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New World Wine Maker Blog

MEET ARCO LAARMAN – OWNER WINEMAKER LAARMAN WINES

Q. When and where were you born ?

“I was born far from the Cape and it’s vineyards. In a place called Roodepoort, not too far from Johannesburg. My mother gave birth to me on January 9th, 1977.”

Q. Where did you study ?

“I did not go to a university but learned my Trade as an apprentice ! I had wanted to be a winemaker since I was about 12 years old.  I matriculated in 1995 and my mother suggested I do a harvest first, to make sure that I wanted to be a winemaker. My first harvest was with the great Danie Steytler on Kaapzicht.” After some reflection he continued “ I ended up staying there for four harvests , and within those short four years  I also worked for Mobott (a mobile bottling company for eight months. Not only enormously valuable experience but it was a good way of meeting people in the wine industry. You would be surprised how many wineries there are that the average person never get to know about.” He continued “We had done some bottling for Glen Carlou and in the middle of 1999, David Finlayson offered me a job as an assistant winemaker, which I gladly accepted. Before starting at Glen Carlou I had enough time to do an American harvest. David organised a  position for me at The Hess Collection Winery in Napa Valley, California, where I worked for four months. In 2000 I went to France for a harvest in Beaujolais where I was for about four weeks. I also completed a harvest  in Australia in 2003 at Xanadu Wines in Margaret River. I also worked at friends  wineries in Austria and Germany. I spent 17 years, in all, at Glen Carlou and left in 2015 to start my own venture.”

Q. Do you consider your approach to winemaking to be different to others ?

“Since leaving Glen Carlou my approach has changed and I work my brands  from different regions as I sell my wines  as me being the endorsement  of the wines as I am person and not an estate that one can visit. So I take varieties that work best in the selected regions.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“I am very involved with all the owners  of the vineyards I buy grapes from and work together with their vineyard managers to secure the best fruit possible.”

Q. Do you have any varieties you prefer to work with ?

“I believe in the noble varieties as they will always sell but I regard  myself as a Chardonnay specialist with my 17 years at Glen Carlou. I also work with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsaut and Chenin Blanc. That is for now but there are sure to be more in the future !”

Q. Have you been influenced by any particular winemaker or region ?

“Having worked with David Finlayson for over ten years be fore he left Glen Carlou I would say he and Danie Steytler of Kaapzicht were great people to have learnt from. I have only dealt with Paarl grapes  for 17 years  but now on my own I am excited  to now work with grapes from Piekernierskloof , Vermaaklikheid, Stellenbosch and Elgin.”

Q. What would you consider your greatest achievement as a winemaker ?

“My long standing career with Glen Carlow and the accumulation of awards in those years . However, I don’t make wines with the idea to achieve awards.”

Q. What secrets have you developed  that make your wines different to others ?

With a broad grin “It would not be a secret if I told you”. “ However I can share that wine is only as good as the fruit you  work with and then no need to overwork wines in the cellar.”

Q. How important is modern winemaking equipment  in your wine making ?

“Not that important. You must have healthy fruit and then hygiene is very important as well as protection from oxidation.”

Q. What of the future ?

“My first release on my own is the “Cluster Series” includes a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon and there will be more to follow.”

Q. Why have you called your wines The Cluster Series

“This has been my way of bringing together quality grapes, my winemaking experience, my family and friends in the industry. Not only is a cluster a bunch of grapes but it is a constant reminder that none of us can succeed in isolation. One grape cannot make a bottle of wine !”

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More wine than water

In 2015, South Africa experienced the lowest levels of rainfall that had been recorded since 1904. Thus, making it no secret that the drought has run its toll on the economy and the environment. If we as humans, could cope with the drought as well as the grapevine can, then we would be having a much smaller problem. We may not possess the ability to turn water into wine, but we however, need to start researching ways to turn wine into water.

El Niño, which is labelled as the rise of oceanic temperatures in the South Pacific, is said to be one of the main causes of this massive drought. South Africa’s bipolar weather patterns has furthermore been affected by the change in global climate, which has ultimately led to the abnormally high temperatures across the southern tip of Africa.

