There is a lot in the media at the moment about whether or not wine should be sold in supermarkets. Technically, a very high proportion of the total retail sales of wine within Australia is sold by either Coles or Woolies (or their various branded subsidiaries) already. The difference will be that wine will become more of an impulse buy rather than a purposeful trip to the bottle shop.
I do not have any formal qualifications in marketing to fully analyse the potential outcomes of this change but I think there are both positives and negatives to weigh up.
Firstly, impulse buying probably has a lot to do with obesity in adults and children in this country. Supermarkets are not silly. They know exactly where to place snacks and chocolates so your kids have pretty much got the wrapper off before you reach the checkout. Obviously wine will not be directed towards children in the supermarket but adults are just as susceptible to this type of marketing. Will making it attractive, easy and acceptable to grab a bottle of wine to go with your meal each time you food shop, lead to an increase in consumption? Pretty sure 'yes' is the answer and the supermarkets definitely know this. While red wine in moderation has some health benefits, a general increase in consumption will almost undoubtedly lead to further alcohol related health issues. I think I could safely say that most Winemakers would rather increase quality (with an increased return) than volume. Let's drink better, not more.
The modern world is fast paced. We want everything at our fingertips. We see it, desire it, click it and buy it. Wine thereby leaves us with a bit of a conundrum. We are taught (mostly through anecdote) that 'Wine improves with age'. So are there benefits to marketing and producing wines which require cellaring, to people who want to drink it now and have never seen a properly matured quality wine?
If you look at current offerings from many wine companies and what is available in (average) restaurants, I think cellaring potential is redundant. Many of these wines have clearly been made to drink immediately and may offer only short term improvement with some bottle age.
When I say 'made to drink immediately' I am talking about 'full bodied reds' less than 18 months old at time of release. This just isn't enough time for the wine to properly mature in oak and bottle normally and be drinkable when bottled. The problem is mostly tannin and acidity. Young red wines from good regions (McLaren Vale, Barossa, Clare etc) made using 'standard' Winemaking techniques have a great deal of young, grippy tannins which make drinking a glass quite an achievement when 18 months old. Tannin reacts with the saliva in your mouth and renders it non-slip. To counter this, techniques and additives may be used to minimise or reduce tannins in the wine. Another related technique, which works well in warmer areas, is to leave the pH higher. High pH means less acid. In, say the Barossa or McLaren Vale, most wineries would add some Tartaric Acid (natural grape acid) to 'balance' the wine. In 'ideal' vintage conditions in a nice cool year with no heat waves, no, or minimal Tartaric may be required. High temperatures during ripening degrade the acid in the grape faster than the sugar accumulates, so when the grapes are picked the amount of acid is less than desired.
Make sure you read to the bottom of this post and join my email list for a post vintage tasting invite and special offer on the new Viognier!
MvLaren Vale Viognier
2013 Vintage is now over, excepting a few odd varieties and styles that take longer to ripen, or need to hang for an extended time.
The lead up to vintage in McLaren Vale was exceptional. We were blessed with abundant Winter and Spring rains which soaked deep into the soil. Unfortunately this was not state-wide and some notable SA regions really struggled during the warmer summer weather.
The main benefit to good Winter and Spring rain is the canopy growth. We can have quite high daytime temperatures in January and February, and sunlight penetration is not really an issue but sunburn is. So having a nice leafy covering protects the grapes from damage. Also, the increased leaf area means increased photosynthesis and therefore increased production of flavour and aroma compounds in the grapes.
Due to some climatic conditions during bud development, which occurs in the previous year's growing season, the bunch numbers were down in some red varieties. A reduction in average yield has been reported across most major red varieties. Interestingly though, some vineyards have responded with increased bunch size so the yield reduction was not as bad as early estimates lead us to believe.
