I had recently to go to Chalon-sur-Saone for a family issue (my sister lives there) and while there I thought that I might stop briefly at Philippe Pacalet's facility in Beaune on my way back to Paris. There are a few people I'd like to visit in the region but I hadn't more time to spend than a short break in Beaune on the way back, and Philippe Pacalet, who was going to proceed to a devatting following a semi-carbonic maceration, has his facility located at only one-minute walk (really, 60 seconds !) from the Beaune train station. So this was a great opportunity for me to see how a devatting looked like at Pacalet.
An interesting thing to note is that there are today just two winemakers who still make wine in downtown Beaune, Fanny Sabre and Philippe Pacalet, the latter making wine as you may know from rented vineyards spread throughout Burgundy (he doesn't own any of them).
I came with my mind focused on devatting and ended up seeing much more, like when Mickael (pictured above) climbed into an open tronconic vat to punch and foot-stomp the cap, something which helps mix smoothly the juice and the skins as well as release more juice.
See the upside-down red cone : this is to protect the hole through which the new wine will flow (using a hose) by gravity into the casks below.
Johan tells me first that the harvest (which began august 29) was made by a 50-people-strong team overlooked by Philippe and himself. The sorting of the hand-harvest was done on the vineyard and brought in 20-kilo boxes to the chai where Romain and Mickael put them whole-clustered into an open-top fermenter, the size of which depending of the weight of the batch, some batches making barely 2 or 3 casks, some being more voluminous. The grapes will remain a couple of weeks in the fermentation tank, without SO2 addition, protected by the CO2 produced by the maceration/fermentation. After then, there’s the devatting stage, when the grapes are manually taken out of the vat and loaded into the press. Philippe Pacalet doesn't want to use a conveyor belt, so the grapes are pitchforked into buckets, then poured into the press. The juice which has accumulated in the bottom of the vat has been pumped into a resin vat where the press juice will be added too later, then the whole juice will go into the casks in the cellar beneath by simple gravity for a quiet end of fermentation on the indigenous yeasts.
The pic above shows a Gevrey-Chambertin fermenter before the devatting process.
Here, the fermented juice resulting from the bleeding of the grapes under their own weight and from the foot stomping is first being pumped away into a resin vat, along with the juice of other open tanks of Gevrey-Chambertin which will make this cuvée. The press juices will come last, before the entonnage, the filling of the casks. 2 days later. Usually, there’s 3/4 of free-run juice (jus de goutte, resulting from the bleeding and stomping) and 1/4 of press juice respectively. The press stage is symbolic, actually, meaning that they press very little out of the grapes in order to get only the good part of the juice and not what gets out at standard pressures. The stem has a drain role here too.
On the whole, they’ll still have wines here between 12° and 12,5° in alcohol, like they got in 2002, a vintage with which they had good results, he says.
On this picture you can guess the "cage" under the grapes in the bottom of the vat. I'll explain a couple of pictures below what is this "cage".
You can guess on the right the vacuum cleaner which will be used after everything has been taken out. At the end, they'll use a hand-held air dryer to get the remaining humidity out.
This year, Philippe Pacalet says, the important thing was to keep healthy grapes until the harvest time. It rained from july 17 to early august, then this warmer weather settled. Maturities were kind of blocked for some time and waiting didn’t add much. Having waited some more like they did for the Ruchottes, they gained only something like 2/10 or 3/10 of a degree, but they lost some acidity. Regarding the health of the fruits, there was a bit of rot here and there, plus some hailstorm wounds on some grapes. This year was strange, he says, the Gevrey grapes being riper than the Pommard ones, very unusual.
This year was precocious for sure but he didn’t want to wait more for the harvest because he considers that this unusual vintage was more typical of the south when he looks more on the terroir and minerality side. He thought that if he waited too much, the heat and the falling acidity would change the minerality in a bad way. That’s why they began to harvest end of august. And for the few vineyards which he decided to harvest later (like the Ruchottes, harvested september 15), there’s been one week less of maceration, with a total maceration length of 2 weeks instead of 3 for the others. This is because the grapes harvested later lost some acidity in the way and they wouldn’t stand the usual maceration time.
