Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Fermentation is in full swing!

Finally, the day arrived where I walked in to work in the morning and I could smell the ferments! This is when you know vintage really is in full swing. We also had to have all the doors open for a while due to the buildup of carbon dioxide inside the cellar!

What a strange week it was. It started off with the enjoyable job of transferring the first ferment of the season into barrel. Having practised a few barrel transfers the week previous, I was ready and excited to take on the task. The difference when transferring a ferment, as opposed to finished wine, is that the yeast can get a little over-excited with the movement and influx of oxygen. And when yeast gets excited, you get a whole lot of foaming, which can result in overflow of tanks or barrels if you are not extra careful. 

My poor attempt at a barrel-filling selfie
So although the task was fun, it was a drawn-out process running the pump super slowly to ensure everything stayed in the barrels. I definitely had a sense of satisfaction as I finished filling the last barrel without any loss of Chardonnay and popped in the fermentation bung.

After an absolutely outrageous Tuesday, with three white presses followed by destemming of three batches of pinot noir (all in one very extended shift), my mood had swung to exhaustion. Fortunately, I had time to regain my composure over the remainder of the week, as some light rain put a dampener on grape picking and our rate of pressing slowed down.

I did hear along the grapevine though that there will be sunny skies this weekend, so no doubt it will be all systems go again for Week 4. All I can hope is that we stick to three lots of fruit per day!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Wine Review - Moon Curser Tempranillo 2012

Tasting Note

Luscious deep plum colour. Bold cherry aromas with lashings of savoury spice and vanillin. Opulent dark fruits on the palate and already some toffee and leathery notes developing. Quite powerful for a tempranillo.

Tasted: 22 September 2014

Alcohol: 13.8%

Price: $29.00
Closure: Screw Cap
Winemaker: Chris Tolley
Viticulturist: Brian Dorosz

Okanagan Valley - Osoyoos

After a long weekend of driving and sightseeing, it was a relaxing and easy-to-prep meal of paprika spiced lamb chops with which I enjoyed this wine.

Cellar Door Visit
On my way back from a wonderful long weekend in the Kootenays, I just couldn't help myself but stop by at least one winery as I re-entered the Okanagan Valley. I figured, being the the furthest South East by car from my home in Oliver, Moon Curser was much less likely to receive a bicycle visit, particular as it is perched up on the slopes overlooking Osoyoos.

To give you an overview of the vibe at this well-branded winery, I could not put the words together better than they did in their visitor brochure:
'Named after moolight-evading gold rush smugglers, Moon Curser pursues clandestine (and some would say fascinating) grape varieties like Touriga Nacionale and Tannat, with an occasional Syrah or Bordeaux thrown in for diversion'.

During my visit, the winemaker's father was behind the pouring bench and he took the time to patiently answer my questions. Through this, I learned that most of their vineyards are within 'tractor distance' of the winery (bar the Pinot Noir) and that they have a few alternative varietals, primarily sourced from the institute at UC Davis in California.

Here is a quick summary of a few other wines from Moon Curser that I particularly enjoyed:

Afraid of the Dark 2013
This was the only white wine currently available (a sign of popularity). Being a blend of Roussanne (44%), Viognier (37%) and Marsanne (19%) one would expect an aromatic nose. It had it in spades with delicate stonefruit, guava and floral notes all present. This transpired to citrus flavours in the mouth, creating a fresh finish to the wine.

Pinot Noir 2012
Possibly the last year the wine will be made due to sale of the vineyard. The wine had a bruised plum colour and aroma combined with some earthy notes (mushrooms) and a real savouriness. On the palate, I could not find much fruit but there was a strong flavour of smoked almond and also strong tannins. Very different offering to the other pinots of the Okanagan that I have tried.

Contraband Syrah 2012
Some of the free run juice from this wine is taken using the saignee (bleeding off) method to produce their rose, which results in a wine of intense concentration. Surpringly, on the nose I found cinammon and giner spices as well as some candied orange peel. The wine had excellent structure with deep fruit flavours and finely tuned tannins. My favourite of the tasting.

Dead of Night 2011
Made up of 50% Tannat (Moon Curser were the only growers in the Valley until this year) and 50% Syrah, the nose had some violet and tobacco aromas mixed in with black fruits. Again, I detected some smoked almond flavours coming through. The tannins were slightly 'furry' but I suspect they will settle down and mellow out over a few more years. Keep an eye out for a possible 100% Tannat in future...

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Wine Filtration Fun-damentals

As vintage starts to heat up, we have been trying to clear as much storage room as possible in the winery tanks, ready to accept grape juice for ferment. The week just gone has been a flurry of filtering and bottling activity, primarily for contract parties.

