Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Visiting Champagne No. 5: The Co-operative

We left the fields of fat grapes and walked through the village of Sacy to the co-operative. It was a modern building, functional, but thoughtfully designed. And, as we found out, it is deceptive in its size since a large part of what goes on inside is located underground.

The crates of grapes are unloaded again from the tractors and placed on rolling pallets which are dragged onto a computerised weighing bed. All the details of the grapes are recorded. Where they came from, what type, how heavy. A long measuring rod like a car dipstick is poked into the crates to measure the sugar content of the grapes and this is recorded also. That's M. Mobillion in the apron and sunglasses, watching his harvest being brought in.

There is a chalkboard on the wall which records the 'moyennes des degrés' or average degree of sugar in the grapes. You can see that the harvest began on Monday 19th September with the picking of the Meunier grapes which already had a high sugar content of more than 10 degrees. They then moved on to the Chardonnay and eventually the Pinot Noir.

The crates pile up quickly and there is a bit of a bottleneck to get all the grapes through the presses. You probably can't make out what is written on the black label, but some of the crates here are already earmarked for Taittinger, the well known champagne house.

For some reason, coccinnelles (ladybirds) are attracted to the crates. M. Mobillion looked pleased. He told us it was a sign of a good harvest.

After each pressing, the pressoir is cleaned out with a hose to remove the crushed grapeskins. The man got down inside with a scrubbing brush to make sure that everything was clean and that there was no contamination between each load of grapes.

When the pressoir is reloaded with grapes, the men work at a frantic pace, launching the grapes into the deep hole and then flinging the crates aside. Not a good idea to get in the way! Local people come along to watch and take pictures. It is almost like a spectator sport. They want to get all the grapes in as quickly as possible so that only a small part of the juice is lost due to the weight of the grapes themselves. The sooner the grapes are loaded, the sooner they can start the hydraulic pumps and the slow crushing process to collect the juice.

Everything gets sticky with the sweet grape juice so the crates are given a wash before they go back out to the fields.

Next we're going to go downstairs to have a look where the juice goes...

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