Over the past year or so, this drought has had an immense impact on the South African agricultural sector, leading to a decline in production, livestock and finances. South Africa’s food security is also under threat, as summer crops have not been able to survive the decreased levels of winter rainfall.  Ultimately, farmers are looking for more solutions as water and grazing has become a huge issue for livestock, resulting in higher meat prices throughout South Africa.

In the midst of our doom and gloom, it is absolutely fascinating to see how well some parts of the wine industry is doing, considering the lack of water and moisture in the air. Vines have the most outrageous ability to perform under any given condition and can therefore be looked at as, the sweetest form of weeds, growing wherever they are planted, producing the most complex fruit that eventually gives as wine.

According to VinPro, the 2017 harvest overcame most expectations and delivered a harvest that was 1.4% larger than the 2016 one. This was due to cooler nights and relatively constant temperatures during the day, which had a soothing effect on the vines when it came to harvest time.

It seems like the corks will continue popping as wine drinkers will not be experiencing a drought after all. Stressful conditions can sometimes have a positive effect on the quality of grapes, if the vineyards are managed well enough. Farmers must be willing to go the extra mile, protecting the grapes against the suns extreme heat and applying water as cautiously as possible. A possible solution for farmers is Canopy management. Canopy Management can be a very labour intensive process, which requires a thorough knowledge of the cultivar and climate. However, the effect can be advantageous, as the spacing of leaves on a vine can protect the grapes and prevent loses in acids, flavour compounds and colour.

The large leaves found on vines, provide an excellent umbrella to shade the grapes from the sun. As in life, tough situations can sometimes have a very positive outcome. With applied stress in grapevines, the vegetative growth is neglected and all the reserves are optimized and channelled towards the greedy sinks of a vine. In other words, all the good stuff is produced by the greedy nature of the reproductive sinks in a grapevine.

A grape formed under stressful conditions can have a concentration of sugars and anthocyanins, which is the compound responsible for colour development in wine. I personally love our South African red wines, with their high tannin, full bodied form, providing us with the best natural lip colour that any woman can ask. South Africa is seen as a warm wine producing region, known for our full bodied, high tannin and deep coloured wines. Cooler regions, such as France and Germany, produce wines with a higher acidity, lower tannins, with a light ruby colour form.

Under optimal conditions, leaves can get lazy. This can come in the form of, vine leaves not contributing to the process of photosynthesis. During harsh conditions and high radiation, the sun causes the outer leaves of the canopy to shut down over lunch time. During this time, the radiation is too high for the leaf to withstand the heat and causes the leaf’s stoma to close. It is then up to the shaded leaves deeper in the canopy to produce photosynthetic products that will ultimately keep the vine alive. Thus, allowing the grapevine to deal with high sunlight exposure and water stress on its own.

During this significant drought, our wine farmers have been pushed to the brim. Winemakers have been challenged and have had to look for new methods to help sustain vineyards and find a perfect balance between quality and quantity. Vines found in regions like Breedekloof, Stellenbosch and Worcester delivered a smaller harvest, but wine of a high quality.

At the end of the day, wine lovers can sleep well at night as the hardened nature of grapevines and the innovative management practises of viticulturists and winemakers, provides us with high quality wine that can drive us through this tough period. Needless to say, this drought is a huge problem, and we should do everything in our ability to try and keep our water usage as low as possible.

Be sustainable and drink a glass of wine instead.

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Let’s Talk About Appassimento Wines

What is ‘Appassimento?’

Appassimento is a wine processing technique in which harvested grapes go through a drying process prior to fermentation. This process is used traditionally in Italian wine regions to make the popular Amarone, Recioto, Valpolicella Ripasso, and Sforzato wines.

Appassimento influences the flavor and concentrates sugars in dried grapes. This results in flavor and mouthfeel alterations in the wines that use grapes dried by appassimento methods. As the sugar concentrates, through water evaporation, wines produced from dried grapes may result in higher alcohols. Flavors becomes more rich and bold, adding complexity to still wines.

 


This appassimento-style wine is produced at Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner

 

Why is “Appassimento” of Interest to U.S. Wine Regions?

