Carbonic Maceration: a promising future

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A term we are starting to hear more and more in the world of wine, so let’s go over its history a little.

Carbonic maceration was scientifically created by Luis Pasteur in 1872, when he studied the spontaneous fermentation process of stored grapes in closed containers. Later, in 1935, Michel Flanzy (a French researcher) confirmed that grapes didn’t break down when CO2 was injected into the tank, and that this fermentation resulted in very fruity, colourful wines. Investigations about this type of maceration/fermentation continued to develop until a solid scientific basis was established in the 1960s. Nowadays, modern oenology has a scientific description of the process, but it is a practice that has been used for a long time. Carbonic maceration is typical of two wine-making areas: La Rioja Alavesa and Beaujolais.

In the past, carbonic maceration was the standard process for producing wine in Rioja Alavesa. They had large stone tanks where they would deposit the whole harvested grapes. Spontaneously, the must would start to ferment at the bottom of the tank, which generated CO2 and created an anaerobic atmosphere inside the tank. As the entire harvest could not be completed in a day, the whole grapes added the next day started to macerate due to intracellular reactions. This phenomenon produced coarse and long-living wines, since they then finished the wine production with strong pressings and stored it with large lees until it was transported.

It continued this way until 1786, the year in which Don Manuel Quintano y Quintano travelled to Bourdeaux to perfect his wine-making skills. There, he learned to make wine with ‘finer’ methods: greater cleaning, different fermentation tanks, grape selection, stem removal, treading, decanting and clarification etc. This change led to fermentation of the must first and then maceration with the skins. The results were satisfactory and, in Rioja, they started to produce wine in the Bordeaux style. From then on, the two wine-making techniques existed side by side, although in the Rioja Alavesa area, carbonic maceration dominated.

From a scientific and artisanal viewpoint, they have now perfected this type of wine. From more industrialised and homogeneous wine to more artisanal wines full of character.

In Beaujolais, Marcel Lapierre, along with Jules Chauvet (chemist, wine trader), approached the area’s industrial processes with a more artisanal focus, in viticulture as well as oenology. They started to introduce ecological viticulture (in an area very damaged by pesticides and herbicides) and incorporated traditional production techniques, without adding yeast and with low doses of sulphur. This gave a new focus to the area and to this type of wine-making. Nowadays, these wines are aged and can be kept for a while whereas before, the old attitude was to drink it quickly. A few wine-makers in the area (Thevenet, Jean Foillard etc) are known and admired by wine-makers and drinkers all over the world.

In Rioja Alavesa, they made wine using this technique and united colours, aromas and tastes after the most industrialised and cooperative era. Small producers started making traditional wines again (with expertise from science and years of experience). They cultivated the vineyards ecologically, using native yeasts (no more bananas, please) and carrying out long maceration-fermentations. This produces wines full of personality and with a certain potential for ageing. At Decántalo, we have a few examples. What are you waiting for? Try them!

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