Managing the vineyard plot by plot makes it possible to estimate potential yields and to bring together homogeneous batches. The vat cellar has been designed to receive these separate volumes, and the size of the vats, ranging from 50 to 100 hectolitres, means that the entire vintage can be stored under ideal conditions.
The time that the wine is left on the skins is based on two main criteria:
analysing the extract in order to quantify it and to know the rate at which extraction takes place, which gives a good idea of vintage potential.
but especially, an estimation of quality based on tasting.
This is done on a team basis and includes former château management staff, who can understand the terroir and refer to other vintages going back a very long way.
At Cheval Blanc, low yields in themselves are sufficient to achieve the ideal level of concentration. Fermentation temperatures reach 30-32°C (86-89.6°F) and decrease naturally. No warming up of the new wine is carried out at the end of the fermentation period.
In the same way, pumping over takes place at the beginning of fermentation so as not to extract lower quality tannins when the sugar has already been converted into alcohol.
The wine is left on the skins for an average of three weeks and then run off.
Pressing is done with a pneumatic press, which results in a gentle extraction, producing a press wine that may deserve to be added to the fine wine.
Finally, the blending process shows the complex interplay between the terroir and the grape varieties. The existence of a second wine, called Petit Cheval, means that a very strict selection of vats can be made for the grand vin.
It is vital for the wine to spend time in oak barrels. This enables the wine to throw off undesirable substances, while keeping the quality of the tannin intact. This tannin gives Cheval Blanc its famous silky, velvety quality.
At Cheval Blanc blending takes place in the month of February following the vintage. The proportion of wine that is ultimately sold under the Cheval Blanc label varies according to the quality of the vintages. It was, for example, 75% in 1990 whilst no grand vin was made in 1991, but on average the proportion is 55%. The grand vin stays in 100% new barrels for a period of 14 to 20 months, depending on the power of the vintage. The second wine, Petit Cheval, ages for 12 months. The barrels are supplied by five different coopers so as to avoid the dominating influence of one particular oak aroma.
Barrel ageing is also carried out according to tradition. The wine is racked every three months with a bellow pump, and the fining is done in barrel with fresh egg whites.
The length of time the grand vin stays in barrel, and the care with which the racking and fining are carried out, allow the wine to be bottled without filtration. As the second wine spends less time in barrel, a light filtering is necessary before bottling.