Lye, Touraine (Loire)
The other day (last weekend of october) I visted André Fouassier to see what he was doing at this time of the year, he had just finished to press a load of whole-clustered gamay and was about to devat some Côt and press it right away. The Côt, also whole-clustered grapes had been through a 15-day maceration in a vat. The weekend was dry and sunny, and they working on this beautiful saturday afternoon.
The wine farm of André Fouassier sits a few kilometers away from the village of Lye, just south of the Cher river and sharing the appellations of Touraine and Valençay. The farm is located among a string of houses we call a hamlet in France, clustered houses that were almost like the start of a village but never had shops or sevices. This is a real farm, complete with some farm animals and vegetable gardens, the farm buildings having this typical longère architectural style found in the region : long, single story with the living quarters on one side and continuing with the stables for animals (originally cows) and the vegetable storage. His domaine is mid-size with 25 hectares, it's not considered organic but the vineyard management is very reasonable (I wished all conventional growers could work like him) and the wines are vinified on indigenous yeast.
The former press batch which had just finished minutes earlier was for a load of Gamay, we can see on the picture that the pomace isn't much compacted, and that here also these are whole-clustered bunches. The vineyard is located in Couffi (a nearby village closer to the Cher river), the grapes were harvested with a combine, André uses a model that can pick grapes with their stems.
Asked about the season 2016, André Fouassier says that even though you have to wait for the wines to proceed to be sure, but for him this year is no doubt an exceptionnal year in terms of quality, adding that we'll not see often vintages like this one. He tasted the must of the Sauvignon and this is really excellent, same for his batches of Côt thare are finishing fermenting, they're top quality this year. On the other hand the volumes are smaller, that's sure.
Here on the left there's a tank of Cabernet which is in its fermentation stage; the cabernet juice is in this tank for two weeks and as it was cold these nights (when the visit took place) André is heating the juice to 26 or 27 C (79 F) in order to keep the fermentation from stalling. Frost at night can cool down severely a tank sitting outside, especially a metal one as there's less inertia than in wood or cement. Even with this short heating intervention the juice will face again some cooling during the night, and the fermentation takes a slower pace, that's when ir reaches 10 - 13 C (50 - 55 F) that it slows down significantly. The temperature-control unit on the right can also cool the juices if necessary, André he uses it as cooler for the whites generally. André Fouassier has a great range of fermenters and vats of all nature, many quite old and he uses them to vinify the parcels and batches separately, even if many of them are blended together later.
Putting back in place the receiver gondola for the juice. The tartar from te previous juices can be seen on the side of the mobile tank. André says that while he rubs it off at the end of the season, he just hoses the receiver between pressing sessions. The press is a pneumatic type (Bucher Grand Cru), the grapes are pressed by a pumped-up tarpaulin compressing the grapes without tearing them apart, certainly very different from the vintage Vaslin he used to work with in the past (see picture below).
André Fouassier shows me the tool he uses to sort of filter the free run juice and prevent the stems, grapes or seeds to get through. The free run makes most of the juice in the batch, the press juice making only some 20 or 25 % of the whole.
André Fouassier began to sell his wines in Paris to Le Vin en Tête from the start of this wine shop, a pretty good reference in terms of quality.He also sells to Richard Vins & Domaines, a distributor dealing with restaurants, and with Inter Caves, another big player in the field. The two latter are mainstream distributor but they're trying to get different, let's say more artisan producers in their portfolio. His wines sell at the domaine for about 5 € a bottle tax included, including the sparkling. He vinifies naturally (his father using more SO2 than him) but his vineyard is not organic even though pretty moderately conventional like I could witness with the unhindered grass growing between the rows.
We walk inside an outbuilding of the farm just behind the press, it's pretty warm in there but this has nothing to do with air conditioning, it's the fermentation going on in several of these tanks and fermenters. The gamay has been pumped in part into this black cylindric tank, for example. What I love in this wine farm is that there are many such small vat rooms here and there in the different buildings of the farm, with thick walls, low ceiling and a yeast atmosphere sticking to the patina of the place.
He also pumped Gamay in there, the various volumes of his vats allows him to combine them for a particular batch. this one seems pretty old and made in thick metal. Interesting shape also, I remember this kind of shapes helps have a better exchange between the lees and the wine. There were quite a few of old cement fermenters in this room too, dating from his father's time, or grandfather's I dont know. Very convenient too with large openings, reasonable size (not too big) and of course good temperature inertia. They make 30 hectoliters each and they were full that day.
For example this cement fermenter is full to the top with Pinot Noir, therre's an ingenious system, and a simple one to make the fermenter tight against oxygen : there's a square slot all around filled with wine (or water I'm not sure) and the floating lid makes the tank tight. If/when some CO2 goes out or is produced, it lifts the lid marginally enough that the gas comes out and the lid comes back in full tight mode. The wine produces its own neutral gas, and the cement fermenter is I guess everlasting with no maintenance needed...
These cement fermenters are from the same type, except that these ones are buried, offering an even better temperature inertia and gaining room in this small vatroom. i understand that this was originally his father's vatroom here, he says his father dug the cavity by himself (back in the 1960s' or 1970s' I guess) and a specialized ream of mansons made the tank on site. The fermenters have the same water slot designed to keep the oxigen from sneaking in.