It has been an excellent learning experience for me to participate and assist in this process, as I have not had much to do with filtration of wine previously. In saying that, I have had a lot to do with filtering mineral slurries in my past work in the mining industry, so many of the technical concepts are very similar. 

Basically, when a wine is being filtered prior to bottling, the primary goal is to remove particulate matter that may still be suspended in the liquid, so that it does not end up in the bottle. In some applications, this can serve to assist in sterilising the wine by removing any bacterial particles and in most cases it can improve the aesthetic value by ensuring customers are not put off by any 'floaties' in their wine.

Filtration is a mechanical process whereby the wine is pumped through a medium in which solid particles can be trapped for removal. There are two major considerations which must be taken into account to maintain the quality of the wine during filtration.

Oxygen Contact
Firstly, it is essential to minimise the amount of oxygen contact, or aeration. To cut a long story short, chemical oxidation of wine can result in the formation of acetaldehyde, which causes browning, loss of fruity aromas, and formation of aldehydic odor (similar to nailpolish or vinegar). Oxidation can be minimised by injecting nitrogen air into the flowing wine to displace oxygen from the system, a process called sparging.

Filtering Speed
The speed at which the wine is pumped also needs to be moderated to ensure that all the wine has the opportunity to contact adequately with the filter medium and also so that the filter medium does get 'clogged'.
Setting up the Pad Filter

Filters come in different shapes and sizes. I have been using two different types of filter this vintage. The first is a plate and frame style Pad Filter where the pads are made from Diatomaceous Earth (they can also be made from cellulose). This is a form of 'rough filtration' and the passing size we were using was 100 micron, which is adequate for removing larger particle sizes from the wine. 
Finer filtration can be achieved using a Membrane Filter (also known as a Cartridge Filter).  The ones I have been using have sieve-like discs which can remove particles down to as small as 1 micron, so very fine filtration. For this reason, membrane filtration can be used to finish or sterilise the wine.
Membrane Filter
The hot topic when it comes to filtration is whether or not this process can detract from the quality of the finished wine. It is suggested that some of the aroma and flavour components from the wine can be stripped during the process, leaving the wine as a less complex version of its former self.
According to UC Davis Enology, the equilibria between aroma compounds re-establishes itself afterwards and the intensity returns. Their studies show that 'expert tasters are not able to recognize filtered versus unfiltered control wine'. However, they do concede that 'unfiltered wine may allow continued microbial activity, which may change the character of the wine if it is aged significantly post-fermentation'.
Whether you believe UC Davis or think the jury is still out, the degree of filtration, if any, is always carefully considered by the winemaker.

I can now set up and run the filtration process myself and have been tasked with this on a number of occasions, even with reserve wines. It has been an unexpected insight that I did not count on having the opportunity to undertake during vintage.

If you are interested to read more about the details of wine filtration, an excellent summary is available from UC Davis.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Wineries of the Okanagan Valley

One of my goals whilst working and living in British Columbia's 'Wine Country' is to get around and taste at as many of the wineries as possible. My second weekend in Oliver was a chance to kickstart this venture, with my housemate along for the ride - literally.

Having obtained an excellent brochure detailing when each winery was open, tasting fees, other facilities, etc., we decided to select the wineries that were shutting down for the winter and tick them off the list first to make sure we did not miss out. We were also limited to the local Oliver area as we were planning a day out on our bikes.

We decided it would be fun to stop at each others' respective place of work so we could relate more to each other. So for that reason, our first stop was on Road 7 at Tinhorn Creek, where my German friend is doing vintage. There were two things that struck me immediately about this winery: 
1. The hill is even steeper than at Road 13!
2. The cellar door and restaurant are absolutely stunning - both in terms of views and design.

After strolling through the vineyards and past the pond designed in the shape of the Tinhorn Creek symbol, we entered through the huge wooden doors into the foyer, where we were immediately offered a complimentary glass of Gew├╝rztraminer. I honestly felt a little underdressed in my sweaty cycling gear!

Immediately to the left and right of the foyer were two halls that lead out to viewing chambers overlooking the cellar. Here you could watch the winemaker and his cellar hands at work as well as read about which wines were being stored in which tanks and how they were treated. This was a great touch as it immediately put you in closer connection with the winemaking process and the journey of the wines themselves. 

Onto the main tasting hall and we were cheerfully greeted by Wes who kindly allowed us to taste more than the usual 4 complimentary tastings (helps if you are working in the industry). Tinhorn Creek separate their wines into two ranges: the Varietal Series, which as the name suggests are single varietal wines and the Oldfield Series, named after their founder and CEO Sandra, which are their signature blends. I was primarily a fan of the 2012 Cabernet Franc, which exhibited bold red fruits with a strong line of cedar and good tannin structure. The Oldfield Series Pinot Noir 2010 was also to my liking for a smooth and soft style with a hint of stalkiness to pepper it up a little.

