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15.11.2017
A finishing touch
Winter is slowly setting in. The sun’s heat is waning, the leaves dressed in their warm autumn colours have begun to fall.

November 2017 – Winter is slowly setting in. The sun’s heat is waning, the leaves dressed in their warm autumn colours have begun to fall. In the winery, the effervescence of the harvest period has subsided. The malolactic fermentation has finished and the wine in barrels will now begin its maturation.

The 2017 vintage will henceforth lie in the estate’s historic barrel cellar, known as le chai des Marronniers. To walk the corridors formed by the stacked barrels, one may notice how some are marked differently from the others. These are the barrels of press wine.

The press wine is a concentrate of the vintage. It is composed of the wine made by gently pressing the grape pomace. The pomace is made up of the skins and seeds which settle to the bottom of the vats once the “free-run wine”* is drawn off. The richness of the press wine is due to the abundant anthocyanins and tannins present in the pomace. One full winepress will suffice to fill three barrels with this powerful wine. They will then be marked in the following manner: barrel number, vat number. This marking will make it possible to identify the barrels and their contents.
The press wine is aged under the same conditions as the free-run wine. When the malolactic fermentation has finished, the wine in barrels will begin its slumber in the cellar, cooled to 13ºC, the optimum temperature for ageing.

At the end of the month of November, we will begin tasting the press wines. These tastings will allow us to identify the best lots to be added during the final blending of the vintage. A concentrated note. A finishing touch.

*Free-run wine = free run wine is made from the grape juice that is drawn from the vat before the harvest has been pressed in the winepress

 

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02.10.2017
Harvest Time
September 2017 - Vendange: noun (in France) the grape harvest. – Oxford Dictionary

September 2017 - Vendange: noun (in France) the grape harvest. – Oxford Dictionary

At Château Palmer, harvest time is fast approaching…

With the arrival of every autumn, the pace of life on the estate quickens… exponentially. Each year, the start of the grape harvest produces a wonderful commotion. Vibrant. Every man and woman animated at their post.

At the end of each day, after having tasted grapes across the vineyards, we decide which parcels to harvest the next day, as not all will reach maturity simultaneously.

A timetable that must be rewritten day after day.

In the vineyards, grape harvesters collect the bunches, one snip after another. These are placed in cagettes or bins which are loaded onto tractors. Thus begins the parade of machines which will bring the precious harvest to the sorting tables. A great number of nimble hands now take over to separate the berries from the leaves. The grapes are then destemmed, pass through an optical sorter and into stainless steel mini-vats, to finally be transported by gravity into the large vats where the alcoholic fermentation begins…

The rhythm is unrelenting, a feverish cadence.

Finally, with some out harvesting in the vineyards and others sorting under the grape reception area, the lunch hour arrives. Each meal during harvest time is a singular moment, as everyone gathers in the banquet hall. A chance for sharing and cheer. Because even over lunch, the life of the estate doesn’t stop. Quite the contrary.

It’s a moment of life at its simplest and most vital, shared by the men and women who make the wine. This is the heart of Château Palmer.

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13.09.2017
2006, ten years later
When asked what he considered the ideal point at which to appreciate one’s wines, the professor Emile Peynaud,

When asked what he considered the ideal point at which to appreciate one’s wines, the professor Emile Peynaud, father of modern oenology, submitted the following response: “When it comes to Grand Crus Classés, which constitute the majority of my personal cellar, I almost never drink a bottle before it reaches ten years of age, as a principle.”
 
Château Palmer 2006. A decade has elapsed since its birth. While still in barrels, it was a profound and harmonious wine, marvellously aromatic and already complex. A wine full of promise. Stunning. And then, once bottled and safely stored away, it seemingly settled into a deep sleep. In the years that followed, we regularly revisited this beautiful vintage at various tastings. But it was only in May 2016, on the occasion of a dinner held in the château’s dining room, that we finally rediscovered the 2006 vintage that had charmed us all a decade earlier. The wine had awoken.
 
