Friday, November 30, 2012

Picked - Finally....

Picnic on the boat!

A quick trip over to Slovenia by Sinead recently to check the wines reminded me that I hadn’t actually finished relating what happened all the way back at Harvest time. After Sinead’s frustration (see here Definitely Not Picking Time!), I headed out full of expectation at the end of September.

On arrival, there was a very mixed situation…

Sipon that ruptured and rotted following rain
Deceptive - actually sunburnt with upripe acidity

The Sipon, to use a great Irish phrase, was knackered – banjaxed and beyond saving. Possibly inspired by Sinead and her filthy language, another great phrase was born: in short, “the Sipon was a complete catastrofuck.”
More rot......
Thsi is what we managed to salvage

The Modra Fankinja on the other hand, was a thing of beauty.

Nice open bunches of ripe Modra Frankinja


Sugar levels were perfect, no sunburn, acidities tasted good, pips were ripe and just crunchy with no bitterness – and nothing was overripe – the grapes tasted fresh and ready to go. Picking was effortless and before we knew it we had everything in one of our new wood fermenters.

De-stemming in the cool night air
All ready for fermentation...

The plan was to keep the must at a lowish temperature for a couple of days and then to allow a natural fermentation to start. Our low-tech approach involved re-filling plastic water containers and freezing them. But as any First Year Science student will tell you, ice floats (how did we manage to forget that), so actually getting the cold distributed throughout the vat was a little more difficult. Plus, we didn’t want to mix things up too much to “force” extraction. Anyway, they seemed to do the job and after two days we took out the ice and fermentation began naturally pretty quickly – I think it may even have begun down in the depths of the vat prior to that.

Over the coming days we kept any punchdowns to a minimum (where you break up the “cap” of skins and pulp that forms at the top and push it back down) and got used to just touching it regularly to check it was still damp and also taking a good sniff – although this was pretty much guaranteed to lead to a sharp intake of CO2 up the nose – try it – you won’t forget it quickly!

One mildly “controversial” idea we did go through with was to chaptalise the wine – adding sugar – to add the equivalent of a half degree of alcohol – bringing it up to an estimated 12.5%. There are plenty of things you can add to wine – and at various stages – but of them all, sugar is the least intrusive. It is entirely and very simply converted to alcohol by the yeasts, it adds no actual sweetness. Of course, unscrupulous winemakers add tonnes of it to unripe grapes to bring up the alcohol level, but we wanted to try for a totally different reason. Over the years we have come across numerous winemakers who deliberately add a SMALL bit every vintage as they believe it adds an extra “x-factor” to the flavour and mouthfeel of their red wines. Marie-AndrĂ©e Mugneret vividly describes remembering as a child the smell of the sugar being stirred into the already fermenting vats.

The interesting thing is that when I went to research what to do, it transpired there’s not very much written about it all! Of course, there’s plenty about chaptalisation in general – but on a high volume scale – and even then, very little guidance as to how the sugar is actually added: is it dissolved, or just poured in? And all at once, or over a few days? Away from how you actually do it, the boring bits are that approximately 17 grams if sugar per litre will increase the alcohol by 1% - and that you can dissolve 2kg of sugar in 1 litre of water. So it was out with the weighing scales and pots and pans.

Just think.. if you're a huge winery with 1,000,000 litres a year and you want to bring everything up by 1% alcohol, you need 17 Tons of sugar!

As I added the syrup into the open fermenter later that night, I managed to convince myself that I was totally mad, and almost chickened out – but in it went…!

Over the next few days as fermentation continued, we kept punchdowns to a minimum as we were happy with the extraction already achieved. In fact, over the whole fermentation period we only punched down three times. Total maceration time from harvest to press was 21 days.

And the result tastes fantastic! Meanwhile the poor old Sipon was limping along through fermentation, and beginning to smell of mushrooms. Trust me, that is not a good smell to have in your wine! There are of course all sorts of chemicals you can use to strip out these odours/tastes – but they tend to strip out most of everything else as well, so we’re destined for a rather unusual, but small volume, mushroomy Sipon…

But that Modra Frankinja – now that makes us happy!

Still the most beautiful view from a Wine Press anywhere - sunrise from Miro's cellar

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics...

There’s plenty of chat around about what might happen in next week’s budget. In fact, most of us are pretty much fed up with hearing about it. Plenty of things have been well flagged, including a likely increase in Excise Duty. Much like our attitude to the whole austerity fog that we are all lost in, we seem to accept these impending changes with little more than a benign resignation.

So for example, instead of jumping up and down about key issues like below cost selling of alcohol (how difficult can that actually be to introduce?), we’re all expecting an increase in Excise Duty next week of around 50 cents per bottle with a “well, it could be worse attitude”. Sorry, but how much worse?

