One of the threads in today’s Spanish wine scene is the recovery of lost traditions. In Spain and elsewhere enterprising winemakers are re-discovering and exploring techniques that have been forgotten or abandoned as newer technologies have come to the fore.
While modern methods have clearly raised the baseline quality of winemaking across the globe, there are also many valuable insights to be found in the traditional wisdom and folkways learned by generations of past winemakers. Basilio Izquierdo is one of the most knowledgeable and inquisitive winemakers I know at unearthing worthy techniques lost in the mists of time.
One of the old ways he literally recovered is a steam engine powered vertical or “basket” press. He had it converted to electric power, but it runs on the same principal as wooden presses going back to pre-industrial times. Grapes sit in a basket and are pressed until the juice is squeezed out through the sides. Here the mechanized action is slow, steady and gentle.
You can see how it works in the video below. It was shot during the pressing of Basilio’s Viura and Garnacha Blanca white grapes from the 100+ year old Pago Gallocanta vineyard during the 2010 harvest.
The advantages of the press’s soft, slow pressing at a yield of 45% are increased elegance, silky suppleness, and freshness in contrast to contemporary presses typically with yields of 50% in Champagne and 70% in Rioja for white grapes. The higher yields squeeze more juice out of the grapes, but increase oxidation and lessen aging potential. The key disadvantage of pressing at such a gentle, low yield is that you get less wine per kilo of grapes; and also somewhat less aromatic intensity.
In essence, the tradeoff from using this antique press is less wine and a less aromatic intensity, but on the positive side increased elegance, finer and more supple mouthfeel, and greater freshness. The result of this revival of an old time technology is that the winemaker has another tool in his belt to best craft he is tryhing to create.
Disclosure: Wines from Basilio Izquierdo’s namesake winery are part of the Spanish-Wine-Exclusives.com portfolio, which I Co-Founded. While I have tried my best to be impartial, my views should not be considered wholly objective.