Remontage, Foie Gras, and Stag-watching – Staples of the Season


Nearly six weeks after it began, harvest is nearly complete.  The last grapes are scheduled to be picked next Wednesday, though the weather keeps surprising us (with sun and warmth, happily!), so this projection remains subject to change.  In the winery, the end of harvest translates into “remontage, remontage, remontage.”  Red wine is made by loading the red grapes directly into a fermentation tank (without pressing), and inoculating the whole lot – skins and seeds included – with yeast.  As it ferments, the marc, or layer of grape skins, floats to the top of the tank.  Remontage, or pumping-over in English, entails pumping the juice from the bottom of the tank over the top of the marc in order to keep it moist and extract fragrant and colored compounds into the must (fermenting juice).  When done by hand, this is a very labor-intensive endeavor (I know because I did it the first day), as it requires perching atop the tank holding the hose in order to spray must in all directions atop the marc.  This is made significantly more challenging by the fact that carbon dioxide gas is being constantly emitted from the tank, in quantities sufficient to asphyxiate you (or at least cause you to pass out and fall off the tank – choose your poison), so you have to maneuver breathing fresh air while still throughouly spraying all over the inside of the tank.  Fortunately, we have special devices that can be attached to the hose inside the top of the tank that have a little spinning rudder that evenly sprays the top of the tank without requiring human intervention.  It is much more effective than remontage-by-hand, and frees up a lot of time to be spent giving TLC to the wine in other ways.  For instance, nutrients can be added to keep the yeast happy, or tannins (specifically, catechin) can be added in order to fix the color compounds in the wine.  Catechin reacts with anthocyanins (the red-colored molecules in grapes and red berries) to form a stable complex that can give the wine a more desirable, richer color.  The anthocyanins don’t need any help to become affixed to your hands though:

  Hand after one day of working with red wine.  Fortunately we are not finished with the white wines, as white wine helps to remove some of the staining, so my hands have not become exponentially blacker than this over time.

Despite there being plenty of work to keep us all busy in the winery, I have gotten away a bit as well.  Last week Sandrine, who works in the office, took me to her house for a night, where I became acquainted with her parents’ pigs,

Ducks,

And all of the products that they make from them, as well as from anything else that they can grow or find on their property.

She prepared a meal extremely traditional for this region (the Perigord), of foie gras with Montbazillac (a sweet white wine) to start, duck confit with cepes and potatoes and a St. Emillion, and Banyuls, a naturally sweet red wine (aged for many years – this one had been for 15 – in wooden casks outdoors where the wine is subject to oxidataion) from the south of France.  We finished the evening with the slightly less traditional activity of Wii Bowling…

I also visited the city of Bergerac, of key importance as I am in the middle of Bergerac wine country here.  When I saw this statue I finally realized why the name had sounded so familiar ever since I arrived…

Just as St. Emillion was riddled with wine shops, Bergerac is teeming with shops such as these:

While there I also tasted a wine with brettanomyces for the first time (smells and tastes like farm animals had a little party in your glass – I knew it was a smell I recognized but, thankfully, couldn’t place it, so politely described it as “interesting,” not knowing what it was until Marine told me later).

Monday evening I was invited to go (attempt to) see – and hear – stags calling for their mates.  We drove to a spot where they are known to show up, and waited for them to appear (with beers in hand, as I believe that in France it is considered sacrilege to sit and wait somewhere in the evening without an apertif).  It turned into quite the social occasion when about 15 others showed up (including someone that I work with), but the stags apparently did not feel obliged to attend the event, as none had appeared by the time night fell.  As someone said on the way home, “Well, at least we had a beer.”


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