This pressing season was certainly comparatively early in 2015 because of a long sunny weather and by the end of september the carbonic macerations were going to the press, at least in the Beaujolais domaines where carbo is still practiced (it's less common that you may think). 2015 is a vintage with beautiful, healthy gamay grapes, certainly a great vintage even though acidity is lower this year.
I spent a few days in the Beaujolais with Aaron, who has been immersing himself for a few weeks in the local winery scene in order to learn more about the region. The Beaujolais is a wine region that deserves more interest, like elsewhere you have the organic/conventional, uninterventionist/technological dichotomy, but it's foremost here that a simple, traditional vinification was put back in the front seat by a handful of resolved individuals a couple decades ago. By the way there are two ways to witness this dichotomy, first when you drive through the vineyards and second when you taste the wines randomly. I won't be cruel to the point to ask you use the second option, just drive along the winding roads, you'll be surprised how a large majority of the vineyards are still soaked with herbicides in the Beaujolais. With the cellar pendant of this herbicide thing being that much of the wines go through thermo-vinification and don't taste anymore like a real wine, this leaves relatively few wineries to sample when you're looking for interesting wines.
This story is a visual one, no explanation needed, making real wine is pretty simple when you grow your grapes correctly and respect the soil. No technology here, just fairly traditioinal tools and fermenters in a bland building (pictured on left) without even the charm of a historical place, you could buy that sort of vertical press with little money, same for the fermenters. The mainstream consumer thinks all wines are made this way but that's alas not true. Here the quality of the grapes, the natural balance of the soils and of the vineyard management makes corrective technology and additives completely irrelevant. But it is probable that if modern, conventional wineries did vinify this way (no lab yeast, no additives, no correction) all the while keeping growing their grapes the way they do, their wines would be plain undrinkable [not that they're really drinkable without that....].
What seemed important here was hygiene, Yvon, his son Jules and staff Alexi (with cap) were hosing repeatedly everything including the ground. And the carefully-grown and picked grapes did the real work.
Picture on right : view from the chai with La Madone chapel on the top of the hill.
We're going to deal with the cement vat on the right, where the carbonic maceration lasted almost 24 days. This is Fleurie Grille Midi la Madone. Before forking out the grapes, the juice that has accumulated in the bottom of the vat is pumped directly into the cement vat on the left, and that's where the press juice will go too.
Yvon, Alexi and Jules, aided by Aaron, have put all the press parts back in place, the press is ready. They all started at about 8 am, it's now maybe 9:30 am (with cleaning all the parts before reassembling them) and things are getting serious.
The emptying of the about-60-hectoliter fermenter took a while, and Aaron was the one in charge to fork out the whole-culstered grapres from the inside, pushing them through the door in the bottopm so that Yvon and Jules could spread them evenly in the small gondola. Going down in a fermenter at the end of a carbonic maceration is tricky, yoyu've got to be careful because it's full of CO2 insqide and if you breath some you might faint and never coime back to life. When the bottom door is open and enough grapes were taken out so that an air flow can dssipate the CO2 it's safier, but still you must remain on guard and breath with the head outside as often as possible.
Here Aaron pauses as Yvon begins to fill the press with this first gondola. It will take them 6 or 7 such gondolas to empty the fermenter.
Of course when the door was first opened a lot of juice fell down in the gondola, even though the juice had been previously pumped into the other cement vat. And here you can see that all the while the grapes were being forked out the free run juice kept flowing out.
The press hasn't even been switched on, it's not even full yet but the grapes kleep bleeding through this devatting stage and you get this beautiful, immaculate juice flowing out the press basr (pic on top of page too).
The press was not yet activated but with the freerun juice flowing continuously into the benne (this is actually the type of vessel they use to gather the grapes in the vineyard), Yvon or Jules would regularly switch the pump so that the benne doesn't overflow, adding more juice into the fermenter on the left. This juice is certainly amready fermenting, that's the magic of carbonic maceration.