An absolute delight. The colour, radiant as ever, has now begun to reveal subtle, welcome nuances of age. Notes of redcurrants are gently fading to make way for a spicier palette, combining perfumes of precious woods and aromatic herbs. The tannins remain firm while boasting that distinctive smoothness which characterises the estate’s wines.
 
A few remaining bottles of Château Palmer 2006, preserved in the estate’s historic cellars since the day they were bottled, will be released this autumn. One final time.
Ten years later, the wine is enchanting. Ready to be tasted at last …
 

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07.09.2017
Voyages insulaires by Maitetxu Etcheverria
From September 2nd to December 20th, Château Palmer hosts a new exhibition.

September 2017 - From September 2nd to December 20th, Château Palmer hosts a new exhibition. After having travelled the world with Jardins Naturels by Sebastião Salgado, this autumn we return to the Médoc with an exhibition based on the series Voyages insulaires by Maitetxu Etcheverria.
 
Decors of all kinds have always fascinated the photographer. In Paris, she immersed herself in the set building workshops of Fémis, the world-renowned school of cinema. Later in Bucharest, she explored the city’s movie studios. Ever seeking new frames of reference, she changes perspectives, countries, eras... Fascinated by the disappearance of the island of Trompeloup, swallowed up by the tides off the shores of Pauillac, the photographer has focused her gaze upon the Gironde estuary for two years now. This series of 25 photographs captures an environment in a state of perpetual change – the estuary’s string of islands, whose shapes fluctuate in sync with the river’s currents, and whose landscapes evolve in rhythm with the seasons of peripatetic agricultural workers.
Certain islands have been inhabited and cultivated through the centuries. Just under a dozen of them were thus settled by man. Yet as time has passed and agriculture evolved, gradually the islands have been deserted, with nature reconquering them and their neglected embankments. Today, they’ve become a cultural and geological heritage in need of preservation.

The series Voyages insulaires is co-produced by the Fonds régional d'art contemporain (Frac) Aquitaine, the departmental institute of artistic cultural development (IDDAC), arrêt sur l'image galerie and Château Palmer, with the support of the Conseil départemental de la Gironde, the association Gens d’estuaire, , the Photographic Contemporary Art Center - Villa Pérochon (CACP) in Niort and Central DUPON Images. The series earned Maitetxu Etcheverria a 2017 individual creative grant award from Drac Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
 
The exhibition Voyages insulaires may be seen during visits to Château Palmer from September 2nd to December 20th 2017. To reserve, address a request by e-mail to chateau-palmer@chateau-palmer.com.

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23.08.2017
Where water flows…
The sun is shining; the summer season has reached its apogee. The landscape is rich and verdant.

August 2017 – The sun is shining; the summer season has reached its apogee. The landscape is rich and verdant. The vegetation is dense green and the vines have begun to flash with colours – mauve and violet. But one element is far more discrete, translucent even – water.
 
At first glance, across the vineyard, water is seemingly inexistent. Instead, what stands out are vine parcels, young trees, a line bushes being grown to create a hedge, some tall grasses… Then, upon second look, this landscape’s largest body of water comes in view – the Gironde, flowing slowly towards the coast to rejoin the ocean depths. As one moves deeper into the vineyards, other smaller water sources reveal themselves. Almost forgotten, a handful of streams traverse the vine parcels and fields, with such names as l’Ontic, la Laurina and la Maqueline.
 
Elusive as it is, water plays an essential role in the life and equilibrium of our ecosystem. It allows it to thrive, to proliferate, to diversify. Throughout the vineyards, the water points draw numerous species which will impact, directly or indirectly, the vines and surrounding vegetation. Birds and insects come to quench their thirst. So-called water treatment plants develop in the ditches and wetland areas where they purify the water, improving its quality to better nourish the terroir. Encouraging the natural drainage of water is also beneficial, as water captures and attenuates surrounding vibrations, both good and bad. Dynamic, freely moving water thus proves highly favourable to its environment.
 
Indeed, by simply allowing water to circulate naturally, both above and below the vineyard, the entire ecosystem, in all its richness and complexity, is reinforced. The variegation of a landscape helps to increase the density of its biodiversity, which once in balance, allows for all species to cohabitate. A vital challenge, whose import is clear as water.