View from the tasting room at Tinhorn Creek

Although the range at Tinhorn was sound, it was their excellent use of the landscape that really impressed. The tasting room balcony looks out to a gorgeous little amphitheatre where regular concerts are held. Nearby, a series of small rows of vines exhibit examples of each varietal grown at the estate and visitors can sample grapes straight off the vine. What an excellent way to engage your audience! By the end of the visit, my head was buzzing with new ideas to take back to my role as a cellar door manager in Australia!

Standing outside Road 13 Vineyards Castle

It was with anticipation that we ventured onward to Road 13, to my winery. Another sweaty hill climb later, we arrived to a friendly welcome from the cellar door staff at the castle tasting room. 

I know this may sound biased, but I was honestly impressed by the range at Road 13 Vineyards. Even their entry level 'Honest John' series showed poise and style at an exceptional price point. The Honest John's White is a blend of German varietals - Bacchus, Riesling and Kerner and the Honest John's Rose contains Merlot, Gamay and Viognier for something a little different (I noted that the winemaker likes to add a dash of Viognier to quite a few of his wines).

From the main 'Road 13' range, I tasted my best Riesling yet in the Okanagan, with beautiful kaffir lime flavours and a dry finish. But it was the Chardonnay that stole the show with its fresh, crisp citrus characters and fine use of oak. The other standout would have to be the 2012 Seventy Four K, a co-fermented blend of Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Viognier. The fine tannins, rich black fruit and oaky resin created a silky mouthfeel and it slid down the throat a little too easily! The name of this wine comes from the fact that if you strung all Road 13's vines out in a row they would stretch for 74km.

Again, we were allowed to taste everything that was open, but this unfortunately did not include the 'Jackpot' range, which is their upper eschelon of reserve wines. I will, however, be planning a visit to the executive tasting lounge where you can taste these wines paired with some local delicacies - watch this space!

C. C. Jentsch Cellars

We almost reached our next destination at C. C. Jentsch Cellars without a pedal stroke, after cruising back down the Road 13 hill and around the corner. Walking in the gates, I could see the evidence of recent grape crushing occurring and this put me in the mood for chatting about wine production. Gordon was well spoken and informative, clearly having a great understanding of the winemaking process, complimented by his background as a chef and viticulturist.

I have already mentioned my love of their rose The Dance and you can read my review of this wine here. It was not surprising that this was my favourite wine, as the winemaker Amber Pratt has a reputation for good rose. 

The Chase, which is the sister wine to The Dance, was also an interesting Bordeaux blend, containing Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot all rolled into a medium-bodied food wine with blossoming red fruits and approachable structure. The 2012 Syrah followed suit with the uplifted red fruit characters and delighted with a whiff of smokiness and a dash of black pepper.

Although not planned as our next destination, the series of signs advertising artisan breads and cheeses which were dotted along the road leading up to Platinum Bench Estate Winery were enough to convince us to stop. Unfortunately, the bread and cheese were the highlight of the visit. 

Artisan bread and cheese at Platinum Bench Estate Winery

The small cellar door with its sweeping wooden patios was an inviting spot, but unfortunately, it was too small to handle many visitors. On top of this, we were treated rather off-handedly by the cellar door staff, who seemed more interested in getting people in and out rather than fully engaging with their visitors. Also, their signature style, the Gamay Noir, was served slightly chilled, which made it difficult to ascertain the flavour profile appropriately.  The single vineyard Gamay Noir Block 28 (reserve version) was a step up and had some rich, ripe and juicy fruit, but I really could not see it lasting the distance in terms of structure. 

To give Platinum Bench credit, it was a nice touch that they had four of their artisan bread varieties paired with four of the wines for the tasting, and this perk was free. I feel that for those looking for some easy drinking, refreshing wine and a great pitstop to pick up picnic fare, the visit is worthwhile.

'Heavenly Tastes...Earthly Rewards' is the catch cry of Church & State Wines. I loved the fresh upbeat vibe we discovered here and the friendly staff at the outdoor tasting bar. Again, the industry connection was advantageous in that we were permitted to try more than the usual four samples. I was most impressed by their Coyote Bowl Series and could not choose a favourite between the 2010 Coyote Bowl Cabernet Sauvignon (cedar, blackcurrant and peppercorns) and the 2012 Coyote Bowl Chardonnay (oak and vanillin punch with lovely stone fruits). With an excellent range and consistent quality accross the board, they were definitely a close contender to Road 13 for my favourite winery of the day.

