I’m guessing I’m not the only one starting to feel a little overwhelmed by all the goings-on in the world of late.
It really is a lot to take in. But as I said last week… the show must go on.
So, my pledge to you is for this blog to be your little safe-haven from COVID-19 related news. Yes, we have temporarily closed our doors at the Cellar Bar, and that is a pain in the backside, but we still have plenty to talk about (and plenty of wine to send you!).
Instead, let’s focus on the good stuff!
This week, I feel like getting back to basics. It’s about all my brain can handle right now.
And I’m conscious I have been providing you updates from the winery without too much explanation of all the technical stuff (especially for any new-comers). So, let’s have a look at what has been keeping our winemakers busy, while we have been otherwise distracted!
(If they weren’t affected by the bushfires) Grapegrowers and winemakers all across the country have been hard at work. Despite everything else going on in the world, vintage 2020 is happening. And if we want something to drink when all of this is over someone has to make some wine!
I mention the word “vintage” a lot, but I don’t think I’ve ever explained it properly.
It really is the most basic of terms, but it’s probably worth mentioning at least once…
Vintage, in winemaking, is the process of picking grapes and creating the finished product—wine
So, the vintage starts when the grapes are picked. And that’s variable from year to year, region to region and winery to winery. You might see some people (including myself) refer to a vintage as 2019/20, but that’s not technically right. All the bits before the grape picking (which never happens earlier than February for most regions) should be referred to as the 2019 growing season.
Anyway, you can’t say I haven’t told you now!
So, at the beginning of vintage, the grapes are picked. This is done either by hand or machine…
Mechanical harvesters work by moving along the row and shaking the vines. This movement causes the berries to fall off their stalks.
There are several benefits to using machine over hand-picking.
Firstly, and most obviously, it allows grapes to be picked at a fraction of the cost and time. This can be really important when the grapes have reached their desired ripeness and need to be removed quickly. Secondly, these machines can pick through the night when temperatures are cooler. As we know, oxidation can occur at higher temperatures, so picking at night is often a better option if daytime temperatures are high. Ideally, grapes should be picked at an ambient temperature of between 8 and 16 degrees Celcius.
Hand-picking is obviously the gentlest way to handle grapes at harvest time. It allows the removal of whole bunches – leaving the berries attached to the stalks.
There are a few situations for which mechanical harvesters cannot be used and so hand-picking is the best option…
Some vineyards are simply inaccessible to heavy equipment. Steep slopes can make mechanical harvesting impossible.
In other cases, the winemaking technique dictates the use of whole bunches. For example:
- in the production of premium sparkling wine where whole bunch pressing is used to extract the juice
- When red wines are made using carbonic maceration
- Where there is a need to select only certain bunches or parts of bunches due to the presence of disease.
Then, the winemaker need to get the juice out…
Pressing versus crushing
When making white wine, the fruit is usually pressed before primary fermentation. This is a gentle process which minimises the amount of skin contact with the juice.
For red wines though, the grapes are first crushed to maximise the amount of skin contact (where all the colour and flavour are). It is then pressed after fermentation to squeeze out the remainder of the juice and remove the skins and seeds, etc.
Of course, there are many ways to make red and white (and orange!) wines, so you will certainly see variations on these processes depending on the style.
Then, the juice needs to be turned into wine…
Primary fermentation versus secondary fermentation
Primary fermentation is the conversion of the sugar in the grape juice to alcohol and carbon dioxide by specifically selected yeast. The strain of yeast selected by the winemaker based on both its ability to conduct the fermentation efficiently and also on the sensory features they add to the wine.
At the peak of fermentation there will be around 100 million yeast cells in one ml of the fermenting liquid!
(Source: Australian Wine – from the vine to the glass, P. Iland & P. Gago)
Secondary fermentation is a type of fermentation used once the grape juice is turned to wine (using the primary fermentation) to change the style and flavour of the wine.
The one we have been talking about recently is malolactic fermentation (MLF). Rob is a huge fan of this one…
Technically speaking, it is a process in which tart-tasting malic acid is converted to softer tasting lactic acid (hence “malo”-“lactic”).
MLF often occurs naturally after the completion of primary fermentation. Or sometimes it can run concurrently with the primary fermentation.
It can also be induced by inoculation with a selected bacterial strain – Oenococcus oeni, a member of the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) family. This strain is chosen due to its ability to survive the harsh conditions of wine (high alcohol, low pH and low nutrients). It also produces some lovely flavours and aromas in the finished wine.
So, there we are! I hope that has brought you all up to speed. If you still have a bit of spare time up your sleeve, there are 115 other blog posts you can catch up on!
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Now, over to Rob for a quick update…
Kim has harvested some really nice looking fruit on Wednesday – all handpicked. This has been crushed to the fermenter, yeast added and is just starting fermentation. Bit of a nervous time as there’s the chance of a bit of smokiness. If there is any, it should show up soon!
Pinot Noir Dry Red
This was handpicked as well – from Max Hruska’s vineyard at Verdun. It’s now had nearly a week on skins and has fermented almost all the way down. Jackson (at the winery) says it’s looking very nice indeed. I haven’t seen or tasted it because of this isolation business.
Pinot Noir Rose
The Rose has now finished fermentation. There are just a few more grams of grape sugar to ferment out and then the MLF bugs will be added. Lots of nice strawberry notes there apparently – sounds good to me!
Both the reserve and the regular chardonnay have finished fermentation. They were looking peachy and terrific when I saw them last, some time ago.
Light Dry Red Pinot
Sitting in barrel with quite a bit of gas. It’s had malolactic bugs added so should be starting MLF soon.
Jackson is going to collect some tank samples and leave them at the winery door for us to collect, take home and taste – can’t wait! He’s going to douse the sample bottles with alcohol to make sure there are no viruses transmitted!!