Monday, October 17, 2011

The Red Stuff - Part Two..

It’s clear to me at this stage that winemaking and blogging don’t go together – one has to suffer. In this instance, it has been the blog. As I was wound my way through the vineyards early on Thursday morning, there was frost on the ground – it seemed almost unbelievable that only 10 days before the daytime highs were 28 Celsius, dropping to 15 Celsius at night. Now, well into my journey home, and on the distinctly un-wine friendly ferry to Rosslare, it all seems so long ago……

But we left off with having pressed the first batch of naturally fermented Modra Frankinja just as it came to the end of fermentation – a relatively quick 7 days and we were concerned that the tannins and extraction would only increase if we left the juice in contact with the skins for longer.

On the other hand, our second batch of Modra Frankinja that we had cold-soaked for 3 days to allow for aqueous extraction prior to fermentation was only just beginning its long journey to alcoholic adolescence.

The flavour of both was quite different: the MF that had been naturally fermented in an open plastic “box” had bright, crunchy red-fruit flavours – similar in some ways to a young, fresh Pinot Noir. The Steel tank of cold macerated MF was obviously still sweet to the taste, but the fruit characteristic was very different: this time more black fruits, more like a blackberry fruit compote, and was inky purple in colour – much darker than the others. It had an amazing dark core of fruit – like a vinous black hole, that sucked you deeper and deeper into layers of flavour.

Over the coming days, this tank of fermenting juice just worked away slowly – causing us both delight and frustration. The temperature rarely topped 22 Celsius, which is low, and the sugar levels dropped very slowly. Many discussions were had – and many opinions offered – did the yeasts need some nutrients to help them along, did we need to raise the temperature?

I think one of the biggest challenges of being a winemaker is to have conviction in your decisions. If you have any self-doubt (note: this does not imply you need arrogance), then winemaking isn’t for you. The activities in the cellar (let alone the vineyard) are all based on making decisions to deal with an ever changing situation – that only previous experience can at least help you to try and judge the impact of your decision. You only get to do this once a year – most winemakers might be lucky to do it maybe 30 times in a lifetime – and those decisions will resonate for the next 12 months until you get to try it all again. A clear head – and clear thinking – is required.

And for me, staring into our little 250 litre steel tank of slowly bubbling MF, those decisions seemed just as relevant as if I was dealing with a few thousand litres. To me (and Sinead) we wanted to try and watch the process unfold as “naturally” as possible. To be clear: I don’t regard adding nutrients or raising the temperature as being un-natural – just that if you do them, you won’t know what would/might have happened – and we needed to learn.

In the meantime, another important decision was pending: as the fermentation was proceeding, the tannin levels were becoming more prominent on the palate. Yes, there was still sweetness, but behind the gloss of sweet, juicy fruit, the chewy tannins were appearing. We therefore took a decision to press this batch midway through fermentation – two days later than the “Box” batch, but at a much earlier point in the fermentation cycle. Sugar was still at 60 Oechsle – so it still had a way to go. We bled off all the free run juice on Saturday 1st, so it had had a total of 9 days maceration. The subsequent juice from the press was then added to the other press juice from the open “Box” fermentation.

So now we had three batches: Free Run from plastic open Box fermented, Free Run from cold macerated Steel fermented and a tank of combined Press Juice from both.

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