We harvested the Merlots, mostly by machine, during the week of 10th October. The grapes looked terrific and one advantage of bringing them in cold by machine at the crack of dawn, is putting them into a chilled stainless steel tank for a cold soak for a few days before starting the fermentation.
Some of the great chateaux we most admire, such as l’Evangile in Pomerol, Smith Haut Lafitte in Pessac-Leognan and Malescot St-Exupery in Margaux, also like to do a pre-fermentation ’cold maceration’. Their pickers snip the bunches into crates during the day and the winery staff drive the pallets of crates into a chiller room, usually overnight, before de-stemming and sorting the bunches and transferring the grapes – cold – into tanks the following day.
We would do the same if we owned such prestigious vineyards and sold our wine to the trade (while it’s still in barrel) for €40-100 a bottle. As this is unlikely, we use a machine in the vineyard with a clever de-stemmer, swiftly sort the grapes as they come in, and put them in the tank, cold. It’s one way of doing something similar on the cheap, using a natural chilling system – provided you have a team that’s prepared to get up very early.
If there’s any rot in the bunches, they have to be cut off the vines a day or two before the machine is used, and it’s not nearly as neat. But with harvests like 2015 and 2016, when there’s no rot, it’s a tidy option.
With the advances in the technology on the latest machines, we’ll be hiring one with an onboard sorting system as well as a de-stemmer next year, all being well. There’s nothing like riding on top of machines in other vineyards to see if these new grapes sorters really work.
Unless, of course, there’s a dollop of rot, in which case we’ll stick to the romance of hand picking.
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