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 clich├ęs 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

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Halloween Electric Wine Quiz

Try it at home with the kids.....well, maybe not the kids....

Monday, October 24, 2011

What We Have Learnt - So Far....

Or maybe a better title would be what we haven’t learnt so far… but that would take too long to write – and anyway, we don’t know what we haven’t learnt yet! The one thing we do know is that although everything isn’t finished yet for the 2011 vintage, we are already making plans for next year – which seems a frustratingly long time away. You can’t just go back and do it all again immediately – you have to wait for Nature to play its part and work alongside it to coax everything towards the finish line some 12 months away. You can’t rush this winemaking stuff!

With just over 750 Litres of wine from 2011, next year, we think we will:
  • Change our Sipon vineyard almost entirely to single-Guyot. The test proved that although the yield was obviously lower, the quality of fruit borne by the vine was far superior.
  • We will pick the Sipon earlier, to preserve acidity and freshness – and chaptalize by a maximum of half a degree of alcohol if necessary to compensate.
  • We will do minimal punch-downs on the Modra Frankinja during maceration. Instead of 2 per day, we will endeavour to do just 1 midway through the whole fermentation – and in-between just keep the cap gently damp by pouring the occasional jug of must over it.
  • We will definitely do the cold-soak on the Modra Frankinja again, but in conjunction with less agitation of the cap, we will endeavour to leave the skins in contact with the juice until well after the alcoholic fermentation in order to gain maximum complexity, but keep the tannins as fine and balanced as possible. We will also keep the temperatures low during fermentation and encourage a slow, drawn-out process. No funny looking heaters!
  • On the other hand, we will most likely let the Sipon ferment at a higher temperature as we’re not too keen on the pear characteristics that seem to be emerging. However, we will also probably try a little pre-fermentation cold maceration to gain extra original fruit characteristics.
  • We will always check the size of the barrels before filling them! In an ideal world, we will source some 500L large old oak casks and try fermenting some of the Modra Frankinja in these.
Of course, all of the above depends on getting through pruning, flowering, budding, hail storms, drought, rot, flooding – and the odd domestic disagreement about differing winemaking techniques – otherwise known as a good old-fashioned row!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The White Stuff - Part Two...

Next morning at Miro’s cellar, we pressed the Sipon early in the morning – a true “cold press” at just 13 Celsius. We also pressed the whole bunches – no de-stemming – so that we could try and increase any available acidity – which was a little low at 6.3 g/l.

It was all then pumped into our steel fermentation tank and again chilled for a further 36 hours to let everything settle. We decided we would ferment on the heavy lees (we didn’t rack the juice off prior to fermentation) and stopped the cooling on the Sunday evening and added some inoculated yeasts. Miro’s own Sipon is naturally fermented, so we wanted to try an artificial yeast instead.

But the big question was acidity. Again, many viewpoints were exchanged. A lot of local winemakers would have 7.0 g/l as a target and the obvious suggestion was to acidify by adding tartaric acid – totally legal and practised in many countries. The other consideration was that, unlike red wine fermentations, the acidity level tends to drop a little during a white wine fermentation – there being no skins and pips for the yeasts to extract some extra acidity from.

Both Sinead and I were against this though – although not philosophically opposed to acidification, we just wanted to see how it would turn out without any intervention. We needed to understand how what you start with evolves into a finished product. Miro came up with an interesting suggestion to add some gently opened grape skins from his own Sipon so that there would be some minor maceration and acidity extraction – but we also decided against that.

What we did know by now is that we should have harvested earlier. Instead of sugar levels being a target, we should have used our instincts and gone with acidity and flavour for our guide. As sugar levels rise during grape ripening on the vine, acidity drops. If we had harvested earlier, we would have preserved acidity and could have chaptalized (added sugar) easily. Sugar is pretty simple stuff, and the yeasts convert it to alcohol in a pretty straightforward way, but there are many, many acids in a wine that produce a kaleidoscope of flavours and the addition of one single acid (e.g. tartaric acid) is a bit like using a mallet to tap a tack.

