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New World Wine Maker Blog

Cellar vs Garage

Recently, I was lucky enough to be gifted a wine-making kit, from my grandfather. Being a winemaking student, I couldn’t fight off the excitement and curiosity to give garage-fermenting a bash. Before getting too excited and starting this home-ferment experiment, I would strongly recommend doing a little bit of research.

After making wine in a cellar, the poor wine-kit’s instruction manual was subjected to a lot of scrutiny from my side. For start, what appeared to be a rather fun and easy task turned out to be a lot more complicated than I had hoped it would be. After consulting with my ‘Yeast Prof’, ‘MLF Prof” and ‘Wine Prof’, we had concluded that, for the sake of producing a drinkable wine, I would have to deviate from the wine-kit’s original instructions. Topping up my Shiraz reserve with water on a regular basis just wasn’t going to cut it for this young lady!

A few helpful tips to keep in mind when attempting a home ferment, regardless of what the bizarre instruction manual recommends: The instruction manual will tell you to thoroughly read and follow instructions; do not fall for this trickery! If you are uncertain about something, I would definitely suggest asking someone in the industry for their opinion, if you are new to the winemaking-game and are using the kit as your first attempt at making wine, don’t hesitate to ask Google.

Using a beer kit fermenter is recommended, it is easy to clean, store and already comes with a fermentation/bubble cap. Winter is the perfect time of the year to use your garage as a type of cold room for a white wine fermentation, the cooler temperatures act as a natural and more cost-effective cooling system for your fermenter. In summer, I think red wine would be a better option due to the much warmer and more ideal temperatures.

The kit I have strongly suggests (they tell you…) that you rack your wine a few days after inoculation. They reason that this is due to the secondary fermentation that should occur straight after fermentation, yet they supply consumers with no malolactic-bacteria and the Shiraz reserve is pasteurized. It is also said that one should rack again after an additional 10 days, a full secondary fermentation/MLF in 10 days? – A winemaker’s dream! I would therefore skip this step altogether, this also lowers the risk of oxidation inside your fermenter and increases the palatability of the final product.

During the garage winemaking process, I would also suggest that you collect as many empty wine bottles as possible. It isn’t necessary to buy new bottles, as you can sanitise the used ones before filling and sealing them with a cork. Corks can be sourced online and are also fairly inexpensive. If you prefer beer to wine, fear not, you can also use beer bottles and screw caps. These offer a perfectly sized portion of wine (2 glasses) and can be enjoyed chilled, straight out of the bottle! If using screw caps, it is important to remember that wine can continue fermenting in the bottle, even if fermentation appears to be complete, for this reason I would suggest that you drink the wine as soon as possible.

It is incredibly difficult to produce a faultless wine from one of these kits, due to the constant risk of contamination as well as a higher oxidation risk. It is my personal belief that any garage winemaker that can produce a drinkable final product, should consider furthering their skills by taking a winemaking course or making wine in a cellar. If your wine isn’t drinkable, remember that you can always cook with it instead!

Garage winemaking is incredibly fun but unfortunately falls short in comparison to the cellar. There is nothing quite as exciting as hand selecting your grapes and being elbow deep in fermenting skins and juice doing punchdowns.

After my first harvest, I quickly learned to stop apologising to every winemaker I met for my tannin and red-wine stained hands, mostly because everyone else’s hands looked exactly the same! Feeling small berries burst as you push down on the crush-cake in the basket press and watching deep purple droplets splatter out against your ‘harvest jeans’ cannot be replaced by diluting grape must in your garage.

It is also a lot easier to control the wine and fermentation process in a cellar, with Carbon Dioxide tanks at the ready to combat oxidation, and temperature regulated tanks to ensure optimal fermentation conditions, it’s hard to go wrong. Winemaking is by no means an easy task, you are constantly kept on your toes and have to watch your wines like a parent watches a pre-schooler with a pair of scissors – on high alert and ready to pounce if something goes wrong.

I don’t think anything can quite compare to the anticipation of popping the bung on an oak barrel, religiously checking up on your wines and watching them improve weekly. Wood chips in a plastic fermenter just aren’t the same. If you are a wine enthusiast, a wine drinker or even just perhaps a curious bystander, the garage wine-kit can be a very exciting and new process to try. If you are a winemaker, it may be a bit difficult to overlook the minor things like, “do not rehydrate the yeast” or “leave an air gap of about 1 litre”, but I would like to encourage and challenge you to give it a go. Even if the final product isn’t amazing, it is still a very entertaining and enjoyable experiment!

