The harvest season is always an exciting time here at St. Supéry. The 2018 growing season was a winemaker’s dream: long and steady, with a warm July, markedly cooler temperatures in August, and none of the dramatic heat spikes that we experienced in 2017. We had a little rain in early October, but warm weather and dry breezes followed, allowing the grapes to hang on the vines longer and further develop their flavors. Quality looks great this year, and we’re anticipating an excellent 2018 vintage.
Harvest brings long hours and plenty of hard work, and our labor doesn’t end when the grapes are picked. The crush pad and cellar hum with activity as our team hustles to sort and transfer the grapes into presses and tanks. White grapes go immediately into the press to let their juices drain, then the juice is settled for a few days before we rack off the juice lees (solids that settle from the liquid). Then, fermentation of the clear juice begins.
Once we receive the red grapes at the winery, they undergo multiple sorting steps to ensure that only the best fruit remains. We start by sorting the clusters, then remove the stems and use an optical sorter to select the best berries. (The optical sorter uses incredible visual technology to weed out individual berries that don’t meet our standards.) When we want to take the process a step further, we also use “human technology” to sort the berries by hand. The grapes that make the cut are then put into tanks for a cold-soak period to extract color and flavor from grape skins until fermentation begins.
While we firmly believe in hand-picking fruit and engaging in minimal intervention in the cellar, we also appreciate a little technological help. This year we added automatic pump-over equipment to enhance our red wine program. During fermentation, the liquid and grape skins naturally separate from each other, and the skins rise to the tops of the tanks to form a hard cap. Color, flavor and structure are extracted from the skins, so we need to make sure the skins have regular contact with the wine inside the tanks.
To pump over a tank, we take the red wine and transfer it through a pump over the top of the skins to break up the cap. Another technique we use at St. Supéry is to punch the cap down into the wine (this is called a punch-down). For this we use a pneumatic device, similar to a large foot, which pushes down and breaks up the cap into the wine. (Although the word “punch” evokes a powerful action, it’s actually a very gentle way to extract from the skins.) We also use a technique called delastage, which involves draining all of the wine out of the tank so the cap rests on the bottom of the tank. We then return the liquid to the tank, pouring it over the cap.
Our new automatic pump-over equipment allows us to evenly space our pump-overs throughout a 24 hour period to maintain a consistent temperature within the tank, resulting in better wine.
We’re currently installing four concrete tanks and four oak tanks in the cellar. These new vessels will enhance the textures of our reds and create more flavor-profile nuances for our winemaking team to work with when it’s time to blend our 2018 wines, and future vintages.
With such outstanding grapes coming in from our estate vineyards, we are constantly looking for ways to create exceptional wines from that fruit. Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes peeks into our winemaking process as the 2018 wines progress throughout the year!