Sunday, February 28, 2010

A February Update

The second rain event dumped 140mm on us bringing the total to 220mm for two weeks. Finally the ground seemed to get saturated with puddles forming, run off beginning and the dams filling. Still our creek refuses to run but the spring has burst back into life. According to the weather bureau it has been the wettest February in 8 years.
So for the time being our water problems are over.
Below is a weather radar shot of our area during that week. It’s been a long time since we have seen that kind of picture.
We have picked, crushed and pressed the Tempranillo which came in at 13.0° Baume which is right on my preferred sugar specification. I guess the rain didn't affect it much from a juice dilution point of view. However there was some shrivel as a result of the drought induced leaf loss earlier in the season as well as some botrytis, so ‘it was time’.
The Pinot Noir has been pressed with egg white added to settle the solids and French oak chips to impart an oaky flavour. We are just waiting for malolactic fermentation (MLF) to take place so we can add sulphur to stabilise the wine and then let time and chemistry do its work.

MLF is a process where lactic acid bacteria convert the harsh malic acid in the wine to softer lactic acid. This will normally occur naturally but I had added a lactic bacteria culture to the juice before fermentation to help things along. It’s better to have this happen during bulk maturation in a tank or barrel rather than in the bottle. At worst exploding bottles can occur due to the build up of carbon dioxide. In the "old days" corks were just pushed out of the bottle but now with screw caps a mini bomb has been created. Apart from that no one wants to drink fizzy or ‘prickly’ dry red wine. It is a wine fault. There is quite a complicated test to determine when MLF has taken place but I just use the fact that carbon dioxide is generated (bubbles) and an increase of pH as indicators.
The major problem here is that process will only take place in the absence of sulphur so the wine is unprotected for a while. We attempt to overcome this by ensuring the tank is well sealed and there is no ullage.
The Semillon has finished fermentation and we have added 50ppm sulphur to prevent oxidation. We will wait a while until the lees (dead yeast cells and other solids) settle then rack the wine off to begin the clarification process.
We have bottled last year’s Cabernet and put one aside with a 2009 Semillon and 2008 Cabernet/Tempranillo blend to enter in the Milton Agricultural Show wine competition in early March.

I took delivery of 40 bales of lucerne hay, which will be our winter feed supplement. It is a bit early in the year to be thinking about this but the price and quality were too good to pass up. Neighbour Bob has taken my cattle into one of his paddocks to get it eaten down before he does some remedial work on it. That will fatten up the five bulls that are going to market on 1st March.
So there is a lot happening. The co-driver’s niece, Crystal, arrives in a few weeks from the USA and it looks as though she will be enjoying some early autumn weather. There is a definite feeling of that in the air already some mornings. The days are still getting to the 30° C mark so there is still plenty of beach time left. The next three months are our favourites on the South Coast weather wise.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The South Coast Wine Show 2010

It's over for another year. Medals and Awards were presented at a special dinner at Cupitt's Winery on the 5th February. Menu with accompanying medal winning wines was:
Canapé Selection (served with pre-dinner drinks)
Freshly Shucked Oysters with Red Wine Vinegar & Eschallot
Peking Duck Pancakes
Caramelized Onion, Goats Cheese & Rosemary Pizetta (vegetarian)
Centennial NV Methode Champenoise Centennial Bong Bong Rose
CITRUS CURED OCEAN TROUT with Pickled Cucumber Salad
Two Figs Chardonnay 2009
Coolangatta Semillon 2005
Tertini Riesling 2005
Main Course
PASTURE FEED BEEF Confit Leek and Horseradish Veloute
Belgrave Park Shiraz 2008
Coolangatta Tannat 2008
Bawley Vale ‘Bawley Storm’ Blend 2008

Tertini Reserve Noble Riesling 2008
Fern Gully Vintage Port 2009
Plunger Tea or Coffee

Summary of entries, top medals and awards:
164 entries from 25 Vineyards & Wineries.
10 from Southern Highlands Wine Region.
10 from Shoalhaven Coast Wine Region.
5 from South Coast Zone.
TOTAL: 84 medals
Trophies for Best Wine of Show, Best White Wine, Best Wine Made from Grapes Grown in Shoalhaven Coast:
Coolangatta Estate 2001 Semillon - Gold Medal (Class 5 Dry White Wine – Semillon – any vintage)
Trophy for Best Red Wine:
Coolangatta Estate 2008 Tannat - Gold medal(Class 15 Dry Red Wine – Blends & Other Varieties – any vintage)
Trophy for Best Wine Made from Grapes Grown in Southern Highlands:
Tertini Wines 2005 Riesling - Gold Medal (Class 4 Dry White Wine – Riesling – any vintage)
Trophy for Best Wine Made in a Shoalhaven Coast Winery:
Two Figs Winery 2009 Chardonnay - Gold Medal(Class 8 Dry White Wine – Chardonnay – any vintage )