The Coyote Bowl at Church & State Wines

We were pretty over cycling up and down hills by the time we arrived at Stoneboat Vineyards. So I'm not sure whether it was just that the two sparkling wines were thirst quenching or if they really were as fresh, fruity and vibrant as I perceived at the time! Either way, the Piano Brut (Pinot Blanc and Muller Thurgau) and the Rose Brut (Pinot Noir), both made using the Charmat Method, were a great change from the still wines we had been sampling all day.

Pinotage is the hero grape at Stoneboat Vineyards, one that I have not encountered anywhere else in the Valley so far. The style was very different to the smoky, dark fruit flavours I had envisaged from previous sampling of South African Pinotage. The Solo Pinotage Reserve 2012, of which only 95 cases are produced, had rich red aromas, with hints of chocolate and cinammon and a taut structure. And then there was a Pinotage Icewine 2013 which is actually the only one produced in the world (according to Stoneboat). Although I don't usually go in much for sticky sweet wines, this wine had fresh raspberry acidity which made it enjoyable and not cloying.

Cute Cellar Door at Stoneboat Vineyards

At the end of a glorious Saturday of wine sampling and cycling, I was left with two impressions of hte Oliver area, which perhaps may be a reflection of the Okanagan Valley in general.

Firsty, it is excellent to see each and every winery experimenting with different varietals, styles and winemaking techniques. This is a good sign of ongoing innovation and a quest for success.

Secondly, I feel that the region has yet to distinguish itself as having one or two signature varietals, as so many other wine regions around the world have. I am sure this will evolve with time and assist in defining the identity of the region. It would seem that Chardonnay and Syrah are perhaps some good contenders, but I am still forming a full opinion on that and further tasting 'research' is required...

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Wine Review - C.C. Jentsch Cellars 2013 The Dance

Tasting Note

Gorgeous pink blush colour reminiscent of the local peaches. Some candy musk and guava fruit characters on the nose. Crisp acidity with silky rosewater aromas and a dry and lightly spiced finished.

Tasted: 17 September 2014

Alcohol: 13.9%
Price: $18.00
Closure: Screw Cap
Winemaker: Amber Pratt

Okanagan Valley - Golden Mile

My housemate surprised me with a beautiful salad of freshly picked, locally grown tomatoes, basil and cucumber. We enjoyed this with some butter and thyme mushrooms which highlighted the bright fruit flavours of the rose.
Technical Notes
This rose is produced using a process called carbonic maceration whereby the grapes are kept in an oxygen-free environment. Then the saignee technique for extracting rose juice is employed. The wine is a bordeaux style blend of 50% Merlot, 26%Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot.

I visited C. C. Jentsch Cellars on a recent cycling tour of the Oliver wine district. Their range of wines is concise and approachable. I loved the industrial feel of the cellar door, as it displayed the honest, hardworking side of wine production. The Wineshop Manager Gordon was delightful and attentive. A must visit winery in the Okanagan.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

My Home Away from Home

Perhaps it is slightly rude of me that I have not yet introduced you properly to my home away from home in Oliver.

During the 10 weeks I am working for Vintage 2014 here in the Okanagan Valley, I am staying in the town of Oliver, which is about 8km North of Road 13 Vineyards, where I am working, and just over 20km by road from the American border.

I have been very happy with my motel accommodation. I am sharing a flat with a lovely German girl who is also doing her second harvest, after having worked earlier this year in Marlborough, New Zealand. Although we had never met prior to turning up in Oliver, we are getting on just fine.

I have been surprised to find that living expenses such as food, phone services, washing facilities, etc. are quite expensive here. There are some food items that are very highly priced compared to Australia such as cooking spices (triple the price) and milk (double). Luckily, the area is not only a large grape producer but also extensively planted with orchards and vegetable fields of all kinds, so fresh fruit and vegetables are readily available.

Although the town is small, there are a few quirky fast food vendors around. I have fallen in love with the local taco stall, which sells amazing soft shell tacos for just $2.50 each!

A few other adjustments from Australia to Canada are the fact that items on the shops do not have tax included on the price tag (I have had a few confusions at the counter) and also the whole etiquette involved with tipping (although I will have, very little opportunity for eating out).

My commute by bike to work along Highway 97 would be a fairly relaxed and scenic affair if it were not for the terribly long and steep hill (essentially a series of hills) at the end which I struggle up daily to reach the winery. I have attempted to capture this torturous route in pictures, but the photos really cannot convey just how steep it is! Of course the resulting views upon reaching the top are fantastic.

