I’m spending some great time with Tom Lubbe at Domaine Matassa in Calce, at the heart of the mountaineous back country behind Perpignan, in the Roussillon. I was hoping to do full days of harvesting, but the forces of nature decided otherwise. More precisely, boars had started to eat their way through the two mountain vineyards that Tom had been keeping for last, and the grapes had to be brought in earlier than ever before, to avoid losing the lot. There are still a few grapes here and there, which I’m looking to get to tomorrow, but the huge, eighteen-hour days of harvesting are done with.
There’s plenty of other work to be done in the cellars, though. Bottling and packing cuvées from previous years, moving wine from one tank to the next, or from tanks to barrels, or doing the pigeage. Pigeage consists of punching down the chapeau (the hat, litterally) of grapes, skins and pips that is fermenting in the tanks with the juice. It notably helps control the temperature of the fermentation, as the chapeau gets hotter than the juice. And it helps work the tannins and flavor components into the juice.
In a small domaine like Matassa, an exceptional biodynamic operation whose wines show freshness rarely seen in such warm climate, this is done by hand. Or rather, by feet. And legs. The technique consists of pressing down with both feet to get the thick layer of solids down into the juice and letting the juice rise up above it. It’s quite an exertion, and there is a small risk, if you’re not careful, of falling in and drowning – I’d rather die drinking the stuff than bathing in it, so I was careful. It’s also one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve ever had. It’s a sensuous and meaningful gesture, which you can see working as you go. And perched on the side of the tank, I had the chance to smell and taste the juice that is slowly turning into wine. It was simply fantastic, generous and refined – and it’s not even a bit of the way to where it’s going.
Tom Lubbe, his family and colleagues have been generous hosts and are helping me get a much better sense of where wine comes from. I’m also discovering an impressive, austere and magnificent landscape of sea and mountains on the edge of the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees. I’ll have plenty more to say on this over the coming days.