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Using MLF to create a buttery wine or not

by Natasha Pretorius, Lynn Engelbrecht & Maret du Toit – Wineland Media

Various factors influence the amount of diacetyl, acetoin and 2,3-butanediol produced during fermentation impacting the buttery aroma.

Malolactic fermentation (MLF) is a secondary fermentation carried out by lactic acid bacteria (LAB)This process can occur spontaneously or can be induced by using MLF starter cultures. Currently, the commercially available MLF starter cultures belong to the species Oenococcus oeni and Lactobacillus plantarum. The use of starter cultures to induce MLF is preferred to avoid the risks associated with spontaneous MLF. The starter cultures can be inoculated simultaneously with the yeast, known as co-inoculation, or after the completion of alcoholic fermentation, known as sequential inoculation. MLF is a desirable process as the decarboxylation of l-malic acid to l-lactic acid and carbon dioxide decreases the acidity and increases the microbial stability of wine. This process also influences the organoleptic properties of wine.

In addition to malic acid, some MLF starter cultures can also degrade citric acid usually present in grape must at concentrations of 0.031 g/ℓ to 0.42 g/ℓ. The metabolism of citric acid leads to the production of acetate, d-lactate, diacetyl, acetoin and 2,3-butanediol (Figure 1). The production of acetate is one of the reasons for the 0.1 g/ℓ to 0.3 g/ℓ volatile acidity increase during MLF as citric acid metabolism is linked to malic acid degradation.

Figure 1.


When present at low concentrations, diacetyl can contribute to the complexity of wine. Diacetyl has a buttery aroma which contributes to wine complexity when present at concentrations above its sensory threshold value of 0.2 mg/ℓ to 2.8 mg/ℓ. However, high diacetyl concentrations above 5 mg/ℓ can give rise to an overwhelming buttery aroma that masks the fruity and/or vegetative aromas in wines. Diacetyl can be reduced to the less sensory active acetoin and 2,3-butanediol (Figure 1) with much higher sensory thresholds of 150 mg/ℓ and 600 mg/ℓ, respectively. The reduction of diacetyl to these compounds is therefore encouraged during winemaking if a buttery style wine is not wanted. Several factors influence this reduction, as well as the sensory perception of diacetyl in wines.

A few of these factors include:

Composition of grape must

The grape must composition influences the concentrations, as well as the sensory perception of diacetyl. There are three main components of grape must that can influence the diacetyl concentrations during fermentation. These components are:

  • pH

Diacetyl is more rapidly reduced to acetoin during the fermentation of grapes from warm climate regions that have a higher pH. Wines from these regions might therefore have less diacetyl than wines from cool climate regions that are usually associated with a low pH.

  • Citric acid concentration

Grape must with a higher citric acid concentration leads to increasing concentrations of acetate, d-lactate, diacetyl, acetoin and 2,3-butanediol. Excess acetate and d-lactate causes over acidification and inhibits bacterial growth thus prolonging MLF. A longer MLF duration can result in more diacetyl being produced during the fermentation.

  • Phenolic compounds

Several studies have previously indicated that diacetyl in white wines was less stable and more likely to be reduced to acetoin and 2,3-butanediol than in red wines. However, the buttery aroma of diacetyl is more likely to occur in white wines than in red wines, due to the presence of phenolic compounds such as p-coumaric, caffeic, ferulic, gallic and protocatechuic acid. These phenolic compounds lower the buttery aroma in red wines by binding to diacetyl.


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Meet Hattingh De Villiers, Winemaker Muratie

Q. When and where were you born ?  

“I was born in Vredendal on 11th January 1958.”

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

“I did a B-agric Cellar Technology, Oenology and Viticulture at Elsenberg and then went on to complete a postgraduate diploma in business management at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. Also attended the Michael Fricjhon Wine Judging Academy.”

