Bordeaux Update #1: Remontage tout les temps! Getting those grapes moving
by Abby Jones
After a week of sorting grapes, attempting to be useful in the tank-lined corridors and spraying the hose the wrong way into my face, I'm learning (with my limited French) how a Second Classified Growth winery in Margaux tackles its harvest (or 'vendanges' en Francais!).
Once picked, sorted and pumped, the grapes ('raisins') will take their place in the tank ('cuve'). They'll spend a while here and it's by no means a lock-and-leave situation. A lot of work has to be done to get these grapes ready to be pumped into the barrels ('barriques').
In order to extract colour, tannin and flavour from grapes, remontage is done. Remontage means 'pumping over' and it's literally that; the juice comes flying out the bottom (don't worry - spillages are well controlled) and a hard-working pump sends it up and over to have it land back in the same tank. It's completed roughly twice a day, but this isn't a hard and fast rule. Measurements are taken throughout the day to decide what needs to be done and when.
Below is one of my first takes at sampling. It was messy.
BK Wine Magazine explains remontage better than I can - "This is done in order to soak the floating “cap” (chapeau). The cap is mostly grape skins that have floated to the top of the must due to the release of carbon dioxide. It is a semi-solid layer that needs to be kept wet."
So it's a fairly crucial process and is done either with or without oxygen. It's passed through a bath if it needs oxygen, gathering bubbles as it goes, or straight through the pump if it doesn't need oxygen. Below is what I mean by the bath - doesn't it look glorious?! Sometimes, especially if the juice is at a balmy 28 degrees, it's hard to resist from taking a dip, but I feel that's a quick way to learn French swear words...
The amount of time each tank gets for remontage-ing varies but it's usually around an hour. It's a rather drawn out process if the tank decides to be uncooperative and spit out loads of grapes as we have to spend a lot of time clearing the way and running the grapes back up to be thrown back in the top of the tank. Yup, it's as tiring as it sounds.
Once all the juice is sucked up, out comes the hose and so commences the thorough process of washing everything down. It's crucial to do this well as crystalised sugar blocking taps is less than ideal and a real hinderance in this well oiled remontage-ing machine!
Oh, and the title of this article means remontage all the time incase your Google translate isn't at the ready all the time like mine currently is!