Photo : The Ontic stream, Boulibrane, plot 64.
 

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10.07.2017
The Little World of Château Palmer
Summertime. After a day in sun, the vignerons retire from the vine rows, leaving behind a vast expanse of nature at rest.

July 2017 - Summertime. After a day in sun, the vignerons retire from the vine rows, leaving behind a vast expanse of nature at rest. The vineyard has an air of calm about it. And yet, one need only take a moment to pause and observe to realize all is not as it seems. For hidden beneath this ocean of green chlorophyll is an entire little world, bustling with activity.
 
Pay close attention, and you might make a curious acquaintance or two here under the canopy. Perhaps you’ll come across a Carabus auratus, or a golden ground beetle – a sturdy little insect with a particular penchant for snails. You could happen upon a jumping spider, always on the lookout for grape leafhoppers (Empoasca vitis), of which they are formidable predators. On a leaf above, you might witness the birth of a ladybug, or find a harvestman (Opiliones) feasting on grape worms.
 
The vineyard shelters a surprising microcosm, whose fragile equilibrium requires care. And the farming practices at Château Palmer allow us to recognize just how rich and varied this vineyard biodiversity can truly be. Thanks to the presence of a multitude of plant life which we maintain and reinforce, for example by planting trees and hedges, every day we discover new insects in the plots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot.
 
Preserving these natural balances within our ecosystem is at the heart of any environmentally respectful form of agriculture. Vineyard pests have natural predators which we call “auxiliaries” – insects that protect the vines thanks to their appetite for other troublesome insects. Alternatively, some types of insects influence the vines in indirect ways. Rather than contribute directly to the vines' protection, they enrich the overall ecosystem that nurtures the vineyard as a whole. Such is the case of wild bees, for example, which enable other plants to reproduce around the vines, thus maintaining habitat for a large number of insects. Here, the bee population in our vineyards has increased considerably in recent years.
 
Today, safeguarding this great wealth of life is essential to fostering the growth of sustainable, responsible agriculture. Though barely visible at first glance, this miniature world plays an outsized role in our environment, where every species is indispensable in their own way. One cannot exist without the other. But when we protect one, we protect them all.

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29.06.2017
Chemistry and Taste
The creation of a vintage involves innumerable steps, actions, and manoeuvres.
June 2017 - The creation of a vintage involves innumerable steps, actions, and manoeuvres. It’s a work of nature shaped by the hands of men and women, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. Some of these operations are less well known, yet play roles every bit as crucial in the elaboration of a vintage. Notably those which take place in the laboratory, next to the winery. It’s a place like no other – white, immaculate, and dedicated to chemistry.
 
The chemistry of wine: polyphenols, density, extractability, alcohol potential, available nitrogen, malic acid, anthocyanins… it’s the science of all that unfolds from the moment a vintage first blooms to life in the vineyard. And it’s the science which comes sharply into focus in the days just before the harvest, when the berries have nearly fully ripened, and the harvest team is at the ready.
 
To determine the exact moment of perfect grape maturity, and thus launch the harvest, a series of berry analyses are conducted. Sylvain Fries, head of vine research and development, diligently scours the vineyards. He observes. Pauses. Tastes. Picks. He chooses 200 berries for each analysis, which he brings back to the laboratory. Tommaso Nicolato, who manages the laboratory, then performs two common maturity tests, one for technological maturity, and another for phenolic maturity.
 
The technological maturity test consists of measuring the sugar and acid levels in the grapes. As the grapes mature, malic acids levels diminish and the sugar concentration increases. At Château Palmer, the sugar concentration is closely monitored via densimetry (the measurement of density). Measuring the density of grape must allows us to estimate its potential alcohol, as it’s the sugar which will become alcohol during fermentation. The acid levels are measured with a simple pH test.
 