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

“I believe  in simplicity. Every vintage differs from the previous, thus working  with what nature gives you, no recipe and not getting too technical. Let the wine speak for itself.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“Muratie is a small, hands on, family farm, we do everything from grape to bottle ourselves. So I spend a lot of time  in the vineyards , and it is important, because  you can only make a wine as good as your grapes, so you need to put in  the effort to make sure the latter is excellent.”

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

“Yes. Sauvignon blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, “

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

“ I worked at a small but high quality estate, Chateau Montelena in the Napa Valley where  their no-nonsense  approach to making wine without a recipe, according  to what the vintage and conditions yield, was very influential for me as a young winemaker.” “I also took in very different experience at Bleasdal Vineyards in Langhorne Creek  in Australia.” He continues “My local experience at Opstal in the Breedekloof, at Morgenhof in Stellenbosch and Siedelberg in Paarl all played their part.”

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

“Empowering  and hopefully inspiring my cellar staff.”

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

”No secrets. Necessarily, but I have learnt that less is more when it  comes to wood, you should let the natural characteristics of the wine shine.”

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

“Technology  shouldn’t  dictate  your winemaking decisions, but the best modern equipment certainly helps make your life easier and can improve quality.”

Q. How do you keep fit ?

“Getting around the farm and cellar and a young family keeps me pretty fit along with some jogging around the surrounding Simonsberg hills with my Border Collies .”

Q. In general ?

“I have been fortunate  to travel and work at some fine overseas cellars but I still have a lot international wine destinations on my travel bucket list  and a lot I want to learn. I also have a lot of other interests away from wine and I love golf and hunting. Very important is spending time with my wife, Leonie  and darling little daughter and family and friends.” After some thought “I really enjoy eating good food and drinking good wine and being in the company of my family and friends.”

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The jetsetter

During the June/July holidays, I had the privilege of traveling to Dublin, located in the heart Ireland country; it truly was a breath taking experience. Being a wine lover/maker, it was my first opportunity to really get a grip on whether or not international wine (Irish wine) was worth bragging about. During my short stay in Ireland, I ate too much and spent most of my time trying to get past their self-proclaimed beer and ever enriching Irish culture.

Oh yes, wine, well in my personal opinion, which is an opinion that means quite a lot to me from time to time, I could not understand how the Irish got their famous phrase, “The luck of the Irish”, if wine is so far down there To-Drink-List. However, I looked past this little blunder of theirs and decided to pack as much as I could into the short 8 days I was there for.

So let’s face the facts here, we would all much rather crack open a full bodied, high tannin wine and enjoy it over some good company, thick steak and a light salad, sprinkled with balsamic sauce. Guinness Pints were at the forefront, along with imported beer form Amsterdam, which I highly enjoyed. Traveling to any country abroad and being proudly South African, you will always have moments where you reminisce about your homelands, as our summers and farmland atmospheres that are decorated with green vineyard patterns mountain views are hard to forget.

Ireland and me got on just fine, as I fell in love with the finer details that lined the inner city of Dublin. On my 3rd day, I was quite sick of drinking their delicious beer, so I decided to do a quick personal research manoeuvre at a local grocery store. In desperate need of a bottle of red, I scanned the shelves from top to bottom and ended up buying an imported French bottle of wine for €8.99. Okay, so it was French, but being so close to France I might as well. Needless to say, the cheapest bottle of wine did not meet my expectations.

While drinking my overpriced French wine under the night haze of Dublin, I could not come to grips with the fact that 5th century monks at the Cistercian monastery in Co. Kilkenny planted vineyards, attempting to produce wine, but today, Ireland’s wine industry is not one to write home about. Strangely enough, Ireland is now listed as a wine producing country and has actually benefitted from global warming, slowly heating up their 2 weeks of sun they call their summer. With global warming heating things up, the country has slowing been emptying its pints to fill it up with ‘Lusca’ as it is commonly known as. Lusca is an Irish wine produced by David Llewellyn in Lusk County, Northern Ireland.  I was unfortunately unable to get my hands on a bottle of Lusca.

Besides the Lusca, another wine that caught my attention was Móinéir. Winemakers, Pam and Brett (originally from Napa Valley, California) are responsible for establishing fruit wines in the Wicklow Mountains. They produce two types of wine being, strawberry wine and blackberry wine blended wild elderberry juice. They use up to a 150 berries per bottle of wine which celebrates Ireland’s beauty and bountiful countryside. A bottle of Móinéir roughly costs between €20 to €25.

