This months staff trip highlight sees Kate and Jonny from our St John’s Wood and Mayfair stores spend a few days in the life of Château Mouton Rothschild at their 2011 harvest…
When the invitation arrived to join the pickers at the 2011 harvest of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, it set our taste-buds tingling and filled us with excitement and anticipation. Although we’ve both been privileged to have visited many other estates around the world, this was the first time we had been asked to get our hands dirty and pick some grapes. The opportunity to contribute, even just a small proportion of grapes, to the latest vintage at Mouton Rothschild was, and still is incredibly exciting. It was an unforgettable experience and certainly the pinnacle of our wine careers to date.
We arrived in Bordeaux on a beautiful autumnal evening and were joined by Bennie and Colin: our Irish counterparts, Kat from John E Fells and Julien: the UK exporter for DPHR, to begin our three day journey of wine, work and wonderful cuisine. For dinner that night we enjoyed foie gras, Chateau Briand and a bit of 2005 Le Petit Mouton (the second wine of Mouton Rothschild) in a local bistro. We were sent early to bed with a clear warning that if we were late for the 6am start, there would be trouble!
At 6am sharp we were whisked on to a bus headed north. The picturesque route took us through the winding lanes of St Julien and Margaux, with wonderful sights of Chateau Leoville Barton, Beychevelle, Rauzan Segla to name but a few. Just after dawn, we jumped down from the bus bright-eyed and bushy tailed for a day picking in Pauillac. On meeting Mouton’s Estate Manager we realised the seriousness of the operation and that he was a man with no time to spare. Equipped with a sharp set of secateurs and a trolley we had a short master-class on how not to snip a bunch of some of the world’s finest Merlot. Each member of our international group was allotted a strip of vines and we set about the task of picking. Our host shouted forms of competitive encouragement to make us pick as quickly as possible. We Brits were set the challenge of beating the Brazilians and the Germans, despite being outnumbered four to one, due to our reputation for quick, efficient picking!!
‘No grapes from the top, no leaves in the trolley, not too much stem, no grapes left on the floor’. We swiftly learnt not to underestimate the harvest. As the sun’s rays beat down on our aching backs, we welcomed the sight of a gazebo rising in the distance with the promise of breakfast. A quick break to devour fresh croissants, strawberry juice and strong coffee was heartily welcomed by everyone before we were summoned back to the vines. Grape picking is not for the faint hearted! Once back into the rhythm of picking we powered through, potentially on a caffeine high, and beat the Brazilians and Germans fair and square! Allez les Anglais! Our prize was first to a glass of chilled Cadet Blanc before lunch. Absolutely exhausted but very pleased, we headed into a beautiful old barn to join the other hundreds of pickers, who are employed by the Chateau once a year for the 3 week harvest. As is tradition, the Baroness joins the pickers at lunch time to perpetuate the community atmosphere of the harvest. Pickers range from the age of 18 to 80 and there is a real sense of family all around. The highlight of the day came with our cheese, Mouton Rothschild 1982 – Wow.
The generous hospitality continued into the evening with a black-tie cruise on the Gironde and fabulous food, such as oysters and foie-gras. Over the time spent in Bordeaux we were also treated to an educational tour of their labs, a tasting in the winery and a fantastic dinner at the Chateau with our Equipe Internationale and the Baroness’ sons Julien and Philippe. This dinner included the exceptional taste of a magnum of 1998 Clerc Millon and a jeroboam of 1990 Mouton Rothschild!
The location, the people and the fine balance between hard work and pure pleasure made this a once in a lifetime experience that we will remember for the rest of our lives.
With great thanks to Julien and the export division of Mouton Rothschild.