The ripening period was mostly very good. A brief period of high temperatures accelerated ripening, mainly through moisture loss. Some wineries may have jumped the gun at this stage and picked before flavour ripeness but this is understandable given the extremes of climate we have seen over the last few years. Those vineyards that had good canopy management and a good water supply were able to push past this period and allow the grapes to come back into balance and stay on the vine until flavour ripe.
From the fruit that I have seen this year, Cabernet Sauvignon seems to be the standout. The wines have excellent varietal characteristics and very fine, almost graphite-like tannins. Shiraz seems a bit more elegant and spicy this vintage, again with wonderful tannin structure. I have also seen outstanding Grenache and Merlot. White varieties are very strong but did not suffer much yield reduction and may have missed out on some concentration that the reds have. Although the wines are wonderfully aromatic with Chardonnay looking quite exciting this year.
One portion of the Rusty Mutt Shiraz in an open fermenter
Scott plunging the cap on the Rusty Mutt Shiraz
Shiraz has just been pressed
The 'cake'. Shiraz skins and seeds after basket pressing.
So it looks very good for the Rusty Mutt wines this year. The new Viognier is resting in oak at the moment. It is lovely and fresh with quite a distinctive grapefruit character to it. It will be bottled in a couple of months and available shortly after that. The Shiraz batches look fantastic. The tannin structures in all the wines are terrific and are really what I am looking for with this wine.
Once we get the winery and wines organised and cleaned up after the hectic vintage I will host a post vintage tasting so you can see the wines in their early stages.
To mark the occasion of our new addition - McLaren Vale Viognier, I will be offering a very special pre-release price to my mailing list members
So join my mailing list now to receive an invite to this tasting and a very special offer on my new Viognier!
In my last post about this subject I will cover the use of oak in typical red wine making.
Oak is a bit of a pain in the butt. Barrels are expensive, hard to use and they too are natural products with seemingly infinite variables with which to influence (or inflict upon!) your wine style.
There are only a couple of species of oak commonly used in Winemaking. Quercus Robur (French oak) and Quercus Alba (American oak). Much like grape growing, the climate, soil and other environmental conditions present during growth affect the timber both chemically and structurally. Cool regions are preferred for oak production as the tree grows more slowly from year to year which means the growth rings are more tightly spaced. This is where the term 'tight grain' comes from. Both the species and the climate affect this. Generally only a small part of each tree is used in barrel production. A great deal is used in furniture construction and carpentry.
Once the oak timber has been sourced, the wood must be 'seasoned'. This means stacking the split and sawn timber out in the open and allowing the weather to leach out sap and tannins from the wood. Well seasoned oak should have been out in the weather for at least 2 years. The climate in which the oak is seasoned is also very important. You need intermittent rain and sunshine to dry and leach the tannins without the wood remaining too wet and rotting. In our modern global society, it is now possible to have American oak transported to France for seasoning. Generally the climate in the French oak regions is deemed to be 'better' than America but I'm sure there are arguments for both sides.
Once seasoned, the timber needs to be 'Coopered'. A Cooper is a barrel maker. The timber is shaped into a 'stave' which forms the sides of the barrel. The stave needs to be shaped with great skill as the barrel needs to fit together and create a watertight seal when the staves are bent to give the barrel its characteristic shape. Once the barrel is assembled (without the ends in place) it is placed over a fire. This 'toasts' the inside of the barrel. The heat is used to soften the timber so the staves may be bent into the barrel shape.Traditional coopers use an oak fire and experience to manage the toasting while more modern cooperages may use a combination of a gas and oak fueled fire with thermal sensors to manage the heat of toasting. Toasting the barrel caused chemical reactions within the wood and can affect flavour and aroma compounds in the finished product. The temperature, time and penetration of the toasting adds endless variables to the flavour and aroma profile of the barrel. From the toasting process characters such as mocha, coffee, vanilla, spice, toast, cream, herbs and many others can be affected.
After toasting, 'heads' (ends) are made, toasted and put onto the barrel to complete its manufacture. The outside is sanded, new galvanized hoops are added and the makers marks are stenciled or laser etched onto the head before shrinkwrapping and dispatch to the winery.