Before I knew it I was boarding the plane back to South Africa, I was very pleased to discover that a full 3 seat row waiting for me. During take-off I immediately fell asleep. Upon waking up half an hour later I was unpleasantly surprised to find a gentleman sitting at the end of my row.

A few hours later, the man leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder. We got chatting and I soon learnt that he was from India on a three-day business trip with his colleagues. They had previously been on an airplane for nine hours, six more to go.

Later that evening an air hostess passed us and ask if we wanted anything to drink. So I, of course being wine deprived, asked for a glass of wine. My friend from India did the same. He explained that he was not a wine drinker and it was not common in India. I explained to him that I am studying BSc Viticulture and Oenology in Stellenbosch. By the time we reached Cape Town we were three glasses in and had exchanged travel itineraries. I told him to try to make time for a wine tasting or two and recommended a few farms in Stellenbosch and emphasised the Constantia wine route, seeing as it is the oldest wine route in South Africa.

Surprisingly, a few days later I received an email form my Indian friend informing me that he and his colleagues were on their way back to India. He closed off his email stating his newly found love for wine. I felt very proud and even more impressed with South Africa and our high quality wines and wine makers.

During my short trip, I learned that wine is the true jetsetter. Breaking down international boarders and creating the perfect opportunity to start a conversation with a stranger. South African summers are happy warm and festive where in Ireland I learned that even the coldest of summers can produce something heart-warming.

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Is barrel aging even ethical?

Yes, I know that does sounds like clickbait. While it may seem I am writing a promotion piece for Greenpeace, or a stainless steel tank company, this piece is coming a different angle, so to speak. In fact, I cannot even name a steel tank company off-hand. The title question may send tingles of annoyance, or smirks of dismissal, but it begs the question: is barrel aging in new oak a flavour enhancer? Well, yes, factually this is true. Is it cheating, in so far as creating a product not created from grapes, and thus….fraud? Yes, but no one cares – and that’s frankly over dramatic and hyperbolic. However, lets explore…

Not too long ago, a scandal took place, involving flavour additives/concentrates being added to Sauvignon blanc. The concentrate was wholly organic – pressed straight from a fruit, or blended or whatever. The details differ, the source material (the fruit) remains the same. The process and product was harmless. The offense lay in the perversion of industrial honesty, whatever that is.

Bureaucracy is a theatre stage, the paperwork props and curtains can often distort right from wrong; presentation and delivery often create their own morality. Our friends above were none too subtle, had they used pepper stems or something a little more creative, I’m sure their careers may be more intact.

In my opinion – and I think this is indisputable, when scrutinised – barrel extraction and pouring green pepper concentrate into wine are identical process, when we speak in terms of intentions. They are both literal flavour additions, the latter technique just lacks refinement. Yes, barrels have a multitude of other benefits, most notably, micro-oxidation, but the toasted oak extraction is often the most desired benefit – else, why spend such money on new oak? As a point of consideration, micro-oxidation might also seem like a flavour additive, but now you can see the rabbit hole digging itself. We shall remain more direct in our examples.

Moving to something less direct, but far more profound, we can consider sulphur. The effect sulphur dioxide has on wine is without parallel, hence its ubiquity. It’s an antioxidant, antiseptic and a colour stabiliser. A wine with a good sulphur wack six months down the line, tastes very different from one without. The common mantra is that a bit of sulphur keeps the wine’s integrity. From here, we start to enter the realms of metaphysics: sulphur is a preservative, it cuckolds oxygen and bullies microbes, as such, it keeps the flavour mutators at bay and therefore, whatever flavours that were there already, in place. So are we preserving grapes or are we creating wine? Wine is not grape juice, it has been transformed. We strive so hard to preserve these grape flavours with careful oenology, and yet try equally hard to ensure our wine is as wine-like as possible. Something of a paradox.

