Sweating it out with the winemakers

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A friend of mine dragged me out to a winery recently to finally learn something about wine. He wanted me to experience first-hand the plunging, the digging out, the racking and the balancing on top of tanks that is winemaking. And I learnt the following: 

One – Winemaking equals sweat. I won’t tell you which wine it was, but it will contain some of my perspiration. These guys are working long hours over vintage, it’s physical and exhausting. 

Two – Good winemakers have to be good managers. I imagine that if they are organised and delegate well, they will get the time to make the best wine they possibly can. If they are not, then things will get rushed. 

Three – Wineries work on logistics. How many grapes can we process today before they start to break down and oxidise? How much coffee can we swig before we have to get back to work? 

Four – Wineries are alive…with the sound of music. Loud music. NWA, Snoop Dog and Ice Cube. Gangster wine. It may be responsible for those funky aromas. 

Five – Wineries are alive…with animals. Cats (one that slept peacefully all day despite the music and cursing), dogs (obligatory), bees (harmless but ever present), fruit flies (the more in the ferment, the better, according to one budding winemaker) and other assorted bugs. My wife could never work in a winery. 

This regime lasts for about two months over vintage and attracts all sorts of people from up and coming winemakers, sommeliers, travellers and wine drinkers wanting to experience the hard work and pressure of the vintage. 

2011 Central Otago Vintage 

I contacted a few people this week to find out about the 2011 vintage in Central. It is way too early to know the overall quality, but the word is that the good wines will come from producers who did the hard yards in the vineyard. It hasn’t been a very forgiving vintage with unusual disease pressure and a cool second half to the season. 

We had a warm spring with flowering uniform and early before the weather took a turn for the worse over Christmas. Cool weather with lots of rain and humidity increased the risk of disease, with powdery mildew, a fungal disease that can reduce crop and effect quality, and botrytis developing in some vineyards before harvest. 

Harvest was two to three weeks early, which will possibly keep alcohol levels lower, a good thing for the industry, as long as the wines are actually ripe. As Timbo Morrison-Deaker of Partisan Wines said: “No market in the world of wine drinking is looking for high alcohol wines.” 

So a mixed bag in terms of quality. Only time will tell.

Check out more at Paul Tudgay’s Wine Down site