In Marc Desom’s cellar nothing is left to chance (Desom Domaine et Caves, Remich). Using state-of-the-art equipment, this winemaker and cellar master is in control of every step of the winemaking process.
Harvesting the grapes is not an end in itself, unless the aim is to pick table grapes, but that’s not what the Moselle is all about (although it does produce some). If vines are grown on the Grand Duchy’s eastern border then they are most definitely for making wine. And wine is made in cellars. So grape harvesting is all about getting the finest grapes straight to the wine press. The saying goes that good wine cannot be made without great grapes, and truer words were never spoken.
From being a farmer, the winemaker now turns into a chemist. A winemaker has to understand and supervise the process whereby pressed grape juice turns into wine, which is not a natural process. Left to itself, must will turn into vinegar. To successfully engineer this delicate operation, enormous expertise is required; and the winemaker also has to know where he is going, what he wants and what his grapes are capable of giving him.
Marc Desom (Desom Domaine et Caves, Remich) is someone who can absolutely step up to the mark. Having been trained in Champagne to understand effervescence, then about reds and whites in Switzerland, this is a man who knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. His cellar illustrates this perfectly: located on the road out of Remich leading to Stadtbredimus along the dolomite rock cliffs. Extended and modernised in 2003, the premises are an example of how to make best use of the space available. Everything has been very carefully thought out: “We didn’t have much room, so we didn’t have any choice!” Desom says smiling. The whole production line is spread over three floors, which is impossible to detect from the outside.
To preserve the grapes’ integrity, gravity is used to move the grapes right through the winemaking process. The grape bunches arrive untouched at the top level of the winemaking facility where they are de-stemmed and lightly crushed. The grapes then fall into one of three pneumatic presses where they are gently pressed, crushed by a balloon that gradually inflates with compressed air. The grape juices, automatically separated according to quality, are then channelled into their respective vats below. Everything moves according to gravity: the next stage always taking place below the previous one.
Temperature, the Key to Fermentation
The grapes used to produce crémants miss out the destemming and crushing stages, whole bunches going into the vats. “Contact with the skins means it’s possible to preserve the acidity which is essential for crémants,” explains Marc Desom. As for the still wines, they go through the whole production line. However, the red wines don’t quite follow the same route since the Pinots Noirs are destemmed and lightly crushed, but not pressed straightaway. “I leave them to macerate for several days in two thirteen-ton vats,” explains Marc Desom. “The grapes are automatically mixed together and moved to the top [the grapes get combined, those on the bottom being brought up to the top].” On his estate, Marc Desom advocates pre-fermentation cold maceration for two days as this brings out the complexity of the aromas extracted.
This question of temperature in the cellar is absolutely crucial since this is what will determine how long the alcohol ferments, which is when the sugar is transformed into alcohol. “If fermentation takes place too quickly, the aromas will be lost,” Marc Desom points out. “The longer the wine remains in contact with the lees, the more it gains in complexity and finesse.” By controlling the temperature as closely as possible, the cellar master can control the length of time. To achieve this control, the cellar has a cooling unit that creates a buffer tank at 5 °C. Cold air from here is then sent to the vats through stainless steel cooling coils and plates which are immersed in the vats.
The temperature for all the vats is controlled electronically and automatically regulated to suit the cellar master. “We can even chill the grapes before they go through the press by using tubular heat exchangers at the destemming/crushing stage,” explains Marc Desom. “This system has been very important for us this year, as it meant the grapes didn’t have to endure the soaring temperatures at the start of the harvesting period. Without this system uncontrolled fermentation would have started as soon as we got to débourbage (racking)” [when solid particles – sediment – are removed from the must before fermentation].
So the grape juices end up in their vats in the very best conditions. Those that will be used for crémants have ended up in large 25 000-litre vats; whereas the estate’s other wines fill 3,000-litre vats. This allows the cellar master to play with the wines during the period between fermentation and bottling (élevage) by working with the specific characteristics of each plot of vines. So many different elements with which to carefully shape future blends and create increasingly complex and distinctive vintages. But then that’s another story…