I am currently in the town of Ammerschwihr in Alsace, France. Alsace borders Germany and has changed hands many times in its history. This ancient straddling of people and place is reflected in the feel of the region; from the architecture to the food and language.
I am staying with Christian Binner, a winemaker who makes gorgeous natural wines in the house he grew up in.
Christian has a number of plots spread out around the area which allows him to grow a wide variety of grapes and thus produce a number of different wines. Yesterday we harvested Pinot Gris grapes that will be used for the second fermentation of the Binner Cremant (french sparkling wine made using the Champagne method outside of the Champagne region).
Distinct from a Pet Nat, which is made with only one fermentation, a Cremant is made using a secondary fermentation process. This secondary fermentation requires added sugar and yeast. Since this is natural wine the sugar comes from juice pressed from the sweet Pinto Gris grapes. The yeast is a copy of one of the native yeasts from Christian’s wines that he had reproduced by a lab. Cremant and Champagne require added yeast because the alcohol level in the wine after the first fermentation is so high it kills off all the wild yeasts and thus added yeast is necessary to start the process of transforming the added sugars. This results in a wine that spends a few years in the fermentation process, with big robust bubbles and a complex flavor.
This particular harvest was earlier than usual due to the rain and weather of the past year. But when the grapes are ready they must be harvested. Our job was simple: cut the clusters of grapes from the vines and put the perfect grapes in the black bucket and the moldy grapes in the green bucket. It turns out that some of the grapes had been hit with grey mold. Interestingly, grey mold is not problematic in and of itself. Although it renders the grapes unsuitable for the Cremant, it does not make them useless. Grapes with grey mold can still be used for wine making, albeit a less expensive wine, and are completely edible. I gave one a taste and encountered a burst of apricot followed by a savory note reminiscent of tarragon – super interesting!
After the harvest the grapes were pressed into juice which was put into a stainless steal tank and left to sit for a day. During this time the solids will drop to the bottom and the clear juice will remain on top.
Tomorrow, we will use the clear sweet juice from on top and mix it with the first fermentation of the Cremant. But that process won’t start for a few hours yet. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy this last glass of this 2005 Le Temps De Cerises Fou du roi that Christian had sitting around….