More about these bennes being used at harvest : here you can see them idle ans stored on the side with the buckets. Such a benne holds maybe 50 gk of grapes and it's better than a large gondola to bring the grapes from the parcel to the chai. In such relatively-small vessels they remain mostly intact and each benne is individually poured into the cement vats so that the carbonic maceration can begin on uncrushed grapes. You can see the harvest bennes on this story (scroll down to the bottom) about the harvest at Yvon Métras. By the way here they measure in number of bennes and not in hectoliters when dealing with the maceration batches, and the one we're emptying here had gotten 89 bennes of grapes.
The cement fermenter is at last empty, the last grape is out in the benne and the walls are still red from weeks of carbonic maceration going on in the dark. I shot this picture exactly when Alexi was beginning to hose the vat from above and I took my camera out swiftly, avoiding the shower, you can see a few drops of water already spilling in the bottom of the tank.
That's it, the press is now full, the two metal beams holding up the lid have been removed and Yvon, using the forklift, gently places the lid on the grapes, well centered on the screw. The real pressing is going to start for the long hours to come, including the following night.
The first part of the day was achieved, the press was full and the pressing would start in a short time, and that's when Yvon said it was time for us all to pause and have a glass of wine. He opened a bottle of Riesling 2013 from Christian Binner (Alsace), a nice welcome treat (I love this job), the wine was lightly perly with an enjoyable substance, typical of these living, unfiltered wines. We were to enjoy many other wines along that day as a routine pause or for lunch, a few wines from Yvon Métras and others from other outstanding vintners.
No more plentiful flowing, that's what you will see along the coming hours, sometimes it's even scarcer, but the color remains exciting, to say nothing about the foam with which you'd like to make some sort of mud mask, I'm sure there's a magic energy in there, no surprise wealthy Russians spend fortunes on Spa baths with freshly-pressed grapes (here is the place to go for that)...
Now come the eerie-quiet time of the pressing : this time no agitation, everyone coolds down, shows up occasionally, it's all clean on the ground, and the flowing is very dim contrary to the beginning when the gondalas of grapes were filling the press, it's just a trickle taking a very long time to fill the benne. From time to time when the flowing just is almost stopping, someone switches the electricity-powered screw on the top of the press for a couple of minutes, starting the dim flowing again. And when at last enough juice accumulates in the benne, the pump is activated for a minute to pump it into the fermenter. This will last until late in the night, then keep dripping until the following morning.
I didn't stay all these hours and I think at one point they opened the press and cut the cake all around along the wooden cage before putting the lid back in place and resume the pressing.
The following day, the lid is lifted, the cage taken out and we can admire the "cake", the solid mass of juiceless clustered-grapes before it's taken out.
That's an easier task than emptying the fermenter. The almost dry must is forked out onto the pickup truck in one run, here Yvon has a couple of buckets filled apart, that's a treat for his pigs (not too much, they might get high...).
Looking closer, it's amazing to see how such a super-slow pressing gets these whole-clustered grapes almost dry : they seem mostly intact, I mean not crushed, they're just flattened and deprived of their juice, like mummified. Touching them right then, they were still sort of warm with the fermentation energy, I'm sure it's a very tonic food for pigs.
Lunch at the workplace can't be more enjoyable that here, if the weather permitted we put the tables outside and people from outside frequently joined, that day for example there was Jean-Louis Dutraive with his daughter and I can't even count the bottles we had to share, simply amazing. Dutraive on top of that had brought more stuff for the barbecue including andouillette, this was all so good.
Another wonder is that Aaron, on top of helping here and there in the chai was the appointed chef and he prepared a string of dishes, entrees and main courses which were welcome around the table. I helped him peel a few vegetables but otherwise he did all the job and cooking choices. Although he improvised on several dishes this was a success, he proves here he is not only a restaurant critic but can handle the situation when given the chance. His veal dish was excellent, this was the day before the BBQ and we were indoors because the weather was cold. Here too many nice (and real) wines to sample along the lunch (Dard & Ribo, Mosse, Valette and others). That should be a criterion to gauge the best working conditions in the wine trade...