First, Philippe fills glasses from the resin vat where the juices of the Gevrey-Chambertin Villages are being blended from the different tronconic vats (before being filled into the casks, beneath in the cellar). Good time to taste, he says. The weather is bright and sunny with high pressures (this was the beginning of an incredible 3-weeks of perfect weather all over France which lasted until now, in early october...).
The malolactic fermentation has started, here, he says. He prefers that it doesn’t finish in the vat so that the color can stabilize. It will continue safely in the barrels.
Nice nose. Already a wine, supple and firm.
Nice fruit in the mouth. This is also already a wine, impressive. 12,5° too. Like Jules Chauvet used to say, he adds, alcohol isn’t a sign of quality in a wine. Second mouth : very nice, neat wine.
This room with the casks of whites is on the street level, so that it remains at a warmer temperature more suited for the fermentation. They also can heat the room if it’s too cold outside. Philippe Pacalet says that when you’re working on reduction, you must keep the cask room above a certain temperature. The reduction gives more depth to the wine, and gives them a particular minerality edge. This year though, the temperature went too high and they had to move all the casks at some point for a few days to the air-conditionned part of the chai. Later, the casks will go down to the élevage cellar beneath, using the elevator. That's where they'll get their malolactic fermentation.
I think to Hortense, being an intern at Pacalet is a good training in many regards, even if there’s not many things to do on the wines, when you think twice about it. DNO training at the wine school is probably (I would even say for sure) more oriented toward intervention and techno-enology with use of correction additives and lab yeasts, not really what is practiced here. I forgot to ask Hortense if she landed here by chance or if she asked purposedly to make her internship here. I think this is the latter option of course.
Philippe Pacalet says that this year he is making some Aligoté and he is very excited about it. He made 3 barrels of Aligoté, from an old vineyard. He had had Aligoté in the past but had sold the vineyard (he owned this one). The one he works on now belongs to a friend, the one who rents him also a vineyard of Charlemagne. It’s important that these Aligoté vines are old, he says. He had a hard time finding what he wanted, either they were in a bad location, in the plain, or too young. These ones, if they were Chardonnay, would be Pernand-Vergelesses, it’s a good terroir. He thinks that this Aligoté will make barely 11° in alcohol this year, but it’s perfect for Aligoté, and he’s again very excited.
He offers me to taste it, which I gladly accept, and he goes to one of the 3 casks for a sample [picture above]. The color is very bernache-like. It’s dry, he says, they just stirred it to finish the last remaining sugar and bring some air in, which is why it’s yellowish and turbid again. Tastes great, with the grape- juice side playing with the acidity. Makes you want to see the final result in a few months from now...
Johan is literally listening to the juice falling from under the press to decide when he'll stop the rotating press for a few minutes. As soon as he stops the machine, the juice flows much harder for a minute and then slows down, and after a few minutes Johan switches the machine on again. He will do that maybe thirty times along this 3-hour pressing, the stems inside the press load playing the role of a drain making the flowing of the juice easier.
About all this juice falling in the pool under the press, Johan says that there's no problem with the oxydation : the wines has been through weeks of maceration and the alcoholic fermentation is basically over with the malolactic on its way, and it can stand oxygen pretty well, there's a natural protection with the alcohol. And if it can stand this first oxydation, it will stand without risk the future ones. Let's remind that there's no SO2 added during the vinification at any moment.
We also tasted a rarity : a white Nuits-Saint-Georges, made with a Pinot Blanc. He made 4 casks of this wine. Nice pleasant drink with grape juice notes. The yellowish wine looks to me as if there was still sugar in there, but it’s dry, he says. The suavity gives an impression of remaining sugar when there’s actually none. Interesting if a difficult exercise for me to interpret a wine at such an early stage.
Philippe Pacalet tells me an interesting thing : they fill the press (the same 30-hectoliter press, they only have one) with the whole-clustered grapes and tread them with the feet right there in the press, through the openings. This takes more time but that’s important, because the juice flows on the tannins and this makes some sort of pre-fining which is not neutral. Speaking of the press types, he’s not in favor of the vertical presses which make too much oxydation and need more manpower to operate, which isn’t really justified if you look at the result. Something they don’t do with the press is rebéchage, meaning when you reverse the press in the middle of the pressing to turn around the pressed grapes within and resume the pressing. They never do that, they just stop from time to time to let the juice flow. This makes a slow-motion pressing, lasting about 3 hours, he says.