So our yeasts began their long and wonderful journey to alcoholic bliss without anything extra to contend with. Temperatures remained low – never broaching the 20 Celsius mark – and fermentation was nice and slow. However the flavours began to change from a straight fruit juice style (which is what unfermented juice is anyway) with hints of apples, to a more crunchy-pear style flavour. One major criticism of cool fermentations in white wines is that they can develop a “pear-drop” style flavour and that typicity and individuality can be compromised. Certainly Miro’s Sipon tasted more of the classic grapefruit style – but ours was a long way behind in fermentation terms and the residual sugar was hiding many of the subtleties and nuances of the final flavour composition.

I also took the opportunity to sit down with Ivan to try and sort out our differing opinions about how we had harvested the grapes. We have a huge amount of respect for him and the work he puts into tending the vines while we’re not there but, as I explained, we also want to experiment and try some new ideas. It turned out to be a great meeting. What had really rankled with Ivan was the fact we had discarded some less than perfect bunches on the ground during the harvest - even leaving them on the vine would have been better than just throwing them away. It seemed to him to be a vinous two-fingers to his hard work during the year. I hadn't realised the sensitivities involved and although we will both undoubtedly still harvest differently to each other, we also understand where the other is coming from. It was a relief to discover there would be no crying over spilt grape juice.

After 15 days the Sipon is still fermenting away slowly – almost there, but not quite yet. The acidity seems remarkable good and we’re really happy we didn’t acidify after all. Having tasted a couple of other producers’ wines who did acidify, the jarring, brutal attack of the acids just doesn’t seem to work – particularly since the flavours and aromatics are delicate in the first place.

Sinead will be back next week to rack the wine off the lees once fermentation has finished – and only then will we get a proper taste of the final product.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The White Stuff - Part One.....

The original plan had been to pick the Sipon (Furmint) grapes first – and to get the fermentation of our white wine underway before tacking the red. However Sipon is a notoriously late-ripening white variety, and when Sinead arrived the advice was to leave it another week or so to let the sugar levels rise a bit more. It was a decision we were to regret later on…

Back in February, Sinead had travelled out to prune the vines. Most of the older vineyards are pruned in a double-Guyot style – two main sperons, with between 5 and 7 shoots coming off each on which the grapes grow. We had decided to change two of the rows to single-Guyot to compare the yield, and crucially the quality. Sinead was helped by Bozidar from Verus Vinograd (an amazing viticulturist) and the two of them did a great job.

Seven months later, the results were clear to us. As I walked the vineyard with Bozidar, we sampled grapes from adjoining, but differently pruned, rows. 2011 is a genereous vintage of good quality – but the vines with double-Guyot training were laden down with fruit – on average probably between 5 and 6 kilos per vine. The single-Guyot vines were yielding about 2.5 kilos and the grapes tasted fresher, purer and more complex. Ivan, who owns the adjoining vineyard and keeps watch over our own vines when we’re not there, had followed the “experiment” with interest. He is a traditionalist and was concerned about the drop in yield – his generation were paid for quantity, not quality, by the local co-operative.

Miro and I decided that we would harvest the Sipon on Friday 30th September – the juice showing a promising 90 Oechsle. At 7am we picked the two rows of single-Guyot vines into small plastic crates. In a high-yielding year aromatics and freshness can be compromised, so Sinead had suggested we leave the grapes in their small crates overnight in Miro’s cellar to see if any additional aromatics could be gained following picking.

On returning from Miro’s cellar, having deposited the crates, I was confronted by a very angry Ivan. He had visited our vineyard and was aghast at the fact we had left grapes on the vines and, even worse, that we had discarded bunches on the ground. He was very upset – feeling that all his work during the rest of the year had been worthless. I tried, through the magical international language of arm waving and bad German to explain that we had just selected the best grapes, and that there was plenty to go around – but all to no avail. He stormed off, vowing never to return, repeatedly saying what we had done was “criminal”. It was a slightly unexpected start......

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Red Stuff - Part Three....

If we were worried about nutrients and temperature before, now we had even more cause for lengthy analysis. By taking away the skins, and putting the juice into a colder cellar, we had set our yeast friends a pretty hard task to finish the job of fermentation. Things slowed down even more, and a week later I chickened out and agreed with Miro that we needed to try raising the temperature a bit – a stuck fermentation is not something that you really want. On the other hand, do you really want one of these things stuck into your wine?

