One sharp-eyed reader spotted the words ‘Whole Bunch’ on the label of the Bellingham Roussanne I blogged about a couple of weeks ago and wondered what the significance was. There’s a clue in the small print which mentions ‘gentle treatment’, ‘soft handling’ and ‘delicate extraction of the juice’.
It all starts in the vineyard:
When grapes are harvested by hand, the pickers usually cut off whole bunches, not just individual grapes (you can see the stalks in the picture below); the main exception to this is when high quality sweet wine is being made, when the harvesters will go through the vineyard several times, only snipping out the ripest grapes from the bunches each time. Machine harvesting is different: this works in the same way as shaking a tree to get apples off, so just the grapes are dislodged and caught in a net – the stalks stay on the vine (although this method also yields some leaves, bits of twig and anything else that’s loose on the vine, which has to be sorted out later).
Now let’s move to the winery. Normally, if whole bunches have been picked, they will be tipped into a machine called a Crusher/Destemmer – which does just what the name suggests: gently crushes the grapes to begin the fermentation process and removes the fruit from the stems. Bellingham – and many other producers – do things a little differently; they miss out the destemming and gently press the whole bunches to release the juice. The stems not only form a cradle round the grapes, protecting them from harder pressure, they also act as runways enabling the juice to be collected more easily. The idea being that higher quality juice produces better wine.
An extended version of this process is also used for some red wines and is particularly suited to varieties such as Pinot Noir. Here, after crushing, the whole bunches are tipped into the fermenting vessel – tank or barrel depending on the winemaker – and the stems remain in there with the grapes until the fermentation is complete and the wine is drained off leaving the solid material behind. The stems add tannin (so this method isn’t used with thick-skinned varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon) and so increase the complexity of the wine – and hopefully the drinking pleasure.
That explains, in brief, what we mean by ‘whole bunch’. So much from 2 simple-looking words.