Coolangatta Estate Semillon 2006
Coolangatta Estate Semillon 2005
Sally's Corner Wines Chardonnay 2008

Class 5 Semillon – Coolangatta Estate 2001 Semillon
Class 8 Chardonnay – Two Figs Winery 2009 Chardonnay
Class 9 Sweet White Wine – Tertini Wines 2008 Reserve Noble Riesling
Class 10 Rose`- Centennial Vineyards 2009 Bong Bong Rose`
Class 15 Dry Red Wine - Blends & Other Varieties – Coolangatta Estate 2008 Tannat

A full list of detailed resuts can be found on the wine show web site.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Vintage 2010 Begins

We had around 80mm of rain in the first week of February. Not enough to produce any run off but plenty to get the botrytis fungus (grey rot) going in the grapes. It is especially difficult to control even with protective sprays in grape varieties with "tight" bunches ie. where the grape berries are pressing up against one another eg. Pinot Noir, Semillon, Chardonnay etc. Any excess swelling caused by water absorption (through the vine roots) can cause the berry to split and the fungus to take hold. There was also some concern that the rain might have also diluted the juice but I had a theory that the soil is so dry it would be absorbing the water and binding it quicker than the grapes roots could take it up. So we picked the Pinot Noir on a hot (30° C) and steamy (95% RH) day before the next rain event which had been forecast in a few days time. There was some botrytis but nothing serious. It seemed to be in patches. This may be because of the uneven budburst and that when these particular vines were sprayed, along with the rest of the vineyard, they had already passed the critical spray time criteria ie. at 80% capfall and just before bunch closure.

Baume reading was 12.0° so my dilution theory could have been right. Who knows!
We crushed and inoculated with a yeast culture that evening. It was bubbling away less than 24 hours later. The smell of fermenting Pinot Noir is like violets. Wonderful!
So we are out there every 4 hours or so ‘punching’ the cap down ie. mixing the skins that rise to the surface, because of the carbon dioxide evolved, back into the fermenting juice. This increases the extraction of colour and tannins as well as prevents skin oxidation.
The following day we hit the Semillon. Another really sultry day and again some evidence of botrytis so we were right to pick. I added the slightly unripe fruit from some ‘rogue’ Chardonnay I have growing in my Cabernet Sauvignon block. They came inadvertantly with the original cuttings and despite my lame attempts over the years to graft Cabernet onto them, they remain Chardonnay. I don’t spray the Cabernet block for botrytis (the chemicals are a bit 'nasty' to use when not really needed) and this was obvious from the condition of some of the Chardonnay bunches. The really bad ones were cut and dropped.

Botrytis (Botrytis cinerea) is a problem in winemaking because the fungus imparts an oxidative enzyme, Laccase, to the juice. It is resistant to sulphur, oxidises many phenols, is stable in wine and can bring about serious and permanent browning and oxidation. Split grapes also encourage other damaging moulds and yeasts as well as acetic acid bacteria (vinegar!).
Of course there are two sides to every story and botrytis, when called and performs as ‘noble rot’, imparts desirable characteristics to some of the world’s great sweet dessert wines. Unfortunately the climatic conditions in our area are seldom really conducive for this situation to occur. However a neighbour of mine made some botrytis Chardonnay last year and won a bronze medal for it at this year's wine show.
The Semillon was crushed that afternoon and after letting the added pectin enzymes do their juice extraction task, we pressed and transferred the juice to a stainless steel tank. This year we only pressed lightly so the wine will be mainly based on free run juice. I thought because of the low Baume 10.0° (and thus 10% alcohol wine), a minimum of extracted phenolics would enhance the wine.

The yeast culture was rehydrated and added. Because sulphur was added (50ppm + 50ppm ascorbic acid) during the crushing process to protect the juice from oxidation, fermentation will be delayed for a while. Once the sulphur starts getting bound and the ‘stronger’ yeast cells take over then we should see some action in the next 24-36 hours.
That was a 10 hour day of hard work for the co-driver and me. Not only does it involve picking and processing but pre crush equipment cleaning and disinfecting and the post crush clean up.
As a result we fell into bed pretty early, fairly much exhausted.
Harvest Festival 'drinkies' would have to wait until another time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Winter Olympics

Competing first in 1936, Australia has participated in all Winter Olympics except St Moritz in 1948.
Kenneth Kennedy was the sole Australian in the 1936 Winter Olympics at Garmisch- Partenkirchen, where he came in 29th in the speed skating.
In 1952 there were nine Australian winter Olympians, with Colin Hickey ranked 10th in the 500 metre speed skating. By 1960 the team had grown to 31, but this fell off to three in 1968, slowly increasing since then to eight in 1976 when Colin Coates was 6th in the 1000 metre speed skating, to 11 in 1984 and 23 in 1992.
Australia’s first Winter Olympics medal, a bronze, was won by Steven Bradbury, Kieran Hansen, Andrew Murtha, Richard Nizielski at Lillehammer, Norway in 1994 in the men’s 5000 metre short-track relay speed skating event. Zali Steggall earned Australia’s first individual medal in 1998 with a bronze in the slalom event.
In 2002, Steven Bradbury won gold in the 1000 metre short-track speed skating ie. after running last for most of the race and eventually crossing the finish line first after the rest of the field crashed on the last bend.

