Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Grape Sorting

This week, the sixth week of vintage, we have been receiving high quality Chardonnay grapes from Pemberton. This region is increasingly being acknowledged as one of the up and coming regions of Australia for cool climate chardonnay.  It is southeast of the famous Margaret River region and is also known as the wettest wine region in Western Australia.

The received high quality grapes are sorted by hand late in the night whilst it is cool.  Last night I had the opportunity to assist with the sorting, which I found to be very enjoyable, even though there is not really much to it once you know what you are looking for.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Wine Tasting Evening

On Saturday evening, I hosted a wine tasting at my house for the vintage crew. I was a bit unsure how it would go, as those attending covered a wide range of experience and interest levels in wine.

The theme was simple: bring a bottle of your favourite grape variety and it must be under $30. Interestingly enough, out of the seven wines that we tasted, 6 were reds! 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Subzero Chills

I really thought things were getting cold enough when we started killing ferments by reducing the temperature to 5 degrees (see post on 'chill kills' it turns out these are really minor chills in comparison to the technique of cold stabilisation.

There are a number of white wines that are now in their final stages of production and it is important to ensure they are ready for bottling and sale.  Clarity of the wine (or limpicity, if you like wine-geek terms) is considered a very important aspect for the consumer, so winemakers want to ensure that there are no unstable compounds that may precipitate out of the wine whilst it is in the bottle.

The Angel's Share

I had a very important Saturday chore to do today: top up our port barrel.  This beautiful 14L oak barrel was a generous gift from a group of friends for our wedding. But ever since we have filled it, it seems to mysteriously develop ullage very quickly!

topping the port barrel
So what exactly is ullage

Friday, 21 February 2014

Gassing Out

Firstly, I just want to be very clear that this post title is not referring to a situation resulting from too many baked beans, or clearing a room full if people.  No, 'gassing out' is a new technique I learnt this week whereby wine that has been stored in barrels is transferred to a tank using gas displacement.

The setup for 'gassing out' is very similar to an industrial beer keg.  Basically, the arm contains a hose which fits in the barrel through the bung hole and reaches most of the way down into the barrel.  Above this, there is a bung and clamp which allow the arm to sit comfortably on the bung hole and prevent any gas from escaping.  This also facilitates the dispersion of gas into the wine.  

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Close to the City

It never ceases to amaze me how close and easily accessible the Swan Valley is from anywhere in Perth. I also love the change in scenery that I get to experience each day as I commute to and from work.

Here are a few happy snaps that I took along my cycle route to work in the middle of the day and then again on the way home late at night.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Chill Kills

After all the hard work the other yeast girls and I have put into culturing our microscopic friends, it is sadly now time to start killing them! 

Some of the earlier ferments that we prepared have dropped to the targeted sugar level (in the wine industry, this is termed Baume) and the environment in the tanks is already becoming less comfortable for the yeast for two reasons:
1. They are running out of food
2. They cannot tolerate high ethanol levels 
The latter of these two points is quite ironic, seeing as the alcohol is their own by-product!

To make the situation even more difficult for the yeast, we chill the tanks down to 5 degrees Celcius (yeast don't like the cold) and then add sulphur dioxide (toxic to yeast at certain levels) and some fining agents to ensure the dead yeast cells settle to the bottom of the tank for separation.
sulphur gun being filled with liquid sulphur dioxide
I feel like a cold-hearted killer... but I think the end product is worth it!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Riesling Challenge

Over the weekend, my husband and I attended the Vintage Cellars Annual Riesling Challenge, held at their Shenton Park store.  Upon arrival at this informal event, we received a glass and faced 26 different bottles of riesling, masked by numbered brown paper bags.

We were provided with a list of the 26 wines that were on offer, and the challenge was to do our best to correctly identify each one.  Now, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the characteristic riesling styles within Australia's primary riesling producing regions, namely Clare Valley, Eden Valley and Frankland River.  However, there were multiple wines from each of these regions, alongside some from as far afield as Tasmania, New Zealand and Germany. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

The First Wine

Yesterday was a milestone at work - the first wine of the vintage! 

Albeit the Verdelho in question has not yet been fined and cold stabilised (some of the refining stages prior to bottling), but it is definitely a wine in all respects - taste, aroma, acidity, dryness, etc. 

Everyone was very excited when the assistant winemaker came around with a glass for us to try the fruits of our labour.  It definitely makes me realise that it will feel like a real accomplishment at the end of the vintage when we have produced a whole range of wines!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Raven Wines

When visiting Pinjarra last weekend for a wedding, the last thing I was expecting to be doing was discovering some unique and intriguing wines over lunch in an artfully outfitted winery.

Pinjarra is just over one hour south of Perth on the eastern side of the Kwinana Freeway. Driving into town, we noticed a sign for Raven Wines and, knowing we would need to have lunch somewhere, I suggested we may as well give it a go. 