So we raised the temperature by 2 degrees to 18.5 Celsius – but no nutrients were added. It seemed the yeasts were just happy to plod along – and if they were happy, I was happy.

In the middle of all this, I had contacted a winemaker called Roland Velich based in Burgenland, Austria. He’s the man behind the Moric wines and to say that he is passionate about Blaufrankisch (Modra Frankinja) would be an understatement. We arranged to go and taste with him. The visit warrants a separate report, but suffice to say briefly that the wines stunned us. Comparisons have been made to Grand Cru Burgundies, and although there are definite similarities in terms of texture and mouthfeel, the wines showcase the unique characteristics of low-yielding Blaufrankisch – wonderful dark, sour cherry fruits with amazing floral aromas and multi-layered palates that leave you still tasting, and savouring, the wine minutes later. Yet they are not blockbuster wines – they are elegant, poised, precise and utterly seductive. We spent 4 hours tasting and talking about just 6 wines – and the 6 hour round-trip journey was well, well worth it. We returned to Slovenia inspired!

Back in Miro’s cellar our own MF was moving at a glacial pace – but we were happy to leave it that way. The question of what we would do next loomed on the horizon and the question of barrels arose. Miro had some old oak – 5th use – barriques and we decided we would move the two batches of Free Run juice into them and then could also continue to compare their evolution in barrel.

Cleaning barrels is a slow, challenging process. I had attempted to clean them myself, but wasn’t happy with the aromas that remained from their previous use. Miro intervened and after a few hours with a steam cleaner, many cold water rinses and lots of “juggling” the barrels to slosh around the water later, we had two useable barrels.

Yet this decision was my one crisis of confidence. For whatever reason I really wasn’t happy about putting the wines into barrels. I had grown used to their respective flavours and really enjoyed the “clean” fruit-forward style of the wines combined with refreshing, clean acidity and fine tannins. I wasn’t really sure of I was ready to wave goodbye to them - it was like watching a child become a teenager – not really sure how they were going to evolve.

As if my own lack of self-confidence about what we were doing wasn’t enough, we encountered another problem. And here’s a Top Tip for any budding winemaker: always know what size your barrels are before you start filling them! Sounds simple….. but a 220 Litre barrel can look amazingly like a 250 Litre one – particularly as they can all be different shapes.

We always knew we would be a little short on Steel Free Run juice to fill one of the barrels, but we were going to top it up with some Press juice. However as the steel tank emptied and the barrel showed no signs of being anywhere near full, we realised we had made a fundamental error in calculating the size of the barrel. That sinking feeling was horrible. Not only had we moved the wine (exposing it to oxygen and giving the hard-pressed yeasts yet another challenge), we were left with a batch of wine that, left that way it was, would certainly degrade. Stupid, stupid, stupid – and I cursed the moment we had decided to move the wine – I should have left it to Sinead who was due back in a week – and then it would have been her problem!

But one person’s misfortune is often another person’s gain – and it was off to the local toyshop in Ljutomer to buy some glass marbles. Not just a bag or two – but 50kg of marbles. They can be put into the barrel and used to raise the fill, ensuring that you have a “full” barrel. My request was met with a combination of surprise (I think they definitely thought I was mad) and the desire to sell me more marbles in a single day than they probably sell in a year!

As I write this, the marbles are on order and will be cleaned and added to the barrel in the next few days. The wine in that same barrel is still fermenting – slowly as ever – but the yeasts have hung on in there and are almost finished – some 3 weeks after starting. And the wine is truly delicious – honestly!

In the back of the car are some small jars of samples of each wine for Sinead to try when I get back. She’ll then go back out next week to finish off a few things and put the wines into hibernation for the winter. And also to make some “Champagne”……!

Oh yes, and we did make some white wine too. More to follow……

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.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Waiter, There's an Alien in my Fermentation Tank....

It's in there somewhere.....

Amazing what a bit of yeast and wine must can do! If the tanks all have slightly different fill levels, you can get a tune..... maybe.....

Many thanks to Samo and Lela for the video - I think Samo got up in the middle of the night to film it!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The View From The Press

Most wine-related pictures tend to focus on shots of beautiful vineyards. And with good reason - partly because they are indeed beautiful - and also partly because the winery itself can often be an ugly lump of industrialised concrete, or down a backstreet somewhere..

