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Racking Chardonnay and Fermenting Shiraz in Australia's Barossa Valley

Stuart Bourne's Shiraz is going into barriques for a gentle malolactic fermentaion.
2009 Southern Harvest Winemakers
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Posted: Mar 5, 2009 1:04pm ET

By Stuart Bourne

Posted by Stuart Bourne

Welcome again to another installment of "Life in the Barossa Valley," as seen through the now much blearier eyes of Stuey Bourne and the crew at Barossa Valley Estate. Where do I start? Probably with an update on Chardonnay ferments: Those Chardonnay ferments I referred to a couple of weeks ago are now at a very beautiful stage. They are officially dry—there is no fermentable sugar left as the yeasts have turned it all to alcohol.

Now that they are dry, where to next? Given that this year we have again picked them quite early, aiming for a very fresh and zippy style for our E-Minor Chardonnay, I think we will simply let the yeast start to fall to the floor of the tanks they fermented in, which will settle out at the bottom, and we will rack them, which is simply to take all of the nice clear wine off, and leave the yeast lees behind on the floor of the tank, and then wash the lees down the drain. And we'll see whether they will cope with just a touch of French oak. Also, as this was a warm year prior to vintage, I think it will be quite prudent to have no malolactic ferment in them, and thus preserve all of that zippy acid that nature provided us with.

The beauty of the final blend of E-Minor Chardonnay is, like all of our wines, a jigsaw puzzle that has been put together from many pieces, the pieces being the individual growers who spend all year in their vineyards tending vines. I would imagine that the final blend this year may have up to 15 different parcels of Barossa Valley Chardonnay. More later on this, especially the use of oak in white wines, as we have yet to decide on how much, how old and how long the oak treatment will be.

On to the red ferment, much the same as last week, they are all behaving themselves nicely, and we have been joined in the winery by the first Cabernet Sauvignons of the year. We make a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet-Merlot blend, mostly for our domestic market here in Oz, and it is a treat to see the first of these safely in the door. The Cabernet is showing classic varietal characteristics, with lifted black currant and cassis, no hints of green, herbal notes or underripeness, so pretty much add yeast, pump over gently, stand back and watch them go slowly through their fermentation. Sounds easy. Is easy, especially if you have the quality of fruit to begin with. May even get to slope off for a quick nine holes if it continues this way! Yes, the golf game has officially been put on hold as of late, and my clubs still lie in the back of the SUV, staring at me each day with that very unhappy look of a dear friend long neglected.

Shiraz continues to come in from the patchwork quilt that is our long-standing group of grapegrowers, sprinkled and dotted across the length and breadth that is the Barossa Valley. As much as we know we can grow and make many attractive varieties across the Barossa Valley, Shiraz is and always will be our shining light that makes the world go weak at the knees! Flavor profiles are ripe and rich, sugar levels will make sensible and not overblown alcohol levels, colors are so vibrant, alive and purple black, with a mouthfeel of raw silk. As the first few Shiraz ferments have now been pressed off, soon they will meet their next friends, in a collection of old and new oak barrels, mostly barriques, which are about the same volume as a 44-gallon drum. The intention is to let them go gently through the next fermentation, the malolactic ferment, whereby a bacteria this time, not a yeast, turns malic acid (which tastes like green apples) into lactic acid (which is more like a softer dairy acid). This has a softening effect on the new red wines, making them more approachable when they are released, with a softer acid mouthfeel than if we had not allowed this process to occur. Nothing like a little snooze in oak barrels at this time of year for the new Shiraz wines, to let them settle down, soften up and gently mature. I would imagine (as we all tend to do quite a lot of this time of year, as the fatigue factor starts to climb) that the next three weeks or so would see the end of the harvest of Shiraz grapes.

John McLelland hard at work in the Barossa Valley Estate lab.
And now, the next enthralling installment of "Meet the Crew at BVE." The wise old chap in the laboratory is none other than John McLelland. (He’ll probably line me up for using of the word "old.") This seasoned veteran of the lab has been with us for about eight years now, and he's been a lab techie for many years prior at other wineries. It was such a coup to get John to come over and play at our house and look after all of our lab requirements, as the wealth of experience he brings to us is invaluable. We do sometimes laugh and ask John what it was like to work for Noah, when he was the winemaker at Noah’s Ark Estate. Ha ha. Don’t let the age fool you, this guy has a mind like a steel trap, a love for what he does, and a very supportive family at home that understand his need to play around in a lab and help us make great wine. The amount of analysis that goes through his lab each year is phenomenal, and he still manages to keep us amused with his very dry wit. John, we salute you.

On a final note, last weekend gone saw a wonderful annual institution held in my little home village of Angaston, nestled in the foothills that are the divider between the Barossa Valley and the Eden Valley. The annual Angaston Town Show was held over both Saturday and Sunday, and boasts a great selection of displays, arts and crafts, livestock, equestrian events, tractor pulls, wood chopping and many other agricultural pursuits. To still be able to go to a local town annual agricultural show, in a rural setting, to celebrate the fall harvest for many of our produce lines, and to see the kids all enjoy themselves, is a rare treat and one we cherish. To all at the local show group who put it on, you are all legends, and to Rachel, our receptionist, well done on second place in the homemade tomato sauce competition—she knocked off a couple of other local legends in the sauce-making department! Note to self, next year get my entry in earlier for the home brew beer section, which is always hotly contested.

Until next time, happy days, great wine, cold beer, top food and here’s to getting a few more hours of sleep soon.


Stuey B and all the crew at Barossa Valley Estate

Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  March 6, 2009 12:18pm ET
Hey Stuey, save some of that Chardonnay yeast lees for adding to sauces. It also makes a great addition to marinades. Your favorite chef might use it for a daily special!
Stuart Bourne
March 6, 2009 6:00pm ET
Hi Harvey,Great tip. Have tried it before with huge success. Works a treat on kangaroo fillet. Also I tried using Chardonnay lees in a salad dressing, with equal parts of lees, olive oil and a very mature balsamic vinegar. Poured over fresh rocket, baby tomato and washed rind cheese salad. Yum. Hope all is well your end, as the Shiraz and Cabernet loads continue to come in here.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  March 7, 2009 8:04am ET
Stuey with all your Shiraz coming from Barossa I kinda thought it would be ripening a little closer together. What are some of the reasons that one parcel would ripen quicker than anothers? Age of vines?
Stuart Bourne
March 13, 2009 6:41pm ET
Dear Karl in Il, Thanks for the Q re Shiraz ripening. Given not only the age of vines, soil variation, row orientation, topography and microclimate, plus individual grower practices such a timing of pruning (which can influence time of budbreak), we see about a 6 week or so variance in ripening of Shiraz across the whole Barossa Valley. Thanks again. Cheers, Stuey B.

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