitres per hectare of land. Here, it's quality over quantity--which I like. These vines were relatively young, only about 15 years old. The vines had recently been pruned aswell at the top to prevent too much energy investment of the vine in growth upward. And finally, to prevent toppling over, the vines were wrapped around and supported by wires.
The Perraud vineyards have one hectare of red grapes, Gamay and Pinot Noir, the only red varieties grown in Macon. The rest are entirely Chardonnay. In September, the red grapes are harvested by hand and the Chardonnay is harvested mechanically by machines that shake the vines. The red grapes are dropped into fiberglass vats where they are pressed by stamping and the white are dropped in to stainless steel vats which are pressed mechanically by an internal balloon-like mechanism that swells, forcing the grapes against the wall of the vat and expelling juice.
Naturally, by means of yeasts present on the skins of the grapes, fermentation occurs. Once alcoholic fermentation begins, the grapes are moved to large vats, and eventually may or may not be put into oak barrels to undergo malolactic fermentation. Wine in barrels must be stirred for two minutes 2 to 3 times per week.
Here we had the opportunity to taste wine from the vat and from the barrels. These were cloudy in our glasses, and acidic to taste--their flavors were undeveloped and it was clear that this wine was not ready and had a long way to go. The winemaker does this kind of tasting on a daily basis to determine how to treat the wine in terms of blending juices from different terrains in order to control the aroma of the final product.
After trudging the vineyards and tasting the unfinished product, we were good and ready to set up our picnic and taste some of Perraud’s finished wines. Luckily, the rain came to a halt and we were able to set up a table outside of the warehouse, overlooking the surrounding vineyards. We set out the fruits and vegetables from our market purchases the day before (tomatoes, arugula, watermelon, apricots), lay the meats on plates (ham, salami, dried beef, and prosciutto), and unwrapped each of our carefully selected cheeses. These were a soft, herbed goat cheese, an aged Macconais goat cheese, Emmental, a blue goats milk cheese, brie de meaux, and finally a young Macconais goat cheese. After slicing up some fresh bread and pouring Perraud Chardonnay, we dug in.

The wine labels used by Perraud vineyards each have a character from Little Red Riding hood on them. These aren’t just cute—each character was selected for the label with an intricate backstory.
Full from our overstocked lunch, we cleaned up and got back onto the bus to take a drive through town before our next stop at Madame Bourdon’s Fromagerie. We passed by old town wash basins which were decorated with hung basket of flowers. These were spots where women used to come to wash clothing and are now being preserved by towns.

These goats kept popping their heads up and disappearing!
As Wei Jie said, "like Whack-a-Mole!"

Eventually, we arrive at the Bourdon Goat (Chevre) Farm. We met a few of the 70 goats which make up the farm, received a tour of the milking facility, explored “le Petit Musee des Chailloux,” and finally, with petit glasses of chilled white wine in hand, had the opportunity to taste some of Madame Bourdon’s award winning goat cheeses, which she makes with 320 litres milk from twice daily 2 hour milkings. 

to perfection
Left: Fresh
Right: Young

The fresh goat cheese was just 24 hours old, requiring 1.5 L milk. The young cheese was 2 to 3 days old, and also used 1.5 L milk. Finally, the aged goat cheese, at one week, coated in a thin layer of fuzzy blue mold, required 4.5 L milk to achieve perfection.


I was so full, and Madame was pleading that we continue to eat more and more of the cheese. Upon finding out a fresh cheese was less than 2 euros and the aged cheese was only 3 euros, I died. Could I buy it all? If only we had a refrigerator at Cluny Sejour… if that were the case¸ I don’t think I could tell you how many cheeses we would have walked out of there with. 
To top it all off, we found out that Madame’s children didn’t want to take over the business and they were unsure where they’d be several years down the road. Oh boy, I’d move there in a heartbeat. Teach me the trade!
If we hadn’t already had a whirlwind of a day, after the Madame Bourdon’s farm, we ventured to the Abbot’s retreat house where we met with Dr. Reinart to observe the grounds as well as discuss a painting inside the houses accompanying church. At this point of sitting, after a filling afternoon of cheese and wine, I realized that the big midday meal knocks me right off my feet. It’s a wonderful experience at the time, but come midafternoon, I’m in delirium, physically struggling to stay conscious and battling my eyelids open. The Spanish totally got it right with the afternoon siesta.

Ever onwards! We made a final stop at the Cluny Castle which was built to have a clear view of all the surrounding land in order to keep an eye on all those arriving and departing the town.
At last, we made it back to Cluny Sejour and I went immediately to bed.  

- Adrianne Speranza

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