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30/11/2018

Vintage at Le Pin - the Final Countdown

by David Thomas (Sales Director)

My time at Le Pin was coming to a close, with the final denouement. With the ferments finishing, to alleviate concerns about oxidation, the vats are one by one sealed and nitrogen is pumped into the top of each tank to allow the now finished wine and skins to spend a few more days in contact with each other – just to allow a little extra extraction and flavour development. As with all other aspects of the wine making process at Le Pin the various tanks are tasted daily and the daily management of the post-fermentation vats is decided: how long to leave the skins in contact, any temperature adjustments required, any oxidation or slight wetting of the top of the caps required. All this is leading to the process of draining the vats and ‘digging out’ before finally pressing the skins to just extract that last little essence of 2018 Le Pin.

The skill of every great wine maker is the blending process. Think of the various ferments as a painter’s palette allowing the wine maker to dip into the multitude of colours; add a little more spice or fruit content, maybe drop in a small amount of the pressed wine to add density and tannins, maybe take a small amount of the younger and earlier picked fruit to add freshness and fruit flavours – it really is an art and tremendous skill set. However at its heart it requires the fruit coming into the winery to be as perfect as possible and so it is the viticulture that is the driving force in any winery; you can make good wine from not great fruit with a few wine making tricks but you cannot make brilliant wine without starting with brilliant fruit.

I have to admit that back in the day one of my favourite tasks was the digging out of the ferments – it can be back breaking work, extremely messy, and you finish the day with very stained hands and clothes that even vanish will not help… at Le Pin I was a little overexcited when the call came in that today was the day to break the doors open and starting digging out the grapes.

Initially you drain off all the wine from under the cap, and at Le Pin this is gravity-fed directly into the brand spanking new barrels lying in the cellar below the winery. It is not the quickest process and takes a good hour or so to empty one ferment – then the digging starts… and I will admit that I did all the digging, despite offers from Jacques to take over. It was a matter of principal – if you start a dig out, you finish the dig out and then, and only then, can you crack open a  cold beer – a lesson learnt back in my winemaking days in the Barossa Valley. Luckily the ferments at Le Pin are nowhere near as large as some of the Australian vats I had attacked some 16 years ago…

One point of note for the 2018 vintage at Le Pin was the extremely small berries. They were picked in almost perfect condition, but Jacques and Fiona both commented at the time at the low levels of juice produced when first crushed and pumped into the vats. This resulted in smaller ferments than normal and when we filled the barrels from the first fruit, the younger vines, it resulted in 5 rather than the normal 7 barrels – which in essence is 50 cases less Le Pin. It will be an amazing vintage of Le Pin but volumes will be down.

I have one final blog to write – to summarise and reflect on my time out here in Pomerol – but with the ferments finished and pressing complete it is time to wash down the winery and prep everything for the 2019 vintage.

As we closed the winery – a rainbow appeared in the sky above le Pin – nothing more to add really….