The next couple of days rain loomed on the horizon and the impending question was whether to pick the grapes or give them extra ripening time. The ideal scenario is to leave the grapes on the vines for them to reach greater ripeness, to know precisely when the rain is going to fall and have the grapes picked and in the winery just before the clouds break. Any benefit from longer hang time would be dashed by unexpected rain as this would provoke loss of sugar and grey rot.
After much tergiversation Marie-Thérèse Chappaz decided to harvest her Syrah and Cornalin. The pickers duly worked on both Saturday and Sunday to beat the rain and thereby created a slight fluster in the village: a local resident came flapping into the vineyards in her dressing gown to complain about the noise, and at midday as the crates were loaded onto the back of the truck, a relatively young man standing on his frontdoor step asked us to lower our voices…
With most of the vineyards harvested, the casual workers returned to their native countries and the core work shifted to the winery. Secateurs and crates traded in for pumps and pipes.
The daily routine is to monitor each tank. In the case of red wines, which here ferment in a variety of different tanks but mainly open top ones, a temperature reading is taken of the cap and the juice to check the progress of the fermentation. The density of the must is also measured daily. Grape must is more dense than alcohol, and during the fermentation process the density drops. Smelling and tasting the vat contents is also carried out daily. It allows the winemaker to detect any problem but more importantly it is the only way to gage how to manipulate the fermenting must: does the wine need more extraction, more contact with oxygen or more concentration…
At the Domaine La Liaudisaz the wine making process is as non interventionist and as natural as can be. Fermentation starts spontaneously and there is no temperature control of the vats. Whenever possible juice is transferred from one container to another using gravity rather than a pump. Punch downs of the cap (“pigeage”) are carried out manually.
Many of these manipulations are of course feasible as the quantity of wine made is relatively small. Therein lies the beauty of small scale production: there is a greater direct human interaction with wine during the entire process, from grapes to bottle.
When hand harvested red grapes arrive in the winery, they are destalked and crushed. The juice and crushed berries are then housed together in vats to macerate and ferment. During the course of fermentation the vats are regularly homogenised: the crushed berries (skins, pips…) float on top of the juice forming a cap and have to be mixed in, or punched down (“pigeage” in French) once or many times during the day. This keeps the skins moist and allows the liquid to extract colour and flavour.
Once the red wines have finished fermenting, the liquid is transferred out of the tank into a temporary one. The skins, now sitting at the bottom of the tank are taken out to be pressed. The press wine is then added to the wine in the temporary vat. The combined wines are ready to start their maturation process in wooden barriques in a old stone cellar carved in the mountain rock.
Harvest on location at the domaine of Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Domaine La Liaudisaz, Fully, Valais, Switzerland (www.chappaz.ch).
All the photos on this post (with the exception of the header) have been taken by the talented photographer Guillaume Bodin, who is also the author of a fantastic and award-winning film on biodynamic wine, “La Clef des Terroirs” (www.laclefdesterroirs.com).