Then, through years of trialling and tasting we decide which barrels from which regions seasoned in which area manufactured and toasted to which degree by which cooper suits our Shiraz style!
I don't even pretend to believe that these posts cover even a high percentage of possibilities within Winemaking. For starters I haven't even mentioned sparkling wine (in it's various forms) or the plethora of fortified wine styles for that matter. I'm basically covering my known universe. My Winemaking career has involved making only dry red and white table wine. The word 'only' seems to diminish that statement quite a bit, which is not actually the case.
As with any craftsman or artist, you first take some time to find your medium and style, then focus more and more attention on them to make your art special. Honing your skills and acquiring knowledge and understanding with each creation. One major difference with respect to wine is the time required to learn and understand. A 'traditional' red will take anywhere from 18 months to perhaps 3 years to create before it is encapsulated in bottle. At that point you step back and watch and learn some more from your creation as its incredibly complex structure begins a life of its own.
The learning never stops. As time passes on your creation you can reflect back on the vintage, the climate, the ripeness, the flavours at picking, the yeast you used, the fermentation dynamics, the oak and everything else you noted, realised or tried to influence and you hope to understand more of the personality of this new life you have created. Then, just like a proud parent you have to go again! This time you learn from your mistakes, make subtle changes and adapt to the different parameters dealt to you from this new season whilst reflecting on your past experiences.
In many ways being a Winemaker is like being an artist. You are always striving to capture and express your personality and the personality of the vintage and the fruit within the medium. You will never create a wine or piece of art and say "Well that's the best I can do, time to stop now"
On the fridge for many years in my childhood home sat a cheap wooden souvineer from Kangaroo Island (of all places!). It had a drawing of a man engrossed in a book while his attractive partner was left wanting, and the caption read "An expert is a man who knows more and more about less and less". Still to this day I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing!
Bending the oak
Images from Seguin Moreau, Wikipedia and winesandvines.com
So we now have the grapes at the winery. At the crusher most Winemakers add pectolytic enzyme and maybe some tannin. The pectic enzyme breaks apart the long chain pectin found naturally in grapes (pectin is the stuff that sets jam). This helps clarify the wine and can help release more colour and flavour. Tannin (of which there are many sources like nuts, wood and grape skins & seeds) can be added here to help improve the palate structure of the wine and help 'bind' colour. Tannin is a natural antioxidant and also forms complexes with colour components in the grapes so the resultant wine will have maximum colour retention. The quantities of added tannin used generally differ from year to year. Vintage 2012 in McLaren Vale for example, produced wines with very high natural tannin, so little or no tannin needs to be added.
Once crushed, the 'must' as it is called is pumped into a fermenter. Depending on the analysis of the grapes, some tartaric acid (the natural grape acid) may be added at this stage if the must is found to be lacking. Acidity can be mostly affected by the climate in which the grapes are grown, and the variety itself. McLaren Vale is a reasonably warm region, so acid can drop quickly on the vine requiring an addition to bring it back into balance.This is quite a style decision. Acidity affects the taste of the wine and has an influence on its cellaring potential. The fermenter design will also affect the wine produced, as will the method used to keep the skins wet. At this point, the must needs yeast for the fermentation process. You can decide to allow the native yeast found naturally on the grapes to perform the fermentation, or you can add a commercial strain or culture. Natural ferments have a much greater risk of something going wrong in the process but it can also add texture and complexity to the wine. Using commercial yeast allows you select strains which may enhance certain characters in the wine and ensure a clean problem free ferment. Again, quite a style decision here. As the yeast converts sugar to alcohol, carbon dioxide is released. The gas bubbles formed cause the skins to float in the ferment and create a 'cap'. This must be kept wet with the fermenting juice or it will go off. Various methods of cap management are available, which again have quite an affect on the taste of the wine. Another style decision point.