"Doing a Bradbury" is now a part of Australian English and obviously means coming from behind to win. Alisa Camplin won gold in the aerials event too, making Australia the only southern hemisphere country to have ever accomplished gold at a Winter Olympics.
Australia sent 40 athletes to compete in 10 sports at the 2006 Games in Turin—a record number of participants and events for the nation. For the first time, there was a stated aim of winning a medal, and this goal was achieved when Dale Begg-Smith won the gold medal in men’s freestyle skiing. Alisa Camplin gained her second medal, a bronze in the aerials event.
This year in Vancouver we have about 40 athletes.
As you can imagine winter sports are not mainstream in this country although we do have a number of skiing areas in the mountains of New South Wales and Victoria.
But sport is sport and our satellite TV company has offered four channels of continuous live broadcast of all Olympic events over the seventeen days. Normally I would be happy to watch some highlights on the daily news but the co-driver loves her figure skating so we have 'invested'.
We do have some difference of opinion on whether figure skating is actually a sport. She says it definitely is. I think it's more entertainment and I always have a problem with competitions that are based on subjective criteria, in this case judges' opinions (and bias). Higher, faster, longer, more goals etc. I understand. I know diving, boxing, gymnastics et al all fall under this system. Anyway this subject always creates a lot of banter and I am sure it will come up a few times over the next two weeks.
Anyway suffice to say we will be glued to the TV for a while. I am looking forward to the speed skating as well as all those luge type events, not to mention figure skaters falling over.
There is also a conflict of interest as the Rugby season also starts on the same day and the cricket competition continues.
AAAAAHHHHHHHH....when too much sport is not nearly enough!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Vintage 2010

Harvest is dependent on the ‘ripeness’ of the grapes. Ripeness can mean a number of things. Sugar ripe is when the grape juice has reached a certain sugar concentration. Sugar level of the grape juice determines the eventual alcohol content of the wine. Flavour and aroma ripeness is when the taster of the juice determines that the juice has the potential to produce wine that will have the necessary varietal characteristics. Phenolic ripeness refers to the changes in the tannins that occur in grape skins, seeds and stems. The ‘ripe’ tannins become less bitter tasting and softer, and the methoxypyrazine levels decrease, making the grapes (and resultant wine) taste less green or herbaceous, particularly important in red wines.
Phenolic ripeness lags behind sugar ripeness and in warm climates, like ours, it is important that we keep an eye on both. We know that we normally achieve adequate sugar ripeness and generally don’t want to produce ‘big’ alcoholic wines so it’s important to watch the tannins closely and not let the grapes get too sugar ripe.
How do we go about monitoring this situation?
We know from experience approximately within a few weeks when the grapes should be ready. At first we walk the rows randomly selecting berries from bunches and testing them separately on a refractometer for sugar levels just to get a feel for the overall state of the vineyard. Later, in addition to this, we start tasting the grapes, inspecting the stalks for colour change and looking at and ‘cracking’ the seeds. Finally when we believe that harvest is imminent ie. when we think the phenolics are ripe, we take a sampling of grape berries from the whole vineyard in quite an organised way eg. every 4th vine, a berry from the back, front, top and bottom of a bunch, crush them and sugar test the juice either with a refractometer (right) or alternatively a hydrometer (centre 2), just to confirm sugar ripeness.

At this stage we usually look at acid levels, mainly pH, with a pH metre (left) as well as titratable acidity (TA). But as these two can be adjusted during the wine making process with acid additions it is not that critical.
Sugar levels in grape juice are determined by a number of scales which are based on the SG (specific gravity) of liquids where distilled water equals 1.0. Grape juice is basically a solution of water and sugar (fructose + glucose). The higher the SG, the denser the liquid thus the higher the sugar content.
Other scales include Oechlse, Baume and Brix where 1.1 SG = 100 Oe = 13.1 Baume = 23.7 Brix.
Measurements are temperature dependent and needs to be accounted for.
I like Baume because it indicates the potential alcoholic content of the wine after fermentation.
But I always use SG to determine when fermentation is finished ie. when all the sugar has been converted into alcohol by the yeast as the SG of the solution is then usually less than 1.0 and a SG hydrometer is a little more accurate at those low levels.
So that is where we are at the moment, waiting for the weather to clear a little (yes! It has been raining) so we can get into the Pinot Noir, which is ready, and start Vintage 2010.