Our whole philosophy regarding the production of wine can be summed up in a few simple words : hygiene, simplicity and gentleness.
A wine should be the product of a well-managed process of fermenting grape juice.
Slow gentle pressing
The first pneumatic press arrived at our wine plant for the harvest of 1982.
Today we use three high-volume pneumatic presses, which allow us to carry out long cycles of pressing.
For the less sophisticated grape varieties and rapid production wines, these presses are filled by a system of feeds and pumps.
The third press, installed for the 1999 harvest, is fitted with equipment which can load it very gently with unbroken fruit. The grapes are lifted to the roof of the plant in their containers, and poured into a duct inclined at an angle of 40° from vertical, coming out again at the rim of the press. The grapes thus slide into the machine whithout being damaged.
This system was chosen in preference to systems using conveyor belts, endless screws or other transmission equipment, which have the disadvantage of slightly pummeling the fruit, and can even be a source of contamination if ever they are cleaned incorrectly.
To the best of our knowledge it is not possible to carry out the operation more gently. Of course we also take extra care that our handling of the grapes before they reach the press does not bruise them. The containers, for exemple, are never packed down, and are only ever filled to two thirds of their capacity.
In 1999 half of the must we produced came from the loading and pressing of unbroken grapes.
The process of pressing is long and measured. We take the view that since it takes a year for a harvest to reach maturity, and several years for a wine to become ready to drink, it is worth sacrificing a few extra hours at the pressing stage to obtain clear juice.
The manufacturers of the presses recommend a pressing time of 2 hours. The shortest of our pressing cycles however, lasts for 4 hours, twice the recommended time. Furthermore it is not at all unusual for us to carry out cycles lasting five hours or more...anything up to 16 hours in fact.
Long pressing cycles are used for top quality, highly expressive wines such as the Grands Crus, the late harvest wines ("Vendanges Tardives"), or the special selection wines ("Sélections de Grains Nobles" or "Cuvées Spéciales).
We always start the process by draining the grapes, without adding any pressure. After that the pressing cycle is carried out over as long a time as possible, at very low pressure. With some vintages the process also involves soaking the fruit skins inside the press. Two of the three presses are fifted with locks designed for this purpose. The aim of this process is to extract as many of the aromatic compounds in the grape skin as possible.
The juice flows under the force of gravity into vats situated on two levels beneath the presses.
Similarly the removal of impurities is done by allowing the liquid to rest, and letting the force of gravity act. Only those particles of impurity suspended in the must are removed by centrifugal force, after which the clear juice is poured again into the same vat as before.
Drawing the fine particles out of the must during siphoning would risk introducing a herbaceous or vegetable flavour. Our method avoids this, and maximises the chances of producing wine with finesse, body and roundness.
Once cleared and strained of impurities, the must is transferred to the vat in which it will be left to ferment.