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Punching down the Cap (Pigeage) 2010 Shiraz

What is a cap?

The cap is the layer of grape skins that are pushed up during fermentation where the must contains whole or crushed grapes. When the fermentation process begins, yeast eats away sugar, and spits out alcohol, heat, and carbon dioxide gas (CO2). This CO2 when it is released floats to the top of the must and brings up anything along with it, which in this case is the crushed grape skins.

Why punch down the cap?

We do this because the skins contain several wonderful things to help improve our wine. Foremost, color in red/purple wine comes from the skins, that is where the dye pigments are. You can make white wine from a red/purple grape if you are careful and do not let the skins stay in contact with the grape juice. We are fermenting Shiraz in this video, and we want a big bold full bodied wine. So, not only do we need the color pigments from the skins, but we also want the tannins, antioxidants, and other flavors that are locked away in the skins to keep them in contact with the wine.

Drawbacks to Pigeage?

Punching down the cap on fermenting must is called pigeage (the french word for punching down). Punching down the wine and getting the skins more in contact with the wine can have several drawbacks. First, if you are dealing with poor quality grapes, punching them back into the wine will only reduce the overall quality of the finished wine. Therefore, we make sure we have good quality grapes. Another drawback, could be if you are wanting a rose style wine. Every time the skins come in contact with the must, more and more color pigments are released that continue to darken the wine. If we were making a rose wine, we would have taken out most if not all of the skins very quickly after crushing so that little color was imparted.

Technique for punching down?

Everybody has their own approach to punching down the cap. But the gist of it is you want to get cap wet from the wine underneith. So push it down anyway you can. I like to use a small cooking tool as seen in the video for these small batches of wine. If your containers were deeper or larger, you could easily make one from wood or purchase one from any number of online wine stores. Just push it down, stir it up, and get everything really mixed up well. So the wine that forms on the top is just as good as the bottom.

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