Rosé is made from red grapes, it is not a blend of red and white wine, as many people think (not in Bordeaux anyway – it can be a mix in some places). Here, we can use one of two different methods, and sometimes both in the same year, depending on the harvest quantity and overall ripeness.
The first is called ‘saignée’ or ‘bled’. The principle is to ‘bleed’ a portion of a red wine off before it has turned red. Juice in a red grape is clear, and it needs contact with the skins to give colour and flavour, so at harvest time the juice, pips and skins all go into the tank, to make a red wine. For the red, the skins stay in the tank for the full duration of the sugar to alcohol fermentation, about 2 weeks.
For the rosé, 8 to 24 hours after harvest, if you run some juice out of the red wine tank it will have started to pick up some pink colour. The pink juice is then fermented separately, as if it were a white wine (ie juice only – no skins), then is fined, left to settle and bottled late winter or early spring.
The second method is called ‘rosé de presse’, where, instead of starting to make a red wine and taking part of the juice to make rosé, the batch of red grapes are used exclusively for rosé. The grapes are placed directly into a press, left an hour or two and then slowly pressed (a similar effect to treading by foot, incidentally). The action of pressing causes the clear juice to turn pink, and then the remaining skins are taken away. The juice from this method is often paler that from the ‘saignée’ method, and the wine more delicate. Fermentation progresses the same way as above.
The choice of method does depend on various technical aspects in each year – we simply try to choose the best for each year that will produce the fruitiest wine with no ‘hard edge’. So, if you see a Chollet rosé that is a bit darker (or paler) one year compared to another, now you know why!