Monday, 10 November 2014

Looking after the High End Red Wine

After 10 weeks of harvest, we are finally nearing the last stages of fruit intake for the season. It has been a marathon of grape varieties: from early picked Chenin Blanc for sparkling wine, through bulk Pinot Blanc and small batches of Chardonnay and Viognier (to name a few of the whites). Then we waded through a sea of Merlot, interspersed by Petit Verdot, Malbec, Syrah and others. Now we are approaching the finish line with the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.

For the highest quality red fruit, we have a different setup to the usual sorting table and destemmer/crusher. This setup is meant to be gentler on the fruit and is more labour intensive, requiring three people to process small batches into Open Fermenters (OFs). 

One person is responsible for loading fruit from a bin onto the conveyor. The next person is perched up top on the destemmer picking out leaves and the third person has a sort of 'go-go gadget' arm that they use to pick out any leaves or stems that manage to find their way through the maze of the destemmer and in with the berries.

Crusher/Destemmer Setup
In winemaking terms, the central stem of a grape cluster is called the rachis and the smaller protrusions which attach to the berries are called pedicels. Some winemakers do like to include some of this stem material in the wine, but that is a whole discussion in itself. Here, we have been trying to minimise the amount of stem material in the Cabernet Sauvignon to prevent 'green' or 'herbaceous' flavours. Leaves are even worse, as they can create oxidative characteristics. 

Discarded Rachis
Whilst I was standing for hours on end out in the cold picking leaves and stems out of the Open Fermenters (OFs) into which we were processing, I was wondering how effective my role actually was, as there is no way you can effectively remove all the stem material that makes its way in. Oh well, I guess every little bit counts!

Collected Cabernet Sauvignon berries
(and a few stems that escaped sorting)
Once the OF is adequately full, we generally leave them closed up and protected with a blanket of nitrogen gas to sit for a few days of cold soaking. Then, once ready, we warm them up ready for inoculation.