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Sampling 2009 Shiraz Ferments

Stuart Bourne couldn't have asked for better ripening with his 2009 Shiraz.
2009 Southern Harvest Winemakers
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Posted: Mar 23, 2009 12:40pm ET

By Stuart Bourne

Posted by Stuart Bourne

Last week I mentioned the peak of vintage at Barossa Valley Estate. Well, this past week was a carbon copy. Bucket loads of lovely ripe grapes, pouring in from the vineyards, all very much picked at their peak. The ripening patterns of this vintage have been textbook perfect, enabling us to pick vineyards as they become ripe, bring them in and ferment them gently, without the pressure we sometimes see in some years of rapid ripening, when we cannot physically process the vineyards quite fast enough as the grapes ripen. In years like that, we simply prioritize the vineyards by quality, and pick the top blocks first, and get the lower grade vineyards in around them, as fermentation space becomes available. Suffice to say this year has been a bit of a dream run, as we have not missed a beat in getting the grapes in as they hit peak maturity in the vineyard. It should always be this simple!

Highlights this week have been not only Shiraz from later-ripening areas within the Barossa Valley, but also Cabernet Sauvignon in the Barossa Valley. As always, we joke that it is very difficult to make bad wine from Barossa Valley Shiraz, so we are very pleased with the results seen so far, and Cabernet has all the hallmarks of varietally ripe character, not too much herbals or mint, with dark, black and red fruit characters evident. Yum!

The first photo is of the tasting room bench, straight after all the morning pump-overs have been completed. (Yours truly is on the other end of the camera for these shots.) When the red grapes for red wine are crushed into a ferment vessel, it starts life as a soupy, homogenous mix of skins, juice and pips. As the yeast we add starts to ferment the juice, the production of carbon dioxide by the yeast causes the skins to rise to the top, creating a "cap" of skins, floating on top of the juice underneath. The skins contain the color, tannins and a lot of the flavors we are seeking for the final wine, so the question now is how to extract that color and flavor from the skins on top of the fermenting juice. It’s easy—we simply suck the juice out from under the cap, and then gently pump it back over the top of the skins in the ferment vessel, which then allows the juice to trickle back through the skins, absorbing color and flavor along the way through. This method of pumping over is the primary technique we use for color, tannin and flavor extraction. There are other ways of doing this, but that’s for another day.

Shiraz samples line the tasting bench during fermentation.
Our normal working day during vintage would be to pump over each individual red ferment vessel on skins during the morning, sample them back to the lab for analysis, then taste them all to determine if anything needs to be done to them, e.g., a small acid addition to maintain pH, or maybe a touch of yeast food, should the ferment show any stress characters, etc. We line up all of the samples and taste them and check them all in one fell swoop, rather than try to do them as they come in one by one. Hence the two photos that show a big line up of sample bottles, each one being it’s own unique fermentation. The message to take home from this is to show just how many individual ferments are running at any one time during peak harvest, to give you an understanding of the fact that all of our bottled wines started life as a series of individual little fermentations. We blend these together at a later date, once harvest and maturation are done. I use the jigsaw puzzle analogy. That is, what you see in these two photos is a whole series of individual pieces, waiting to be pieced together into the final puzzle, after fermentation and maturation. This jigsaw analogy applies to all of our wines, from the E&E Black Pepper Shiraz to the Ebenezer Shiraz and even the E-Minor Shiraz and Chardonnay.

BVE viticultural manager Kirsty wears many important hats.
And this photo leads me in to the next thrilling installment of "Meet the Crew at BVE." This is Kirsty. She is our smiling viticultural manager. By this title, she is not only responsible for managing the group of individual growers who grow grapes for us at BVE, but she is also responsible for the BVE vineyard, which lies nestled around the winery, here at Marananga. She's a very organized person whose attention to detail is required for booking our grower deliveries and managing their contracts and tonnages. Plus, she's in charge of environmental management, which means this multiskilled and talented viticulturist is making sure we get the right grapes, in the right amount, at the right time, and at the right quality level. A big operation to coordinate, but successfully she does this. Kirsty also holds a position on the Phylloxera Board, and so assists in keeping South Australia phylloxera free, just the way we want it.

Hans is the man when it comes to BVE's mechanic needs.
The next photo is of Hans. He is our maintenance supervisor. A qualified sparky (electrician), Hans is a genius in not only maintaining all of our equipment in the winery so that it starts first time, every time, and works well, but he's also our “I broke it. Can you fix it?” guy. Every winery needs a Hans, but sorry, he’s ours and we would like to keep him. We joke that if you think MacGyver (for those who remember him on TV) was good at fixing things and making things (like constructing a battle tank out of nothing more than three hairclips, two pieces of wire, an old BBQ and some string), you ain’t seen nothing till you’ve seen the Hans at work! His infectious laugh reverberates around the lunch room every day.

Duty calls, as also does a whole bunch of ferments, so until next we meet in cyberspace, have a good week and remember to only drink cold beer, great wine and wash it all down with just a couple of gin and tonics (for medicinal purposes only, of course)!

Your Down Under friend,

Stuey B and all the crew at Barossa Valley Estate

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