For a wine lover, Harvest is a magical time of year- so many possibilities abound for the future of what makes it to your glass. For a Winemaker, it’s a lot like giving birth. You know that it’s going to occur at some point in a specified window of time, there are variables and false starts- but when it's go time, it’s GO TIME. This came across clearly in my communications with Carmen Hickey, Hospitality Director for Laetitia Winery and Vineyard- this Bubbly Blogger had a mission to capture the elusive Coquard Press, and Sparkling Winemaker Dave Hickey in action. When that email came in, I did what everyone wishes they could do on a lovely Tuesday morning- I hightailed it to the winery.
In order to keep with the universally desired Methode Champenoise style of wine making, the Coquard Press is a key element for production. Called the “Gentle Giant” by Mrs. Hickey, their Coquard Presses were the first 2 in North America and live up to their name. By the way, Dom Perignon, you did it again! That's right, he also invented the Coquard Press. The massive wooden presses take up a good portion of Laetitia's press room just off the main tasting area of the winery, and press up to 4.4 tons (8 picking bins) of grapes. As in the Champenoise style, grapes are handpicked gently and rushed to the press room. The Coquard will then descend into the floor, grapes are placed as whole clusters into the basket, and the press commences- very gently and quickly. The juice runs into a holding tank, and then is pumped into large tanks for the process of new wine to begin!
From left: Coquard Press at Laetitia Winery & Vineyard, Wine making team gently stirring up pressed grapes before another round of press, Sparkling Winemaker Dave Hickey.
The process is methodical and takes around 3 hours for a cycle from beginning to end. Every so often, the winery team will “lift the skirt” of the press and gently mix the cluster for another pass on the press. What comes out is a juice that is very clean, and soft in taste with less of the harsh tannins typically associated with a more aggressive pressing of the stems and seeds. Lucky for me, some fresh pressed juice made it into my glass- and I am officially able to concur!
The Vineyard itself was planted by French Viticulturists in 1982, who determined that the land and climate providing the growing conditions were very similar to their homeland in Epernay, France. Which in turn led to their philosophy of making wine in the traditional French way. As time and ownership changed, it was sustainability that became another hallmark of the winery; as what is left of the grapes from the press get distributed to a large compost pile in the vineyard, and then used in the soil for the next vintage.
We know. It only looks like Heaven.
If you have not taken the time to visit Laetitia Winery and Vineyard, do. The Winery is located just south of Arroyo Grande, California, but you feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere- surrounded by miles of lush vineyard. At the top of the property stands the Estate House; with a near 360 degree view of the land from the vineyards to the south, to the Pacific Ocean to the north. The site itself is stunning, also, with a glass of bubbly one begins to feel like a fancy Lady of the Vineyard. I tried to stay, I’m sure they’ve changed the locks.
Laetitia Winery & Vineyard will be opening their doors for a rare glimpse into their Sparkling Wine Production Facility only for the upcoming Bubblyfest Excursionar, that’s Excursion and Seminar together. Clever, eh? Sparkling Winemaker, Dave Hickey will be your tour guide through the behind-the-scenes areas of this award winning winery! With a ceremonial Saber to start the show on to the Press Room, then to the Production Floor, you will be whisked to the fabulous Estate House where you too can feel like the Lady (or the Lord) of the Winery. Indulge in gourmet lunch by Chipwrecked, recently named one of San Francisco Chronicle's Top Spots to Eat on Highway 1, and a small group tasting with a Winemaker Q&A through Laetitia’s Sparkling Wine line-up.
For more information on this event, and other really cool Bubblyfest events, click here.