The wines are all from the Peel Region, much less well known than Margaret River regions, but definitely showing promise.  There were some interesting blends which were successfully executed, balancing the highlights of each contributing variety.  My stand-outs were:

2013 Semillon Chardonnay 
Displayed the cutting, citrusy edge of a Semillon but a rounded body and some nuttiness from time in oak to back it up.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec
Luscious chocolate notes with a lovely dark fruit hit from the Malbec.

lunch platters accompanying Raven Wines

Our pecorino, prosciutto and tempranillo jelly platter and house made roasted pepper hummus were lovely with a glass of wine, as we relaxed in the modern restaurant, overlooking their Shiraz vines.

The motto for Raven Wines Wines is: Wine, Mood, Food.
They lived up to expectations on all accounts - and there was excellent service on top of that.

If you are interested to find out more, check out the Raven Wines website:

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Peaks and Troughs

After a ridiculously hectic third week of vintage with very little time for a a bite to eat in each 12 hour shift, I have found myself at a whole different pace coming into week four of vintage. Sadly, a significant quantity of white grapes had to be left on the vines, and so the pace has dropped to the point where we have reverted to 3 groups of 8 hour shifts. 

I have been designated the 2pm to 10pm shift; probably not my shift of choice as I am more of a morning person, but much more preferable than the 10pm to 6am shift! It's a strange feeling only working 8 hours after becoming accustomed to a 12 hour slog. (Also not great on the purse strings).

Now that many of the ferments are well underway, a few additional tasks have made their way into my daily work allocations. These include chilling ferments that are getting too warm by pumping them through a heat exchanger (chiller) and also adding some extra nutrients to tanks where the yeast may be struggling a little. Both tasks require lots of enjoyable trips up to the roof, but at least it is a nice view from up there!

my attempt at a panoramic view from the cellar rooftop

Monday, 10 February 2014

Pumps with Personality

There are many portable pumps at the winery - big and small, slow and fast, reliable and rattling. The pump selected for a job depends on a number of factors: 
  • tank size - from 5,000L right up to 100,000L
  • distance to be pumped - can be up to a few 100m
  • type of job - inoculating grape juice, racking, transferring wine for transport, etc.
  • type of material - can be juice, finished wine, sanitising chemicals, etc
Someone with a good sense of humour (or a little too much time on their hands) has named and labelled each pump based upon its particular 'personality' (ie. looks and performance).  I have enjoyed discovering the names and quirks of each pump in the cellar, so I thought it was worth sharing what I guess you could call a cellarhand's sense of humour.

The Fat Lady


Big Bertha

The Hog

Flat Stick

Most of the pictures above are self-explanatory in regards to how the pump was named, but I think it is worth explaining my favourite one below (actually the one we use very regularly in the yeast area).  The reason for the name is that it goes both ways!

David Bowie

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Secret Life of Yeast

Part 2

In Part 1 of this overview of culturing yeast, I focused on how the yeast is acclimatised to temperature and sugar.  At the same time, the juice which is to be inoculated must be under conditions favourable to yeast growth.

To ensure this is the case, the juice in each culture tank is warmed to a balmy 23 degrees Celcius and some vitamins and nitrogen are introduced, which will assist the yeast with healthy cell growth.

Once the yeast in the bath and the juice in the tank are within 5 degrees of each other, the inoculation can proceed. And so the defining chemical reaction of wine making begins:

Sugar + Yeast = Ethanol + Carbon Dioxide (+ Heat)

Or, in more scientific terms:

C6H12O6 + Zymase → 2 C2H5OH + 2 CO2

The reaction begins very slowly as the yeast continue to acclimatise and build cell mass and structure. This is called the lag phase of yeast growth.

It is not until at least 12 hours later that yeast reaches its exponential phase of growth.  At this point, the sugar content of the juice will begin to decline noticeably hour by hour and the yeast will multiply rapidly.  Their activity makes the top of the juice looks like a soft drink that had just been opened.

The Phases of Yeast Growth
Once inoculated, regular sampling and measurement of the juice must be conducted to monitor when the sugar content starts to decline rapidly.  When exponential phase is identified, cell counts are taken every hour under the microscope to determine how well the yeast population is growing and what proportion of the cells are budding.  

When the desired cell count (as determined by the winemakers) has been reached, the culture is ready for transfer to inoculate a full tank of grape juice (45,000L+).  This is the point at which  the amount of activity generated by the tiny yeast cells really hits home for me:  upon opening the door of the culture tank as it is drained, a surge of carbon dioxide and foam emerges!