Looking down at the first part of the ascent.

Looking up after the first part of the ascent
(you can see I was taking a breather here!)

Looking down after the second part of the ascent.

Looking up at the final goal - the Road 13 'castle' which houses the cellar door and cellar.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Bottling Line Blues

As vintage starts to crank up, it is time to clear some storage space in the cellar to accept the newly crushed grape juices. As such, there has been a flurry of activity on the bottling line to try and move some finished wine. I was asked to assist with bottling one afternoon and was warned I would likely have to stay back an hour or so in order to complete the job. It seemed like a pretty easy if mundane task, with the added drawcard of some overtime cash.

Here is a rundown of how the bottling line works:
1. Bottles are dumped from cartons onto a conveyor where they are picked up by a wheel and distributed one by one onto the start of the bottling line.

2. Bottles are filled to a pre-determined level with wine which is being pumped from the tank, via a filter.

3. Corks are inserted into the bottles (the line is set up so that this step can be substituted for screw caps if required).

4. Bottles are capped and then labelled.

5. Completed bottles are ready for packing into cases.

I was quite interested to see the bottling line in action, as it was much more automated than the bottling line I have worked on back in Australia. I figured that most of the work would just be in packing the finished bottles and stacking them onto pallets, whilst keeping an eye on the line to pick up any issues. Pretty straightfoward, one would think.

Oh how wrong I was! 

During our extended afternoon with the bottles, pretty much every section of the bottling line malfunctioned at one point. One such error required about an hour's worth of repair work and another error resulted in about 30 or 40 bottles being incorrectly capped and/or labelled, so we had to soak and remove all the labels, and remove the caps. Of course, then there were the bottles that weren't quite full so we had to remove the cork and refill them to the correct level.

When one of the issues was deterimined to be that the very thin caps were getting caught together in the automatic dispenser, I was the lucky person who drew the short straw and found myself becoming a human part of the bottling machine. The next two hours involved me individually placing each cap on each bottle - fun times.

All being said and done, a fully mechanised and interlocked bottling line can speed up the process of bottling significantly, but it also adds many more factors that can malfunction and hold up the process. At the end of the day, at least I earned some decent overtime during the experience!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Wine Review - Gehringer Brothers 2013 Auxerrois

Tasting Note

Pale gold colour, very aromatic with rich tropical fruit - mango and passionfruit come to mind. Slick on the tongue with good sugar and acid balance. An off-dry style with a dash of sweet lemon.
Tasted: 9 September 2014

Alcohol: 13.0%
Residual Sugar: 11.3g/L
Price: $16.00
Closure: Screw Cap
Winemakers: Gordon and Walter Gehringer

Okanagan Valley - Golden Mile

After a long, hot days' work pressing grapes, this went down a treat accompanied by a chicken thai salad. The residual sugar was enough to temper the spiciness from a few sneaky chillies.
I would love to hear your feedback if you have also tried this wine - what did you think?

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Getting the Grapes Right

Leading into vintage, a winemaker has one overarching question day in, day out:
When is the perfect time to pick the grapes?
There is obsessive observation of weather forecasts, regular vineyard visits to taste grapes and the inevitable whirlwind of grape sampling, all to gather information that can assist in getting the timing right.

This week, I was fortunate to accompany the winemaker on a trip to some contract vineyards in a neighbouring valley. Although most of the grapes for the wines at Road 13 Vineyards are grown on site, some varieties are either unavailable on the property or are sourced elsewhere based on either quality or affordability. 

On this particular day, we travelled to Keremeos, which is in the Similkameem Valley, slightly north east of Oliver. This valley has a warmer climate and does not have the tempering affects of a large body of water to counteract the contintental climate, meaning that it experiences much greater extremes in temperature. The area definitely had a stark but beautiful landscape with sheer mountainsides looming in all directions. To add to the rugged feeling of the area, it was absolutely blowing a gale whilst we were there.

Our first stop was Barren Vineyard, aptly named for the hot climate. The owner/grower appears to have been in the business for the long haul and was in the final year of a contract with Road 13 to supply Gamay Noir grapes. These grapes are actually used as a filler for their entry level red blend and contribute some fruit flavours, but not much in terms of structure or character. Unfortunately, whilst walking through the vineyards, we observed that the grapes on the western side of the rows were much less developed than those on the eastern sides, with many bunches still green. The winemaker was not very impressed, but was fair in giving the grape grower and his staff one week to address the problem. From my perspective, it was a lesson in the harsh realities of being a contract grower and how important it is to keep your client's requirements in mind in order to uphold future contracts. 

