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Lasers to overtake manual sorting in hi-tech Bordeaux

Manual sorting tables will soon be a thing of the past as the top chateaux embrace €100,000 laser sorting technology.

New sorting machines, using laser optics, have been introduced at Chateau Pavie and Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne, and Chateau Margaux has an entirely new gravity-led reception system for the grapes, taking them first in small trays and then by a pulley system into the vats.

Manual destemming, which first made an appearance in Bernard Magrez’s Pape Clement a few years ago, has been seen this year in Château Angélus.

Other new developments include the construction of new drainage systems at Chateau Bélair-Monange in St Emilion and at Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac.

At Chateau Angelus, where 50 gloved workers de-stemmed the bunches grape by grape, owner Hubert de Bouard said the almost entirely unscathed grapes made sorting tables almost redundant.

According to Jean Bernard Grenié, co-owner of Angélus, this technique will add around €2 per bottle.

By contrast, at Chateau Léoville Barton in St Julien, where the harvest was dropped from a dumper truck onto a single sorting table before machine de-stemming and fermentation in wooden vats, technical director François Brehant said that manual de-stemming is ‘good for unemployment’.

Chateau Pavie is working for the first year with a new sorting table that removes the stalks far more gently than previous generations of machines, and then passes the grapes through an optic camera to eliminate those without pre-determined quality factors such as sufficient must weight.

This new breed of sorting machines start at around €100,000. They have been gaining acceptance over the past years.

‘In five years, the idea of manual sorting will be unthinkable,’ said Pavie owner Gerard Perse.

‘But we must remember after a certain point, we can’t make any more difference to the grapes. Many intervention techniques are used only to impress the neighbours, not to really improve the wine.’

Meanwhile, at Chateau Margaux the gravity system was complemented by an entirely new barrel room, where eight new wooden vats, and 14 stainless steel tanks from 30 to 150 hectolitres will allow more precise parcel-by-parcel vinification.

‘The change will only be incremental,’ explained managing director Paul Pontallier, ‘but with the excellence of this vintage, we are feeling very positive.’

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Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux, and Panos Kakaviatos

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