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"Pigeage” (punching of the cap) or “red legs".

Because my profession as a vigneron is incredibly beautiful and terribly broad, and because I feel a need to show it to you and thank all those people who support me every day, I am delighted to share a part of it with you in this sequence which I’ve entitled "Pigeage” (punching of the cap) or “red legs"..

One of the most common images we have of the winemaking work carried out after the grape harvest, is that of the “pigeage”, or “punching down” of the cap of the fermenting “must”...

O.K., but what is it?

If you look at a vat of red grapes in fermentation, you’ll see a liquid part (known as the “must”) and a solid part (seeds, skins and possibly the stalks of the grapes). Due to the action of the billions of bubbles of carbon dioxide produced by the yeasts (see the “A wine, a universe” video), the solids collect at the top of the vat, where they form a "cap". This is a sort of dry, solid crust about twenty centimetres thick. One of the things that the winemaker must do, is to ensure that this cap stays in contact with the must below. Pretty much like when you immerse a tea bag in a cup of hot water. The longer the tea bag remains in contact with the water, the more concentrated and strongly coloured your tea will be. It's the same with wine. To extract the colour and the many other compounds responsible for the quality of my Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph, I’ll use leg power to punch down the caps in the fermenting vats, in other words, I’ll use my legs to push down on the caps so that they break up and mix with the must. Pigeage (punching), or foulage (crushing), has been used for hundreds and thousands of years. Today, there exist more modern techniques using robots. But I still use my legs for the job. I’m in direct contact with the juices. It helps me to understand them better in order to work them better. And, as you can imagine, after I spend some time “punching” away, my legs are all red. But, who cares? At least I’m a “Happy Winemaker!”...

Archives

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