September 29, 2014

Post Harvest

The first splash of white wine cascaded into my glass at 11:21am. Clearly, I was back with the Cluzeauds, witnessing the next step in the winemaking process.

I had been invited to come and see the pressoir in action. From my very basic understanding, this is how it has gone to date: Along with my Polish and French and Swiss friends, I cut grapes. These grapes are immediately put into the fouloir, which extracts the initial juice from the fruit. All -- juice, seeds, stems, skins -- goes into a stainless steel cylindrical tank about 12 feet high. And there it sat, fermenting over the last 10 days or so since the harvest ended. Today, it was time to press all the solids and end up with just juice.

Assembling the pressoir and the finished product
Upon arrival, Jean-Baptiste showed me a tank full of white Pernand-Verglesses, which was fermenting. The juice and grapes were making a pronounced bubbling and hissing noise. There was some major chemistry going on inside the tank. 

Really good white wine fermenting
The winemakers would be pressing reds today, however, and he indicated a Monthelie premier cru and a Monthelie villages in their tanks. Together with his father and Laurent, another worker, they hooked up hoses to the tank, a pump, and a receiving tank that was half a floor down in another part of the cuverie. On went the pump and out came the juice, flowing from one giant stainless steel tank into another.

Soon, a bucket was placed under the spout at the bottom of the primary tank and they drained the last bits of juice. They then opened the door of the tank, about thigh-high, and started to rake the solids into a caisse (the same plastic tubs we had used during harvest). 

Into the caisse
Once it was full, the solids were dumped into the giant pressoir, a contraption that is like a giant barrel made of oak, but with space in between the slats to allow the juice to escape, with a vise on the top that one screws down to press the fruit. I asked Jean-Claude, the patriarch, how old it was. He said his grandfather had ordered it in 1960 and it was the very last pressoir ever made by the manufacturer. He explained that the first juice was vin de goutte, the first juice, and, once pressed, we would have vin de presse. These will be mixed to form the final wine, which will stay in the steel tanks this fall before being transferred to wooden barrels, where it will rest for two years.

Laurent did the dirty work, raking and scraping the last bits of fruit into the caisse. For several moments, his torso disappeared into the tank as he searched and fought for every last bit of grape. This is a culture where one doesn't waste anything, certainly not a grape that could become part of a bottle of wine that could become either, in simplest terms, a euro in the pocket or, perhaps more important, a smile on a stranger's face. It is that kind of family business, where the money counts, but the pleasure their work brings to others is right there, too.

Whither Laurent?
Naturally, before anyone got too dirty, we had a little white wine. Then we went back to the house for lunch. I felt a bit awkward, as I had been invited to watch the work, not to have lunch. Though I have been called Freddie the Freeloader in my day, it is not a reputation that I seek. Nonetheless, when the matriarch tapped me on the shoulder around 11:30 and said, "Well, nobody told me you were coming, we'll just have to share what we've got for lunch," I figured I was as good as invited.

"Just sharing" at the French table proved to be more than adequate. For our first course, there were plates of sausage, cornichons, and pickled onions paired with a tomato salad laid out for each of us. After several anxious inquiries as to whether or not I ate wild hare, inquiries to which I responded "I eat everything, including andouille," I was served a plate containing a couple boiled potatoes and the game in a generous pool of rich red wine sauce, made with lardons (the French bacon bit), butter, bay leaf, some other herbs, salt, pepper, and oh-what-the-hell-I-married-a-winemaker some more red wine. She had prepared it Saturday for the family's Sunday lunch, and I was eating the leftovers. 

It tasted somewhere in between bliss and euphoria. 

The others were grazing on veal in an olive sauce, accompanied by steamed carrots and green beans. When I asked if I could have some of these, my hostess was quite clear that only if I promised not to let them comingle with the red wine sauce; they were really not meant to go together. A mother advising me, in a way, not to eat my vegetables

Throughout, Jean-Claude was pouring white then red, finishing with a 2007 Volnay premier cru, made from the same grapes that I had cut only a couple weeks ago. The wine tasted a little bit more like work than I expected, a good thing.

Adding the wooden weights to the pressoir
After cheese and coffee, a bottle of marc de Bourgogne emerged from the family cabinet. Jean-Calude explained that the bottle contained liquor from before my birth...and his. It was from 1947, made by his grandfather. 

As the lunch wound down, I realized we had covered considerable ground for a Monday lunch in Burgundy: French politics, the amount of time it takes a gypsy to rob your house, immigration in Europe and the US, the lifespan of cars today versus yesterday, the defects of the cook they had hired for the harvest, drunk driving laws in France, why unemployed people here don't even look for work, whether or not Dominique Strauss-Khan was set up, concurrent strikes by dentists and pharmacists, people who get the state to give them special checks for gasoline, the minimum wage in Poland, why smoking makes your teeth hurt after dental work, whether or not a butcher's glove prevents cuts in the vineyard, and, mostly, life and death in the family.  

Once back to serious business, Laurent started to turn the vise to press the juice out of the fruit. A flood of bright red and pink juice flowed out, filling a 300 liter (80 gallon) green plastic tub. As Laurent sweated, he explained to me that at his normal place of employ, a wine operation 15 times the size of the Cluzeauds, “you could eat of the floor.” Everything was modern and computerized. Here, however, there is a marriage of modernity and tradition: the stainless steel tanks say “21st century” but the fruit flies buzzing around in a cloud of wine vapors say “Voltaire.” 

Turning the vise
As the juice flowed, a controller stopped by and took a sample of the two wines we were pressing. In his truck, in less than five minutes, he analyzed it and presented Jean-Calude with a printout that indicated the percentage of alcohol (about 11.5%), the amount of glucose, and a bunch of other statistics that escaped my comprehension. 

This... wine
The patriarch explained that he had the right to augment the alcohol by 1.5% more, which will bring the wine to about 13%. I asked if he had a price per bottle in mind for the wines we were dealing with today. He said that he would wait for November, during the big wine auction in Beaune, which would give a good indication for what this year's harvest would eventually fetch.

It's on the calendar.

Pink heaven

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