By Robert Haas
When you enter our new tasting room you can see our Séguin-Moreau 1600 gallon Limousin oak cuves in the background:
We really love them. But they are much more than a mise en scène for our visitors. They are valuable because of their flexibility. With the flat bottom and the wide door at the base, they can be used to ferment red wines (unlike our foudres). They have a large stainless-steel door on the top, and if we want to ferment without oxygen (as we often do for Grenache and Counoise) we can close the door. But if we want to use them for open-top fermenting (as we typically want for Syrah and Mouvedre) we just leave the door on top. Instant flexibility. And they're useful during the rest of the year, too: when their covers are fitted, they act like a foudre and provide large oak ageing before bottling.
Four of them are new this year. We are running several fermentations through each in order to minimize the influence of new oak on our wines, so when the primary fermentations are finished we remove the wine to other storage and the berries to the press, in a process known in French as écoulage, literally translatable as "detanking". Then we reuse the cuves for the next lot of harvest. A photo of the écoulage, below:
The interiors of the cuves are fairly high-tech, and include heat-exchange piping for cooling or warming as needed. In the two photos below you can see the floor of one just emptied and cleaned and the inside with its piping.
Looking up from inside the cuve shows its open top with its safety grid:
We are picking mourvèdre today. The grapes are going to fermentation in the emptied tank. They arrive from the vineyard in half-ton bins, are taken off with a fork-lift, weighed and dumped onto our vibrator belt to be conveyed to the de-stemmer. From there the de-stemmed berries and their natural juice go into the newly emptied cuve (below) to restart its cycle of use. Simple, huh?