Post Ferment Tasting:
19 May 2013
A wise drunk once said "hands off the ferments until they’re dry", which was a test of fortitude and patience for the sozzled wine enthusiast, but rates mention for its accuracy.
Once wine has started fermenting and those excited little active yeast cells start munching up sugars, converting them into alcohol, they have to find an end point of their feeding frenzy. This happens once the yeast cells have done the equivalent of licking the plate clean – sugars have all been consumed. Once all sugars have been consumed, wine is ready for its next phase of maturation, be it short, or in some cases extremely lengthy.
Winemakers of BOF were all watching their ferments carefully over past weeks. The warmth of the winemaking space ensured yeasts were at their most frenzied, but it still paid heed to be cautious. The sugar levels were measured most days with a hydrometer, a slender glass instrument that bobs up and down in wine with a scale similar looking to a thermometer that allows for readings of sugar levels in wine. Once the scale has tipped past zero, you know you’re pretty much in the zone of a wine that has finished its fermentation.
With ferments pretty much finished, a wine tasting day was called for all teams. Sitting on the panel were BOF judges Rory Kent (BOF founder), Matt Skinner (Media man) and Sally Humble (Sommelier-at-Large), joined by winemaking luminaries Sandro Mosele (Kooyong/Port Philip) and Steve Webber (De Bortoli).
The panel was set the rigorous task of tasting through the various batches of wine offered by the BOF groups, and were charged with providing some relevant feedback. It offered every one a first chance to taste each others' wines too – well, for the ones who weren’t cagey about sharing some of their precious juice…
We know that Team Lapalus have their course set to of low-intervention/natural/authentic winemaking with a bent to take on the mantle of ‘natural wines’. This meant that little was done in the fruit handling stage, with the caveat that they would have three vessels for their fermentation, all given slightly different winemaking tweaks. The panel was presented with three dark coloured red wines to consider, with a final blend in mind for the three component parts.
Sample One – This was a ferment that had taken place in a stainless steel tank, with whole bunches of fruit, and yeast was added (cultivated yeast, rather than ambient yeasts in the cellar). The resulting wine was spicy, peppery, with leafy notes, has a distinct whole bunch character which is reminiscent of agave cactus and pepper in aroma, but provides slickness in acidity. The wine was surprisingly concentrated.
Sample Two – This was a ferment conducted in a picking bin, a large square tub made from solid plastic. It again showcased use of whole bunches in the ferment, and the team decided to again use cultivated yeast to start the fermentation process. This wine was more savoury and soft, more open, had an easier nature, finishes very spicy, tangy almost, with exotic spice and fruit flavours.
Sample Three – This ferment in another picking bin was entirely hand destemmed berries. The yeast for ferment wasn’t added, relying on ambient yeast to do their work. The resulting wine was toasty, smoky, earthy, with forest floor character, but in texture it was crisp and crunchy, bright, and felt slender almost delicate to taste.
It was an exciting trio, which when glass blended on the table, told a story of a more complex, interesting wine.
Next to showcase their wines was Team Downie, who have had their ferment locked inside an amphora with a bike lock, and a luchador mask for company. The samples submitted came from both amphora and a barrel that’s been used additionally.
The first sample, explained Raul, was whole bunch fruit and foot stomped after a week and a half, "we looked to produce the wine like Beaujolais", he qualified.
The wine certainly had hallmarks of the famed Gamay region’s inherent style; a lighter, fragrant and juicy intent. This wine showed itself in a spicy, youthful style and quite well-integrated for a young wine. On a second look the fruit offered simple flavours, and a touch of leafiness and pepper, looking nervous, but bright.
Sample two came from the amphora, which James explained was hand destemmed, foot stomped and fermented with wild yeast. The wine sample looked bright and lively, showing more red fruit flavours with peppery, lifted perfumed, but to taste was juicy and fresh fruited, slippery textured, simple and pure with crunchiness and crisp acidity. It feels youthful and more complex, textural and engaging to drink, now even.
