Once the grapes are cut from the vines and driven back to the winery the first step in the transformation into wine is the sort. Here in France they call this sorting, the triage. Some years this is a hard job and some years it is easy… this year we had both easy and hard days. During the sorting, we look bunch by bunch and select only the best grapes to go into our wines.
Instead of using rolling conveyor belts, to carry the bunches past the eyes of the sorting crew and onto the next step, we use a static table made from two pieces of wood and a few sets of legs. While using a static table adds a significant amount of time to the triage, it allows us to give the attention needed to each and every cluster. It is the limited quantities of grapes we are working with that allow us this luxury.
The grapes are placed case by case onto the sorting table. We use small grape cases (30 l) which hold around 12 kilograms of grapes each to ensure that the bunches do not get crushed during their journey from the vineyard to our winery. The only tools we use at the sorting table are our hands and a few pairs of secateurs. Bad grapes go to the distiller and good grapes go on to become wine.
Once we have a few cases of good grapes, we fire up the de-stemmer. The de-stemmer is one of only a few pieces of electrical equipment that we use at the winery (after last year’s adventure, de-stemming by hand, we knew we had to invest in this piece of equipment). The grape bunches roll down the drum of the de-stemmer and small finger like paddles separate the grapes from the stems. Then the grapes fall through small holes in the drum into one of our standard size red and grey (60 l) grape cases. The stems fall out the other end, are collected and used as compost in the vineyards.
Once we have the grapes off their stems they head to their new home our vinification tanks or as we like to call them, cuves. This is where they will start their cold maceration. During the cold maceration the grapes sit in the cuves and steep just like a cup of tea. Color, flavors and tannins are leached from the skins during the maceration.
Without crushing the grapes quite a lot of juice is liberated just under the weight of all the grapes in the cuves. This mix of grapes and grape juice is called must. With the harvest being so late in the year the grapes were already quite cool and went in the cuves with a temperature of around 14 degrees celsius. This is a good temperature to enable the cold maceration as the yeasts need a slightly warmer temperature to begin the alcoholic fermentation. We then added a small amount of sulfur dioxide, which also inhibits the yeasts from performing their work and a bit of dry-ice to the must. The dry-ice saturated the cuves in carbon-dioxide gas and helped to protect the must from spoilage and oxidation during the maceration.
After around 10 days of cold maceration the cuves started to heat up, the whole grapes began to float to the top and the liquid disappeared under this cap of grapes. This is caused by the beginnings of the alcoholic fermentation, where the native yeasts present on the grape skins convert sugars into alcohol, carbon-dioxide, releasing heat. To help the yeast population develop we gave them some oxygen by splashing wine over the cap. This action, known in French as a remontage, keeps the cap wet, injects some oxygen into the must (which is used by the yeasts to multiply) and is one of two extraction techniques we employed.
We have cuves made of two different materials, stainless steel and wood. Both materials have their benefits and drawbacks and we are excited to be using the two. The stainless steel tanks are easy to clean, versatile and keep wines crisp and fresh. Wooden tanks or, cuves en bois, are not only beautiful but they are great thermo-insulators.
The other extraction operation we employ is called a punch down or in French a pigeage. This is the action of pushing the grapes that have formed the cap down into the fermenting must. We do this in two ways… one, with a stick with a half cup on one end, which Colleen is demonstrating in the video below and the other way… well, we just jump in the tank and take a grape hot tub!
Throughout the fermentations we taste regularly to see how the wines are developing. Without much intervention from us the wines were showing a good level of extraction. In the beginning of the fermentations we did two remontages (to help the native yeasts multiply). About midway through the fermentations we started to wet the cap each day with a bucket of wine taken from the bottom of the cuves. When the fermentations had progressed and there was more alcohol present we performed our first punch down and then two days later our second punch down. Punching down is more forceful than a remontage and therefor can extract more hard tannins. For this reason Colleen performed the punch downs with her delicate touch again demonstrated in the video below. Finally, as the wines approached dryness (once almost all the sugars were converted into alcohol) we did one final light remontage.
The wines responded beautifully. Our goal was to put the best grapes, which represent the climates they come from, into the cuves and do our best to allow them to truly express themselves.