Today was the day for pressing the red Cabernet Sauvignon grapes at Etalon Rouge, a tiny tasty vineyard in Blaye. Harvest had taken place a couple of months ago, on the last Indian summer days of September, just before a few weeks of rain settled in and the winter's chill enveloped. The grapes were handpicked, placed gently in baskets.
Once picked, the grapes were transported by antique truck from the fields to the winery, or chai as it is called. Once inside and without any pressing or processing, the grapes are dropped into large barrels, termed cuve. A cuve is any container intended for the manufacture and storage of liquid products, it is the physical container. A cuvée is a specific batch of wine made in a specific cuve, it is the liquid wine not the container. Thus, a number of bottles of wine, or a number of barrels of wine, can come from a single larger cuve used for fermentation.
The grapes naturally press down over time, very gently, and the juice extracts and ferments. After about eight weeks, after careful tasting and laboratory fluid chemistry analysis, the young wine is drained off into a huge steel cuve and the large barrels in which the grapes and juice had been fermenting in is hoisted up on a winch, turned upside down, and the grapes emptied out by hand.
The barrels are then sprayed clean ready for next year.
The grapes are then pressed in a traditional grape press and the juice is added to the young wine already drained off into the large steel holding cuve. There is a lot of extra flavour imparted to the wine by squeezing the grapes this way and using every drop.
The remnant seeds, skin and stems are then sent to a state factory where they are used to produce industrial alcohol. On most vineyards this is not the usual process. Normally grapes are pressed shortly after picking and the pressed grapes and juice together is termed the ‘must’, with the crushed grape skins, seeds and stems being called the pomace. Etalon Rouge in Blaye do things slightly differently, and as it is young fermented wine rather than grape juice I have avoided these usual terms.
All the young wine is then placed in smaller French oak barrels for further aging between 12 to 18 months.