The Old Man and the Juice

Senior student and budding winemaker Riaan Smit continues his harvest oddyssey.

The 10 would-be winemakers of Class of 2011 at Elsenburg have so far made about 35 000 liters of wine ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the most wine by any final year B Agric class in many years. We will probably make more than 50 000 liters because we have not started on our Shiraz, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon blocks.

In the last couple of years the class was usually 20 students – twice the current size ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ and student winemakers were only assigned 10 or 15 rows of a vineyard block to make wine. This year, entire blocks became the responsibility of individual students or groups of students, with the result that each student is making much more wine, and a greater variety, than students of previous years.

We also make wine collectively with two or three fellow students. I have so far made a blanc fum+¬ with Dewald and Lucille. The Sauvignon blanc grapes were deliberately picked riper – at 23 degrees Balling ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ and fermented in a tank with oak staves. We used a co-inoculation of QA23 and Vin 7. Johan Botha, the other “old man” in the class (he is turning 40 in March) and a real Sauvignon blanc fan, also used this co-inoculation on a straight batch of Sauvignon blanc and it seems to work well.

The theory is that the one yeast releases flavor compounds and the other yeast convert these compounds. Check out Anchor Yeast’s for more technical details. I have also made two batches of Pinotage in one-ton open fermenters with grapes from the same low-yielding, dry-land block (1,2 tons from more than a hectare). The one was left to ferment naturally and the other was inoculated with Lallemand D80.

The idea is to see to what extent the two wines will be different. I am doing a similar experiment with Malbec, but with two different commercial yeast ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ Lallemand D254 and Lallemand Clos. All of us are doing experiments: Johan bled a batch of Pinotage must by 30% of its volume and also has a,normal concentration must tank next to it, as a control, to figure out what the differences will be. The unintended consequences of these experiments are more work. Johan now has 1 700 liter Pinotage juice to turn into a Ros+¬.

My small batches of reds are being pressed with a basket press ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ serious manual labour ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ because it is a waste of everybody time to press it in our one-ton press. We are also experimenting with Acacia barrels. Our container with 28 new 300 and 500 liter barrels arrived from France last week. About half of the barrels are made from Acacia wood.

I already have a 500 liter barrel filled with Chardonnay (that was naturally fermented) and Carlo’s Chardonnay (from a different block) is split between 300 liter French and Acacia barrels to gauge the flavor differences after malolactic fermentation and a period of time. A big thank you must also go to Wynand Hamman of Boutes who donated two new French oak barrels for our use. By now, all 10 of us are more or less familiar with the almost daily grind ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ including Saturdays – of cellar work and attending classes in between.

We have also written three predicate tests so far during harvest. We are constantly under pressure ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ an experience that will pay off when we are working in the industry. We work hard and play hard and began a tradition of Friday afternoon “wine tasting” braais. Last Friday we had a breakfast “potjie” in stead of an afternoon braai, because our “professor”, Bertus Fourie, Johan and my self had a tasting scheduled for that afternoon. The development of the cellar has also gathered steam and R400 000 has been approved to renovate the roof of the cellar and to develop a new receiving bay. We may have less interesting natural fermentations when our rather flora rich ceiling are scrapped later this year.

We also now have a 40-foot cold container outside the cellar in which we can store harvested grapes. Gone are the days of grapes standing outside and getting burnt to hell while we have to attend classes. I have also picked up a rumor of a process to create a winemaking industry body to monitor and improve training at both Elsenburg and Stellenbosch. This most probably means not only better facilities (a lot of upgrading to facilities has already been done at both Stellenbosch and Elsenburg), but also more industry-aligned training. Also expect less winemaking students per year because of much stricter selection criteria.

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