In the last few years, I have noticed appassimento techniques implemented at a number of wineries across the U.S. and Canada.

While many may assume appassimento grapes could be used for dessert wine production, this technique can also be applied to dry wines. Like hanging grapes out on the vines during the coldest winter months, appassimento is a concentration technique.

In the East, we often discuss primarily two ways of improving still, red, dry wines:

  1. Enhancing extraction of grape constituents during production, and
  2. Improving the concentration of desired characteristics like flavors, aromas, sugar, tannins, and polysaccharides (long-chain sugar compounds that improve viscosity and softness of a wine).

Winemakers often use methods like cold soaking or extended maceration to enhance extraction of grape constituents. Additionally, using tools like rotary fermenters can help improve extraction by extending juice/wine contact time with grape skins.

In contrast, improving concentration requires different winemaking strategies. Extended hang time, to concentrate sugars and ripen flavors could be viewed as a concentration technique. The presence of Noble Rot concentrates sugars and flavors. The use of reverse osmosis, especially when applied to juice, is a concentration technique that removes water. Flash thermovinification, in some respects, is a concentration technique that can alter flavor and mouthfeel characteristics of wine. All of these methods help minimize the influence of unripe characteristics (i.e., usually green aromas). In some cases, sugar levels may be concentrated as well.

The drying process associated with appassimento evaporates water from the grape berries, concentrating sugars. Additionally, the drying alters primary flavors that will be passed onto the wine. Some of these flavors may appear more “ripe” in their description. Common sensory descriptors for appassimento grapes include: prunes, raisins, dark fruit, black fruit, honey, dried violets, and dried fruit.

When applied appropriately, such grapes can transform a still red wine with fresh red fruit characters into a bolder, richer wine.

How Can I Integrate Appassimento into My Winery?

The use of appassimento requires careful planning, specifically for where and how grapes will be dried. Traditionally, in Italy, drying houses can be complex. Environmental parameters like temperature and humidity are controlled. Pest control and spoilage are important factors that are routinely monitored.

Recent research in Canada, through the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), has looked at alternative drying methods including use of:

  • On-vine hang time,
  • Barn drying,
  • Drying chambers,
  • Greenhouses, and
  • Kilns.

Other industry members in Virgina have used old toacco barns for drying grapes.

 

If you have an interest in appassimento wines, we’ll be discussing this topic at the 2018 Wine and Bev X Conference in Washington D.C. (February 21st). [Use the promotion code, DGWINE, to receive 50% off your registration.] Attendees will be fortunate to hear from Luca Paschina, winemaker at Barboursville Vineyards (Virginia) who has many years of experience been making wine from appassimento grapes. For those that have not previously been to the winery, there is an appassimento drying house on site, emulating the traditional Italian process. The Barboursville Vineyards Paxxito (Malvaxia) was one of the first U.S.-produced appassimento-styled wines I tasted. Using Moscat Ottonel and Vidal Blanc grape varieties, it is truly an unique wine with a lot to offer. I have always enjoyed its pairing with dessert at the Barboursville Vineyards on-site restaurant, Palladio.

In contrast, winemaker Sean Comninos from William Heritage Winery (New Jersey) will discuss production of his first red appassimento-style wines. Sean will bring insight and contrast to Luca’s rich experience integrating appassimento techniques into the winery. I look forward to delving into all that Sean learned during the first year of his wine’s production.

If you have followed up with previous blog posts, you know that Dr. Debra Inglis and Michael Jones will also join this session. Both of them bring a plethora of knowledge and technical details related to managing wine quality during appassimento and throughout production of the wine.

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Spies in the tasting room

The Scene: Picture an old black and white detective movie along with jazz filling the air, creating an atmosphere of intrigue and mystery.

Beware those who work in a tasting room, that group of students may not be as unstudied as they seem. Keep a look out for the students who analyse the tasting sheets and bring pens to tastings. Note that they might not be on WhatsApp but actually typing out notes on the wine or even on your presentation skills. Take caution, the students who practise correct wine tasting etiquette; they may have a secret. They may be wine students.

Wine students are received in two ways:  Tasting room assistants assume they know everything and thus give no information, or they bombard the students with technological information that baffles their companions.