To test phenolic maturity, we will measure polyphenols, specifically anthocyanins and tannins. With this analysis, we monitor the accumulation of anthocyanins and the transformation of the tannins, which in maturing will develop a velvety character, veritable signature of the wines of Château Palmer. The most commonly used method was developed by one Professor Glories; it provides a clear picture of the quantity and quality of these polyphenols, and their extractability.
 
These analyses help reinforce the conclusions drawn in tasting the berries. They are additional tools in our arsenal as we gauge the precise moment to start the harvest. But the ultimate diagnosis is always that of our taste buds, for in the end, aromatic complexity cannot be measured, it can only be tasted. Come September, the time for tasting will be upon us once again, as we prepare to harvest the 2017 vintage!
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12.05.2017
A Brutal Frost
At the end of the month of April, just as the vines were beginning to adorn themselves in tender new leaves...

May 2017 – At the end of the month of April, just as the vines were beginning to adorn themselves in tender new leaves and to unveil their inflorescences, an episode of severe spring weather rocked the vineyards.
 
On April 26th and 27th, during the night, a wave of frost struck the entire Bordeaux wine region, causing extensive grapevine damage. Château Palmer was not spared, as our weather stations recorded temperatures as low as -3°C in certain vineyard locations, leading to the devastation of around 15 hectares of future harvest. An additional 10 hectares were partially impacted. The vine parcels furthest inland were those to suffer the frost. The others, situated near the Gironde, were protected thanks to their proximity to the river. In the Médoc, it’s often said, “the great terroirs overlook the water”. This year, it’s what saved them. The river played the role of a veritable thermal buffer, moderating the surrounding air temperature, thus protecting the harvest to come. A guardian.
 
Despite this brutal episode, which brings to mind the climatic conditions of the 1991 vintage, today the vines are rebounding, revived anew. Buds which hitherto had remained dormant have suddenly awoken, as if to take the place of those lost to frost. Slowly, the vineyards are regenerating. What they now need is time, and all the care that we can offer them.
 
Henceforth, we must walk the vine rows unrelentingly, remaining vigilant and attentive, while observing, reinforcing, encouraging… Using various natural remedies and field sprays, such as teas of valerian, yarrow or nettle, or tincture of arnica, we will work to soothe and heal the vines, to prepare them for the return to vegetation and to ensure the 2017 harvest, as small as it may be.
 
For despite the vicissitudes of weather, nature does bounce back. Like a rebirth. Yet another reminder of the importance of preserving this extraordinary ecosystem.

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18.04.2017
2016, REVEALING NATURE’S BALANCE
The season of beauty… Spring continues onward, leaving behind an en primeurs week...

April 2017 – The season of beauty… Spring continues onward, leaving behind an en primeurs week as intense as it was sunlit. The vineyards seem hushed now, as nature grows and the garden whispers. It’s a return to calm, and a chance to recall the birth of this lovely 2016 vintage.

Some vintages, it seems the entire cycle of life, from bud break to harvest, progresses at the tranquil tempo of exquisite clockwork. Yet it’s when the seasons go offbeat, and vignerons must dig deep to find their rhythm anew, that estates can truly reveal the essence of a grand cru – so it was in 2016.
A winter so mild the Merlot vines budded early, a spring so wet we feared a mildew calamity… 2016 kept our vineyard team on their toes. But they rose to the challenge like great jazz players, who upon hitting an unexpected note, can fold the troublesome tone into a jubilant new melody.
They improvised with gusto and grandeur, until a dry, mellow summer brought a sigh of relief. As autumn neared, the grapes began to don their habitual midnight blue.
Finally, on October 3 began the latest harvest in memory! Yields were modest, unsurprising given the year’s ordeals, but quality was simply stunning. Powerful, perfectly ripe tannins, extraordinary aromatics… sublimating such superior fruit is a cellar team’s raison d’être. Though still maturing, the nascent Palmer and Alter Ego 2016 already boast equilibriums wholly distinct from previous great vintages.
 Balancing elegance and depth, their alcohol content is quite typical, yet their tannic structure utterly exceptional. In the end, it’s Palmer’s unmistakeable velvet character which distinguishes these wines as our own, silken proof that in this unexpected vintage, Château Palmer found its rhythm after all.

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