Le Triage

ITriaget was a very sticky writer who got back to his hotel room this evening to clean up before supper and do a spot of writing. He had been down at la Vougeraie, being a helpful pair of hands. He was not allowed a pair of secateurs for insurance reasons, but they seemed more impressed with his eye and hand feel than they had any right to be!

Who invented the concept of the triage table is moot. Nicholas Potel, who made that rather nice Savigny-Lès-Beaune those lucky enough to be present, consumed at the book launch, is quite adamant that it was his father Gérard, to whom he dedicated that Savigny, first had the idea. Others also lay claim to the idea. Whoever it was probably first got the idea from the luggage sorting area at a busy airport. The whole bunches are landed at the loading dock from the ubiquitous white vans. (It seems that every white van in France has been commandeered to work in the villages this Vintage.) Occasionally flatbed trailers being towed behind tractors are used, but that doesn’t seem to make the ‘Seventy-Four’ much slower. If you want to get anywhere fast during the vintage round here at this time of year, you’ve got to cough up and take the motorway.

The twenty-five kilo plastic trays are unloaded from the vans or pickups or whatever they come to the loading dock on. They are then put in their respective piles. Today the Premier Cru Les Damodes from Nuits-Saint-Georges has arrived, as well as the Premier Cru Le Bel Air from Gevrey-Chambertin. The Winemaker-in-Chief is making absolutely sure that these two loads do not get mixed up. These are both really nice little red wines, very distinctive, and quite valuable. Mix a tray up and you’ve got a wine that has a right to no grander a title than Bourgogne. Les Damodes is Nuits-Saint-Georges northernmost vineyard and butts into Vosne-Romanée’s Les Malconsorts with which it has much in common. There are those who say that if any Nuits-Saint-Georges were to be upgraded to a Grand Cru, (it has not a single Grand Cru to its name), then it should be Les Damodes. The problem there is that if Damodes is upgraded, then so should Malconsorts. Fine you say, but a few hundred yards north lie Vosne’s own Grands Crus, the Romanées-Contis, The Tâches, and the Richebourgs of this world, commanding four-figure sums per bottle. Would they need renaming as Even-Grander Crus? As is common in Bourgogne, a great deal of air is expended on such matters and nothing gets done.

Back to the triage, the bunches are in their trays on the dock. The fittest and halest of the young men there tips a tray up and tips it on his end of the conveyor belt. The first bit of the belt shakes the grapes a bit to lie them flatter. They then roll onto a belt that takes the grapes at a moderate speed to the hopper some 20 yards away. On both sides of the belt stand about a dozen people armed with secateurs, apart from me, as I’m not on the payroll and not covered by insurance. Pierre and Sylvie seem quite happy with my work however as a triageur. It is strangely hypnotic watching the grapes passing in front of your eyes. You get to know the feel of a good bunch that is healthy, and a slightly soggy bunch that isn’t. There are also dry mildewed bunches that need either throwing away completely, or passing the bunch to someone with secateurs to cut the bad stuff out.

From the sorting belt the grapes drop into a hopper which liftes them and drops them into a destemmer, which separates the grapes gently from the stems. Sylvie describes it as being like a hedgehog inside and the grapes drop through the spines but the stems get spat out the far end. It works whatever goes on in the middle. The grapes are collected in a tub on wheels, which fills quite rapidly. When it is full someone calls ‘halt’ and everyone takes a breather, while Pierre drives a special Forklift under it, with its prongs locking in the bottom of the tub. He drives the forklift over to a vat and lifts it up to the top, and here is where it’s clever, it rotates the tub sideways and tips the contents into the vat where the grapes will start their fermentation.

Half way through the process with the Damodes, Pierre calls halt. Only Pierre knows when to do this. The destemmer is taken out of the system and now the system is in ‘Whole-Bunch’ mode. At this point your writer gets a little tenser. I had always seen the destemmer as a sort of longstop, in case anyone misses some rotting stuff, but Pierre is convinced that nothing does get past everybody. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘practically nothing got past you, and you’re the least experienced person here.’

No one took their trousers off today to do Le Pigeage, so today’s pictures are of the triage process.