Follow my work at Domaine des Enfants to learn about the early stages OF the wine making process
After working in Alsace and Rheinhessen, the third stop on my wine around the globe tour is Domaine des Enfants, in Maury close to Perpignan. The wine growing region is called Roussillion and is part of France’s biggest wine growing region Languedoc-Rousillion.
The domaine is run by Swiss Marcel Bühler and his American wife Carrie Sumner. I have the opportunity to stay two weeks at the domaine and get involved in various tasks. As it turns out, these two weeks cover pretty much all steps from picking the grapes to nearly bottling the wine. Follow me and learn what happens at these various stages and how juice turns to wine.
1. Work in the vineyard: picking grapes
I arrive pretty much on time for the harvest of the white grapes. There is an anxiety and excitement to be felt about when exactly to start harvesting the white grapes. Marcel and Carrie are discussing it frequently, checking the weather, checking the ripeness of the fruit, checking the moon. Why the moon? Because they follow biodynamic principles and pick fruit on fruit days of the moon calender.
So, one day, when most factors seem right, it is decided to start harvesting. So we do. We are out there with our buckets and scissors going up and down the vineyards. We pick by hand, no machines. Picking by hand is essential if you want to achieve great quality since you are able to remove overripe or unripe grapes immediately. But it is also hard work. The vineyard consists of mostly old vines, which are up to seventy years old. Some other vines in the region are up to 120 years of age. Incredible! These vines are not attached to any wires, they are very close to the ground. We do have to bend down and we do feel it in our backs.
We are the first domaine in Maury to start picking white grapes, that’s because if you start early there is more acidity in the grapes which is important if you want to have a good bodied white wine. Note: Acidity in white wine is what tannins are in the red wine – it gives more structure to the wine.
2. Stomping the fruit and maceration
When the vineyard is harvested we drive back the precious goods and lay the baskets on the floor. Now the stomping begins. We clean our feet and get into the baskets. At first, it feels strange to have your feet in a basket full of fruit and walking on it but after a while it becomes an interesting form of a foot massage. But why do we stomp at all? You may ask yourself. Well, if you stomp you remove the grapes from their stems, you even out the whole texture, which helps extracting more juice when you finally press the fruits.
If you additionally leave the juice, the stems and the skins soaking for a couple of hours, even more flavours can be extracted when pressing. The process of leaving the juice and the skins soaking is called maceration. It really isn’t that popular with white wine. It is essential in the production of red wine, since it is maceration that gives colour and tannins to the wine. But if you do macerate white wine for a little while, then it is important to store the buckets in a cool place to avoid premature fermentation.
3. Finally, the pressing
Once the stomping is done and the juices have soaked, we set up the press and press all harvested fruit. We are using a wooden press that lightly pushes the fruit down. This procedure is very delicate and makes sure that most of the grapes are pressed. We then pump the juice into containers and barrels to start fermentation (I am sure all of you know what this is, but just in case you forgot, fermentation is the process that turns sugar into alcohol). There are hundreds of litres of juice that have to be moved to many barrels. We better get that pump going!
Once the pressing is finished, the juice is moved into barrels or tanks for fermentation. We check up on the fermentation process regularly by checking the density. It shows us if the fermentation process is going as desired. Once fermentation is finished, the wine either stays in barrels and tanks for a while or is bottled for early consumption.
I hope you enjoyed reading about the stages in the wine making process that I had the chance to get involved in. It was very interesting and again, it showed me that making wine is not as romantic as one might imagine. It really is a lot of hard work!