Salt & Old Vines

By Richard W H Bray

A real taste of winemaking - true stories about a wine, the people who make it and the place it's made

Sunday, 2 December 2012

the routine

The following is a diary entry I wrote September 3, 2011, towards the beginning of harvest. I was living in Banyuls that year:

My alarm sings the marimba at 530 in the morning and I fiddle about trying to turn it off. I avoid 'snooze'. The snooze button is not allowed during harvest. 

By 630 we're at Coume del Mas, rinsing and assembling the press and loading the first comports (big plastic tubs holding about 50kg worth of grapes). It's a small bag-press, so it only takes about 18 comports. We don't talk much at this point. We've said bonjour and possibly ça va and that's about it. Yesterday's wine will be racked from cool tank into barrels in the cool room (cool, huh?) while we fill the press. Apart from a few barrels of fermenting Syrah, it's only white at the moment, with the wines that will be Folio, C'est Pas de Pipeau and Catala just starting their ferments. Grenache Gris, Roussanne and Vermentino all bubbling away.

Once the press is loaded I grab a lift from Coume del Mas in Cosprons to Mas Cristine in Argeles. If all's going to plan, we get to Argeles about 730. Mas Cristine requires more strategy when getting equipment together, as our corner of the ancient co-op is cramped and a bit inhospitable. We move the press outside in order to save space. This is a larger beast than the one at Coume del Mas, and can take - with coaxing - about 35 comports. More often than not, there is wine to rack from tank to tank, and at the moment we've a Roussanne ferment to cool down in the mornings. The first grapes come in about 830. Thus far we've had Grenache Gris, Muscat, Roussanne and Macabeu for whites and a small amount of Syrah and Grenache Noir for rosé. 

The standard press cycle takes about three hours, during which we clean, rack and sort out all the tanks and barrels for the grapes yet to come. Quite a lot of winemaking is being ready and quite a lot of being ready in winemaking is being clean. Scrubbing the caps for tanks, the tartaric residue off of stainless steel and epoxy vats, it's all part of the harvest. 

As the press clangs and howls through its various pressures and in between all the cleaning, racking and tidying, we taste the juice. We usually switch vessel about 1000mBars, separating the lighter press juice from the harder. The juice from the first presses tends to be fruitier, more elegant, while the later presses boast more phenolics and secondary flavours. In most cases they will ferment and mature independently until the blend is decided late autumn.

Some days, we'll do two full presses, others one. Over lunch we'll chat about the odd variations in grape maturity throughout the vines. The odd cool spell and bizarre humidity levels have led to uneven ripening. Some of the best fruit won't be ready for a month, meaning the much talked about early harvest may also be one of the latest harvests in recent memory, with some reds not being picked until October. The last three years in the Roussillon, most of the ferments had finished by then. 

At Mas Cristine, there is usually beer when the shift ends. It's cold and never quite big enough. 

Home by 7ish. In bed around 10. The same again in the morning. I'm enjoying it while I can, as when the reds come in it will start to get busy.

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