Tuesday 23 November 2010

Olive Harvest

I originally posted a version of this on my Languedoc wine blog but olives are also very relevant to Aspiran of course.

Olive groves have been sprouting up all over the commune and the central Hérault valley over the past decade. Many of these will have been given a start in life by EU vine grubbing up payments - sadly a blunt instrument of a policy that doesn't protect prime vineyards (and Aspiran has some of the best), but that's another subject.

Young olive trees overlooking the Hérault valley
The Clermont l'Hérault olive oil coopérative was founded in 1920 and is famous in the locality. It was one of the few "huileries" to survive the devastating frosts of January 1956 that killed or crippled all the trees (and quite a few vines) in the south of France for years. Recovery has been painfully slow but steady since the 1990s.

This year the trees are heaving with olives and picking for oil production started at the beginning of November (most eating olives are picked from September when green and not fully ripe). While wine overproduction is nothing new in the Languedoc the Clermont huilerie seems to have an oil overproduction crisis as well.

According to the region's Midi Libre daily paper they sell 80,000 litres of their member's oil a year. However, last years harvest generated 215,000 litres so to address this, and help keep the price to the growers at €8 a litre, 15% less olives will be accepted from their members this year (I assume in practice the olives are pressed but the surplus oil is returned). There are exceptions for producers of less than about 40 litres plus those who signed up to the special "Japan" cuvée who will have all their oil accepted.

The challenge for southern French olive oil is the climate is actually at the northern limits for the olive tree. While quality and finesse is excellent and sometimes unbeatable, the yield is low and variable - a fraction of that achievable in southern Spain, Algeria, Greece etc. A typical tree will give just 2 to 3 litres of oil and to be economic local oils need to retail at around €14 to €18 a litre.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Vines, Oliviers and Oaks

The Aspiran wine cooperative is sadly in decline and this must be the dullest picture on this blog. Wine hasn't been bottled here for several years, it's just tankered away somewhere. Friends who live on the approach road report a decline in harvest traffic each year. Neighbouring villages Adissan, Fontes and Cabrières give the impression of doing better with sales both directly and to supermarkets backed by fair local reputations. Other neighbours Nébian, Paulhan and Belarga have joined forces with two other communes to become a super-cooperative under the Clochers et Terroirs brand. Several friends enjoy their everyday wine and a tempting loyalty scheme ensures they keep returning.

Better news is that Aspiran now has five independent wine producers, that I know of, from the well established Château Malautié (actually not a Château at all) to the relatively new such as the intriguing Ribiera. Some of the vineyard land is as fine as any in the Languedoc with several owned by reputed Domaines based outside the commune.

More good news is a tour round the chemins reveals a surprising number of new plantings at a time of overall vine decline. These are especially evident in the basalt rich soils such as this planting by the geologically recent lava flow described in my Volcanoes post.

Nevertheless, EU grubbing up cash incentive schemes have transformed many vineyards over the last 5 plus years over to growing visually dull cereals. This picture was taken before wheat was planted - poppies just love recently tilled soil.

Others have become attractive olive groves. In more sheltered spots where water is readily available orchards of peach, apricot, cherry and almond trees have appeared. Added to this are three bio vegetable growers in the commune, see my post on one of them La Ferme Lou Selces.

Most curious of all are plantations of oak trees like this one between the roads to Paulhan and Adissan soon after they fork. Acorns? Timber? No, truffle oaks.

For notes on a couple of wines from Aspiran see my wine blog posts on Domaine Ribiera and Château Malautié.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Spider from Mars

Spotted in a vineyard.

It's purpose is to dispense fertiliser (I assume) into a tractor pulled trailer.