Loire Harvest 2014 with Pithon-Paillé

Pickers picking, grapes arriving, press pressing, juice settling, Isabelle cooking, Joseph washing barrels, Jo surveying and Wendy welcoming – it was all hands on deck yesterday at Pithon-Paille.  After 2 years with tiny yields (7 and 11hl/ha), there are plenty of smiles in the winery this year as volumes are up to around 25hl/ha (still low but much more encouraging) and grapes are coming in looking ripe and healthy.

Life has been tough in the Loire these past couple of years so all hopes have been pinned on 2014.  August saw spirits droop a little as it was wet and cooler than average but September has been the perfect tonic with endless sunny dry days, little rain and the recent early morning mists have given a nod of encouragement to the much sought after botrytis in the Layon valley. Things are looking good for 2014.

Seizing the moment, a team of 26 pickers has been busy getting the fruit into the winery before the weather breaks.  Rain is forecast for next week so time is of the essence.  A group of locals, a couple of stagiaires from Paris, a student from the University of Davies in California and the family are working long hours but with such lovely weather, spirits are high.  Isabelle Paillé moves from helping load the press to providing a cooked lunch and dinner every day for the pickers.  Not many producers do this these days but it’s easy to see how it binds the group together and is hugely appreciated by everyone.  Quite how she manages to do it I don’t know. I know women are supposed to be good at multi-tasking but this is pushing it to the limit.  And then there’s Wendy, supposedly on arret de travail as she expects her first baby in just a month. She’s there, smiling and welcoming as always, guiding us through the wines with our clients and supporting Joseph as he also manages to find time to let us taste juice straight from the press and discuss the intricacies of winemaking at this hugely busy time.  Jo Pithon is there of course too, with that wealth of experience and knowledge he is constantly surveying, checking, discussing with Joseph.  This is a family business in the true sense of the word.


New barrels are dusty and need to be washed out before use.


Joseph places the barrel on top of a pressurized jet of water that sprays the barrels and cleans them as he moves it around


All the older barrels in the winery have been emptied ready for the new harvest. These wines have been transferred to holding tanks where they will rest for another 6 months before being bottled in the Spring of 2015


Chenin Blanc destined for L’Ecart – bunches in great condition and tasting good


Grape are picked into small containers to ensure they are in perfect condition when they reach the winery


Chenin Blanc – a noble grape variety that makes a wonderfully diverse range of wines


Mind out – the forklift darts in and out delivering grapes


Grapes are hand loaded directly into the press – no de-stemming here


50 hl of Chenin juice arrives from Puy Notre Dame – this is destined for the Cuvée Mozaïk – one of the négoce wines


Joseph collects some juice straight from the press


A quick anaylsis for density shows a potential of 12,2 but this is the first sample. The biggest bunches are always the first to burst in the press and are the lowest in potential alcohol. The juice that is released last is the sweetest – Joseph estimates it will come in around 13,5


Fresh, pure and sweet with a delightful seam of acidity. The juice will be chilled to 5° and spend a night in tank before being racked 24 hours later and then allowed to come back to temperature for the fermentation to begin before being transferred to the barrels ready and waiting in the cellar downstairs


Wendy, warm and welcoming as always, even when they are completely rushed off their feet


A wonderful opportunity for our US guests to see some hands-on action, taste from press, tank, pre and post fermentation and enjoy a range of wines in bottle too from previous vintages


A little contemplation together while the organised chaos around us continues