After the frantic rush of harvest time, and the heady days of fermentation, pressing time is a rather more sober and measured affair.
But when and how to press is very important.
Colour and tannins are extracted from the skins of the grapes during the fermentation, and as the alcohol goes up, it acts as a potent solvent for some of the more bitter element sometimes found in the skins and pips of imperfectly ripe grapes.
In some years, we might decide to press right at the end of the fermentation. When our grapes are not fully ripe, pressing straight away (before the alcohol extracts too much greenness) makes a lot of sense.
But when, as this year, the skins are thick and chewy, but completely ripe, and the pips are nutty and woody, and not at all green, a longer maceration can enhance the texture and richness of the flavours extracted.
So most of our barrels have been sitting for a full 3 weeks (some even as many as 5 weeks) with the grapes immersed in the wine, with a floating dish of sulphur and a clingfilm wrap keeping away the fruit-flies.
But now, after nearly a month of calm, the time has come to press.
A 500L barrel, or ‘demi-muid’ can contain 450 Kg of grapes (you could fit in more, but it would risk overflowing when the cap gets pushed up by the carbon dioxide).
When you pump away the wine, and leave behind the skins, you can usually pump out 220-250 Litres of wine.
And if you press the remaining wet skins, you can extract another 60-90 litres of wine.
Which is a lot. And you can’t get at it without a good press. Put it into a muslin bag, and you’d be able to extract 25-30 litres. A small basket press should get you up to 50-60 litres, but a good bladder press should enable a carefully controlled pressing at a very even pressure, which will give you as much chance of extracting all of the wine as possible. And the skins that come out (or ‘marc’) are almost dry to the touch.
So, out comes the spade, and the slippery skins slide down the stainless steel slope and into the press. Alliterations unintended.
And three barrel’s worth of skins only amounts to 5-600Kg of skins which doesn’t go a very long way towards filling a 3 Tonne press…..!
We have now finished all of our pressing, and we’ll let each barrel settle, so as to allow the heavy yeast sediment to fall to the bottom, before we rack each wine into a new barrel, top up, and seal up for the next few months.