Elsenburg selects between 10 to 15 students to further their studies in “Cellar technology” and the selected students are then placed in the Elsenburg cellar. They are each tasked to choose three cultivars of interest, which would be made in the 2015 vintage with the help of their fellow winemakers. This year I was challenged with the task of making the three wines; Viognier, Pinotage and Chardonnay base wine for the production of a Methode Cap Classique. The latter being the most challenging and by far the most intriguing.
This adventure started with a gathered effort of dedicated students meeting in the Vineyards at 5am, as the sun rose through the summer mist of the Stellenbosch hills, in order to hand select the most pristine Chardonnay bunches that block E7 had to offer. We then slowly made our way back to the cellar on the back of a tractor trailer, accompanied by the occasional fling of a grape into the driver’s hair and the anticipation of what lay waiting for us upon arrival. The decision was made to skip sorting and tip the crates into the ‘Bonsai’ Bucher where it was pressed on a custom cycle, which is more complicated than it should be. Heaven forbid my cuvee touches the pleb press fractions …! After settling, inoculation and a successful fermentation to a dry RS of 1.2 it was time to get down to the real work. For those of you who have had the pleasure of rehydrating yeast for the 2nd fermentation of MCC you’d be familiar with the seemingly endless 3 day, 6 step process of nursing yeast cells to greatness. On the final day of rehydration I arose from an uneasy sleep and got to the cellar just shy of 5am to finalise my potion of yeast, spice and everything nice. I embarked on the mission of climbing onto tank 35, one hand holding on for life and the other pouring the dosage into the tank with a 5 litre jug, and yes I did have to get up and down the tank ‘till the hole 75 litre bin of dosage was in the tank. Upon successful completion all I had to do was mix the tank with a submersible pump, which started and ended with me being sprayed from head to toe with 5˚C Chardonnay, a mere hour before writing a test! Fortunately I managed to send in a sample to be analysed before bottling plans could be finalised for later that day, despite being sticky, cold and smelling like an old tavern cloth.
Okay, test done and dusted and now keen for bottling. It’s always heart warming walking into the cellar seeing willing and able bodies sterilising 2000 bottles on their off day, with appreciative stares and comments being thrown your way. Connecting ‘trixie’, our minute mobile bottling unit, was the final step before the hand operated bottling line was put to motion. It was a smooth operation with 2000 bottles successfully bottled in 3 hours. We finished off with the capping with the aid of a capper borrowed from a nearby cellar, which happened to experiment with MCC production somewhere between ‘The Big Bang’ and the Stone Age. Tightly packed in bins these little champions were given 21 days for the second fermentation to occur in the peace and quiet of the vat cellar. The last frontier for these promising bottles of delicate cargo was stacking them in the ‘dungeon’ with a pressure of 6 bars. This was no mean feat, let me tell you that; packing these bottles was well beyond my comfort zone, as I briefly remembered that this dangerous activity wiped out many men back in the day with bottles slipping from the shelf onto the floor blowing champagne everywhere! … One can’t deny oneself the guilty pleasure of singing ‘champagne showers’.
About a month or so later a sparkling wine class was scheduled, which focused on the different production methods as well as some international variations. We soon reached South-African Methode Cap Classique and a couple of elitist MCC’s were popped alongside my latest prodigy, no pressure. The fear of an incomplete or unsuccessful secondary fermentation loomed over me as my lecturer heroically hit off the crown cap. A clean pop, no gushing and a fine fizz was heard as the chardonnay was poured into the glass, bringing relief to both of our faces. All my sweat, blood and time lead to this first tasting – a fresh and clean young MCC with high acidity, inviting pear aromas and gentle yet assertive on the palate. Overall success, thus far, with great ageing prospects in sight and big hopes for this future ‘Veritas double golder’ (it never hurt to be a dreamer). For now this young, lees filled, champ will be enjoyed during sunsets at the dam with other young enthusiasts drinking to the despising of the widow Clicquot.