Vineyard Year – Pressing

March 19th, 2018

As the days picking draws to an end, the transportation team are waiting patiently on the sideline, since there is no time for delay if the high quality of the crop leaving the vineyard is to be maintained and carried through to the wine. The picked grapes are quickly moved to the winery and never kept waiting for more than a few hours before pressing starts. As day passes into night and into the early hours of the morning, the winery is a blur of activity and excitement. As the grapes arrive, they are checked for quality and reweighed, as representatives of the vineyard team continue to fuss around their cherished crop, but there is no need, the winery team and vine-growers are always striving for the same quality outcome, so the grapes are always in good hands. We are extremely fortunate to have access to a traditional Coquard vertical press, exactly the same as those used in the country-side around Epernay & Reims, to enhance the quality of the wine.

These have a wide pressing area to ensure progressive juice extraction with a steady, delicate increase in pressure applied thorough out and still accounts for almost half of the total and press a third of all grapes pressed in Champagne. Loading of the press which resembles a round cage, of wood and steel construction, must be delicate to avoid damaging the grape skins, following which slow, regular and progressive pressure increases from the lid above (called the sheep and weighing approximately one tonne), toward the fixed pan at the base. The juice is extracted in stages called tailles or ‘cuts’.The first known as cuvée is rich in sugar and acid, well balanced and has a strong bouquet, while subsequent pressings known as Première taille, are fruitier, less acidic and lightly tinted. Gentle pressing is essential, since the colour and astringency in grapes are more concentrated in the skins and the more we press, the more we extract from them, potentially compromising the wine if not carefully managed. The best sparkling wines are free of colour and astringency, even our Chinkapin Rose, is created by adding a quantity of our set aside Pinot Noir juice at a later stage, to get our desired Rose colour.

The pressed juice must always be clear and free from bitterness as it runs through the mass of less crushed grapes, out between the wattles of the press, into a collection tray and on via a gentle gravity flow into tank hall located one floor below. Our ‘cuvée’ is obtained by three successive and intermittent pressings, periodically interrupted by the ‘retrousses’ (a French colloquial term meaning to trench). This painstaking manual process involves creating a trench around the outside edges of the press-cake with a special fork, returning the partly pressed grapes towards the central of the press, without damaging the skins, before recommencing the press process. To limit the oxidation of the must in contact with the air, the process also involves sulphiting, whereby a very small quantity of this oenological product is added. This is essential for obtaining a quality must. The press, which has a load capacity of only around 4,000kg of grapes has done it’s work, the whole process, load, press, retrousse, press, empty, clean, has been exhaustively repeated through the night and it will now lie dormant for another year as our journey moves to the tank hall and cellars below.

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