Waiting for the new harvest
The first days of spring are a must-see rendez-vous in the vineyards of Château Virant. The budding of the vines of the estate is a real wonder. The Chardonnays are the first to brave the winter. The other varieties follow progressively: Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet, etc. It is then a multitude of early buds that beautify the rows of vines, giving these large vineyards the appearance of lawns.
Then comes the time to prepare the furrows for planting. A few hectares are planted every year, and on certain plots, some vines are renewed. Our goal is to maintain a balanced, structured, always productive vineyard that is well-maintained, of course. What a beautiful work is that of planting! The precision of the guide for perfect alignment, the foot that pushes the planter to create the cradle, the stem deposited and covered with dirt, watering with a perfect conch shell…. An admirable teamwork.
There is no respite in the spring when it comes to the vines: disbudding, also called thinning, is followed by trellising which consists in positioning the new offshoots on the wires so that they enjoy the sunshine and yield splendid and very tempting bunches. This must be done in haste because you’re never safe from a powerful gust of Mistral wind: it could break the young shoots and damage the future harvest.
The art of blending
In his “Dictionnaire amoureux du vin” (The Wine Lover’s Dictionary), Bernard Pivot wonders about the complexity of the blending of the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence appellation. The rules are strict and stringent, be it for the red wine, the rosé or the white wine. At Château Virant, we are very attentive in blending our wines blend and we dedicate countless hours to it. This is about guessing the potential of the Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cabernet to create the best red wines; it’s about being able to tell the fruity nature of those same grape varieties when vinified into rosé, and to highlight Rolles, Sauvignon, Bourboulenc and Ugni for the white wines.
Behind the wines of the estate are the Cheylan family with their passion, their generosity and their know-how as experienced and distinguished wine-makers. Each grape variety is tasted separately. They will be blended according to their aromatic strengths to create the wines of the year. This will guarantee the taste, the typicality and the unique character of Château Virant wines.
Spring is also the time to bottle. Every wine that has reached maturity is carefully transferred into bottles following a precise and meticulous process. This work is the final touch to our wines and the ultimate “home” mark of Château Virant.
Harvesting: the moment of truth
The southern climate is uniqueness in that it never fails to stand up to its reputation. It is no cheap metaphor to talk about hot and dry summers in this Provence corner of ours! As a consequence, vineyard labor is much more advanced here than in the wine-making regions north of us. We harvest the early Chardonnay right from the beginning of August. They are already in vats by mid-August. By contrast, Chardonnay is harvested around mid-September in Burgundy.
The vineyards of Château Virant are in a geographical area that benefits from a specific microclimate, one of the most arid in France. The vines would suffer greatly were it not for network drip drop system adapted to the whole vineyard: the maturity of the grapes and ultimately the quality of the wine would be at risk.
At Chateau Virant, we harvest the grapes using two machines equipped with de-stemmers. This allows flexibility and working comfort: there is no need to rush and the grapes are harvested when they are ideally mature. The last vines in goblets are hand-picked by our grape-pickers. The grapes are then placed in vats and the intra-skin maceration starts. The grapes of Château Virant’s 130- hectare vineyard are thus carefully placed in vats before September 22, the day fall begins.
The birth of a legendary wine
Contrary to what one imagines and unlike winter and summer solstices, there is no fixed date to harvest. While the harvesting season in many French winemaking regions begins in September, it is done in August at Château Virant. Summer heat can be demanding and stifling: the temperature of the grape can go up to 30°C during the day. In order to preserve the freshness of the fruits and avoid losing aromas, grape harvesting machine and our staff of grape-pickers set off as early as 3 o’clock in the morning.
In order to make rosé and white wine, the grapes go through a 75-meters long tube with a membrane full of cold water. The grapes are thus refreshed to temperatures between 15 and 16°C and then sent to the wine press. This process helps preserve the aromas. This remarkable freshness, a signature of Château Virant, makes you feel you are biting into a fruit that is fresh, straight out of the vineyard.
The clarification of white wine and rosé is a rather long process so as to extract as many aromas as possible. This is always done with the aim to obtain fruity wines. Fermentation is done with temperatures oscillating between 12 and 16°C.
