There was great excitement at Rathfinny last week when our gleaming new French grape press arrived.
Our new grape press, manufactured by Coquard, near Reims, France, in the Champagne region, required a specialised lifting system to lift it into place at the eastern entrance of the winery.
Note the customised red colour – it should be bright enough to keep the press operator awake even late at night!
There are 2 main types of presses, horizontal and vertical, but the Coquard breaks the mould:
– A vertical press, as traditionally used in Champagne, is a circular structure with a vertical axle. It gets filled with grapes and a plate moves down and compresses the mass, allowing juice to flow out.
Once grapes have been squeezed and juice has been extracted, the mass becomes a ‘gâteau’ (cake), quite compact and hard to keep pressing. In order to extract some more juice the press releases the pressure, and using forks, the press operator has to turn up that cake, to uncompact the mass and rearrange it so it can be pressed again.
This action is called, in Champagne, ‘la retroussé‘.
– A horizontal press is a metallic cage rotating on a horizontal axle.
Nowadays, lots of presses use a technology combining compressed air and a membrane (some say a bladder).
The membrane inflates, creating pressure and squeezing juice out of the berries.
The cycles consist of alternating inflation and deflation. Sometimes, while the membrane is deflated, the cage rotates a few times, rearranging the mass of grapes within the cage, facilitating further cycles of pressing. This rearrangement or ‘turn up’ mimics the ‘retroussé’.
The Coquard press is hydraulic. Its principle is that, with 2 plates, one immobile and one moved by a piston, it replicates the traditional vertical Champagne press. But having both these inclined, when the moving plate releases the pressure, and creates space, the cake is inclined and its weigh makes it fall, creating a natural ‘retroussé‘ by gravity.
The press sit 6 meters over our heads in the cellar, which will allow juice transfer by gravity, rather that having to use a pump – it is considered a more gentle process.