The photo above is Navarro's modern take on the centuries old tradition of pigeage—treading on the grapes. Although pigeage has disappeared except as a tourist attraction—or a Lucille Ball TV rerun—in most wine producing areas, it stubbornly remains as the primary method of fermenting Pinot Noir in Burgundy. Open-top fermenters are filled with grapes—destemmed or whole clusters or both—then someone, historically a male, will strip to their underwear and hop in. Fermentations get off to very sluggish starts when grapes are harvested cold. Hot spots develop in the must when the fermentation in one area becomes more active than in the surrounding grapes; the task is to mix the hot with the cold to even out the fermentation, and the human body is a great heat sensor. When we started making wine we were skeptical of pigeage, so over two vintages we experimented by fermenting Pinot two ways: by pumping the must or pigeage.
Navarro winery crush interns ready for punchdowns, September 2020. In spite of masks, social distancing, smoke and ash—not to mention the lack of a sit-down hot meal at noon—it was one of the best teams we've seen at Navarro.
Pigeage à la Navarro.
The results were consistently different—the pumped wines were less aromatic and the flavors less nuanced. Perhaps Pinot Noir needs a little more oxygen than other red grapes and pigeage provides that magic amount of oxygenation. Navarro's routine for fermenting Pinot Noir: bins are filled with cold grapes—destemmed or with up to 15% whole clusters—and after two to three days a few grams of yeast are added and pigeage begins twice a day until the must is pressed. Being touchy about sanitation, we don't want someone in their shorts in our Pinot. Rubber waders don't work since you can't sense the heat so we settled on using shoulder-length, thin poly gloves. An exceptional vintage is reflected in deep red cherry and plum flavors, a velvet mouthfeel and a clove-enhanced floral finish. Gold Medal winner.