It’s been "interesting to have the lack of control, interesting to see what happens", said Raul, "when you don’t intervene with the wine you have to check the whole time. Takes a certain confidence to go non-interventionalist, but it’s something we wanted to produce with confidence".
"We didn’t want to forget the wine’s origin", added James, "this is about tannin structure as the code of the wine, savouriness as well".
This one man and one mentor team was the furthest back in terms of how long the wine is down the track, as Banjo was the last to pick fruit. Banjo first went out to vineyard on the 18th of March, and after some serious conversations with the viticulturist, looking for lower baumes from the vineyard, he knew stylistically how the vineyard works, and wines produced, "so this gave me a perfect opportunity to make light, fresh exuberant style from seriously quality fruit", he stated.
Banjo used a large amphora for fermentation and inoculated his grapes with a vineyard ferment – a small starter ferment that is created from ambient yeast found in the vineyard, then added to new fruit to start the general ferment of the wine.
Fruit was de-stemmed and whole bunch, with no SO2 (sulphur preservative), and no acidifying (adding of acid to change the PH of a wine).
"Getting fruit out of the egg was quite the issue", offered Banjo, "I had to climb into the egg, bring out the fruit for pressing bucket by bucket".
The labour of love has created a wine that is already powerful, tense, intense, with dark brooding fruits, spiciness, savoury tannins, feels mature and yet vibrant. It’s a wine that instantly has good energy in the glass, a sense of vitality.
Why the egg? "It was an amazing opportunity for some experimentation and ability to play around", stated Banjo. "It’s been great with Michael Glover, I admire his wines and mentality for winemaking. Glover gave great advice – have a plan, be firm with that plan".
This is the wine that has really broken the mould, looking to create a petillant naturel wine from the fruit picked. The wine will be finishing off its ferment in bottle, seeking originality in their offering, with the concept that the wine is alive, and will finish off its fermentation at places that purchase the wine – a true interactivity with BOF. There was great consensus amongst judges and the wine panel that this was unique and brave, inspiring, "let’s hope it works!", chimed in Beth.
The young wine was delicious, sweet fruited and pretty - delicate, sugary lift there, some glycerol/oily texture happening, but brisk and frisky, light on its feet, a touch spicy, but bright, vibrant fruit to the core, touch of herbal/pepper, easy to enjoy. Looking forward to the end result.
Team Sydney showed en masse for this scheduled tasting event, presenting three samples for judges, from a mix of old oak where the wine was sent after initial fermentation in picking bins.
Across the board, judges and panel were impressed by the bright, fruity aromas of the wine, "we looked for riper parcels", commented AJ.
Sample One – "This will be our tannin and extraction component for the wine", stated Gabrielle, "90% of the fruit was crushed". It showed leafy, bright, and with classic eucalypt/menthol characters, almost sappy, with red fruits. It certainly showed elements of brooding tannins, intended for the final blend.
Sample Two – This ferment had some whole bunch, then was gassed up (covered in a blanket of carbon dioxide to protect the wine) and started carbonic maceration (fermentation that occurs within the skin of the grape). The wine presented with an earthiness and choc-berry richness, but with brisk, crisp acidity, very menthol and eucalypt in palate. A tight, youthful wine.
Sample Three – "So we went full carbonic and whole bunch, seeking our lightest expression here", said AJ. Has classic ‘Australian bush characters’ (menthol, eucalyptus) turned earth with a sappy, tangy, bright red fruit feel. Frisky kind of wine happening here.
"It was tougher than what we first anticipated", said AJ. "Tough to get around the full time job, distance has been a challenge, but the calming affect of Matt Harrop has been our mainstay", Gabrielle finished.
Judges and the panel were impressed by the overall progress and realised vision of the winemaking teams. Five distinct wines are being produced here, and time now to settle and take to bottle will be not only crucial, but the next intriguing step in this winemaking journey.