Thus the mission was simple: blend in as a student without being identified as a wine student.

An attire of a smart-casual, no perfume or scent applied, a black pen discretely tucked into the coat pocket along with a neatly folded piece of blank paper. A reservation made for a group larger than three people, a driver drops the group off at the tasting room. The manager sees them, expecting the worst:  Students are here.  Sending over a tasting room assistant, the manager retreats, unsuspecting to the spy in their midst.

The tasting room assistant, trying to be upbeat, cannot hide disdain as students are notorious for ‘tasting’ a lot of wines and not buying anything. Leading them down the standard tasting route, the tasting room assistant tries hard to entertain the group, talking the usual small talk as the spy swirls the first wine in the glass. The legs drip down and re-merge with the pool of wine at the bottom of the glass. Sniffing it, the spy tries to stifle a grin, knowing that even though the tasting room assistant assured the group it was one of the farm’s best – it was the most standard, bottom of the range wine that the farm had to offer.  The spy lets the assistant off the hook for that one, after all one can’t be blamed for trying to make a sale.

The second wine is bought out, a pale pink rose’. Typical cotton candy and strawberry and cream on the nose, nothing special but none the less the spy continues to record the aroma analysis. The group seems to enjoy it, empty glasses spread over the table except for one. The spy will not finish their glass but rather throws it in the spittoon.  The spy looks around and decides to take photographic evidence, hurrying the group to take selfies in-front of an easy to recognise farm logo. Searching, the spy notices that the cellar is visible through glass windows in the tasting room, again the click of a photo being taken of the cellar. The spy is stealing with their eyes.

The group sits down once again, awaiting the wooded white wine. The tasting assistant comes over and spins a web about the wood making it buttery and how they used different types of oak to enhance mouthfeel, never once mentioning malolactic fermentation or the bacteria added to induce it. The spy smiles a knowing smile. Some of the group loves the wine; others dislike it, irrespective all the glasses stand empty after the wine has been ‘tasted’, all except one. Once again the spy pours the wine out into the spittoon after analysis.

Onto the red wine, the tasting room assistant pours out the last dregs of the bottle into the spy’s glass. The spy sniffs the wine: wet dog and very musty. Beckoning to the assistant that the wine is corked, the spy worries that their cover is blown. The tasting room assistant raises their eyebrow, sniffing the glass themselves; they apologize and retrieve a new bottle of wine. After the new round is poured the tasting room assistant retreats and observes how the spy analyses the wine. Suddenly it clicked; this student is no ordinary student:  this student is a wine student.

Trying to redeem the tasting; the tasting room assistant brings out a premium red blend.  Not making a fuss, the prestige is played off as a gift from the assistant. The spy knows their cover is blown, analysing the last wine knowing it would be superior to its predecessors; the spy sits back and enjoys the last glass. A full page of notes on the wine made and a record of the fame, date and assistants name was neatly folded back and placed in the spy’s pocket.

Never confirming whether or not the spy enjoyed the tasting experience, never confirming whether or not the spy enjoyed the wine, the group left with only the payed bill and a tip remaining. The spy walked ahead of the group, comparing and contemplating their experience to others experiences before, the mission was successful.

So beware those folks of whom work in a tasting room, there may be a spy in your midst.

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Shiraz wines made from vines with different training systems

by Wessel du Toit, Petri de Beer & Albert Strever – Wineland

The main aim of this study was to investigate the colour and phenolic evolution of Shiraz wines obtained with different training and canopy treatments.

Phenolic compounds play an important role in the sensorial composition of red wines, such as Shiraz. However, how differences in the phenolic composition of Shiraz wines differ over time during ageing has not been well documented.

 

Experimental layout

An experimental Shiraz block (clone 9 on 101-14-Mgt rootstock) at Stellenbosch University’s Welgevallen farm was used for this research. Vines were spaced 2.7 x 1.5 m and grown on a seven-wire training system for the vertical shoot positioning system (VSP) treatment. Part of this vineyard was converted to a Smart-Dyson (SD) training system. Upper and lower shoots of the SD were also harvested separately. An additional treatment consisted of a reduced treatment (R), by removing the top shoot and it’s grapes on a two bud spur at flowering time.

