19 September, 2002

Good grapes for the Coteaux

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Alain's cousin Gérard sorts grapes from the latest harvest, destined for red wine. Photo: Hanne Høier, DR.

Classical pictures from a grape harvest is stamping the grapes and the table, where men and women sort the grapes. Off goes the rots, the greens and in Champagne also the destroyed grapes. Since champagne is a colourless wine, and the pigments are in the skin of the grapes, you get the clearest champagne, if you remove grapes with broken skin before the pressing.

Today the local production of red wine has gained more significance. The coteaux champenois, as the AOC is called, is necessary to make the popular, pink champagne, and this has made our cooperative invest in more professional equipment for this purpose.

Bad grapes removed
In our coop some of the Pinot and Meunier-grapes are used for champagne and the rest for red wine. Those last mentioned ones are poured unto a speciel table with band, where they are sorted manually. Rotten and unripe grapes are thrown into a box below the table. The rest roll into a kind of screw that seperates berries from stalks and leaves.

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The band is next to the steel vats, where the grapes macerate some hours. Stalks and leaves end in the red box. Photo: Hanne Høier, DR.

The skin of the grapes, the flesh and the juice are transferred into steel vats, where they macerate several hours. During this period the skin and the pips give away whatever good qualities they possess, for instance colour, to the otherwise colourless juice. Rather important when your objective is to make red wine with a good colour. The special and rather rare, pink champagne of the saignée type receives its colour in the same way.

Later the must, now coloured from the pips and skin, is transferred to other steel vats, where the fermentation to wine takes place. The skin, pips and flesh is pressed, and the result is partly mixed with the fermentating must, partly sold for completely different purposes. Later the young wine goes through filtrations where it is cleaned. The malolactic fermentation, where one kind of acid in the juice is transformed to another, may also be performed. The oenologue of the cooperative can spend all autumn with her wines, before she decides, what she wants to do with them: Some will be sold, some will be kept as red wine, some will be used for the rosé d'assemblage champagne of the cooperative.

New equipment for red wine
It pays off to be gentle with your wine in Champagne. Several of the big champagne houses search high and low for good red wine. We know this, because the extra half hectare of red grapes, that we have worked since last autumn, has been popular amongst those buyers, who knew that these grapes were not yet sold to anybody.

Good - and not the least - available red wine is scarce. Red grapes grow for instance here in Montagne de Reims, but the local winegrowers also have longer tradition of own brands of champagne than in some of the villages of the Côte des Blancs.

Obviously they also have a long tradition and experience of work with the quality of their red grapes. In a book with old post cards we recently noticed how the women 100 years ago were placed in the edge of the vineyards to sort the grapes manually: Triage, it says with capitals on the card.

Triage in the coop
And that is excactly what Gérard and co are doing in the top picture. But this table, I remember being introduced as real unusual and exotic equipment in the Côte des Blancs around 2003-4. In the realm of white grapes, the reds are more unusual and they have thus been shown less interest than the whites.

Now however, pink champagnes sells like des petits pains, and is in fact the champagne that develops faster than anything else these days. A product that sells, customers that pay is universal language, so of course the coop tries to fit into this trend and demand. One way is the investment in the right equipment for red wine. Which involves sorting the grapes.

Who knows, maybe one day we will have to stamp the grapes like they do in the big red wine areas too?

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