After 20 days on skins, it was time to get the wine out of the wooden fermenting tank and into a press. I decided to press earlier than I may have done in a perfect world but I wanted to preserve the fine tannins that I had extracted during fermentation without having the wine being distracted by firmer tannins that come from leaving the wine on skins for a longer period of time. In another year, but that is not what Bacchus brought this year, and one must endeavour to highlight the best qualities of the vintage which for me this year is fresh flavours and fine tannins.

The most delicate pressing is one done vertically as it doesn’t rip the skins or crush the seeds. The downside is that you don’t get as much wine as you may do with a pneumatic press which you can rotate and thus get rid of any hidden pockets of wine.

Thanks to my great mate, Ray Walker of Maison Ilan, I was able to borrow his ancient wooden basket press made by the house of E. Cherreau — from what the local winemakers in Savigny-lès-Beaune tell me was the best producer of pressoirs and foudres at the time. It took a lot of effort — at one stage there were five of us pushing the handle around — but the results were well worth it as you can see below: —

The mouthfeel of the press wine from the lies (dead yeast cells, mainly) and the greater tannin extraction was spectacular and will make a great foil to the delicacy of the wine that ran free from the tank.

Running the free run wine off (the wine that comes easily off the skins without need for pressing—about 80% of the total amount) was drained in 15 minutes. Putting together the press, digging all of the skins out of the tank, pressing the skins and then cleaning up took us another 8 hours for only a barrel of wine. What love went into this cuvée!

Using a hundred year old press sure was a lot of fun and definitely reinforced my growing reputation in Savigny-lès-Beaune as l’êtranger con (crazy foreigner or idiot foreigner depending on how kind you are being to yourself that day) as we had a steady stream of wine makers visiting all day as the word got out around the village.

Check out the slideshow for more of the fun we got up to: —

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Kelly digging out like a pro!

Kelly digging out like a pro!

With such as small cuverie there was no chance of getting a large, unwieldy, ancient press in there so that meant digging the skins into 30L tubs and then walking them outside to the waiting press.

Hard yakka digging out

Hard yakka digging out

Being the winemaker, I (of course) got to jump in and finish the dig — grab all the glory and such.

Laying the boards

Laying the boards

Looks easy, but trust me on this one. Once all the skins are in the press, you need to lay boards on top to evenly distribute the pressing force. Tetris meets jigsaw puzzle!

Like slaves on a galley — heave!

Like slaves on a galley — heave!

Simon Davies, a former colleague of mine from my days in Publishing, and one of his best mates, Joe, were persuaded to make a dash from Alsace where they were on holiday to help with the pressing. A good day to have two burly guys to move the press head down onto the boards. No wonder one of the oldest winemakers in the village said the last time he saw a vertical press used without at least a belt motor was 1968!

At least I was nice enough to look after my cellar slaves

At least I was nice enough to look after my cellar slaves

2008 Pierro and 2009 Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "Les Folatières" to keep hydration levels high.

Breaking up the marc, old skool!

Breaking up the marc, old skool!

The pressing took about four hours and we tightened the screw only when the wine really slowed down it's flow. If you press too quickly you can be left with pockets of wet marc (read lost wine) — as this press is already pretty inefficient at getting wine out, no point losing any more. After four-ish hours, the marc (pressed skins) was very hard and we needed to use an old Grappin to rip it up so we could get the pressed skins out and off to the distillerie.

Sometimes it helps to have someone smaller than us brutes around

Sometimes it helps to have someone smaller than us brutes around

Kelly again was very game to jump into the press to get the marc out and off to the distillerie. As you can see, there is not a lot of room in there. She sure hasn't let the whole "Assistant Winemaker" at one of Australia's top Shiraz producers go to her head!

Team Decuvage celebrating the end of a long day.

Team Decuvage celebrating the end of a long day.

Joe, Kelly and Simon enjoy a well-earned bottle of Champagne — in this case a Bereche et Fils Les Beaux Regards, a zero dosage 100% Chardonnay. Talk about zingy! Thank you very much guys. I have been so lucky to have such great friends all harvest, that is for sure!

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