Having discussed the importance of terroir, vineyard management and harvesting in our series on The Art of Winemaking, we now turn to the cellar. While the basic principles of winemaking are the same today as they were 1 000 years ago, the science behind those principles is now far better understood.
The modern winemaker is taught to understand the organic chemistry that ripens his grapes and ferments the juice, and modern wines undergo extensive analysis and quality control before being released onto the market.
With the mechanisation of the production process brought about by the industrial revolution, technology has also changed the face of modern cellars, streamlining production and dramatically increasing cellar hygiene and the overall quality and consistency of the product, and giving the winemaker ever more accurate tools to facilitate the journey from grape to glass. While there are many of these modern aids in winemaking, it is up to each winemaker to decide where and when to employ modern techniques. Most winemakers choose a combination of traditional methods combined with new technology for practical reasons and efficiency – the key is to find a balance that improves the wine.
Technology and Tradition
At Creation Wines on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge of Walker Bay, South Africa, there is an eclectic mix of traditional techniques, non-interventionist winemaking philosophy and state-of-the-art equipment imported by Swiss co-owner, viticulturist and winemaker Jean-Claude Martin, reflecting a classical European winemaking education and experience combined with Swiss precision.
In the vineyard, for instance, mechanical pruning and harvesting is eschewed in favour of fruit hand-picked by local farmworkers who have been tending vines for generations. Only the finest bunches arrive at the cellar, any damaged fruit left on the ground in the vineyard, thus precluding the use of sorting tables. This means the grapes are handled less and crushed quicker. Using modern techniques for de-stemming and crushing reduces the need for added sulphur as the process is expedited.
In the cellar red wines undergo open-top fermentation in stainless steel and open wooden fermenters. Open-top fermentation is a traditional method entailing the formation of a cap of skins pushed up by the CO2 in the fermenting juice, and pigeage (or punching down) of the cap to wet it.
This increases skin contact to promote extraction of colour and tannin by mixing the cap through the fermenting juice, as well as feeding the yeast with oxygen. The use of temperature controlled stainless steel and wooden fermenters in combination with the traditional principles of open-top fermentation allow for greater control of fermentation temperature, more hygienic conditions, gentle extraction of tannins and a predictable fermentation.
This increases skin contact to promote extraction of colour and tannin by mixing the cap through the fermenting juice, as well as feeding the yeast with oxygen.
The use of stainless steel tanks rather than wooden or concrete fermenters in combination with the traditional principles of open-top fermentation allow for greater control of fermentation temperature (cold stabilisation can also be done in jacketed stainless steel tanks), more hygienic conditions, gentle extraction of tannins and a predictable fermentation.
Pressing the red wine from the skins after fermentation was traditionally achieved by using a basket press; however at Creation we employ a bladder press: a rubber bladder enclosed in a cylinder inflates to a specified pressure to press the wine from the skins. The advantage of using a bladder press lies in the precise amount of pressure programmable into the machine – valuable in controlling the extraction of harsh tannins while pressing.
The next step is barrel maturation, the subject of a future blog on The Art of Winemaking. These initial steps in processing grapes into wine are most critical, and at Creation modern equipment allows the magic of the process to take place in an environment that prevents wine faults from developing and allows for the efficient handling of our excellent grapes, a seamless marriage of tradition and technology.