At last, the refurbishment of our cellar is complete in time for the 2012 harvest. This refurbishment was neither simply a case of opening a few tins of paint nor was it a grand design the likes of which you see in Chile or California. The cellar we acquired when we bought our Cairanne estate in 2010 was perfectly serviceable but our aim was to create the best possible environment for vinifying and maturing our wines. So, after two years of planning and hard graft we wanted to share the pictures with you….
Our first task was to stabilize the internal temperature of the cellar. As you know from your own cellars perhaps, neither very cold nor very warm is good for wine in bottle; and it is even worse for wine maturing in barrel or vat. Temperatures in the summer in Cairanne can reach over 40°C (it has been over 40°C / 100°F since last Thursday (23rd August); but in winter it can easily drop to below 0°C. This last winter we had severe and sustained cold temperatures for about a fortnight in February, falling as low as -17°C some nights, which we did not enjoy when pruning and unfortunately killed many old and some very young vines).
That was an unusually cold spell as the thermometer had climbed to a balmy to 18°C in January, when we thought we were not going to see a winter and lunched outside under the almond tree!
So insulating the cellar walls to keep the inside temperature constant was an essential task and for this we used a natural materal which allows the cellar walls to breathe.
Luckily the original wooden doors to the cellar could be restored to their former glory. Striped, primed, re-hung and re-varnished they make an impressive entrance to the cellar which inside is a pleasant 18°C at all times, ideal for maturing the 20 demi-muids and 8 tronconique open-top fermenters it contains.
Structurally we also had to make sound a leaking roof and install a new floor. Unfortunately the roof trusses weren’t strong enough to sustain a traditional clay tiled roof, so we opted for a man-made roof which does the job well. Our new floor is easy to clean and importantly, very even, which means no pools of water can persist which may contain bacteria harmful to wine.
With the structural work complete and the cellar watertight we could then refurbish the cellar’s interior. We invested in a state of the art basket press – although this is an enormous machine it can actually press grapes very gently and we are able to control the pressure applied. It is of course a modern stainless-steel adaptation of the old-fashioned wooden presses you may have seen in pictures. It is far from the cheapest but it presses very gently, eases back, presses gently again and so on in a slow programmable or manual cycle. The benefits of the basket press are in the juice we extract, which has very little of the aggressive flavours or bitterness cruder forms of press can deliver.
Old concrete tanks were replaced by open top fermenters; we prefer the natural fermentation method (with no yeasts added) and use open-top fermenters because they allow a slower and more gentle approach to winemaking which we believe helps to extract the most flavour from the grapes. In this way the grapes are fermented by the yeasts present on their own skins and not by synthetic additions. It takes far longer and is accompanied by the exhausting, sometimes daily ritual of ‘pigeage’ (punch-downs which strain your whole body not just your hand and feet!). Once again as with a lot of things we do in our winemaking, this is a very traditional approach but, perhaps like slow food, the quality you can achieve is far more complex and interesting.
Over the next week or so we will decant the 2011 vintage inside the tronconique vats to make way for the 2012 vintage which, by the latest indications, will start anytime from the 10th-20th of September for red wines.
We’ll also be making sure the tanks and cellar equipment are scrupulously clean, ready for the new harvest. To clean a tank there is no other option but to climb in with your spade and brush …..
…which means your legs and hands get stained by the remaining sediment at the bottom of the tank..
Our final task was to decorate the exterior in a muted cream which blends in with limestone soils of the La Ruche vineyard surrounding the Domaine and install an emblem of the Boutinot Rhône Bee on the outside of the cellar wall.