As the yeast ferments the sugar, heat is also produced. This warms up the ferment which causes the yeast to ferment faster, producing more heat and so on. If left unchecked (in commercial volumes) the ferment will get too hot and the yeast will die and the wine will be terrible. So fermenters have some kind of cooling system to address this. The temperature of the ferment affects the extraction of colour, flavour and tannin from the skins and seeds, so once again, a style decision.
After the sugars have all been consumed, the ferment is over. At this point you can decide to keep the skins in contact with the wine for an extended period of time, or press them straight away. Depending on the winery, this is usually a logistical and time management decision. There are many designs of press available such as the basket press, membrane press and screw press. Each pressing the skins differently which mostly affects the tannins in the pressings wine. By keeping the pressings separate at this point you add blending options later. Pressings wine is usually more tannic and darker in colour. Probably not great on its own but as part of a blend it can be very useful. Once again more decisions for the Winemaker.
Now, we have brand new wine in a tank. The wine at this point is usually not 'easy' to drink. It can have quite a bit of acid and tannin, which can makes it astringent. The acidity is higher at this stage as the secondary fermentation may not have happened yet. The secondary ferment or 'Malo-Lactic' fermentation is undertaken by Lactic Acid bacteria which converts Malic acid into Lactic acid. Natural Malic acid in the grapes (also the principal acid in apples) is a fairly tart acid. Lactic acid is a much softer acid, so this fermentation affects the acid balance and mouthfeel of the wine quite considerably. Once again, commercial strains of bacteria can be used (generally the rule rather than the exception) so the ferment finished quickly and cleanly. If this ferment is allowed to occur naturally, there is a greater possibility of compounds being produced that are slightly smelly and can hide the fruit qualities in the wine. These compounds can also cause allergic reactions in some people (histamines). The Malo-Lactic fermentation is required to go through in virtually every red wine. Malic acid is the last major compound which is readily consumed by either yeast or bacteria so this helps the 'stability' of the wine. Think alcohol, anti-oxidant (tannin), low pH (good acidity) and no food for bugs and you have a product with a pretty good shelf life, providing you keep oxygen away.
Ideally the Malo-Lactic fermentation should occur in oak barrels. A great deal of complex reactions occur between wine, oak and the air so adding the complexities of a fermentation in there can really enhance the wine. So this brings me to the end of the second part. In part three I will talk about oak and the influences a Winemaker has over the wine in its maturation phase.
I started typing and soon found I was writing a book not a blog post, so I decided to split up my posts into slightly easier parcels!
This is part one, focusing on the vineyard.
Many wine companies (including me!) use all sorts of words and phrases such as 'traditional techniques', 'minimal intervention', 'natural ferments' and many others which may imply the wine is made without the winemaker doing anything and you're tasting what god (or mother nature) intended! (Sometimes called 'Terroir'?!)
Winemakers actually have quite an influence over the flavours, aromas and style of the wine produced, 'natural' or not. Firstly, the flavours in the grape are influenced by the vineyard. The composition of the soil, the geology, topography, climate, the source of water, the clone of the variety, the rootstock (if any) used, the trellis design, pruning level, fertiliser, pest & disease control, planting density and canopy management practices. Biodynamic practices
add another level of influence over most of these parameters as well. Almost all of these things can be manipulated and will have an effect on the grape berry composition, which of course means flavour, colour, tannin, acidity, sugar and many other things which directly affect what you taste.
There is currently an initiative in McLaren Vale at the moment called 'Scarce Earth'
where districts within the McLaren Vale region have been decided upon due to their underlying geology. Winemakers are producing wines with an emphasis on fruit expression to see what influence the geology may have on the wines. This has produced some very interesting wines, and debate!
