With harvesting now complete, for a few days at least an aura of calm pervades in the vineyards at Chateau Belgrave. Despite this respite, its business as usual in the winery as our thoughts turn to vinifying the high quality grapes recently harvested. Read on to see some of the meticulous work involved in the winemaking process in the winery.
Crafting red wine is also about releasing all the goodness from the grapes that will impart structure and aromas. This is known as extraction.
For the red grape varieties that we vinify, the pulp, which is made up of sugar–rich grape must (juices), acid and water, is colourless. The aromas and colour (anthocyanins), together with some of the tannins, are mainly contained in the grape skins, while the more assertive tannins are found in the pips. To make a harmonious, well-balanced wine it is essential to extract these components in various stages over the course of the fermentation and maceration process. The aromas are released easily at the start of fermentation when the skins are still in a semi-liquid mass in the tank. The more active the fermentation, the greater the amount of carbon dioxide released, which rises to the surface pushing up any solid matter such as skins and pips and forming a “chapeau” or “cap”, sometimes referred to as “marc”. The cap will only release tannins and anthocyanins if kept in contact with the juices.
Our teams may use two additional techniques, equipment permitting, as is the case at Chateau Belgrave, La Garde, Le Boscq and Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac. These are outlined below:
Remontage, or pumping over, is the process by which must is drawn from the bottom of the tank and pumped over the cap. This keeps the entire cap moist and ensures extraction by leaching. As the must is pumped over, the liquid forms channels as it flows through the cap and extraction may become uneven. The process of “delestage” may come into play at this point (rack and return), where the liquid is drained from the tank and reintroduced from above applying slight pressure to soak the cap, break the channels and ensure optimum extraction.
Traditionally used in Burgundy, pigeage or plunging involves pushing the cap into the must. Originally carried out by hand using a special wooden pole, technology has facilitated the process with the aid of robots, even if it is still controlled manually, as is the case here at Chateau Belgrave. Pigeage breaks down the marc with the aim of extracting the grape components evenly without the juices flowing via any preferred channels. Delestage is not necessary in this case.
Pigeage usually takes place throughout fermentation to ensure only the cap is kept moist and put the finishing touches to the gentle extraction process.
Depending on the individual character of each tank and the outcome of regular tastings to monitor the evolution of extractions, pigeage and/or remontage are carried out regularly throughout the fermentation process.