For red wines on the other hand, the grapes are directly transferred into the vats and fermentation takes place between 20 and 25°C. They enjoy a long time of maceration. This allows the tannins to be in contact with the oxygen, which softens them and ensures maximum stability over time.
The flamboyant colors of the vineyard
The fall season brings to the vineyards of Provence colors that are reminiscent of the paintings of Paul Cézanne. The Aix painter would certainly have chosen this season to paint the vineyard of Château Virant considering how flamboyant the successive colors are. The vivid red of the Carignan vines is mixed up with the gold of the Grenache while the Cabernet keeps its dark green overcoat.
A most delightful sight!
As for farm maintenance, it begins as soon as the harvest is over and is greatly needed at this point: it is as if the soil had come to its much-deserved time of rest after the vines had played the finale of an exhausting rugby game on it. The time comes in handy then to thoroughly fertilize it. This will help strengthen the vines which have lost much of their yielding strength. It is also a way to thank the vines for the fruits they gave us and to reward them for their efforts.
The fall is also the time to prepare the soil in anticipation of spring plantings: it is plowed, cleaned of old roots and cleared up neatly for the young plants. The soil then gets to rest through the winter.
The vines will gradually lose their remaining leaves and will follow suit, slumbering through the winter hours that are fast approaching.
The intimacy of a great wine ageing
The prestige of French wines is made as fall rolls on. Wine-making process is in fact the moment when wine-growers transform their grapes from fruit juice into Grands Crus. At Château Virant, fall is the time when red and white wines are placed in barrels. Following the “Burgundian” method, we do the malolactic (i.e., reduction of acidity) fermentation of red wines in barrels. This helps the wines get intensity and stability, two specific qualities of the wines of the estate. It is a time-consuming method since it comes with a lot care in order to guarantee roundness, delicate and fruity wines. It takes 12 to 14 months for optimal ageing of the wine and to give it the “the touch Château Virant”.
As for the wine Blanc Prestige, it ages between 9 to 10 months in oak barrels. Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation is done in barrels in order to give it full-bodied and more intense aromas while preserving its very special delicacy. It is afterwards raised on dregs.
Then comes the time to transfer the wine. This operation consists in separating the wine from the dregs where it had spent its first days in order to preserve only the liquid. The extracted wine does not shine yet but its bouquet and its tint are remarkable; they foretell of the excellence and prestige of a great wine.
The whisperings of the vineyard
When you take a walk in the Provence vineyard in the winter, you see a line of stakes standing in monotonously. A vineyard in the winter is quite sad. Château Virant is no exception to this rule. The season is nevertheless a blessed time for the whole vineyard which can finally rest.
The only human action in the winter is the pre-trim, which consist in shortening the vine shoots to facilitate the work of trimming when the time comes.
Trimming is a rigorous exercise. It requires mastery and sense. You need to choose the stakes that will remain and will bear the future vine shoots, organize the vines for the next harvest and the years to come, and you need to anticipate their evolution to help them develop. It is the job of an expert. Braving the freezing Mistral which spares no spot of their bodies, the men of our staff, alone on their plots, do a lot of self-sacrificing in order to cover the 130 hectares of the vineyard. Brave, they learned this job and repeat the gestures it every year with conviction. This team is the first rock to this solid edifice that is Château Virant. They are the first stewards of the quality of its wine. Their work is precious; it contributes to the reputation of our domain. Château Virant wine is above all else a story of humans. We are proud of that.
The whisperings of the cellar
Winter follows fall just like filtering follows fermentation. This process applies to wines which do not age in barrels, that is, around 80% of Château Virant wines.We filter white wine and rosé in an inert atmosphere in order to clarify them. All the “elementary particles” contained in the wine are filtered, leaving only the liquid that must be as clear and shining as can be. When it comes to red wines, we filter them slightly after a slow decantation and before bottling in order avoid tempering with their complex structures.
It is the soul of our wines that is at stake so we refine our wines patiently and with meticulous care. The precision of this process guarantees in fact continuity in quality, durability of the wine and satisfaction of clients in search of the crystal-like aspect and aromatic freshness of our wines. Patience and precision are then the keywords for the 10,000 hectoliters we clarify.
The fall season thus flow through the cellar, quietly and peacefully. It is when winter has settled in that we model our wines and prepare for the spring competitions when the efforts put in during the darkest and coldest hours of winter are rewarded.