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Thursday 24 September 2015

Harvesting and winemaking 2015 – so far so good!

Most of my grapes are in! I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! It’s been a very intense, and tiring, and stressful experience, but in the end, of course an enjoyable one! So far I’ve harvested: Albillo, Garnacha, Doré, Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Airén, and Malvar. The only one left is the Chelva, which I should be taking in this week or maybe next.

This year I’ve managed to be sensible and I’m only going to be making about 10,000 bottles of wine in total. Not like last year, when due to irrational exuberance and not knowing how to say “No” I attempted to make 15,000 bottles, but had to pour about 5,000 down the drain (see this old post)! Yes, this year I decided to run a ‘tighter ship’ as it were, ie to consolidate on the same quantity (10,000) and make them better, as opposed to trying to do more.

So I’ve more or less made (am making, rather) the same style of wines as usual - plus the odd experiment of course J.

Basically this is what there’s going to be:

  • Airén. No skin contact, just crushed, pressed, and racked once. All in stainless steel
  • Doré. Just a wee bit of skin contact, 8 days this time, which is slightly longer than last year. In stainless steel, with an experimental lot in a baby amphora (which I lined myself with beeswax by copying a YouTube video from Georgia)

Unlined leaky baby amphora

Lump of beeswax and mop

Melting the beeswax

Lining the tinaja with melted beeswax using mop

Baby tinaja with Doré

Stainless steel with Doré

  •  Albillo. Lot  #1 is my usual Albillo, ie 2 days maceration and then pressed and into a large tinaja. Lot #2 is a smaller lot (experiment), in stainless steel but with the grapes crushed underfoot, as opposed to using a manual crusher. Lot #3 is also small, 300 litres stainless steel, and with this I’m going to make an orange wine, so it’s been crushed but I’m going to leave the skins and stems in there for a few months and see what happens.

Albillo (Lot 2) in stainless steel

  • Sauvignon Blanc, same procedure as last year, ie 10 days skin contact and then into tinajas
SB in large tinaja

SB in small tinaja

  • Malvar. At the moment I’ve got some Malvar (still with skins and stems) in open top barrels and some in stainless steel, but I would like to get it all into tinajas, sometime and somehow! This will involve a bit of racking off and movement of liquids form one place to another, and some transdimensional winemaking, ie putting larger volumes into smaller volumes!
  • Garnacha. For the first time I’m going to make a Garnacha in tinaja. This is Lot #1 which is quite big, in this large tinaja. Lot #2 is in stainless steel at the moment, and I’ll be pressing it off soon, into a big 500 or 600 litres oak barrel. Old barrels of course, because I don’t want the wine to taste of oak!
  • Tempranillo. This will also soon be pressed into a 500 or 600 litre old oak barrel for aging.
And that’s about it, except for the Chelva, of which i hope to do about 2 or 3 different lots!

All of the above I’ve been doing more or less constantly since the 9th August (first Albillo harvest). There have been a few peaks of intensity, ie of getting up at 5:00 in the morning and going to bed at 1.00 in the morning, but of course not all days were like that. Not quite like warfare (as described by ‘who was it?’ as periods of intense boredom punctuated by instants of intense fear) – harvesting and crushing/pressing is more like periods of intense stress/tiredness combined with periods of worry and doubt (about what I did with the grapes already and what I’ll going to do with the ones about to come in).

I think this is because winemakers only get one chance per year to make their wines, and you have to get it right (or at least not too wrong!). I suppose that if you’re making beer, or bread, or cheese, or whatever, if you get one lot wrong, it doesn’t really matter very much, because you can just try again next day/week/month. Also, in my own case, even though I generally try to more or less make the same wines each year (“if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!”) I don’t actually follow set formulas and procedures (and my note-taking is terrible anyway!).

