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Pigeage is a French word for a winemaking technique to extract color, flavor and tannins from red wine fermenting in vats by punching down skin, pulp and grape seeds, that have floated to the top forming a cap, with paddles either manually or mechanically.

red-wine-grapes

What does Pigeage mean?

Pigeage is a French word meaning punching and refers to a winemaking technique known as punching down.

The skin, pulp and grape seeds in fermenting red wine float to the surface, with time, forming a mass known as the cap.

When the cap is left to float on the top, minimal color, flavor and tannins are extracted from the fermenting wine.

Pigeage is a cap management technique in winemaking.

It is one of a number of winemaking techniques that can be used by winemakers to overcome this issue.

Traditionally, pigeage is done by hand with a wooden pestle. The wooden pestle is used to push the cap down to mix with the grape juice.

Contact between the cap and the juice extracts more color, tannins and flavor from the skins.

Punching down manually can be dangerous as there is a risk the winery worker will fall into the vat or become intoxicated by carbon dioxide.

Nowadays, it is mostly done mechanically with machines that hang on overhead rails that can move from vat to vat to punch down the cap.

Machines are more efficient and consistent than a winery worker.

The art of pigeage

Winemakers need to determine the correct amount of pigeage or punching down for their particular grape.

Excessive or overly vigorous punching down can result in bitter, astringent wine and too little punching down can mean pale wine that lacks flavor and structure.

Other cap management techniques

Pigeage is just one of a number of cap management techniques.

Others techniques include: pumping over, rack and return and rotary fermenters.

Pigeage purposePigeage whenPigeage how often
Extract color, tannins, flavor from grape skins.During red wine fermentation.Between 1-3 times per day for approximately 2 weeks, but no definite times.

Read with confidence: I am a certified wine expert (WSET L3).