Grapes were harvested at the following parameters during the 2012 and 2013 vintages: pH 3.5 to 3.8, TA 4 to 4.5 g/ℓ and Balling 23 to 25 °Balling. Wines were made on small scale at the experimental cellar of the Department of Viticulture and Oenology (DVO) at Stellenbosch University, using Saccharomyces cerevisiae D21 (Lallemand) and Oenococcus oeni (Alpha, Lallemand) as lactic acid bacteria. After fermentation the wines were bottled in 750 mℓ bottles and aged. Analyses were done on the wines after the completion of malolactic fermentation, after six months (both 2012 and 2013) and 12 months (2012) of bottle ageing.

>> CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE AND RESULTS

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Meet Johnnie Calitz – Winemaker at Glen Carlou

Q. When and where were you born ?

“I was born in Calitzdorp in the Little Karoo on 14 September 1982.”

Q. Where did you study and what qualifications do you have ?

“I graduated from the University of Stellenbosch in 2004 with BSc Agric Viticulture and Oenology.  Since then I obtained the Certificate from CFPPA de Beaune for theory/practical on Burgundy wines in 2009.  And the Cape Wine Academy Diploma in 2012. I did postgraduate  Diploma in Financial Planning at University of Stellenbosch Business School , Bellville, graduating in 2015. So with all that and my years of winemaking  I think I am fairly well qualified to do what I am doing !” Then adds, “ Making wine and running my own business.”

Q. Do you consider your approach to winemaking to be different to others ?

“Not really. I am very involved  during all of production process. I am well organised and very particular on cleanliness in the wine cellar. I stay away from any possible oxidation, and believe that less is more . If the wine was handled well and the process well controlled, no additions will be needed. I like to get everyone involved and believe that hard work is always well rewarded.”

Q. How involved to you get in the vineyard ?

“We have a very experienced Viticulturist , Marius Cloete, with who I communicate on a daily basis regarding any developments in the vineyard .”

Q. Do you have any varieties you prefer to work with ?

“Yes, quite a few !  Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Q. Have you been influenced by any particular winemaker or by a wine region ?  

“I look up to plenty of winemakers in South Africa . It is not an easy career to be a winemaker, and doing it with success takes an enormous amount of sacrifice.”

Q. What would you consider to be your greatest achievement as a winemaker ? 

“I havn’t got there yet but one on my Bucket List would be the prestigious  General Smuts Trophy for the best wine at the annual National Young Wine Show. I admire and respect the long tradition of that trophy  and must also include the Veritas Wine Awards.”

Q. What “secrets” have you “developed”  that makes your wines different to others ? 

“I guess every winemaker has a secret that works for him/her. I don’t think I am any different but those are my secrets !”

Q. How important is modern winemaking equipment in your winemaking ?

“Modern equipment makes life easier, but the basics  still apply.  Clean ripe fruit. Minimal handling, minimum oxidation, minimum additions, good sulphur management and total involvement throughout. Then tasting, tasting and more tasting.”

Q. What about you and the future ?

“Since finishing my BSc in 2004 I have had 13 years of quality experience in the world –wide industry. Seeing as that I am only 35 I have lots still to do. Winning several awards at top competitions  as previous head of winemaking at Anura Vineyards (10 years) and then head winemaker at Glen Carlou I have earned a vast amount “know how” in the making  top end wines  and with this keeping  in touch with the important understanding of local and foreign consumer needs.” Then after some thought, continues “I have a long background in primary production of wine coming from a family owned fruit and wine farm in Calitzdorp. Involvement in the vineyard  has been a crucial part of my success with excellent  results and experience  in sourcing of good wine grapes.”

Q. What do you think has made you so well organised ?

“I think going to Oakdale Agricultural High engraved the organisation and helped in forward thinking” After some more thought “I have been interested in winemaking  from a kid and I guess some competition from my sister who is also a successful winemaker.”

Q. To finish ?

“Apart from my academic  achievements I have good practical and communication skills combined with ability to work hard and thoroughly and perform under pressure. One of my top attributes is to be always well organised and have confidence in myself.”

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