I had the opportunity this week to visit one of the top cava producers, Gramona, for the unveiling of the current release of their tête du cuvée wine, Enoteca. This one being from the 2002 vintage – not released for 15 years!
After an easy 60 minute drive to the estate, we started with a few great hours in the vineyard.
The Philosopher Vigneron
We started with meeting Jaume Gramona, and he started with a discussion of his philosophy of viticulture and oenology.
He is a philosopher vigneron filled with passion and drive who is also very much a proponent of organic viticulture and biodynamics. But he stressed that the goal for him of these methods of raising grapes was rooted in sustainability. He feels for the vineyards to be sustainable that they must be tended to in these ways. He pushed the sustainability beyond the vineyard and into the winery. But what does he mean for a winery to be sustainable? He explained that they have taken measures to reduce their energy consumption – they have 12 bore holes outside the winery, 140 metres deep, all for geothermal; they have photovoltaic panels – enough to take care of 17% of the winery’s electricity needs; and have converted all lights to LED, which has the complimentary benefit of reducing the risk of light-shock, something he feels is particularly important especially with sparkling wine. All these methods I’m familiar with at wineries that are trying to go “Green” or “Carbon neutral”, etc., but I like how he described it as making the winery “sustainable”. It sort of encapsulates the ideas and methods in a holistic way, rather than in a seemingly “green-washing” way.
There were some really cool things in the winery, including a traditional champagne press. Not one of the cylindrical ones we’re all used to seeing, rather this was a horizontal press, manufactured by Les Pressoirs Coquard.
It has a 8,000kg capacity, and the full cycle takes 4+ hours! With time for cleaning and loading they can only do 4 loads a day, limiting them to 32,000 kg a day. And that means 24 hour running, pushing the sorting work to take place in the middle of the night. Not optimal, for sure, so he’s getting a second one!
We continued through the winery to even more surprises.
Jaume is a serious scientist (he’s also a professor at the university in Tarragona), and dare I say a tinkerer. He wasn’t happy with the press fractions coming out of the press settings, so he decided to make his own, based on turbidity!
The particular problem Jaume has with the press fractions is that the first 200-250 litres coming out of the press contain too many solids for him. Jaume has the press set up so that the first bit of liquid to come out gets diverted to a less-than-desirable tank. He uses the above contraption to measure the turbidity and as soon as the juice thins out enough, he diverts to a this-is-the-good-stuff tank. (The first too-turbid litres get filtered and turned into a light and easy every-day lightly sparkling, not too dissimilar from a pet-net.) He can use the contraption to make as many fractions as he wants. He feels that for the long aged wines (like the one we were going to taste later – 15 years!), the must has to have a very low pH. So for those wines he takes the first press fraction, which has a pH of about 2.8. The next fraction, at a pH of 3.0 goes into wines with “less” aging, like 4-5 years. You might be wondering why he just doesn’t acidify – well, biodynamics does not allow for this, he said, just as it doesn’t allow for the use of enzymes.
I’ve known that the Champenoise generally use cultured yeast to inoculate their must, often with a yeast aptly called “Champagne yeast”. It is thought that the yeast should not impart it’s own flavors so as not to overwhelm the delicate aromas of the pretty underripe grapes. But Jaume was challenging the use of cultured yeast and allowing the ferments to start naturally. This got me thinking and challenging my perception of Champagne needing to be inoculated. Does it really need to be? I can’t wait to ask some Champagne winemakers!
Ever had a beer that was “skunked”? One that really just stinks, you know, like skunk! Well, that’s likely the result of light shock, and is more likely to occur in a clear bottle. The UV rays from light can deeply affect wine or beer.
Every wonder why Cristal champagne is wrapped in orange plastic? Well, that’s because Cristal is bottled (inexplicably!) in a clear bottle, making it highly susceptible to light shock. The orange wrapping provides 85% protection from the UV. Gramona uses a clear plastic that only gets 15% of the UV, but they have a green bottle so that probably is sufficient.
Did you know each one is hand wrapped?
I’ve been in a lot of wineries in my life. And while I truly believe you learn something at each visit, I can’t remember the last time I learned so much in one visit!