Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Fumigating Wine Barrels

 The other day when we visited Chateau Gaudrelle, Cyrille, the maître du chai (cellar master) was fumigating the empty wine barrels. Everything has been bottled now, so he needs to maintain the empty barrels so they don't grow bacteria or fungus over the months before the next harvest.

To do that, he uses sulphur dioxide, applied by burning a small pastille suspended inside the barrel. He had a sort of hook which took the pastille at one end, which he then lit from a candle and placed inside the barrel via the bung hole. The barrel must be sealed up for a few minutes while the pastille burns and spreads its fumes throughout the interior. Then the hook is removed and the remains of the pastille, now just a block of ash, are carefully knocked off on to the floor, making sure none fall into the barrel. The pastilles contain 2.5g of sulphur and must be applied roughly once a month to dry barrels. If the barrels are wet you risk making sulphurous acid, which can lead to the barrels giving a bad taste to the wine.

Cyrille showing me the sulphur pastille.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Getting the Chimney Swept

Earlier this month I made an appointment for Pascal the plumber to come and sweep our chimney. We are obliged to get the chimney swept by a professional once a year in order to ensure our house insurance is valid. The professional group entrusted with chimney sweeping in France are the plumbers. Pascal commented that we didn't have a lot of material accumulated in the chimney and was surprised to learn we use the wood stove every day in the winter.

Curiously, in the spring right at the end of the firelighting season, we had a couple of instances of something catching fire in the flue (at least, that's what we assume was happening -- there was a lot of noise of rushing air, and a few sparks and flakes of black material coming out the top). Probably birds dropping twigs down the chimney which then catch fire according to our neighbour.

We asked Pascal about the possibility of fitting a self-regulating trap on the flue, to slow down the draw. He said we could install such a thing, but the payoff is that they rattle.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Wasp and Helleborine

The orchids have more or less finished now in the Touraine Loire Valley, except for one or two late flowering species, such as Autumn Lady's Tresses  Spiranthes spiralis.

The last to flower in our orchard is Broad-leafed Helleborine Epipactis helleborine ssp helleborine, and it is just opening the last few flowers on the top of its tall spike of maybe a hundred individual flowers. The species is pollinated by social wasps, and a couple of weeks ago I photographed a wasp Vespula sp going crazy trying to access the nectar in the flowers. To be honest, I can't believe this particular wasp was doing any pollinating, because the flowers were past their best and I assume would have been fertilised some days earlier. I was surprised to see the wasp so excited and determined, as I would have thought the flowers had stopped producing nectar.



Sunday, 20 July 2014

A Waterhole in the Desert

A tiny life saving waterhole in Kings Creek in the Northern Territory, Australia.