On the other hand, I’m not in the least bit worried about fermentation not starting or getting stuck. Fermentation has always started for me and has never stuck. Nor am I worried about “nasty” bacteria or “strange” yeast strains “infecting” my must or wine. I think that these are irrational fears drummed into oenology students by over-technical and control-freak oriented wineschools, who fight against Nature instead of working with Her.

"S cerevisiae under DIC microscopy" by Masur - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons 

As you (readers) probably already know, for fermentation to happen, I rely exclusively on the natural yeasts floating around in the environment. I don’t purchase or use any manufactured packets of yeast from a factory or laboratory.

The over-scientific anti-Nature approach to fermentation is to first of all to sterilize the must and kill all living creatures in it (bacteria, yeasts, etc) using sulphites and then to inoculate with a manufactured strain of the “good” yeast Sacchoramyces Cervisiae according to whatever flavour, style, mouthfeel, etc they want their wine to have. This is OK (in fact it’s probably the ONLY way) to produce great quantities of commercial wines that are pleasing to great quantities of consumers who don’t really care very much about the niceties of wine (eg, terroir, complexity, interesting characteristics etc).

But I don’t want to make that kind of wine – there are millions of bottles of that, in thousands of brands, available already in the supermarkets, all with pretty labels and at appropriate price points! What I’m trying to do is to express the terroir, the variety, the year, the climate, the sense of place, the tipicity, etc of each wine that I make. And to do that, it’s essential to use all the yeasts and bacteria and other micro-organisms that happen to live in your winery, on your equipment and in and around your vineyards. And NOT exclusively use a strain of Sacchoramyces Cerevisiae extracted and propagated in a laboratory from a distant strain from some other part of the world.

It’s my understanding that it takes a few days for good old Sacchoramyces Cerevisiae to establish a foothold, reproduce itself and then to totally dominate the fermentation process to the end, to the exclusion of all other species, because (a bit like myself) it has a very high tolerance for alcohol, as opposed to other species of yeast. When the grapes come in, and for a few days afterwards, there is hardly any Sacchoramyces Cerevisiae yeast present at all. The yeast population at this point is almost 100% non-Sacchoramyces species. So, statistically it does seem like a huge risk to rely on this natural or spontaneous type of fermentation. But like I said above, after a few days of fermentation when the alcohol level reaches around 5%, all these non- Sacchoramyces species can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, and they die off because they have a very low tolerance to alcohol. Now is the moment that the high alcohol-tolerant Sacchoramyces Cerevisiae takes over and ferments the remaining sugar up to 15%.

I also believe that it’s during these first few days, when Sacchoramyces Cerevisiae is not present in significant quantities, and when those other ‘nasties’ are working, that the interesting, local and unique aromas, tastes and flavours are created that give the wine its tipicity and a good, faithful and interesting expression of terroir.

I’m not saying that this is not risky. It is risky! If one of those ‘nasties’ (like the black, hairy, spiky cartoon creatures used to sell toilet-cleaning products on TV! hahaha!) manages to reproduce itself too much, then of course you’ll get a pretty weird and probably not very nice wine – and certainly not expressive of the terroir or anything else! But if you just take a few simple countermeasures, the risk is practically reduced to zero: 1. Keep everything super-clean (tanks, presses, equipment, floor, hoses, scissors, buckets, absolutely everything you use). 2. Just bring in healthy, top quality grapes from healthy vines growing in healthy, living, complex soils. Et voilá – no problemo!

And lastly...

And lastly, an update on my sparkling wine experiments! Not much to report since my last post on that. Basically what I’ve discovered so far is that I have to bottle up much later than I expected. I was thinking that around a density of 1015 or 1010 would be a good range, ie fizzy enough to be sparlkling but not too much to erupt volcanically on opening the bottle. But no! I think I need to wait till about 1005 or even 1000. I opened up a bottle recently that was bottles at 1007, and it too erupted volcanically. See this video. I’ll be bottling up more soon. Stay posted.

And even more lastly, ... no, I’ll save my other news/gossip/rants for a separate post next week J

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