Next we moved on to Blind Creek Vineyard. I was amazed at the amount of activity occuring in this vineyard - vineyard workers on foot and on tractors were weaving in and out of the vines between the vehicles of winemakers who were driving up and down checking their selected rows of grapes.
We were here to sample some Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.

Each sample needed to contain approximately 200 grapes in total and needed to be a fair representation of the entire section of vines for that particular grape variety. So for the approximately 10 or so rows that were there, I needed to select 8 rows and then walk down between two rows at a time and stop at 5 random bunches on each side (or on each row). At each bunch, I would pick 5 grapes from different locations on the bunch (at the front, top, middle, side and back), to account for variations in sun exposure, distance from nutrients, etc.

The trip was a very insightful experience for me, as I have little experience in the vineyard. Each time I have the opportunity to add another piece to the puzzle, it makes me appreciate the end product more and more.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Wine Review - La Franz Naramata Bench 2013 Riesling

Tasting Note

Extremely aromatic wine from this Penticton producer. There is beautiful orange blossom and citrus on the nose and some follow-on of spritzy lemons in the mouth. The residual sugar is enough to provide some palate weight and leads to a lovely balance in the wine.
Tasted: 4 September 2014

Alcohol: 11.0%
Price: $20.00
Closure: Cork
Winemaker: Jeff Martin

Okanagan Valley - Naramata Bench

I enjoyed this wine with an African Vegetable Curry Stew, my first meal in Oliver shared with my new housemate. As she is from Germany, I was hoping it would be a safe bet that she might like Riesling!
I would love to hear your feedback if you have also tried this wine - what did you think?

Detour to Oliver

In order to get to my home away from home in Oliver, I had another early start with the winemaker. The plan was to drop me at my lodging on his way to work. So there I was in the car with all my bags, ready to go back to sleep once I settled in, when he decided to surprise me by saying that he wanted me to come to work for three hours. He wanted me to do an induction and then he would drop me at the motel! 
I was wearing a pair of old pants with holes in them and did not have suitable footwear on for a winery. Not the best way to start out at a new workplace!

My frustration did not last long as we ascended the steep driveway towards the winery, winding our way through the vineyards. Road 13 Vineyards is absolutely beautiful! The cellar door and cellar is designed as a faux castle on the outside and looks out over the vista of vineyards on the valley floor. My panoramic picture below really does not do it full justice.

After meeting the other cellar workers, who all seemed friendly, we set off on a tour of the various cellar rooms, listening to the usual safety warnings and a few ins and outs of the winery operation. I was excited to see that most of the equipment looks to be in good condition, but the dowside is that there are no catwalks and the only way to reach the lids of any of the tanks is via ladders. And some of the tanks almost touch the roof...
Ladder + Wet Floor = Possibility of Disaster!!
...at least in my books. So I will definitley be taking things slowly when it comes to working on ladders.

Just to drag things out further, the winemaker decided he would like to taste some of the grapes in the vineyards before he left to drop me off. I didn't mind, as it meant I had the opportunity to learn what he was looking for to determine when the grapes would be ready. 

When tasting grapes in the vineyard, he explained that you should bite into the grape whilst squeezing gently at the same time so that the pulp or flesh goes into your mouth but the skin remains behind. This allows you to get an idea of the flavours present in the clean juice. You don't chew or swallow the seeds at this stage, instead you spit them out and assess their colour. If the seeds are still green, it can indicate that the fruit is not quite ripe yet and, as it matures, the seeds turn brown and develop a 'nutty' flavour. Finally, you taste the skin separately to understand what impact the 'phenols' present in the skin will have on the juice flavours. This can assist in determining how hard to press the grapes.

This process is repeated for grapes from opposing sides of the vines due to differences in sun exposure which can result in varying ripeness levels. We tasted the Chardonnay from the 'Castle Vineyard' and it looks like it is ready to pick. In fact, all going to plan, we will start crushing Chardonnay on Monday. Nothing like getting straight into it!

 Chardonnay grapes ready for picking

Introduction to Okanagan Valley

Stepping out of the Dash-8 into pouring rain was not what I had expected my first impression of Okanagan would be. The weather was very out of character for the end of summer, so I was very glad that I had a ride and some accommodation organised for the night. The winemaker was kind enough to be hosting me for my first two nights to allow me some time to get my bearings and arrange all the necessities of my stay. He even had a lovely roast chicken dinner waiting for me!

I had little time to catch up on the missed sleep of travel, as I was up and out the door by 7am to catch a bus into the business centre of Penticton. I spent an interesting hour waiting at the bus stop, chatting with three older locals.

