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Between The Rows

BEHIND THE SCENES

At Château Palmer, as in the theatre, the real story often lies in what happens backstage.

Behind the Scenes

Harvest Diaries

To each château its library. That of Palmer boasts gilded tomes aplenty, but it also holds a collection of simple school notebooks, dating back to 1938…

To each château its library. That of Palmer boasts gilded tomes aplenty, but it also holds a collection of simple school notebooks, dating back to 1938…
Small, spiral-bound, graph-ruled notebooks… entire rows of them. The shelves are lined with harvest diaries. Yet school has been out for years. The harvest diary – the object like the expression – is no more. Today, the spreadsheet is king, used henceforth to archive the data from every harvest. On screen, the facts and figures scroll by – parcel, grape variety, number of mini-vats, must weight, grape temperature and acidity. With Excel, only the data remains. But not on the page. Ink stains and scratched-out mistakes; the florid strokes of writing styles from other eras; accidents and customs from the past punctuate these pages of heritage. Indeed, at an estate devoted to its terroir, sometimes there’s a sense of place to be savoured not only in the wines, but in the writing.
 

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Behind the Scenes

The sheep

While the vineyards rest, they graze…From the beginning of November until the first buds blossom in late March, 190 sheep are given free rein in the vine rows.

While the vineyards rest, they graze…From the beginning of November until the first buds blossom in late March, 190 sheep are given free rein in the vine rows. They enter in small groups. They traverse the estate, from one parcel to another, grazing. Unhurriedly, and with a savvy all their own. By limiting excess growth, they maintain healthy soils, and facilitate access to the vineyard. Especially helpful when an urgent intervention is necessary, notably in the event of heavy rains in the spring. Moreover, by naturally maintaining the grasses trim, they promote the development of diverse, florid cover crops. Finally, the organic material they add to the soil only increases its fertility. Not just woolly lawnmowers, Château Palmer’s sheep are natural stewards of the vineyard.
 

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behind the scenes

Decanting wine

After resting for more than 15 years, leaving one’s lees behind is a delicate manoeuvre. This “awakening” may be undertaken in one of two ways.

With age, wine becomes hazy. The slightest turbulence can agitate this increasingly fine and volatile sediment. Like idle sentiments, they are better left aside, so that the vintage can express itself with complete clarity. Time for decantation.
After resting for more than 15 years, leaving one’s lees behind is a delicate manoeuvre. This “awakening” may be undertaken in one of two ways. Either by placing the bottle upright in the cellar and leaving it three to four days, time enough for the “sentiments” to settle. Or the bottle may be laid in a serving basket, kept horizontal at all times, before the banquet begins. In either case, when it is time to transfer to a carafe for serving, do so in a single, gentle movement, keeping one eye on the deposit, and the other on the carafe as it slowly fills with clear wine. Decantation complete.
Let the tasting begin.

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behind the scenes

Carafing wine

Wine continues to evolve in the bottle. While young, it remains focused on the fruit. Aerating it allows it to open up. Carafe at the ready?

Wine continues to evolve in the bottle. While young, it remains focused on the fruit. Aerating it allows it to open up. Carafe at the ready?
The operation is simple. No special precautions will be necessary. One or two hours before tasting, pour the wine into a container with a wide bottom and a flared neck. No stoppers or lids needed. Let the air begin to bring out the primary aromas, bit by bit. Time is at work…

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BEHIND THE SCENES

HISTORICAL

Behind this unusual name lies a now-forgotten 19th-century practice of creating new wines by blending red Bordeaux with wine from the Hermitage region in the north of the Rhône Valley.
 
Château Palmer’s teams thought that reviving the practice would make for an interesting experiment: a new expression of terroir that also brought history back to life. In 2004, small batches of Palmer that seemed to best represent the vintage were “Hermitaged”. The resulting four barrels respected the original wine’s elegance, balance and delicacy, while adding a touch of exoticism. The experience was repeated in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2013, and led to the same (re)discovery: a wine labelled “Historical XIXth Century Wine”.
 
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Behind the Scenes

The Alchemy of Wine

In the winery, the apple makes milk… “The transformation of ordinary reality into a miraculous, poetic fiction.” Such is the definition of alchemy in literature.

In the winery, the apple makes milk…
“The transformation of ordinary reality into a miraculous, poetic fiction.” Such is the definition of alchemy in literature. And what if it applied to viticulture? In the Château Palmer winery, after harvest, sorting and pressing is done, the juice, skins and pips begin their fermentations. Plural, because for the fruit of the vine, the fermentation process is twofold: first it’s alcoholic fermentation, when the natural sugars become alcohol; then comes malolactic fermentation, when the malic acid is converted into lactic acid. This essentially deacidifies the wine, and it’s all completely natural, or nearly so… A human hand simply encourages the process, by placing the barrels in a stable atmosphere at 21°C and plugging them with special glass stoppers which allow the gas produced to escape. And thus the malum is transformed into lactis – the “apple” becomes “milk”. A lovely bit of wordplay, which describes a small miracle indeed.

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