By Jenna Higgins.
Taking long drives out to wine regions outside of Stellenbosch happens to be one of my favourite pass-time activities, so when my dad called me up saying he’d like to take a drive out to Tulbagh, I couldn’t resist. Needless to say, I was in control of the music as we set off on our little adventure. It’s amazing to see how green the farms are looking again, and how the dams are slowly but surely starting to look less like sink holes and ponds, and more like actual dams!
I had previously been in contact with a young winemaker in the region, Dirk Swanepoel, who has recently taken to starting up his own label under his family name, Swanepoel Wines. The farm itself boasts a rustic feel, with original farm buildings dating back to 1848. The cellar, which had once been a cattle shed, closely resembles that of an age-old Tuscan style, with the original stone and clay built walls still visible. Large trusses paint the perfect backdrop to what is soon to be a wine bar, while the original farm dwelling now houses an assortment of barrels while the wine ages to perfection.
My father and I were lead through the cellar as Dirk explained his winemaking process, it was very heartening to see a young winemaker combine both new world and old world winemaking techniques to create his wines. In the barrel room, we tasted a crisp, dry rosé as well as a fruity Pinotage with the most divine floral (violet) notes. The family owned farm houses an assortment of cultivars such as Mourvedre, Grenache noir, Pinotage, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, making it the perfect farm for Rhône style wines. The vineyards are nestled at the foot of a fynbos-covered mountain range, where guests are greeted by an old vineyard roaming thoroughbred named Reapy (Reap the Wind). Dirk’s father, Jerry Swanepoel, has also dabbled in winemaking, using the farm’s robust cultivars to shape full-bodied, hearty red wines; my dad and I were privileged to be allowed to taste some of these older vintages too.
Leading up past one of the blocks, is a recently constructed hiking trail that sends explorers on an adventure into the mountain, which forms a part of the Saronsberg Mountain Range. The farm strives to preserve the natural fynbos growth, which includes renosterbos (Renosterveld), king proteas, buchu and many other species. As my dad and I eagerly started off on the trail, we quickly came to realise how unfit we were, however the trail was actually incredibly hiker-friendly and very easy to complete. After 45 minutes of walking, we came across an old kraal (pen) built by the Cape Khoisan many years ago. Dirk explained that they used to build these small pens for the buck/game they captured on the mountain.
After an additional 15 minutes of hiking, we eagerly took a breath and rested at the end point of the hike – a massive yellow wood tree. It must have been ancient, and immediately reminded me of the kind of tree you would see in a Lord of the Rings movie. The tree towers over a small, flat plain in the mountain, painting the perfect backdrop for a picnic and a glass of rosé! Along the way up, my dad and I also noticed the abundance of birdlife on the farm, beautifully coloured sugar birds hovered around the blooming proteas as we walked by. We also noticed how fragrant the fynbos on the farm was, as we passed buchu plants that were in flower and immediately recognised the familiar smell.
On the way back to the cellar we were awestruck by the breath-taking views of the Tulbagh region. The view seemed like a painting, with vineyards rolling out on foothills for what seemed like kilometres upon kilometres, a gentle blanket of cloud cover folding over the tips of the surrounding mountains with rays of sunlight highlighting the greenness of the neighbouring farmland. I have to admit, the descent was easy with wine as my motivation – we did the wine tasting after the hike, thinking it would serve as a well-deserved reward to the thirsty father-daughter hiking crew. Back at the farm, we were told stories of the farm’s rich history – from being an old trading post for the Dutch East India Company (1699) to old church bell towers and windows that now form a part of the cellar. The farm’s name, Oude Compagnies Post, got its name through its historical background, and although it is not the easiest name to pronounce for us English-speaking tourists, with a history like that it’s well worth the struggle to pronounce!
It was incredibly refreshing and somewhat inspiring to make the acquaintance of another young winemaker in the industry. Being a final year winemaking student myself, it gives me hope and excites me to see the younger generation take the industry head on, while still staying true to the art of winemaking. This experience highlighted something incredibly important to me, without passion and drive, your dreams won’t materialize. To see someone only a few years older than me start up their own wine label, with the help of his dad who he shares vineyard duties with, and achieve such a great feat while remaining so humble was also very enlightening. It was necessary for me to realise that no matter what your dreams are or how fast you achieve them, it’s important to stay humble. Each day is a new learning experience, especially in the wine industry, you can never know too much about wine!
Q. Where and when were you born ?
“I was born in Malmsbury on 9th September 1981.
Q. Where did you study ?
“I studied at University of Stellenbosch and achieved a B.Sc. Agric Viticulture and Oenology . After that I decided to do my M.Sc. in Oenology on commercial tannin additions and their influence on red wine quality!”
Q . Do you consider your approach to winemaking to be different to others ?
“I think every winemaker has his own very unique approach to winemaking. A couple of philosophies I do have is that you always need to get the basics right first ; The planning is just as important as the plan; your footsteps are the best fertiliser for any project, and lastly, Winemaking is not the making of but the expression of the terroir. “
Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?
“Very much. Here at Nitida I look after the vineyards as well as making the wine. I believe that in the long run the biggest influence a winemaker has on his wine is done in the vineyards.”