Once the vineyard is in, the grapes are growing and summer is here, the Winemaker comes along and starts sampling the grapes as they ripen and decides when the grapes need to be picked. This decision is again based on many factors which will alter the flavour of the wine. As grapes ripen, the berry composition
changes. Sugars, flavour & colour increase, acid decreases. The flavours themselves change from green fruit characters to ripe fruit but there is an optimum. There will be a point where leaving the fruit on the vine too long will be detrimental to the final product. Over ripe jammy fruit, excessive alcohol and not enough acidity to name a few.
The grapes can then be machine or hand harvested and delivered to the winery and hopefully crushed immediately! Hand harvesting (which is much more expensive) ensures the grapes arrive at the winery in the best possible condition but can only be done during the day so high temperatures may affect the fruit quality. Machine harvesting is cheaper, faster and can be done at night but the fruit must be crushed as soon as possible or the juice will oxidise and natural yeast and bacteria can start producing off characters.
So already we have a large number of parameters which can be influenced, and the grapes have only just been delivered to the winery!
Make sure you subscribe to the rss feed for the next installments!
Harvested grapes in a stainless steel trailer being delivered to the winery
Machine harvested grapes in the crusher hopper.
The pricing of wine is a very tricky task indeed! The major reason for this is the perceived value of the wine is more important than the actual price. Most people will pay more for a bottle of wine if they believe it to be of 'higher quality' than a cheaper alternative. A rather important issue with this statement is the question 'what is quality?' This is not easily defined in wines, and what you like may not necessarily be the same as what I like! This is the reason most of us seek independant reviews and Wine Show results to provide some kind of qualitative third party endorsement which adds value to the wine. The more value you can add to the brand, the more people will be willing to pay for it and still feel as though they are getting a good deal. No one wants to pay more than they have to!
Then comes the reality of economics. It costs more money to attempt to make a higher quality wine. The grapes cost more, more time needs to be spent looking after the wine and more expensive barrels need to be purchased. The packaging will probably be fancier with more expensive bottles, labels and cartons. Then you and everyone else in your supply chain needs to actually make some money from it all which means margins. I think you will be suprised. Once you come up with a wholesale price (the most basic price which theoretically should allow the winery to survive) the first in the chain is usually the government. They want a 29% Wine Equalisation Tax (WET). Small producers can get the WET returned as a rebate up to a certain value of sales each year. Then you have the distributor. If you use a distribution company to do the selling for you, they need a fair chunk of your cash. These margins are in the order of 30-35%. They then sell it to a bottle shop who adds on possibly 30% before you walk in looking for your bargain. Then poke the GST in there somewhere for good measure. In a lot of cases, especially with large chain liquor stores, they will never discount your wine by reducing their margin, they expect the saving to come from the winery. But that is another story (don't get me started!)
So, the great thing about Rusty Mutt (for you) is I don't use a distributor. I have effectively used that margin to reduce my final price to you. My grapes are expensive, production is expensive and so is the packaging. If I calculate the final price using full margins for everyone then the Rusty Mutt would be around $35 per bottle! But I think that is too expensive. So best take advantage of my generosity
while I can still afford to sell Rusty Mutt at such a great price. Although, I may need to add on a carbon tax margin...... :)
On Friday the 6th of July, the 2010 Rusty Mutt Shiraz was bottled. Apart from the obvious financial stresses that are to follow, it is certainly a load off my mind knowing that it is safely in bottle and it looks great!
There are quite a few companies involved and lots of jobs to be done to bring everything together on the same day. Firstly, I decided to change the bottle slightly. I have gone to a 'premium burgundy' rather than the bog standard type. (Looks fancier!) This has meant the original label will not fit, so this needed to be re-designed. And at the same time I changed the back label text and added a barcode and QR code. So label re-designed and printed - check. Next I needed to sort the wine out. I pumped it out of oak and had a good close look at it. I blended a small proportion of the next vintage (2011) into the wine and adjusted the acidity slightly using Tartaric acid (natural grape acid). This was pretty much all it required. After the acid addition, the wine was returned to oak for 6 weeks to rest up before bottling. Wine - Check.
