The EPISTÉMÊ cuvée is a special cuvée made each year by a student of the School of Wine & Spirits Business together with our partner Armand Heitz, a committed Burgundian winemaker.
Our student is involved in all steps of the process, from the choice of grape variety to the launch of your wine, including harvesting, cellar work and bottling.
Race to grapes!
September 17, 8am.
First day of the harvest.
The whole team is ready! So are the machines.
The weather is so bad that the grape-cutters get washed away by the rain in the vineyard. I am happy to be down in the winery, as I have already experimented with the secateurs several years ago.
This year is special. As I explained earlier (STEP #0), the weather was bad for the vines and the grapes suffered from mildew, powdery mildew and sometimes even botrytis. I don’t know if we can talk about climate change, but 2021 was quite something!
As a matter of fact, the work in the vineyard is complicated for the grape-cutters, not only there are less grapes, but the few grapes to be picked were of much lower quality.
Not easy for the teams to stay motivated!
What happens once the grapes are harvested?
We receive Pinot Noir grapes in the big grey and red boxes that Marie mentioned last year. Then they are spread out on the sorting table, and we manually remove the grapes which quality is not good enough or that show signs of disease.
Then we choose whether or not to destem the grapes (separate the berries from the stalk, the stem that carries the grapes) depending on the quality of the berries, the maturity of the stalks and the wine we are considering.
After that, we send the grapes to stainless steel vats and let them macerate. The aim is for the grapes to infuse together to develop their aromas. In a few days, we will let the temperature rise so that the alcoholic fermentation can begin: thanks to the action of the yeasts, the sugars present in the grapes will be transformed into alcohol.
Fermentation is one of the keys to the wine making process.
Throughout this period, there are many actions to be carried out, among them punching down and pumping over. These allow the extraction of colour, the structuring of the wine, but also the supply of oxygen and thus the stimulation of fermentation.
I use the opportunity of my immersion to learn these basic yet crucial winemaking techniques.
For white wines, it is even simpler, the grapes are sent in a press, where only the juice is recovered, then they are transferred to the tanks.
And what about my cuvée?
We quickly agreed with Armand to make the second vintage of Episteme a white wine, produced from grapes from a young Burgundy vineyard and we settled on a young vineyard.
It’s located in Corpeau, next to Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet, and it’s a Sauvignon plot!
Sauvignon in Burgundy? well yes, you read that right 🙂
It is true that when it comes to white wines, Burgundy is the land of Chardonnay. And Sauvignon is generally grown in the Loire Valley and in the Bordeaux vineyards. But there are also a few Sauvignon vines in Burgundy, more particularly in Saint-Bris, in the Auxerrois vineyard.
The vineyard we chose is therefore kind of unique
Armand has been working this plot for 4-5 years, testing the most nature-friendly techniques. It has the particularity of being grassed with a plant cover which allows to favour the organic matter and the biological life of the soil! In addition, it is covered with hemp. Did you know that hemp is a good alternative to grass and prevents weeds!?
I’ll tell you about the winemaking methods we have chosen in the next article, but here’s a hint: we may be blending with the Sauvignon and … ?
Welcome to Chassagne
September 13, 7am.
The church of Chassagne-Montrachet rings the bells, sky is a rosy-blue painting, and the day is getting brighter.
I cross the entrance to the domain. It simply looks like the courtyard of a large farmhouse: no fountain, no lawn, no parking lot, and no golden fence as some might imagine.
I am greeted by François, the cellar master. It’s early but he is already giving it his all at work! He immediately introduces me to the team, they’re young and friendly.
So many names to remember in a row!
I can already work on the vintage since the courses only start in a couple of weeks at the school! It’s a great opportunity to understand the spirit of the Domaine before working remotely, only coming back for the key stages.
That doesn’t leave much time, though. The work is going to be intense and I am very excited to see the project start and to be part of the team!
We quickly get to work.
The harvest has not yet begun, but it is nevertheless time to prepare for the arrival of the grapes. We clean the tanks, pipes, pumps and all the winemaking equipment that encounters the wine by sanitising it with sulphur dioxide (SO2).
This may sound surprising, but it is one of the best ways to not only ensure that everything is clean but also to avoid bacteria and micro-organisms that can affect the stability of the wine.
Later, we wash the barrels, inside and outside, with a with a 360° cleaning nozzle, as well as a high-pressure water washer for the outside. Once clean and dry, we take them down to the cellar with a winch.
I even learn the art of lining up the oak barrels in the cellar with a spirit level, a work of patience and precision.
This is when a tall man wearing a beret, long shirt, short pants, high socks, dressed in a 50’s peasant style comes to greet me and gives me a good shake!
I finally meet Armand Heitz!
Indeed, we have known each other virtually via the social networks for a few years, but with the Covid-19 and the gap year, we had never met for real.
Armand is to the domain what a maestro is to his musicians. He oversees the teams working in the vineyard, the cellar, the permaculture garden of Loaris, the cattle breeding activity as well as a bed and breakfast project. In short, he has a lot on his plate. Yet, he’s there to help out and ensure that the job is done with precision.
We quickly discuss the plots of vineyards available for the cuvée and we agree on the grape variety(ies) that we are going to work with. We also think about the different types of ageing possible according to the equipment available in the winery.
Those are fundamental elements for the rest of the work on the cuvée!
We had a few blind wine tastings during the week to bond with Armand and the whole team. This is an essential step to be able to express one’s emotions and sensations, to get to know each other and to start thinking collectively about the vintage.
Do you want to know which grape variety(ies ? 😊 ) we’re working on? Stay tuned for the next post!
I am Olivier Mauhin,
I’m a true wine enthusiast since 2014 and I’ ve just joined the School of Wine and Spirits Business (SWSB).
The whole project is about transmission.
Armand is going to teach me the backstage work of a winemaker, and we will be doing the winemaking together. This is a golden opportunity for me! I already experienced working in the vineyards in 2018 and I loved it so I’m super excited to get back into it!
Now it’s my turn to go behind the scenes and get a taste of the winemaking process for the 2021 cuvée!
Let’s face it, 2021 is a special year for French agriculture.
The weather in Burgundy has been affected by late frosts, irregular rainfall, hail in the summer, thunderstorms and reduced sunshine compared to the average in previous years.
Is this a cause-and-effect link with climate change in relation to human over-consumption? I couldn’t say so!
What I can say, however, is that I will take advantage of this opportunity to raise awareness among amateurs, enthusiasts and the curious about the importance of adapting to different modes of consumption, whether they are food or not.
Permaculture, agroecology, biodynamics, are more ecological agricultural practices and Armand Heitz practices them all!
Would you like to find out how these farming methods promote the regeneration of the ecosystem?
I’ll try to provide you with answers throughout my adventure by sharing all the steps with you here.
Don’t miss anything by following the Domaine Armand Heitz Instagram page (@armandheitz), the school’s Instagram page (@bsb.winespirits) or my page dedicated to the world of wine (@frenchie.winelover)!
In the meantime, here are a few photos of Marie’s experience: