Sunday, October 30, 2011

I Think I'm in Love.......

Warning: Some readers may find the sentimental content of this blog offensive!

X Sinead
The Twins
P.S. Normal service will be resumed shortly

Having started the ball rolling in September with the Modra Frankinja harvest and then handed over to Liam, I returned to Kog with instructions ringing in my ear and a huge order for marbles (more on that later).

Only now do I have a bit of perspective on the last five weeks. It’s October 28th and after my second stint in Slovenia I’m leaving the wines and feeling a bit down. No more indian summer and the cellar feels sleepy. I miss the urgency and fun of harvest time when days ended with aching muscles and a good communal feed. I suppose these feelings are a reflection of my innocence in the winemaking game. To go from the social buzz of September with tractor traffic jams and good-natured shouts of abuse, to the short quiet days of October is a bit of a shock.

The grape juice, once sweet and almost 3-D, is now treading the painful path through adolescence, losing the puppy fat of that gorgeous sugar but revealing bones, and hopefully a sixpack in time to come. I still recognise these wines but there is the equivalent of the bobbing adams apple and spots, gangly and a little awkward but I know we have the makings of a headturner. It‘s clear to me now that I view the red wine as masculine.

I confess I haven’t bonded with the Sipon. I know it’s good, showing concentration. It’s packing a punch already - losing some of the pear aroma and palate and taking on characteristic grapefruit - but this is Liam’s baby. I feel like a mother in the maternity ward cooing over another woman’s bundle of joy. Ah, fond memories…

September 11: Going into labour

 Early morning butterflies, equal parts dread and excitement, I have an overwhelming feeling of responsibility and I don’t think I’m ready for this. It’s silly, really, because I’m part of a small but perfectly formed team of professional winemakers who are the equivalent of seasoned obstetricians. We have set aside four rows of vines that will yield 700 kilos of juicy black Modra Frankinja (Austria’s Blaufrancish).

Bunch and berry selection is rigorous and these healthy grapes will make life in the winery so much easier than bunging in everything. I’m not my usual chatty self this morning and take a bit of ribbing from the others for being so serious.

I explain that I’m in labour!

Grapes picked, weighed, de-stemmed and crushed, it’s time for lunch. I really thought I’d feel celebratory but instead am suffering from low level anxiety. I want to be inside the winery with the purple porridge, not outside in the sun sharing jokes.

Crushed and de-stemmed grapes going into Plastic

Feeding the de-stemmer

It’s twins!

So now we have ‘Modra Frankinja Plastic’ and ‘Modra Frankinja Steel Tank’.

adding SO2 to Modra Frankinja Plastic
The MF Plastic resides in the open housed pressing room . A huge plastic cube holds this portion of crushed grapes and delivers, for me, the most satisfying opportunity to smell, taste and feel the wonderful gloop. It’s all I can do to stop myself from pole-vaulting headfirst into it.

I find myself wondering if the others remember this first flush of excitement and heightened sensitivity and do these urges weaken with each vintage. This baby is given a bucketful of fermenting juice from another wine in the cellar as a starter pack to fermentation. The clock starts now. No frills here, no technology and only the natural yeast living in the cellar and the ambient temperature. This is what I have come to think of as the home birth.

The other twin is in the equivilant of hospital ICU, in a steel tank with tubes coming out of it.

ICU: Modra Frankinja Stainless Steel Tank
Our aim is to keep temperature low so that we get a cold soak, like putting a teabag into a mug of cold water. Hopefully we’ll get a gentle extraction of flavour and aroma rather than a high temperature, coarser extraction. One tube delivers a slow bubbling of carbon dioxide which both agitates and blankets the juice from harmful oxygen. The second tube runs cooling water though the liquid to prevent spontaneous fermentation.

Leaving the cellar on this first evening feels strange and I’ve had a better night’s sleep on Pro-Plus.

There follows a soothing rythmn of morning and evening visits to the cellar, taking temperatures and recording sugar levels. The next few days deliver a rollercoaster of emotions. Panic at low acidity readings, an anxious wait for pH results and then a sigh of relief. I soon learn that acceptance and patience are handy qualities to have now. Most clichés are rooted in truth and I have to admit that mother nature is clever. With a little help from judicious additions of SO2 and a blanketing of CO2 the MF Plastic settles down, like a broody hen, to work it’s magic. After a few days a satisfying crust of grape pulp rises to the top and the wine slowly starts to ferment. My favourite daily ritual is breaking this cap with my hand and feeling the liquid underneath… and then punching the livin’ be-jaysis out of it to help with extraction. (Technically called “punching down”.)

Punching Down
There is no substitute for experience. The wisdom and generosity of our friend, winemaker Miro, has not only made this adventure possible but also enjoyable. Open to our, possibly daft, experimentation, he gives us free reign while delivering gentle nudges in the right direction where we stray too far off piste. Liam and I have read a lot of theory but it soon becomes clear that the emerging wine doesn’t always keep to the script.

Next post: Nature versus Nurture… emerging personalities


  1. Slovenia?! I was shocked as I thought you were in Westport and thought maybe you'd moved. Then I read the bio and you're still there but doing a bit in Slovenia. Sounds fun. Good luck with it. Hopefully I'll get a chance to sample this stuff and talk to you about it one day.

  2. Hi Martin, thanks for that. Samples will make their way back to Ireland next Spring - lots of pruning to do in the meantime - amputating one arm off double-Guyots.....