READ PART 7!
The décuvage, or "devatting", is the critical moment when you press the red grapes that have been macerating on their skins, stems and seeds to extract their juice. To do so, you have to manually take them out of the vat where they have been macerating.
That juice you see dripping from the vat is called the jus de goutte; this comes from the grapes at the bottom of the vat crushed by the weight of the bunches on top of them. The jus de goutte has usually finished its alcoholic fermentation by the time of the décuvae, but the berries that haven't completely burst still have a ways to go.
The jus de goutte drips down into the press, which is directly below the vats.
From there, the first step involves shoveling out the grapes from the vat into the press.
You eventually get to a point when you can't reach any more grapes from the outside and must physically enter the vat to keep pushing them out.
A few days after we devatted the Gamay, I would go into the vat of Côt to repeat this operation. IT IS SO HOT IN THERE! As Eben Lillie once described it:
"It's like being in a NYC subway with broken air conditioning In August!"
Not only that, but because of all the trapped CO2, you get all light-headed. It's kind of fun but also a little freaky, since fainting is never a good look.
Anyway, once the grapes are in the press, it's time for the juice to flow!
As you can see, the vats and press are outside (a unique particularity at Clos Roche Blanche), and the wine is racked by gravity into the underground cellar.
A few hours later, it was time to clean the press. The first step of this required removing the marc (or pomace), aka the solid remains of grapes after pressing for juice. Didier tractored this bin over so we could throw it in there.
By observing the marc, you can see that the grapes are evenly flattened but the stems aren't.
"This is great because it means the marc isn't imparting its flavor into the wine. 15 years ago, equipment was much less efficient. You would always see flattened stems."
As far as the press itself, the way it works is as follows: a bladder full of air pushes in a vertical line. Grapes are pressed and go through this grid, which does not let solids through.
The marc is aged for 3 years, then used as a natural compost for the vines.
After the marc had been cleared, it was time to vigorously hose everything down.
"Being a vigneron is 90% manual labor and 10% internal reflection. On the other hand vinifying is 10% reflection and 90% cleaning stuff. It's not as noble as everyone thinks!"
For every liter of wine produced, you need 1.5 liters of water to clean up the equipment.
"It used to be 2. We have better technology now."
READ PART 6.
I've already mentioned the process of the prélèvement in the first part of this series, but to re-iterate, it consists of grabbing a bucket's worth of grape bunches, crushing and analyzing them to decide if the time is right to harvest. In Part 2, Didier and I had done an initial prélèvement of the Cabernet Franc. Five days later, it was time to do another one.
The Cabernet Franc is not in the lieu-dit Clos Roche Blanche, but in a plot just outside of La Boudinerie (an old farm where Didier, Laurent Saillard and Noella Morantin live).
"I consider this our best terroir."
Didier's instructions were simple: pick a random row to pick random bunches from, repeat until your bucket is full. You also need to constantly snack on grapes to see how they taste. By utilizing this randomized process, you get a global idea of entire plot's overall ripeness. Picking lasted about 20 minutes.
From there, we headed back to "the lab" to test the juice out!
Catherine noticed that the pigs with arrows were pointing at Julien as if to indicate he was one, prompting us all to laugh.
The first device you can see in the pictures above is similar to an old school thermometer, and this is to measure sugar levels. This next device, which looks like a taser, is to measure PH levels.
The final test is acidity, where you keep adding this liquid until the juice becomes blue.
I still don't understand how it works, but it's essentially a chemical reaction that happens once there is the right amount.
After manually smushing my grapes, it was my turn to analyse my bucket's worth of fruit.
Our results were identical. After testing and tasting the juices, we agreed it tasted good but was not ready. In such, Dider decides to harvest the following Tuesday (October 10th).
"There is a big difference between today and five days ago, but it's not there yet."
"You knew just from tasting the grapes in the vines that they weren't ready, didn't you?"
"Yes. Well, I mean I'm not surprised they aren't ready."
On another day, Didier took me to the lab in his room to the Gamay for volatile acidity.
Here is the setup:
And the main piece of equipment is this cool ass thing:
This is how it works: you add 2 drops of oxygenated water (which blocks away any sulfur, which could alter results) and add 10ml of wine. The bottom heats the water, creating rising vapors that boil down the wine. Here is the whole process in action:
"It's very similar to a distillation".
The result of this operation is that all of the wine's volatile acid is diluted into vapor and water, both completely clear.
"Volatile means "it can fly", which is why it can easily get extracted out of the wine. All the other molecules are too heavy and will fall back down."
On a completely unrelated note, Didier has this sweet out-of-order pinball machine in his room.
We've been late on providing harvest reports this year, but rest assured that we still have a couple more batches after this post. I promise they will all be up on the site well before you get a chance to taste any of these!
Agnès et René Mosse!