We are incredibly excited to have had our first harvest at Domaine Mirabeau this month! The grape harvest (‘vendange’) in France can start as early as August and finish as late as the end of October, depending on how ripe the grapes are and which region they’re in.
The official date of the beginning of the harvest is set by the local préfecture whereby the annual authorisation is given to lift the ban (known as “le lever du ban”) that forbids grape-picking throughout the rest of the year.
At Domaine Mirabeau, and at vineyards across France, there is a very rigorous testing process carried out to identify the exact point when the grapes have reached optimal ripeness. This is to determine when the optimal level of sugars (that will be turned into alcohol) have been reached, and if so, the perfect acidity level has to be gauged too.
Our domaine consultant viticulturalist, Clémant Prelat explains ; “We took maturity samples every week, which consisted of picking 200 berries on each plot of vines on the domaine. We did an analysis of sugar content, acidity, pH, as well as tasting the grapes, to test the fruitiness and the bitterness to get the exact right balance.”
When did the harvest take place on Domaine Mirabeau?
The harvest took three days on Domaine Mirabeau, starting on 30th August. In Provence, we harvest at night because the temperature is cooler. The 30°C daytime temperature common at the end of summer in Provence means that the temperature of the grapes on the vines is over 35°C. It would be too big a shock for the crushed grapes to go into vats in much cooler 14°C cellars.
How was the harvesting done and why was this method chosen?
At Domaine Mirabeau, the majority of the harvesting was done by Anthony, a farmer who lives next door to the domaine and looks after the vines all year round. Anthony used a machine, known as a ‘vendengeuse’. Estate Manager Pascal, and Operations Director Thierry also joined him for one night. Many people mistakenly think that picking by hand is better for the grapes, however that is not the case, and it all depends on the vineyard region (e.g. in Champagne hand-picking is compulsory), the vineyard itself (e.g. if it’s on a slope), and how the vines are trellised (e.g. sometimes they climb up a pergola).
The vendengeuse harvesting machine straddles the row of vines and shakes the vines with “beater bars” so that the ripe grapes fall off the vine and down on a conveyor belt that collects the berries. The bars are not really “beating” the vines but rather shaking them to shake off the berries. The technology used in mechanical harvesters has come a long way since it was first introduced some decades ago. Today’s harvesters can be very sophisticated and gentle. The mechanical harvester allows the grapes to all be harvested in the shortest space of time, at their perfect ripeness, as it is quicker than picking by hand.
Some of our cinsault grapes were picked by hand, however. A back-breaking and enduring job that involved cutting each bunch with secateurs, putting them in a bucket, and then transferring them into a big container to be transported to the winery.
What happened when the grapes left Domaine Mirabeau?
The grapes from Domaine Mirabeau went to a local ‘cave cooperative’ in a nearby village called Vidauban. Our oenologue winemaker Nathalie Longefay will be supervising every stage of the winemaking. As you know, rosé wine is made from the grape juice having contact with the red grape skins, ‘macerating’ for a period of time between 2-20 hours. Our viticulturalist Clément explains the key steps in the winemaking process; “The first step is to press the grapes. Then we take the juice that’s called ‘must’ at this stage, and we let it settle for 48 hours in order to clarify it. We then add yeast to the must to start fermentation, at a temperature of between 14-16°C. The fermentation process takes around three weeks.”
After the challenge of a very widespread frost in Provence back in March, that devastatingly wiped out half our crop on Domaine Mirabeau, we’re relieved that our winemaker Nathalie is optimistic about the grapes that we were able to harvest.
We are ageing a selection of the domaine grapes in 400 litre oak barrels to add to their complexity. We cannot wait to see the next steps, and will keep you posted on this first cuvée from Domaine Mirabeau in the Notre Dames des Anges Côtes de Provence appellation. A huge thank you to all who were involved in our first harvest at Domaine Mirabeau!
If you’d like to get involved in grape-picking on a vineyard in the future, we highly recommend wearing good shoes and a warm jacket, having good secateurs and most importantly – enjoying a good meal beforehand! And those croissants and tea after 6-8 hours were very much appreciated before heading to bed for a few hours’ sleep!Mirabeau Intern Ana
We learned how much effort it takes to organise a harvest and to monitor all processes so everything runs smoothly. We were amazed how much work and dedication is behind every single bottle and learned to appreciate our beloved wine even more.Quality Manager Laure