The secret codes of the barrel room
Château Palmer, 15/12/2014
In the dim and cool chai... the barrels rest quietly in a monastic atmosphere. The soul of the wine slumbers here. Lined up in the shadows and the cool constant temperature of 16°C, these barrels will hold the newborn vintage for quite some time, anywhere from 18 to 21 months.
As you approach, you'll see inscriptions written in chalk, on the rounded surface of the barrel or on its seal. These secret codes, which are barely visible, allow our craftsmen to closely follow the evolution of each lot.
Here are a few clues to decipher these secret codes. First the most obvious: "PA" stands for Palmer, whereas "AE" are the initials of the name of our other wine - Alter Ego.More complicated codes then follow:"E" for Entonnage or Funneling, it is the moment where our wines are funneled into the barrels to begin aging."S" reveals Soutirage or Racking. Through this 'ritualistic ceremony', the wine is revitalized, discarding any undesirable deposits; it is the wine's natural clarification process.
"C" for Collage or Fining which always follows Racking. It is not an artistically creative technique*, it is the introduction of a fining agent to clarify and stabilize the wine. This large "C" can be found about fifty days a year, with "SC" - Sortie de Colle or End of fining- following quickly thereafter.
These different "letter" codes are written on the interior of a cross and completed with the exact procedure date - day, month, and year.
Numerous other codes are used in the chai, allowing our team to follow the advancement of various experiments, for example.A circled number or an inconspicuous sign, it is something that only our experts can read.
But of course, some codes should be kept secret...
Vintage after vintage, the wines of Château Palmer express our vision of an exceptional wine. We believe that it is born of the mysterious trilogy – terroir, history, memory – and all of our efforts are concentrated on bringing it into the world. Distinction, high standards and commitment are the values that guide every choice we make from the vineyard to the table where the wine is served.
Knowing your terroir, your grapes, and your wines – this is a threefold enterprise of patient observation. What seems to be a given is in fact a matter of exacting standards at every moment. To know the terroir you have to become intimately familiar with it. We strive to know the grape variety, subsoil, and exposure of each and every plot but also of each and every row within the plot, as we regard every vine as a unique individual. To know our grapes well, we closely monitor their development until maturity. To know our wines, we taste the batches, the vats, the barrels, and the bottles again and again.
Progress in œnology has provided us with insight into the development of wines. Progress in agronomy has given us a better understanding of the life of our vineyards. This makes for more precision in our interventions as much in the winery as in the vineyards. Applying the best technical innovations in a spirit of reconciliation between science and craftsmanship, we use all relevant means to reveal the unique character of the Palmer terroir with each new vintage.
With the grapes that nature offers us, our job is to create the best possible wine. Is this craftsmanship or artistry? No doubt both. Like skilled craftspeople that love their trade, we select and blend the batches with meticulous care. And like artists, we let ourselves be swept away by the work that is born, as it imposes itself upon our will, surprises, amazes and transcends us.
Ultimately our goal is to make Château Palmer wines as desirable as can be. To achieve this, everything we do, whether we work in the vineyard, the winery, or in the offices, is informed by high standards and a sense of detail Nothing is left to chance, not the choice of paper for a label, or that of an etching for the wood crates, or of a theme for a reception.
Characteristics of the vintage
Winter 2013 will remain in the memories of our vineyard craftsmen as one of the dampest of the last few years, significantly complicating their work conditions.
Average temperatures between April 1 and May 31 were the lowest of the decade. Early in the season, our observations showed a delay of about ten days when compared to the 2012 vintage, which was already considered late.
In the month of May, the rainy conditions caused an important amount of coulure in our older Merlots, also affecting the Cabernet Sauvignons. The risk of mildew was, as it had been in 2012, particularly fierce.
Summer weather was then more favorable to us. The month of July was the hottest of the past fourteen years, without being marked by a heat wave. The development of the vines remained stalled on a late growth-cycle and we expected to begin harvesting in early October.
But the month of September held an unpleasant surprise for us: rain, humidity and warm temperatures were our daily due. Dealing with the pressure of botrytis became the determining factor for planning harvest.
We began harvesting on Friday, September 27, with a few of the young Merlots. The next day we increased our pace and, on Sunday, September 29, we harvested
10 hectares in one single day. The Merlots, so important to the identity of our wines, were picked in time and showed a level of phenolic and aromatic maturity that surpassed our expectations.
We continued harvesting at a lively pace with the Petit Verdots and the Cabernet Sauvignons. The concentration of sugar was somewhat inferior to that of the Merlots, but the aromatic palettes were clean and precise, showing no vegetative odors. This confirmed the admirable reaction of the estate’s terroir in such difficult weather conditions, reflecting also the positive influence of the lovely month of July.
During winemaking, the must was handled with care to avoid the extraction of any potentially rustic tannins. We were able to carefully preserve the silky and velvety identity of the estate’s wines.
To find the right expression of this difficult vintage, we held many different tasting sessions, each leading to numerous debates. Finally, only a third of the total production was retained for the final blend of Château Palmer.
Harvest dates: from 09/27/2013 to 10/11/2013
Cabernet Sauvignon: 51%