Dear Wine Friend!
You might have wondered whether
you will be reading from my diary again after such a long
wait! Well, with the harvest
over and the wine resting already, I have moved other duties
of a winemaker aside to chat to you again.
As you know, I
am not only winemaker, but the viticulturist as well. For me
it is therefore not a cliché to make
the wine in the vineyard. I am also in the privileged position
to have planted every single grapevine on Audacia. My knowledge
of the product that I work with stretches therefore right
from the roots! Even when doing everything right, nature
has the final say in the ripening process. This has been
a great season for us. The ultimate ripening conditions prevailed
and it was so exciting to see how the grapes ripened to perfection.
Cool weather prevailed throughout, ensuring that we had a
longer ripening time. For this reason the harvest was almost
two weeks later for us. It was a healthy season with no diseases
harming the leaves and that meant that all the good stuff
landed in the berries! Optimal ripeness was achieved at lower
sugar levels, something that is not always possible in the
South African climate. This was due to the cooler ripening
conditions. The tannins, flavours and other grape components
had time to ripen to perfection before the sugars reached
high levels. The warmer the climate, the quicker sugars accumulate
in the berries. The grapes have to be picked before the sugar
levels are too high, the latter which will result in too
high, unbalanced alcohols. Sometimes the other components
in the grapes are just not ripe at that stage and then the
winemaker has to really adapt the winemaking processes to
ensure the best possible wine. This year, the least possible
intervening. It was a walk in the park, or shall I say… vineyard?
There is usually an order
to which the different cultivars ripen. At Audacia
the Merlot is usually the first to reach optimal ripeness.
This photo was taken at the top of the southerly slope,
where the Merlot was planted. The southerly slopes
are the coolest and this will ensure better flavours
for the sensitive Merlot cultivar. As you can see,
the cover crop in between the vineyard rows is dead
with no weeds either in the rows. At this stage during
ripening, it is imperative to ensure that any water
in the soil is preserved.
Harvesting the grapes:
A back breaking work for the pickers.
We do not want to irrigate anymore, because
this might have a detrimental effect on the concentration
of the grapes and the resulting wine. Growing weeds and cover
crop will draw water from the soil and cause competition
with the vine for the water necessary to ripen.
The grapes arrive at the cellar in half ton
bins. It is very important that only the healthiest grapes
are selected and picked during harvesting. No MOG’s
are allowed (material other than grapes). These MOG’s
can be anything from cutting scissors, small stones that
got stuck in the picking basket, vine shoots, leaves, etc.
Although the first mentioned MOG’s can damage the machines,
it is actually the green material, like especially leaves
and shoots that we are worried about, because these are directly
responsible for poorer wine quality. Unwanted green, vegetal
stalky characters result when too many leaves are fermented
with the skins.
Freshly destemmed and crushed berries
in a pulp in a tank. At this stage enzymes and sulfur
dioxide is added to ensure the most colour is extracted
from the skins. The sulfur ensures that no yeasts or
bacteria that live naturally on grapes will grow in this
pulp until we inoculate with selected wine yeasts to
conduct the fermentation process.
The colour of a red wine comes from the pigments that
are situated in the skins of the berries. As soon as
the skins were in contact with the juice and colour extraction
enzymes for a period of time, the wine is inoculated
with selected, cultured yeasts. The yeasts transform
the sugars into alcohol, which also facilitates the extraction
of the colour from the skins.
Half ton bins
As winemaker, I only have a
relatively short period of time to ensure that the maximum
colour and the best tannins are extracted from the skins. The skins have to be kept
wet as much as possible. Now, if you wondered what our work
harvest season is about? This is it!! As red wine makers,
we have to make sure the skins are kept wet! Sounds easy?
cellar like ours where we believe in hands-on operations,
no machines with timers and automatic spraying systems it
laborious, but very satisfying in the end!
The colour pigments are fairly
unstable and can easily be oxidised, resulting in colour
loss. It is therefore important that these pigments, called
anthocyanins, be stabilised as soon as possible. This is
by means of a chemical binding process to tannins. Fermenting
red wine with added tannins, in wood or with added wood shaving,
ensures that these anthocyanins bind quickly to ensure a
dark red colour. The binding process is enhanced by the presence
of oxygen. For this reason we do aerated pump- overs. We
draw off the juice from the bottom part of the tank into
an open container where aeration of the fermenting wine takes
The wine is then pumped back into the tank where
it is sprayed over the skins to keep them wet which again will
result in extraction (rinsing out from the skins) of the colour.
Just look at the deep red colour already present after just
one day of fermentation. Active fermentation takes place for
five to seven days. It depends on the style of wine for how
long the wine stays in contact with the skins. Extended skin
maturation after fermentation leads to a softer, more tannin
and colour stable product.
After the pressing of the skins which is actually a mere
separation process of the skins from the wine, it is time
for the wine undergo malo-lactic fermentation and then off
to wood maturation, whether it is on staves or in barrels.
We’ll spend more time on wood in the next issue of
the snippet from my diary.
I hope that you have once again enjoyed the walk with me
through the processes of wine and look forward to sharing
the next steps of “wine making”. The word wine
making does not describe what I do. There are certain processes
needed to get to a well made wine, I am the facilitator.
Making? A bit ego-centric, won’t you think?
Here’s to wine!
P.S. Now what is this malo-lactic fermentation all about?
This is a secondary fermentation process only done on wine intended for (usually
barrel) maturation, whether it is a barrel fermented Chardonnay or a serious
red wine. Here we allow (either naturally or by inoculation) a certain bacteria
to remove the malic acid in a wine. These bacteria are found naturally on
grapes and are therefore naturally in wine as is the presence of malic acid.
With time, these bacteria will start growing by using the malic acid as their
main source of nutrient (where their name comes from). Any micro-organism
adapts very easily to new conditions, so preserving a wine with eg. sulfur
dioxide is not a guarantee that they will not grow once they adapted. While
growing, these organisms excretes gas that might cause problems if the wine
is already in a bottle. The gas emitted will form a fizz in the bottle, the
wine can become cloudy and the cork could pop! To prevent this harmless,
though bad experience for you as the consumer, we make sure that this process
takes place as soon as possible after alcoholic fermentation.