As the day was cold, grey and drizzling, I think that the Penticton area was not looking it's best. Even so, driving along the cliff side of Lakes Skaha and Okanagan is extremely beautiful.

After getting the boring stuff out of the way (security number, bank account, etc), I had some time to stroll the streets and suss the place out a little. There is a lovely promenade along the waterfront or 'beach' of the lake where I enjoyed taking in the sights.

As lunch approached, I knew I needed to find somewhere that I could enjoy my first local wine. The information centre is actually an excellent wine shop as well, so that was a good starting point. They helpfully directed me to a new small wine bar that had opened up in the Main Street called 'The Cellar' (very original name). Here, I was delighted to try a tasting flight of three lovely local wines. Following are my first impressions of Okanagan Valley wines:

1. La Frenz Viognier
Sweet stone fruits and grape juice on the nose, white peach and honey nectar, slightly viscous palate.

2. Hester Pinot Gris
Light intensity, lemon pith and 'mealy' nose. Medium bodied with sweet and sour grapefruit flavour - quite refreshing.

3. Mooncurser Syrah
Gorgeously perfumed nose of violets and lavender, lean and taught structure with dark berry fruits, coffee beans and black pepper (my favourite of the three).

What an encouraging start to my adventure - everyone was helpful and friendly and the wines were just what I had hoped to find. Let's hope both people and wines are on par at the winery I am working at - if not better!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Hong Kong - the Perfect Transfer Location

This post does not really have much to do with wine, except for the fact that I am recounting it whilst travelling to a wine region. But I thought it would be worth sharing the experience, as I am sure many people will find the information useful during a future international long-haul flight.

If you do get the opportunity to transfer via an extended stopover in Hong Kong, see it as an opportunity. From my experience, I found nothing inconvenient about it at all. Most reputable airlines will hold your checked luggage for up to 48 hours, so you don't have to worry about that and there is a 'Left Luggage' facility where they will securely store your other bits and pieces (eg. laptops that you don't want to lug around) at a small fee of HK$12 per hour. Customs will allow you to stay in Hong Kong for up to 24 hours without a visa or an entry/exit fees, so there really is no reason not to.

Once you have cleared the efficient customs area, the train is right there waiting for you. It takes 24 minutes in airconditioned comfort to make it into Central station at HK$100 return. The trip into town is quite scenic as you pass by the beautiful green mountains and look out at the port area. Once off the train, I headed straight down to central pier and jumped on the Star Ferry for HK$2 which takes you accross to Tsim Sha Tsui. Again, for a newbie to the city it is great just to view the expanse of highrises on either side of the water as you cross. 

To really stretch out the legs after sitting on a plane, I loved the stroll along the Avenue of the Stars, which has many famous Asian actors and actresses stars and handprints in the pavement, just like in Hollywood. You can get a heap of touristy happy-snaps with some of the statues and read about the history of Hong Kong's film industry. The only downside was that it was very hot and I didn't have a hat or umbrella - recommend taking one or the other to avoid getting frazzled as there is absolutely no shade available.

After my walk, I ventured into the warren of streets that is Tsim Sha Tsui. It was very clean and I loved seeing all the quirky little shops, restaurants and bars tucked away - you never knew what was waiting around the next corner. After a while, I had worked up an appetite for lunch and headed to Din Tai Fung, which is a Michelin-starred dumpling house on the top floor of one of the many shopping centres on Canton Road. The pork and green dumplings and the spicy prawn wontons I had were full of flavour and spice, definitely worth seeking out. If you are interested to try this place, I recommend getting there about 10 minutes before opening time (11.30am) as a lineup forms pretty quickly and, due to popularity, it is not possible to book ahead.

After lunch I could have done with a nap, but as that was not possible, I thought I should walk off my dumpling feast. I caught the ferry back to central and then enjoyed joining the throngs of office workers and locals travelling through the Mid-Levels Escalator that runs above the busy city streets and up into the trendy suburb of SoHo. I earmarked quite a few bars and cafes that I would love to visit next time. The inner city is very vibrant with some wonderful street art and everything is very well signed to the point where a map is not really necessary.

Overall, I spent just under HK$400 for an excellent day out and about stretching my legs and taking in the sights. The only real downside was getting a bit hot and sweaty from the humidity, but a quick wipe down with a few facial wipes was enough to freshen up before my next flight. If you are desperate for a shower before the next leg of your trip, they are available at the International Airport for HK$200 a pop.

The thriving city of Hong Kong had so much to offer and my taste of it was only just a snapshot. I am very glad that my husband and I will spending two nights there on our return journey later this year.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Winemaking in Canada

Canada here I come!

By the time you read this, I will be somewhere between Perth and Vancouver, on my way to a small winery in British Columbia.

