Filling 2010 barrels through gravity

Just a few days into decouvage (emptying fermentation tanks prior to pressing) and Charmes-Chambertin, Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru ‘Les Chaffots’, Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru ‘Monts Luisants, and Gevrey-Chambertin 1 Cru ‘Les Corbeaux’ (in that order) 2010 are resting safely in barrel beneath our home. We were able to eek out roughly 5 barrels of Charmes-Chambertin ‘Aux Charmes’ and 5 barrels of Les Chaffots. Not bad for 2010 where yields are generally 30-45% down from 2009 yields. Everything has been going fine. Using gravity to fill the barrels has been an entertaining, if not enjoyable past time. I know, it seems like sugarcoating. However, seeing the wine exit the wooden tanks in the cuverie up above, running through a few hoses, snaking down the ceiling (picture to follow) of the cave, and into the barrels is really exciting.

Just as before when I filled the barrels up when relocating from Saint Aubin, I originally had the hoses on the floor on the main level, running down the stairs and up into the barrels (using a pistolet when filling barrels this time). I noticed that it took nearly 50 minutes to fill one barrel this way. So, I brought down some fruit cases and set them up at different areas of the cave, along the path of the hose to smooth out the delivery of the wine. I figured this would speed things up. It did indeed! My fill times dropped to just 15 minutes to fill. At this point, my wife came by to check in on me. I mentioned my innovations and the results quite proudly. She then looked up to the ceiling of the cave and asked why didn’t I hang the hose of the ceiling of the cave, making a perfectly smoothed out line allowing the wine to speed up even more. I thought about it and remembered the hooks in the ceiling – thought bungee cord, and went to it. 30 minutes later and…

I’ll never live this one down. After arranging the hoses as my wife suggested, my fill times dropped again. In this configuration, it took 8 minutes to fill each barrel. The sounds coming from the pistol side of the hose was impressive as well, with a large amount of air pushing out of the barrel as it was filled with wine.

Moving the hoses to different heights either increased or decreased speed. Once at the proper heights, the wine moved along with amazing speed. Of note, the wine rarely bubbled up in the hose and clarity was able to be assessed by slowing up the flow and using a flashlight against the clear hose.

After filling the barrels with free run wine, it was time to get back into the wooden fermenters and shovel out the pomace. For the Charmes-Chambertin, I had to shovel out and empty into the fruit cases below the tank, exit the tank, and lift the filled cases into the cage of the vertical wooden press. Starting with the Les Chaffots 1er Cru, I had the help of a local, Thomas, who was able to take the filled cases I filled from the tank and fill up the cage. Once out of the cage, we had to place the wood beams into the press after placing in the circular ‘floor’ which rests on top of the grapes.

Pressing was a breeze. I had no idea what to expect from this 90+ year old piece of winery equipment. Somehow, this press works absolute magic. To adjust the amount of pressure, you have to take hold of the giant steel arm and walk it around the press, lowering the head of the press onto the blocks of wood, which presses down on the floor which then compresses the grapes. The pressure is completely even and gentle. The press juice was so much more than I expected. Typically, you find a point when the bitterness and astringency makes it easy to know when to pull back and give it a rest. With this press, it was so slow and gentle that the press juice just seemed to gain texture, layer by layer, more and more body. It was really interesting and truly a pleasure to make it perform. Machines like this were built to last forever. And it clearly shows. Thomas and I hit some spots where it was tough to turn. He faced one way, I the other and we both grabbed the bar and turned the arm of the press like we were trying to rip it off. A man can’t break steel and so after a few moments of defiance from the press, we were able to move forward and steal some more juice. After a good hour and a half, we were ready to pull the cake (compressed grape solids) from the press.

The juice was collected in a large fruit case which I modified to hold a ’40 Macon’ valve (the most commonly used valve here). After this was filling well, the valve was opened, sending pressed juice in the barrels below in the cave using gravity. I really couldn’t be happier with the results. Everything performed beautifully. Good thing too, I doubt my 90 year old press has a warranty. 😉

At this point, you can choose to have a distiller pick up your marc and make some marc de Bourgogne for you, or you can simply donate it to them. I’ve been interested in doing this. However, I’ve been so worn out, I couldn’t invest the time in putting together the appointment to do so. At this point, Sunday night, everything has been placed into barrel, aside from Le Chambertin. We’ll place this into barrel tomorrow morning. And perhaps I’ll get my act together to have some Marc de Chambertin made for Maison Ilan…

Cheers!

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