Where it all begins

Wine / Wednesday, March 20th, 2024

Thanks to everyone who either came to our aid or expressed interest in helping us pick some grapes last weekend. 

As is often the case in agriculture, the weather got in our way on Sunday, but we managed to get pick all we needed on Monday morning.

Over to Rob for what else has been happening this week…

All is going steadily with vintage…

The pinot sparkling “base” has now finished fermentation and after racking it will be inoculated with malolactic bacteria. The same applies to the pinot rosé. Both the sparkling and rosé look really nice – the colour on the rose is particularly attractive.

The sauvignon blanc is still fermenting, although not much sugar left. Great aromas and flavours.

The chardonnay from Kim’s vineyard has settled well and was racked and is now fermenting away happily. Again it has really lovely rich flavours. Still a long way to go though.

Kim’s pinot noir for our Reserve Pinot Noir is in a small fermenter. It’s “on skins” of course and has already picked up plenty of colour.

The first Tempranillo pick was on Monday, and despite the heat, it went well. That’s just been crushed and the yeast added.

Not much more to go. The tempranillo for PRR will likely be harvested on Monday… the last pick for the Somerled vintage!!


At risk of boring those of you who have been following along from the beginning, I really want to bring it all back to basics this week. 

Now that we’ve picked the grapes and got the juice out. Then what?

It’s time to turn it into the good stuff. And this is how it’s done…


Primary fermentation

Primary fermentation is the conversion of the sugar in the grape juice to alcohol and carbon dioxide by specifically selected yeast. 

So, for those of you who like a good equation…

Sugar (grape juice) + yeast = alcohol + gas

The strain of yeast selected by the winemaker is based both on its ability to conduct the fermentation efficiently and also on the sensory features they add to the wine. For example, some yeasts produce compounds which add to the fruity and estery characters of the wine. While others are more neutral, allowing greater expression of the specific characters of each variety.

Fun fact: at the peak of fermentation there will be around 100 million yeast cells in one ml of the fermenting liquid!


Just quickly, before I go on… some winemakers chose not to inoculate their grape juice with a specific strain of yeast. They prefer to use a technique called “wild-fermentation” which means they let the fermentation proceed using only the yeast found naturally on the grapes, in the vineyard and winery. 

…but that’s a topic for another day!


Now, where were we?

White wines

White wines are usually fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks or in barrels stored in a cold room to regulate the temperature. The aim is to keep the fermentation at between 8 and 18°C. This helps to keep the varietal aromas and flavours of the grapes in the finished wine.

Fermentation of dry white table wines is allowed to continue until all the sugar is converted to alcohol. In sweet wines, however, the fermentation is stopped part of the way through (by cooling the wine below 8°C) to leave some of the sugar unfermented.

Winemakers measure the amount of sugar in the wine on a daily basis during fermentation. They need to ensure that the fermentation is progressing at a steady rate. This is usually done using a hydrometer and is expressed in degrees Baumé (Bé°). While this form of measurement isn’t 100% spot on, it’s quick and easy. And it’s good enough when it comes to tracking the progress of the ferment.

Once the ferment looks like it is close to being finished (0 Bé° for dry wines), winemakers use more accurate (tricky and time-consuming!) measurements to ensure all of the sugar has been consumed by the yeast.

On the completion of fermentation, white wines are either stored in stainless steel tanks (and then bottled) or aged in oak barrels.


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Red wines


Fermentation at a cool temperature (below 20°C) retains fruit characters. It also limits the extraction of colour and tannins from the skins as well as bitter tannins from the seeds.

Higher fermentation temperatures (above 20°C) are required to extract more flavour, colour and tannins from the skins.

This is easy to control if you’re making a large quantity and you have a fancy stainless steel, temperature-controlled tank. Many red wines though are made in open fermenters (big plastic tubs!) and there are a few tricky techniques used to maintain the desired temperature. Usually in the Hills, keeping them cool enough isn’t much of a problem! Although popping the fermenter into a cold room for a few hours usually does the trick. Heat is created by the fermentation itself, but if it needs encouraging a nice sunny spot outside can help!


Maceration techniques

As the fermentation progresses, the carbon dioxide produced pushes the mixture of skins and seeds (the cap) to the top of the fermenting liquid. The alcohol produced in the wine helps to extract the colour from the skins. Therefore, the cap must be kept in contact with the liquid by frequent mixing. 

There are a couple of ways to do that, but here are the two most common…

  • Pumping over: as the name suggests, is simply the process of pumping liquid from the bottom of the tank and splashing it over the top of the cap. As the liquid leaches through the cap, it extracts the colour from the skins.
  • Plunging down: this one is sort of the opposite of pumping over. Grab a big over-sized potato masher (or “plunger” to be more specific) and use those muscles to push the cap down into the liquid. Easy! Unless of course, the fermenter is big enough that you need to stand on a plank of wood suspended above it and you accidentally fall in. Ask Rob for a first-hand account!


Just like the white wines, the sugar content of red wines is monitored throughout the fermentation to determine when the wine is dry (or has no sugar and is therefore complete).

There is another consideration for winemakers during the fermentation of red wines though…

How long to keep it “on skins”.


Time on skins

A short time on skins produces lighter coloured, more fruity style wines. Longer skin contact increases flavour, colour and tannin extraction.

At fermentation temperatures around 25°C, most of the flavour and colour is extracted from the skins by about midway through the fermentation, while tannin extraction continues for as long as the skins and seeds are kept in contact with the liquid. When the winemaker decides that the right balance between flavour, colour and tannin has been reached, the partly fermented wine will be pressed off skins and the fermentation allowed to continue.


So, that’s primary fermentation in a nutshell. If you read your tasting notes in your latest Jockey Club pack you would have seen a few references to Malolactic fermentation. Rob also mentioned it in his notes at the beginning of this blog. Tune in next week if you’d like to learn more about (or brush up on) it and other types of Secondary fermentation!


Easter Saturday Drinks! Food, Museum Fume & Chardonnay and the Moody Family

There are still tickets available for our Easter morning drinks in the Club Room and Courtyard.

11 – 12pm, Easter Saturday, March 30th

$48pp all inclusive

Email me to RSVP

Easter is when Rob’s great grandfather, Stephen Bowd, rode Somerled to victory 116 years ago!

So Heather, Rob, Lucy and the Somerled Team will be  showering you with fumé blanc and chardonnay bottled just a couple of weeks ago along with their predecessors (including a 2011 fumé blanc!)

They will also be passing around freshly shucked oysters, house made potted crab, brie with fig molasses and hunks of Callebaut chocolate.


~ All non-seafood lovers catered for beautifully, let us know when booking. 

~ Your friends are welcome to our Club event

~ Book a table afterwards for a platter luncheon and bottle of something wonderful

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