Carbon Dioxide pouring from the Culture Tank
Fermentation Foam

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Secret Life of Yeast

Part 1

With the onset of Week 3 of vintage, the pace in the yeast area has accelerated to breaking point. We are managing on average 6 simultaneous yeast cultures each 12 hour shift.  

There is a fairly standard methodology for preparing a yeast culture for white wine, with a few tweaks here and there.  The variations will depend upon the grape type, and therefore type of yeast used, as well as the desired style of the wine.

rehydrating dried yeast

In general, the yeast comes freeze dried in 500g sachets and looks no different to normal bread yeast. There are noticeable differences in smell between the strains - I get hints of wet dirt in some and compost in others - but the overarching aroma is very similar to that when baking bread.

To rehydrate the yeast, a 'bath' of water at 35-40 degrees Celsius must first be prepared before the required amount of yeast is added.  In regards to quantities, we add approximately 4kg of yeast to a 2,000L tank for the culture, which then is used to ferment a 40,000L tank.

From here on in, the process is all about acclimatisation.  The yeast is initially weak as it comes out of hibernation, so it needs to sit in the bath for at least 10 minutes before being gently stirred. 

Then the fun begins. To break up any clumps of dry yeast hands hands are required to give it a good mix, whilst enjoying the gooey sensation and fresh bread aromas!

mixing the yeast
Again, another 10 minutes of waiting and then the yeast is ready for some food.  A small amount (1 bucket full) of the grape juice that is about to be inoculated is introduced into the yeast bath to acclimatise the little organisms to sugar (similarly to how you don't give a child too many lollies all at once!). 

After another wait, greater quantities of juice can be added to achieve the final goal: the yeast bath and juice tank must be within 5 degrees of each other before the yeast is introduced.  This is to ensure the yeast is not 'shocked' by the temperature differential, thus giving the best possible chance to survive and thrive.  As more juice is added, an increase in activity is quickly visible.

yeast enjoying a feast of grape juice

Monday, 3 February 2014

Nothing Goes to Waste

As I enter the third week of my vintage experience, the pieces of the puzzle are all slowly starting to fall into place.  My dayshift counterpart, Gracie, and I have been left to our own devices to run the yeast area of the cellar and we are starting to establish some form of a routine, despite the constant multi-tasking required.

Working in the yeast area, I have come to appreciate that nothing goes to waste in the winery.  Last week, I described the first racking, undertaken to separate the clear grape juice from the skins, seeds and pulp.

Now, the lees still contain a significant amount of good juice which can be extracted.  This is achieved using a Rotary Disc Vacuum Filter (RDV), which is lovingly known as the 'Poo Wheel'.  

The 'Poo Wheel'
In basic terms, this is how the RDV works:
1. The lees are pumped into a 'bath' at the bottom of a large, rotating cylinder
2. The cylinder contains a filter 'skin' and is also coated with a fine powder which assists in collecting solids
3. A vacuum system is used to draw the lees from the bath and through the filter
4. Liquid grape juice passes through the filter for collection whilst solid material clings to the outside of the cylinder and is collected in a disposal bin

Vacuum Filtration

And where do the two RDC products end up?
  • The solids are collected and utilised as mulch for the vineyards
  • The collected juices are pumped to the yeast area and separated into 1000L and 2000L tanks in preparation for breeding yeast cultures

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Pizza Pairing

If you have not tried using a pizza stone on your BBQ, you are missing out.  It is such a simple and easy way to make wood-fired style pizza!  Ok, I do admit it is not exactly the same as eating pizza in Naples or Rome, but it comes seriously close and is also very quick and easy.

A few nights ago, I was spoilt to arrive home weary from a 12 hour shift in the cellar to find my husband in the process of preparing a chorizo, paprika potato, capsicum, basil and onion pizza.  Usually we prefer to follow the Italian philosophy of minimising ingredients and maximising taste, but in this case, I feel that the number of ingredients was warranted.  It was like combining all our favourite tapas ingredients in one delightfully spicy, crunchy and filling mouthful.

Of course, we had to find a good Italian style wine to accompany the pizza goodness and Hay Shed Hill 2009 Sangiovese proved a fine match.  Sangiovese is not very common in Australia, despite the fact that it flourishes in a central to southern mediterranean climate.  The name derives from the Latin phrase sanguis Jovis, which means 'the blood of Jove' (Jove is another name for Jupiter, king of the Ancient Roman gods). 

The most common use for the Sangiovese grape is as the main constituent of the famous Italian wine blend Chianti.  Sangiovese wines are not particularly strong so they definitely work best with food.  Hay Shed Hill have done a pretty good job with their version of this Italian classic:  I could taste the earthy, savoury profile typical of a Sangiovese and it really brought out the meaty chorizo and spicy paprika flavours in the pizza.  I think Jove himself would have enjoyed this meal! 

sangiovese and pizza - a match fit for the gods