Here is the type of fermenter André Fouassier favors for the whole-clustered grapes, a batch staying typically two weeks in there before the pressing. He says the fermentations starts slowly because it's cool outside, he makes several remontages (pumping over) at the beginning. It's not properly a carbonic maceration but still, there are a lot of intact grapes on their stems and if you taste the grapes then you regognize the typical carbo aromas. These tanks are also easy to devat, almost of the self-devatting type, you open the lower door and fork the bunches and stems out.
Here is the press they used long time ago, André says it was very noisy and that you could hear it from very far. He had trouble with the feared Inspection du Travail, a government administration that visits the farms and the industries to check the working conditions and safety rules, the fonctionnaires told him that it was not safe at all, pointing that if you'd put your hand here or there you'd get it crushed without leaving any chance. They weren't impressed by the fact that he had been working with it for years and he and his staff were working carefully, they drew a plan on a paper showing all the protections and safety additions that had to be put around the press, like emergency buttons, cages and so on, which would have resulted in an unusable press, he remembers he had calculated the cost to have all these changes done not only on the press but on the vatrooms, the bill would have been 600 000 French Francs total (this was 20 years ago), a fortune. He refused and things settled down, happilly.
But on the same registry I spoke very recently to a farmer in the region (I was buying him a few bags of cow manure for the vegetable garden) and he said the weight of regulation regarding norms is unbearable, with additional layers of norms/rules adding up year after year while prices stall. I think these job-for-lifers in Paris or Brussels who sign these edicts into law (and who never held a real job, let alone an independent business) should think again in their administration offices, rensentment is simmering in the deep country and they may not be out of reach for ever.
while we were speaking and drinking some bernache (sweet juice turning slowling into wine) the aide was moving the tractor toward this other building, as there was a fermenter full of Côt to devat before the pressing. Speaking of this sweet juice-turning-into-wine, while I enjoy it tirelessly I'm not experienced enough to gauge the wine at this stage, but André points me to the green edge of one of the sweet juice we tasted, he put this batch aside and will blend it accordingly, as it may turn out an interesting counter point to another vat. Again, this year is terrific for him, he is utterly pleased with the quality of the juices.
The first step is just turn open the lower door, just enough to let the free-run juice flow out, most of the volume in there is juice at this stage, the remaining grapes will release the final 25 % of the juice. The juice is funnelled to the gondola through the conveyor belt.
Here we are, André and his staff open the lower door of a large fermenter where whole-clustered grapes of Côt have been macerating for a couple of weeks (12 days actually), there's also lots of free-run juice coming out, then the grapes, all going to the gondola through a conveyor belt. The Côt comes from his father's vineyard, I ask him if this year he'll make the step of trying bottle some of this Côt without sulfites and filtering, he says yes, and I order him in advance two cases of it, I want a naked wine, like the Côt I tasted a year ago, early 2015 if I'm right, this Côt was gorgeous and if bottled the way it was then it would have made a killing...
These white fermenters have a 90-hectoliter capacity, they're yet of another design, André says that what's nice with them is that they're 2 meter high instead of 5 like often, and this makes a big difference in the sense that there's not excessive weight on the grapes in the bottom of the vat, that's why the whole-clustered grapes were often still intact and whole (plus, he didn't fill the vat to the top). Also he drives the combine pretty slow, at 2,6 km/hour, which helps get intact bunched, he says that people who have their combine in shared ownership (the French CUMA system) have to hurry and speed the picking because other growers wait for the machine. André says that if you run the combine at 5 or 6 km/hour you get torn bunches and grapes. He's looking for buying a newer combine, the combines also do the sprays on the vineyards along the season and he is looking for a Braud/New-Holland model that can spray very thin drops instead of the higher-intensity sprays of the older machines. The problem is that these combines are very expensive and are thought for larger domaines, like 50 hectares & above, not his relatively small surface of 25 hectares. The other issue is that it will be stuffed with electronics & computers when the one he has now (a Gregoire but I don't know its age) has none of this sophistication (the good side of the latter being it doesn't break down).
André's own Côt is already pressed (this one is his father's), he'll keep the batches separate during the vinification. As said above I'm looking forward to getting a couple of cases of his Côt which he'll bottle for me and for himself without any so2, filtering or even fining.
The press has now been filled with the batch of Côt and the pressing is under way, with the hens in their enclosure watching. These hens aren't sick and if they haven't any feathers on their neck it's because they're the cou-nu breed ( or naked neck), it's a very good breed especially for eggs. B.'s parents used to have a couple dozen of them in Burgundy and they used to run in my direction with excitement when I brought them the bucket with the peelings....
I asked André about the harvest time, he says that this year the harvest was later than usual, he personally began to pick september 29 but anyway for all the late ripening varieties like Côt or Cabernet Franc he waits really late in order to get ripe berries. For the Côt he concedes that he could have waited a bit more but he needed juice and decided to pick at one point. Along the year he lost 15-20 % of grapes from the frost, another 15-20 % from disease (oïdium & mildew) and then more with the heat (grilled grapes from direct exposure to the sun during the short heat wave).