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Can you do the 'à la volée'?

22 November 2017  -  Judy Brower -

I learnt this new term last week at Graham Beck, as I joined the #CircleofExcellence group for their MCC workshop with Mr Bubbles himself.

I am sure there are many contenders for the most frequent flyer miles in the wine industry, but I reckon Pieter Ferreira (Mr Bubbles) must be right up there in the top 10!

Pieter just returned from a marathon trip to the USA and there he was, bright and breezy on Friday 17th Nov, to take the Circle of Excellence group through a tour of Graham Beck.

The Circle of Excellence members are a group of cellar workers who have been winners and finalists in Winetech's SA Cellar Worker programme, which has been running since 2009. Santi Basson, Project Manager, arranges these workshops a few times a year, giving the members a deeper insight to various aspects in the industry.

Rising through the ranks from their days of cellar workers are Oubaas (Jonas) Cupido from Van Loveren - now Assistant Winemaker, Adam Alexander at Rupert & Rothschild - Senior Cellar Worker who oversees their Barrel Maturation Cellar, Regan Theodore from Vergenoegd, now Assistant Winemaker, Nelson Buthelezi, Assistant Winemaker at Delheim, Elvezo Barry, Supervisor and Team Leader at Boschendal, and Gerrie Grootboom from Roodezandt - also Winemaker Assistant.

Oubaas Cupido, Adam Alexander, Regan Theodore, Nelson Buthelezi, Elvezo Barry and Gerrie Grootboom

Graham Beck are one of those wineries who give it their all, so we had the full treatment, seeing the process from the horizontal capped bottles, to being disgorged, dosaged and corked. After the tour and tasting, everyone had a turn to try their hand at manual disgorging - called 'à la volée'  - a term new to me,

According to Bollinger: “à la volée” (or flying disgorgement) uses the old, manual techniques of which the secret is known only to experienced cellar workers. They will tell you proudly and a little mischievously that it is “simple”. The bottle just has to be held upside down without being shaken to prevent the lees from rising, and the cork removed with a precise, sharp movement, bringing the bottle upwards at the same time so that the pressure will expel the sediment. All this must be done while making sure that a minimum of the precious champagne is lost from the bottle during the operation. If the gesture is not scrupulously accurate the sediment will settle back into the wine and six weeks of riddling will be ruined. Worse still, the bottle might slip, smash and injure the riddler."

Congratulations to the 'à la volée'  winner of the day; Gerrie Grootboom, with close 2nd and 3rd positions going to Norman Ketelo and Joseph Phiri respectively (both from De Grendel).

Gerrie Grootboom, Norman Ketelo and Joseph Phiri & Mr Bubble himself - Pieter Ferreira

The Graham Beck cellar is being renovated and re-tooled to be a bubbly-only cellar, as they are now focusing solely on Cap Classique, having sold off their still wine ranges.  The only still wine to remain is their delightful light pink Gorgeous, which is a perfect home for their young vineyards' production.

Making Cap Classique is an arduous task, with the harvest happening earlier in the year than other wines (picking at a lower balling/sugar), and according to Pieter, lasts only about 18 days - so it is intense and over quite quickly.

Graham Beck currently produce about 160 000 cases of bubbles and with the re-planting and retooling of the cellar - they will be up to 250 000 cases in the next few years.
My prediction is that this will be too little for the increased demand for good MCC.

There are 7.5 million bottles of MCC produced in South Africa annually, with about 5,5 million of these produced by only 7 producers. Pieter has been instrumental in forming and running the Cap Classique association but surprisingly very few of the 200+ MCC producers in South Africa are members. With the constant refrain to collaborate to improve the industry, again I urge those wineries to become members and participate actively, as it can only benefit the category.
Pieter has always been 'in search of the perfect bubble', so constant research goes into improving the quality of their MCC and of Cap Classique in general.

Well done to the #CircleofExcellence, and I look forward to seeing some women in the group soon.

 The Circle of Excellence group at Graham Beck

Gerrie Grootboom was very grateful for the day: 'Iets wat my byval; daar is so baie negatiewe gevoelens van kelderwerkers omdat van hulle nooit raakgesien word of erkenning kry nie, maar met Winetech en Vinpro se teenwoordigheid, maak hulle dit moontlik. Kyk na my; ek het begin as 'n algemene werker en kyk waar is ek vandag deur julle bystand. Dankie Santi, Mnr Theron en Gerald'.

Our translation into English: 'Something that I notice is that there are times when cellar workers feel undervalued because they go unnoticed and don't get recognition, but Winetech and Vinpro's presence in the industry has changed this. Look at me - I was a general worker and now look where I am because of your support - Winemaker Assistant at Roodezandt. Thank you to Santi Basson, Charl Theron and Gerard Martin'

Thank you to the team at Graham Beck, including Pierre de Klerk and Elbé Nortjé for their dedication and considerable effort which went into the morning's insightful and fun session.

#circleofexcellence #wineforgood