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-Andrée 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

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