Monica Gray, Assistant Winemaker, Mount Majura Vineyard, has recently returned from completing vintage at Domaine Yves Cuilleron in the Northern Rhone, France. Somewhat of a rite of passage for young Australian winemakers, the French vintage provided Monica with an exciting insight into winemaking traditions and methods adopted in the home of Shiraz.
After nearly six years in the wine industry, I decided it was about time I worked a vintage in France, and what better place to do it than the home of Shiraz/Syrah – the Northern Rhone.
I was based at the Domaine of Yves Cuilleron, a fourth-generation producer in the Northern Rhone. Cuilleron has vineyards across a number of different appellations, totaling 100 hectares, and produces Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne – the main varieties of the Northern Rhone. Cuilleron is a large producer for the region, but certainly medium size by Australian standards.
For the first few days, I was based in the vineyard in Condrieu – one of the most famous appellations in the world for Viognier. The vineyards are very steep, with vines close to the ground. It was certainly tough work in hot conditions! However, looking down the slope to the beautiful Rhone was incredible. It was surreal to be working amongst 100 plus year old vines, whilst enjoying French hospitality.
Despite my very basic French, the warmth and generosity of my fellow workers and the community was fantastic. Vintage (or Vendange) brings together people from all walks of life to work in the vineyards. Some are students earning extra cash over the Summer, others are retired who love to experience the hard and fun work that goes into making beautiful wines, and some are friends who come to work for Cuilleron year after year.
In the winery, many processes are the same as we practice at Mount Majura Vineyard in Canberra. Our philosophy that good wine is made in the vineyard, certainly rang true in France too. Yves Cuilleron himself is happiest in the vineyard and spends every harvest day picking amongst the workers. The winery work is left to other staff to conduct and monitor. The approach is very hands off – natural ferments, no additions and the use of gravity rather than pumps, to move must (grape juice and skins) around the winery.
In addition to myself, there were other winemakers from South Africa, Italy and Argentina assisting for vintage. We were well looked after with a feast of fromage, saucisson, terrine, pate, bread, chocolate and of course wine for French “smoko” at 9am each day. Whilst there was always work to do, long lunch breaks are a common feature of the day and include two courses with more fromage and more wine. Perhaps this is something I could introduce to working culture in Canberra?!
All in all, completing a vintage in France was a wonderful experience, and I look forward to coming back one day, possibly once I have learnt more French!
About the author: Monica Gray, Assistant Winemaker, Mount Majura Vineyard.
Six years after a career change into the wine industry, Monica enjoys the challenges, excitement and fun winemaking provides. With a Degree in Wine Science from Charles Sturt University, Monica has experience in Canberra, Mudgee, Rheinhessen (Germany) and most recently, the Northern Rhone.