To keep newer readers up to date, the purpose of this Canadian adventure is to undertake my second vintage. (I completed my first vintage earlier this year in the Swan Valley and you can read all about it here.) By heading over to Canada, it will be possible for me to gain twice the experience in half the time - all thanks to opposing seasons in the two hemispheres.

Why Canada?
Many people don't even realise that Canada has a wine industry (except perhaps for the famed ice wine!). It is definitely much smaller and less acknowledged than its close neighbours Oregon and California in the United States. 

There were a few reasons that I selected this area to undertake another vintage. The process went something like this:
  • I decided an English-speaking country would be best, as I am still quite inexperienced and the addition of a language barrier could inhibit my technical learning.
  • This really narrowed down my options to Canada or America (New Zealand being in the wrong hemisphere).
  • I applied to wineries in Napa Valley, Oregon and British Columbia to see if anyone would be at all interested in taking on a fairly 'green' candidate who was not studying winemaking or viticulture.
  • After about 40 applications, I managed to get half a dozen interviews , with the outcome of a few job offers to choose from.
  • I eventually selected one in British Columbia, as it was a smaller winery and I felt I would have more opportunities and exposure to a variety of tasks and processes.

Okanagan Valley
Being the largest wine producing region in British Columbia (82% total vineyards), Okanagan Valley has 8,060 acres under vine (Wines of British Columbia). The most planted grapes are Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with Gewurztraminer also deserving an honourable mention.

The Okanagan Valley is 400km east of Vancouver and is the second largest wine producing region in Canada, behind Niagara Peninsula in the Ontario area.

Vines were first planted in the area in 1859 at Kelowna in order to produce church wine. Unfortunately, prohibition put a grinding halt to the development of the industry right up until the 1970s. The first commercial planting of vitis vinifera  (wine grape species) was undertaken by the Oosoyos Indian Band who have now established Nk'Mip Cellars.

German viticulturist Helmut Becker brought clones of traditional German grape varieties Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer to the area in 1976 from theGeisenheim Grape Breeding Institute. These had been bred to withstand the cold, winter temperatures of the Okanagan. It is these cold temperatures that also make the area conducive to excellent sparkling wine and Riesling.

Interestingly enough, the Okanagan Valley was named the world's second Best Wine Region to Visit by readers of USA Today and travel and lifestyle website 10Best. Only Alentejo in Portugal was rated higher. Further to this, local Vineyard Sun Rock was awarded World's Best Shiraz at the 2006 International Wine & Spirit Competition.

So they must be doing something right! 

Oliver - 'Wine Capital of Canada'

I will be working 7km south of the town of Oliver, which claims to be 'the Wine Capital of Canada'. Fair enough:  this unofficial sub-region contains half of B.C.'s vines.

A typical continental climate is prevalent in the area, with hot days and cool nights. Luckily, Lake Okanagan provides a moderating influence.

There are two distinct vineyard profiles. On the West of the valley down the Golden Mile, the morning sun provides ideal conditions for white wines.

Opposing this, on the Eastern side of the valley, the afternoon sun along the Black Sage Bench encourages the development of powerful structure and depth of flavour in red grape varieties.

From what I have been told, during the busiest periods of vintage, I am likely to be working 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week in the cellar. This should allow me plenty of time to learn some Canadian winemaking 'tricks of the trade'. However, I also hope that there are a few downtime periods during which I can explore the beautiful region that is the Okanagan Valley.

Stay tuned for 10 weeks of vintage adventures...

Monday, 1 September 2014

Wine Review - Catherine & Claude Marechal, Chorey-les-Beaune

Tasting Note

Opulent red fruits with vanilla pod on the nose. Just in the medium bodied vicinity with a good line of acidity and depth of fruit flavour. Consistent peppery earthiness, suggesting some whole bunch inclusions. Excellent length.
Tasted: 30 August 2014

Vintage: 2011
Price: $142.00 (restaurant)
Closure: Cork
Winemaker: Claude Marechal

Appelation Chorey-les-Beaune Controlee, Cote de Beaune, France.

Tasting Location
Splashed out on this Grand Vin de Bourgogne whilst dining at Bistro Guillaume in the Crown Perth Casino complex prior to attending Le Noir, the latest Cirque du Soleil installment. It was an early one-year wedding anniversary celebration, as I am about to head overseas for a vintage in Canada and will be away for the actual date.


My husband enjoyed Berkshire pork belly with pickled cabbage and apple salad, whilst I savoured a gorgeous squid ink risotto with mussels, crouton and coriander.
I would love to hear your feedback if you have also tried this wine - what did you think?