Monday, April 16, 2012

Perishing Pigeage - a dying art or an art to die for?

Pigeage a pied : my senses being indulged

Grapes are like eyeballs.  
Not that I have stood on eyeballs - but if I had, this is how I would imagine them to feel.  At the start of the treading, the grapes are whole, bouncy globes playing beneath the feet.  By the end of a good tread, feet have sunken into a marinade of thin stained fluid stewed with twigs and pips.  A sensation commencing with whimsical massage and ending in gentle exfoliation. The stomper starts firmly held atop the mass of grapes and ends sunken towards the bottom of the barrel.

The Allure

Something about the texture, sensation and smell of it all appeals to one's primal urges.  It is something akin to the childhood desires to roll in the dirt, play in the mud or eat snails (hmm to the latter, I still do that!).   Not to mention, the  divine beauty benefits of vinotherapy & wine spas.

On a more cerebral level, the tradition and romantic notion of manual vinification further draws you in.  Although quicker automatic machinery has taken over many vineyards, many traditional and premium wines are still produced manually, particularly in Europe.  I still remember  being called up to join the vendange when I lived in France.  I liked the notion of specifically hand picked grapes being gathered for a long artful process of bottling the perfect wine made with love by a discerning vintner.  I  also knew it was the quintessential French experience - the comradeship of les vendengers, eating rustic vineyard fare, and being part of an age old process  culminating in one of the finest products and biggest endowments of France.   It would be like becoming part of history.  However, the long hard days, frostbitten fingers and  destroyed backs sufficiently deterred me from joining the Beaujolais crew.  Ever the lady, I could be found abroad at a spa house whilst my comrades heroically filled crates back at the vineyard..

Twinkle Toes & Treading

Once the grapes are picked, they must be crushed to release specific elements and start primary fermentation.  Having humans physically stand on the grapes (foot treading as opposed to machines) is a gentler, more even process which doesn't crush the pips  (this releases oil and astringency which affects the flavor).  Clearly, this requires more labour and time to get through large volumes of grapes (tons!).  
As you have seen from my photo, I am all game for naked feet and grapes.
However, are you ready
for..... .....
 full naked swimming in your wine?


Pigeage is the french term for crushing grapes in the lagers (open fermentation tanks).  While fermenting, the liquid accumulates at the bottom and the skins and solids float to the top forming le chapeau  or the cap.  This requires a "punch down" to mix the cap back into the liquid.  What most people don't realize is that this can be traditionally done by someone swimming through the mixture ....  nude.  And yes, this is still practiced in some vineyards.
Don't believe me? See "The sensual side of pinot noir" and 
"Waiter, there's a naked woman in my wine" about a woman's experience performing naked pigeage in commercial pinot noir or here in Australia.  Apparently full body immersion is important to find areas of over heating in the tank as well as mix, and the warmth and CO2 bubbles make it a pleasant jacuzzi experience.

Much like that first realisation that santa doesn't exist, or first being told where babies come from many readers would rather have the bliss of ignorance on the naked pigeage matter.

To Perish or to Pigeage?

However, Pigeage is a dying art (literally and figuratively) so after ruminating,  I have compiled  my very own list of the dangers of pigeage (as if I haven't put you off enough already!).

My top 3 dangers of pigeage:

1. Death - (no I'm not kidding) 


Amateurs have died from treading grapes when rendered unconscious from the Carbon dioxide released from the crushing.  Read Here  about the tragic end to two wine enthusiasts (Moulin & Dachin) in the throws of traditional stomping.  I suppose there are worse ways of dying than gradually falling permanently asleep in a large tub of wine.

2. Public Health & Hygiene

Dirty, fungal, hairy feet in your merlot?
Naked bodies and pubic hair in your pinot gris?

Does drinking a glass of vino now traumatize you with images of skin cells, hair, sweat and microbes that don't belong to you?

Well, it's alcohol! The same thing in your hand santiser, in the swabs you use to clean skin before a procedure.  The same chemical compound that I use to sterile scrub before an operation.  Microbes e.g. tinea and cells etc.. don't survive in the fermenting alcohol, anaerobic, carbon dioxide environment.  To quote Cork Jester in relation to port: " [the alcohol] content is high enough to kill both toe jam and jock itch, though some feel those are part of the ineffable bouquet of Old World wine".

This practice has been outlawed in many states due to food, hygiene and safety standards but many traditional vineyards still practice.  Some vintners say they " only use beautiful women".  This at least takes your mind away from a borat character with a fungal infection swimming in your wine.

3. Accidental Injury

So intoxicating is the joy of grape stomping that some people either overexert themselves in the tramping effort, twirl too much or indulge too much in prior tastings.  This poor reporter has struggled to get employment and live down this horrible incident while reporting on live television.

Enfin, after all that, salut! chin-chin! drink up!


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