The sun was already climbing high across the sky when I arrived at the top of the Quarts de Chaume vineyard on October 5th, 2018. Knocking the gearstick into neutral, I allowed my car to gently coast along the narrow tarmac road which winds its way down through this famed 40 hectares of vines. Initially following my nose, it was not long before I spotted a sign for La Martinière, where I knew I would find the tiny parcel of vines acquired by the Ogereau family late in 2014. I was here to see the first tri of the Ogereau Quarts de Chaume harvest, which was scheduled to take place this morning. Along the way I passed two groups of pickers, their arms, heads and buckets of grapes bobbing along on a green-gold vineyard-sea, but I confess I recognised no-one among them. The Quarts de Chaume appellation is an emerald in the Ligérian crown, but I won’t pretend that I know every grower who lays claim to a flake of this jewel.
Having parked up at the side of La Martinière it was just a few minutes before Emmanuel Ogereau and his mother Catherine arrived, leading a team of pickers numbering about fifteen. Some, it would turn out, were very experienced, old hands who knew the ropes, regulars who return each year to bring in the Ogereau harvest. Others, however, seemed less green-fingered, and simply green, and I suspect they had less knowledge of what lay ahead. Regardless of their experience, however, the whole team began the morning’s picking by gathering around Catherine and Emmanuel Ogereau for instructions. The key, Catherine told them, illustrating her point by pulling a few example bunches from the vines around which they gathered, was not to pick every bunch. They were there to pick only the most botrytised fruit, leaving clean or only part-botrytised bunches on the vine, even if they were otherwise ripe. Catherine and Emmanuel (pictured below) went into considerable detail on why this was and then, with the pep-talk finished, the pickers headed down into the rows. With secateurs and buckets in hand, and they were soon moving swiftly through the vines. Although there was a need to be selective, snipping some bunches, leaving others behind, the fact that not every bunch needed to be picked seemed to aid their swift progress.
The Ogereau vines on La Martinière, in the Quarts de Chaume appellation, are situated on a convex slope. As you look down each row the vines disappear from view, beyond the peak of the convexity. This topography makes it difficult for the pickers to be certain just how far they had progressed up the vineyard, as it was sometimes impossible to see who, if anyone, was in the next row. And the vines themselves did not offer up any clues, because even after a row had been picked there was still plenty of fruit hanging on the vines, left to concentrate further before the second tri. The pickers quickly developed a system to track their progress through the vineyard; each time one set about a new row, he or she called out their name before entering the vines. So if Manu was the last name called, anyone ready to start a new row walked up through the vineyard looking for Manu, and once they had found him they knew to start picking the next row (and hopefully remembering to shout their name as they did so).