I’ve heard of politicians “kite flying” ideas by leaking crazy ideas to convenient contacts in the press, and then sitting back to see how a madcap scheme pans out. Well, whoever it was that flew the idea of an Excise increase “only for the retail trade” idea in the weekend papers, please stand up. If there was ever a more ridiculous idea, I have yet to have the pleasure of stumbling across it. This proposal was explained with the assured logic that by not increasing Excise on pub sales, we would project jobs.

Now, I’m not an economist or statistician – but I do know where we wholesale our wines. And let’s see… that would include both pubs and retailers. So along with re-printing all our price lists, incurring the wrath of all our customers, endless whinging about how we can’t take it any more and so on, we’re now also going to have two different invoice systems. And as for our Bond, I pity them trying to determine if Bould Betty’s is a pub, bistro or lap dancing club when they release the wine from Bond and allocate the Excise Duty.

Seriously – whoever thought of that idea should quietly slip out that back door of Government buildings and think of a new career…..

So what about the statistics? Well, rather conveniently, the boffins at the Wine Institute in California have been checking bottle banks all over the world and have just published the latest world rankings for wine consumption. And not just for 2010, but very interestingly for the past three years. So from our Celtic Tiger peak in 2007 to the rather more austere days of 2010, you’ll note that wine consumption in Ireland has dropped by 8.3% to 16.89 litres per annum per head. Not a catastrophic drop – but not exactly a growing market ripe for an increase in tax.

More interesting is the drop from 2007 to 2008 – a whopping 25% drop. I don’t have the burning passion to go back over previous Budgets, but I’d guess that those figures overlap with the catastrophic rise in Excise Duty some years back that coincided with us all rushing up North to buy all our drink. If sales fell here, you can be sure the tax take fell too – and funnily enough, that Excise hike was subsequently reversed.

So in a market of falling sales, what makes best sense – increase the price of the product (when it’s still going to be available for less close by), or decrease/hold the price?


Aside from my rant, there are some great figures in the report. How about the fact that those in the Vatican City consume more wine per head than ANYWHERE in the world – a whopping 70 litres per head in 2009? That’s almost 5 times what we drink!

And Kuwait, where it looks (surprisingly) like the average is about a glass of wine per person, per year, managed to register an increase of 389%!

You can see the complete list here: Per Capita Wine Consumption by Country

Monday, November 5, 2012

Definitely Not Picking Time - F**k it

Sinead here, making my annual appearance on the blog. I was close to giving it a miss this year since I didn't get to harvest our grapes or start the process of managing fermentation.

After two weeks in Slovenia I boarded the plane back to Ireland feeling like an expectant mother who had been sent home from the delivery ward having presented with false labour. I had learnt much and had great fun being involved in the harvests of others but felt lonely for my ‘baby’. It seemed everyone else had a new arrival in the winery, someone to coo over and nurture. Even Liam’s gentle nudges to blog something, anything, of my thoughts while out there failed to move me towards the keyboard.

Luckily, writer's block took a jolt as the Aerlingus flight left the tarmac and I realised that my harvest blog should take the form of a poem. Inspired by Brian Millar's take on the John Cooper Clarke song 'Bloody Chickentown', (see previous blog). I had the masterpiece done and dusted by the time we landed in Dublin. Avert your eyes Granny...
Am I in labour? Sugar levels are only half the story

Definitely not Picking Time
By Sinead Cabot
The fucking dates were fucking wrong
Miro is a fucking nong
The fucking sugar’s fucking high
The fucking ground was fucking dry
The fucking pips won’t fucking brown
The fucking rain’s now coming down
The fucking Sipon’s fucking split
The fucking Sipon’s fucking shit
The fucking MF’s fucking slow
Pick - fucking yes or fucking no?
Fucking vintage is passing me by
Think I’m gonna fucking cry
Samo fucking hurt his head
I picked his sauvignon instead
Lela was my picking mate
Humming songs that were x-rate
Fucking acid’s fucking low
Acidify – yes? No, fucking NO!
“Fucking milk by fucking March”
(Samo, that’s a little harsh)
Thank you to my Slovene friends
Fun fucking vintage in the end!
With due respect to John Cooper Clarke and Brian Miller. "Evidently Chickentown" is a poem by the English performance poet John Cooper Clarke. The poem uses repeated profanity to convey a sense of futility and exasperation ... - Wikipedia.

MF in the poem is the black grape variety Modra Frankinja, (Austria's Blaufrankish and Hungary's Kekfrankos. Sipon is the Slovene name for the white grape variety, Furmint.

Continuing my journey home I dropped in to Easons at Heuston Station and the first book I saw was “F**k it: The Ultimate Spiritual Way” by John C Parkin. Coincidence? I bought it, of course, and had it finished by the time the train pulled in at Westport. A great read and I felt so much f**king better. You should buy it. Now F**k off!