Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thrills, Spills and fun with Acid...

Well – I have finally discovered what Twitter is for! The number of times over the past fortnight that I wished I could have tapped a spontaneous Tweet to the listening world (maybe 2 people?) isn’t worth counting. But even if I was technically minded enough, I suppose sticky fingers would have rendered my attempts useless. A Blog seemed like a good idea a while back, but actually getting the time to update it regularly has been a challenge – not for the lack of stuff to write about, but more a case of trying to find the time to do the actual writing….

So it’s Harvest 2011 time. A brief summary of the key background info and characters so far: I’m here in Slovenia – Sinead was here last week and started the ball rolling in a scarily competent fashion. The weather has been unusually warm and sunny, leading to a large, yet high quality, harvest. This is true across all varietals, with Sauvignon Blanc and Modra Frankinja (Blaufrankisch) doing particularly well. Lower than normal acidity levels are a slight concern. An early flowering and slightly disjointed growing season have led to a few quirks in the final fruit – some slight similarities to the hot 2003 (low acids), yet no burnt characters.

This year, we have decided to go it totally alone and make our own wine. Well, almost. Our good friend, neighbour and great wine producer, Miro has been a great source of inspiration and restrained observation – it’s a bit like being encouraged to go and use a trampoline, to be greeted by a shrug of the shoulders when you ask if you can try a triple somersault (“why not?”), knowing that it could end in failure when you splat yourself on the ground in an ugly mess! And only yourself to blame…

And to complicate matters somewhat (in a good way!), we decided to make not only White wine from our own Sipon (Furmint) vines, but also some Red. We purchased just over half a Ton of Modra Frankinja grapes to try some trials on.

This is the first time I have actually stopped long enough to consider what we’re actually doing (quite scary really) and to scribble a couple of notes.

There have been stand-up shouting matches, endless discussions about various procedures, periods of bewilderment (many, many!), moments of elation and a peculiar desire to continually admit that lack of knowledge is actually more of an asset that too much knowledge – at least that way you can get away with claiming you didn’t realise you were doing something wrong!

So there’s plenty more to follow in the next few Blogs…… but in the interim, here are a few brief thoughts on what I have far...
  1. Although unconventional, always have someone else start the process for you. If it all goes wrong you can blame them… or if it all works out, you can claim you corrected their mistakes! This year, Sinead was here for 9 days before me…. and I arrived very nervous and feeling out-of-my-depth. A few days hard graft and you’re too tired to figure out anything much more that what time you have to get up in the morning.
  2. The nicest, most refreshing treat at the end of a long day in the vineyard or winery is....… a bottle of cold beer!
  3. Acid is your friend – and your enemy. It’s like that girlfriend that wrecks your head – attractive, yet distractingly frustrating. Sugar is easy – it’s a simple compound and you either have it or you don't to start with, and you know it's just going to change into boring old alcohol in a predictable manner. Acidity is an ever-changing multi-faceted beast, manifesting itself in many different ways throughout the winemaking process and the resulting “flavour” of a wine is a complex concoction of many different acids. It comes and goes, rises and falls and trying to get a reasonable grip on it will be a never ending challenge. Men are like sugar, women are like acidity.
  4. Never, ever pick stuck and clogged stems out of the cylindrical “grater” of a de-stemmer running at full throttle. It seems like a good idea at the time (why switch it off – it’ll only waste time?) but trust me, you’ll only do it once. And if you’re lucky, like me, your fingers will get a whack – but at least you’ll still have them….. 
  5. Hindsight is a great thing in winemaking – and there’s always next year….
  6. For all the romantic ideas that winemaking conjures up, cleaning the inside of a pneumatic press whilst accompanied by swarming wasps and fruit flies is decidedly un-romantic.
  7. On the subject of fruit flies, they must have a pretty sad, short life (or maybe it’s just one big, and short, wine-fuelled Party?) but quite literally at the top of the pile of crap wine-making jobs is standing atop of a huge pile of pulp from the presses when another half-ton of hot, smelly, fly-infested pulp is emptied onto it to be raked out. There a literally millions of the buggers… no, they don’t bite, but they crawl inside every part of your clothing and into every orifice in your body. Yes, I know….
  8. Good Music is essential for Good Winemaking. Dodgy Austrian radio stations blaring 1980’s techno-pop will turn your wine to vinegar. Good wine needs Led Zeppelin, Steve Miller Band, Deep Purple, John Martyn and the like…
  9. Yeast – well, that’s a whole lifetime of learning – and I only hope I have enough time left to even get half a grasp on what my little yeast friends need out of life…
  10. Hindsight is a great thing in winemaking. Did I say that already? Definitely worth repeating!

Much more to follow....

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