The remaining component is the bottling company. Thankfully they can look after quite a few things. They have plain cartons and dividers, the bottles and the capsules and put the whole lot together hopefully without any problems!
The Rusty Mutt went into bottle with a minimum of fuss. For all intents and purposes it went in to bottle unfiltered. The wine passes through a very coarse stainless steel sieve to remove 'elephants and blowflies' (as the industry saying goes!)
Here are some photos of the process.
Bottles straight out of the filler, full of 2010 Rusty Mutt Shiraz
The Rusty Mutt 'copper' capsule has been applied
The super-dooper labelling machine which applies the neck, front and back labels
The finished bottles being lovingly hand packed into cartons
The 2010 Rusty Mutt Shiraz will now be delivered to a warehouse where it will put its feet up for 6 months. I plan to release the 2010 in December this year. I will send out an email to my list with more details close to the date. If you want to know what's going on, then please subscribe to my email list!
Having recently set up this website, I wanted to share some experiences and information which would provide a great low cost solution for small to medium wine companies. Will also suit larger, but you will need to start paying something.
The hub of my online presence is a Weebly.com
website. This is a very powerful website builder and can host your site using your own domain name or a Weebly one. It is mostly free with a small cost for some additional functionality.
Another important part is maintaining a customer database. I have done this with MailChimp
. You create a list (up to 2000 members is free) with custom fields to record everything you need about your customers. From the MailChimp site you can build forms and email campaigns with some great segmenting and reporting capabilities. The contact form on my website adds people directly to my email list if they request. I have also created a member log in area for my website (still under contruction) which uses the email and password field from MailChimp to authorise access. (Contact me if you are interested in this, I have commissioned someone to code this for me). MailChimp is extremely powerful and many add ins are available to connect it to all sorts of other software such as accounting packages, Wordpress and other sites like Weebly.
An Adelaide based company called Secure Cellar Door
can handle the shopping cart and payment (integrated through PayPal) with embeddable code you just drop into your Weebly website. This is free to set up and you only pay for it once you reach a certain level of sales.
Also, within the website I have brought in feeds from Facebook and Twitter. The gallery displays my Flickr photos and I have a blog for my ramblings and a blog page for news and reviews.
By using Google calendar you can copy embeddable code into your Weebly site to show your upcoming events etc on your web site.
Basically if you can dream it, you can probably do it, for very little money. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask.
I'm not affiliated with any of the websites mentioned above, I just wanted you to know there is an alternative to paying 000's for professional web sites with great connectivity and functionality.
Please have a look at my own site, everything is essentially free apart from the website hosting.
Its only a couple of days until Winter officially begins (in the Southern Hemisphere anyway!) This is the time of year when many Aussie Winemakers start making plans to head overseas to our warmer antipodes and play with mostly North American or European grapes. In the past I have joined this migration. I spent a few weeks at Fetzer winery in Hopland, California then on the way home went to Umbria in Italy to have a quick look. It is a great way for new Winemakers to gain some experience, but you really need to think about the motivations behind wanting to work under (usually) quite difficult conditions with language and cultural barriers. I think that apart from newbie experience, the only benefit would be learning how to be a bit 'dirty' from a Eurpoean winery. There is no point for an Australian Winemaker to go to a European winery and use Australian methods by imposing our knowledge onto unsuspecting grapes and winery equipment. You're not making their wine any better, its just different. I don't want to buy European wine made by an Australian winemaker. I want the real deal! I want wine made by people who understand their grapes and their equipment and let the wine speak of its own origin. I think the people who benefit the most are the Winemakers from these old world wineries who learn valuable lessons from us.
Of course it is fun to go to another country and immerse yourself, I have nothing against this at all. I am thankful for my little bit of OS experience. I think it gave me a greater insight into the Australian wine industry and its strengths. The best use of my time and effort has been in understanding what I have here to work with. How to get the best out of the grapes grown in McLaren Vale using the techniques and equipment available to me to produce an Australian wine. Not a European emulation.