Q. Do you have any varieties you prefer to work with ?
“Working in the Durbanville area it has to be Sauvignon Blanc! However, I have a very soft spot for Riesling and pinot noir as well.”
Q. Have you been influenced by any particular winemaker or wine region ?
“As a winemaker I think it is very important to learn and ask advice from as many other winemakers as possible. There is one winemaker I need to mention and that is Boela Gerber at Groot Constantia, where I learned all the basic philosophies and techniques of winemaking.”
Q. What would you consider your greatest achievement as a winemaker ?
“The successful launch of three new high end products at Nitida. The Golden Orb Sauvignon Blanc, The Tinkery (an experimental label) and The Grande Matriarch MCC which has to be right up there! Other than these recent releases the recognition from by the various wine industry awards has been great.”
Q. What “secrets” have you “developed” that make your wines different to others ?
“Trust the history of your vineyards and always go with your gut feeling!”
Q. How important is modern winemaking equipment in your wine making ?
“I always joke that I had three things in the cellar that you can plug into a wall socket and the rest is done by hand but times have changed and I have slightly more “modern” winemaking equipment in the cellar today. I still like to keep things as basic and simple equipment wise as possible.”
Q. What would you like to add ?
“I was lucky enough to take a gap of three years making beer at a microbrewery in England after my university studies. After that it was full time winemaking and then meeting my wonderful wife, Julie, and a little later three additions to our family which has all enriched my life. For the future I would like to keep on making wines that I love drinking and hopefully spend a couple more harvests in European cellars.”
By Dr. Molly Kelly, Enology Extension Educator, Department of Food Science.
As harvest comes to a close we have planned which wines will be going through malolactic fermentation (MLF). This article provides some information to assist you in dealing with a potentially difficult MLF.
Malolactic fermentation (MLF) is a process of chemical change in wine in which L-malic acid is converted to L-lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This process is normally conducted by lactic acid bacteria (LAB) including Oenococcus oeni, Lactobacillus spp. and Pediococcus spp. O.oeni is the organism typically used to conduct MLF due to its tolerance to low pH, high ethanol and SO2. Most commercial strains are designed to produce favorable flavor profiles.
Although inoculation with a commercial starter is recommended, MLF may occur spontaneously. The lag phase associated with spontaneous MLF may increase the risk of spoilage organisms as well as the production of volatile acidity. Inoculation with a LAB culture can help avoid these problems by providing the cell population needed to successfully conduct MLF (more than 2×106 cells/mL). The compatibility of yeast and LAB should be taken into account since failed MLF may be due to incompatibility between these two organisms.
The key to a successful MLF is to manage the process and to monitor the progress. Although there has been extensive research on the MLF process, it may still be difficult to initiate at times. The possible causes of difficult MLF have been studied less extensively than those of stuck/sluggish alcoholic fermentation. In this article, factors that may influence the start and successful completion of MLF will be discussed.
The main chemical properties that influence MLF are well known: pH, temperature, ethanol and SO2 concentration. A study by Vaillant et al (1995) investigating the effects of 11 physico-chemical parameters, identified ethanol, pH and SO2 as having the greatest inhibitory effect on the growth of LAB in wine.
Generally, LAB prefer increased pH’s and usually, minimal growth occurs at pH 3.0. Under winemaking conditions, pH’s above 3.2 are advised. The pH will determine the dominant species of LAB in the must or wine. At a low pH (3.2 to 3.4) O. oeni is the most abundant LAB species, while at higher pH (3.5 to 4.0), Lactobacillus and Pediococcus will out-number Oenococcus.
MLF is generally inhibited by low temperatures. Research demonstrates that MLF occurs faster at temperatures of 200 C (68˚F) and above versus 150C (59˚F) and below. In the absence of SO2 the optimum temperature range for MLF is 23-250C (73.4˚F-77˚F) with maximum malic acid conversion taking place at 20-250C (68˚F-77˚F). However, with increasing SO2 levels, these temperatures decrease and 200C (68˚F) may be more acceptable.
LAB are ethanol-sensitive with slow or no growth occurring at approximately 13.5%. Commercial O. oeni strains are preferred starter cultures due to tolerance to ethanol. The fatty acid composition of the cell membrane of LAB can be impacted by ethanol content.
LAB may be inhibited by the SO2 produced by yeast during alcoholic fermentation. A total SO2 concentration of more than 50 ppm generally limits LAB growth, especially at lower pH where a larger portion of SO2 is in the antimicrobial form. Generally, it is not recommended to add SO2 after alcoholic fermentation if MLF is desired.
Some of the lesser known factors impacting MLF are discussed below.
MLF can be inhibited by medium chain fatty acids (octanoic and decanoic acids) produced by yeast. It is difficult to finish MLF when octanoic acid content is over 25 mg/L and/or decanoic acid is over 5 mg/L. Bacterial strains that tolerate high concentrations of octanoic and decanoic acids may be important in successful MLF. It is important to check your supplier regarding strain specifications. Yeast hulls may be added before the bacteria are inoculated (0.2g/L) to bind fatty acids. Yeast hulls may also supply unsaturated fatty acids, amino acids and assist with CO2 release.
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