Wine from St Pierre du Bois

What did the summer bring?


The last time I wrote spring was just arriving and the hope of a good season and harvest was strong.

Hope is, of course, a word implying a lack of certainty and that certainly turned out to be the case – as you will see from the catalogue of failure below.

Now, for those of you who remember the spring article you will recall that we have two test areas. One with vines in their third year and one with vines in their first year.  So how did each get on?

For the new area I mentioned we were testing if the plastic tubes were, in fact, necessary. The answer is a clear yes.  Anything without the tubes were destroyed by the rabbits.  A green shoot would appear and by nibbled off by the next day.  Little blighters.  Still that is what test planting is all about.

The rabbit destruction was one problem and the grass was another. Vines are sometimes called weeds and this seems to imply they grow like weeds – if only.  They are fickle, delicate and cannot wait to turn up their toes and die if not given enough love:  my problem this year.  It seems there was too little rain at the key times and what fell just hit the grass and watered everything but the vines.  This was during their difficult first year and so most died.  I am not sure what the answer is.  Most vineyards seem to use herbicide to kill the surface grass down to let the water get to the vines.  I am loathe to do this but what alternatives are there?  Any suggestions would be welcome.

2016 1

The older testing plantings have Regent (red) and Seyval Blanc (white) in their third year. Last year saw only about 50 grapes in total.  This year, as the photos show, things were much better.  We had, perhaps, some 100 bunches of grapes, or even more.

These bunches would mean a good couple of dozen bottles of wine – and an interesting article on the magic and alchemy of the wine making process. This is not to be.

I spent the summer watching the grapes grow and getting ready for the magic moments. As the sun shines, and the vine does its magic, the grapes swell and the sugar content rises.  This means they taste sweeter to us.  For wine it is the higher sugar levels that mean there is lots of food for the yeast to “eat” and produce that most lovely of by-products – alcohol.

Trying to be a scientific wine maker I was using a piece of technology to tell me the exact moment of perfect ripeness to pick – a “refractometer”.2016 2

You use it by squeezing some juice onto a sort of telescope. You then look down and can tell the sugar level in the grape – known as the “brix”.

There are a lot of discussions about ideal levels but 22 seems good. I had been spending August and September watching the levels rise.  When would they be ready?  I was predicting around 1 October 2015.

So much for science. I wasn’t the only one watching the grapes.  At some point the birds reached the conclusion they were ripe and within a few days the whole lot were decimated.  A whole season of work down the drain.  Aargh.  Another lesson learned.  All vines need to be netted from early September until picking.

So there we have it. A year of learning – but a year of frustration.  A year with no wine to make.  The struggle goes on though.

With best wishes to you all.

Mark Dunster

La Pomare

St Pierre du Bois


Any suggestions on dealing with any of the issues above would be gratefully received. Please feel free to call me on 263700 or email me at mark.dunster@careyolsen.com.