In my humble opinion, Miro has the best Press location I have ever come across. The view as you are pressing the grapes is amazing....

Note the stool for contemplative thinking whilst the Press works away slowly. Many of the world's problems have been solved from this stool..... but I can never seem to remember what the solution was......

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Red Stuff...Part 1

 Back in early September, when Sinead and I were planning our respective trips for the Harvest, the plan was that Sinead would come first to harvest and vinify our own Sipon (Furmint). I would then arrive about 10 days later and harvest and vinify some Modra Frankinja we had agreed to buy, as we don’t have any MF vines ourselves. But Nature again conspired to change things a little and it turned out that the MF reached optimum maturity earlier than the Sipon, so Sinead found herself immersed in sticky red stuff rather than sticky clear stuff!

We have been interested in Modra Frankinja for a while now. Known more commonly as Blaufrankisch (in Austria where it is planted more widely) it is a variety that we believe has great potential here in the clay-dominated soils of Jeruzalem. It is a late ripening variety, with vibrant fruit aromas of sour cherry, fruits of the forest , herbs and spices. On the palate it is savoury, with an elegance not dissimilar to a hypothetical blend of Barbera and Pinot Noir. Some would include descriptors akin to a Syrah, or even Nebbiolo, but our preferred style is the fruit-forward, savoury cherry/plum style. It can handle oak reasonably well, but larger, old barrels tend to accentuate the finer characteristics better, rather than a whack of new oak.

A couple of local producers grow Modra Frankinja and we had been to visit one vineyard back in August and agreed to purchase just over half a ton of grapes at harvest time. Sinead was there on the day (Thursday September 22nd) and ended up with exactly 677 kilos of grapes being dropped off at Miro’s cellars. Quality was excellent, with no rot. Sugar was 91 Oechsle which is bang on the nose for a 12.5% alcohol wine. So things were looking good. Acidity was 5.5 g/l and Ph 3.41.

We had decided in advance that we would vinify it in different batches – primarily to look at how different fermentation procedures impacted on the final wine. The grapes were de-stemmed and split into two batches:
  1. About 250 kilos went into a steel tank that we wanted to undergo a pre-fermentation cold maceration. This would delay the fermentation and allow for a more gentle aqueous extraction (rather than alcoholic extraction during fermentation) of the colour, tannins and polyphenols from the skins. Sinead and Miro worked their wonders with some hosepipes and got cold water circulating through the tank that would keep the must lower than 15 Celsius for the next 3 days. I had also wanted to try gently bubbling some Co2 through the must – something that Emmanuel Rouget told us he did – to try and add some “lift” and “elegance” to the maceration. Again, a make-shift device was assembled and sure enough, some CO2 worked its way through the cold must – until we promptly ran out of CO2!
  2. The second, slightly larger, batch went into a 500 kilo plastic “box” – the way that many local producers would ferment their red wines here – including Pinot Noir. The box is can be covered to protect the must, but can easily be opened for punchdowns. Crucially, this box was also left up at ground level and so settled down at a much higher temperature quite quickly – around 20 Celsius.
Sinead did punchdowns on both batches twice a day. By Sunday 25th fermentation had started in the larger Box – no added yeast, just whatever came in on the grapes. Temperatures during fermentation rose no higher than 24 Celsius and the main part was finished by Thursday 29th – so just under a week from picking to when we decided to Press. At that point we had sugars of about 30 Oechsle (effectively a dry wine) and we decided that we had enough extraction and tannins to proceed with pressing – we didn’t want too much extraction.

Meanwhile, in our steel tank, things were moving a lot more slowly…. in a good way. We had already decided that we would inoculate this batch with a cultured yeast – one normally used for Pinot Noir – again, too see how it would impact on the final wine as a comparison. On the Sunday evening (after 4 days cold maceration) we stopped the cooling and added the yeast. Fermentation took another 2 days to get going, so by now we were about 6 days behind the Box fermentation.

So by the Thursday, from the same harvested grapes, we had one batch (the Box) almost finished the main part of fermentation and being Pressed – and the other (the Steel) just really beginning…. both had punchdowns twice a day, but already it was clear we had two very different wines….


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....