Setting the riddle of sulphur aside, its pure effects are powerful. Furthermore, sulphur itself is a nasty chemical to boot, and yet we allow it. While I have got sidetracked on the issues above, the takeaway message is one of hypocrisy. Some products are permitted for manipulation of wine and some are not, for seemingly inconsistent reasoning. Some have more direct flavour effects than others, though direct or indirect it doesn’t matter, the only reason something would be added to wine would be to influence the organoleptic properties of the wine, as that is the ultimate purpose of the stuff. Wood has heritage, sulphur is too important to skip. Adding green pepper juice is perhaps just a push too obvious, too direct, too in slavery to marketing: an offense to the art. There seems to be a line here, that divides wrong from right, but it is very skew.

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Uncorking Hidden Treasures

For the novice wine drinker, the world of wine can be quite a daunting place. With all the lingo and jargon like tannins, blanc de noir and terroir, it can be as confusing as learning a new language. And then we haven’t even talked about the wines themselves yet. The endless amounts of cultivars out there might make it seem like an impossible task to familiarise yourself with them. But, as with learning a new language, all it takes is practice, practice and more practice! As I have written a previous blog about the most common wine cultivars in South Africa (see ), I thought it would be good to tell you a bit more about the lesser known cultivars that you might stumble upon at one of our amazing wine farms. And once again, the pronunciation of the names will also take practice, practice, practice.

Viognier (“vee-own-yay”)

This white grape variety has its origins in France, but its popularity here in SA has grown substantially over the last couple of years. The wines made from this cultivar can be slightly on the heavier side of the white wine spectrum. It leans more towards the creaminess of a Chardonnay than the crisp of a Sauvignon blanc, although it can be made in both a creamy and a fruitier style. The goldish colour of this wine is reminiscent of autumn sunsets and that happens to be the perfect time to enjoy this wine (according to me, at least). Aromas of tropical fruits, rose petals and orange blossoms fill your nose when you swirl the golden liquid in your glass and you might experience flavours of ripe peaches, mango or honeysuckle when you take a sip. These grapes are often used in blends to compliment other wines, but it is truly remarkable when it shines on its own.

Sémillon (“sem-ih-yon”)

This very underappreciated white grape is also originally from France, but it was one of the very first grape varieties to make its way to the Cape with the settlers. At one stage, almost 90% of South Africa’s vineyards were planted under Sémillon. But for some, mysterious reason, its popularity declined so much that it is hardly a speck on our statistics now. Some smart people in the industry believe that it might be because of its similarities to Chardonnay and that the old golden girl herself, just out competed the more modest and delicate Sémillon. Much like Chardonnay and Viognier, this cultivar produces wines that are full-bodied and flavoursome, but the flavours you might experience are on the fresher, fruitier side. Green apple, lemon and papaya are just some of these delectable flavours commonly described for these wines. Like Sauvignon blanc, the flavours and also mouth-feel of the wine is determined by the climate the grapes are grown under, i.e. a warm climate or a cool climate. Cool climate Sémillon tends to be more fresh, fruity and crisp, whereas Sémillon from hotter regions are a bit heavier with a creamy or buttery profile. This is the style most commonly found in SA. Its susceptibility to noble rot also makes it a great cultivar to use for dessert wines, like the famous Sauternes from France.

Pinot gris (“pee-noh-gree”)

Although many people believe this cultivar originated in Italy, it too is actually from France. It is also known as Pinot grigio (“pee-noh-gree-joe”) in Italy, where it is one of the most adored wine grape varieties. Another interesting thing about this wine is that it is a white wine made from grey-red grapes. The wines made from these grapes are usually dry, crisp and fresh with excellent acidity. The flavours range from lemon-lime, green apple and nectarines, to riper styles of almonds and honeysuckle. These wines have been cast in the shadows by many wine critics for being “too simple”, but that is mostly because its popularity in Italy and America has led to the production of cheaper, mass produced wines of poorer quality. Luckily for us, we have been blessed with some very good Pinot gris from our own shores so keep a look out next time when you are in the supermarket.

Malbec (“mahl-bek”)

Although this cultivar is also from (you guessed it) France, you will not find many single cultivar Malbec wines in its country of origin. Instead, it is included as one of the five red grape varieties that are used to make Bordeaux style blends (the others are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet franc, Merlot noir and Petit Verdot). It did however, make a name for itself in the Mendoza region of Argentina in the 1800’s and to this day it is known as the home of Malbec wines. The wines that are produced from these grapes are a deep, purple-red colour and have fruity flavours that are dependant of the climate the grapes ripened in. Cooler climates will be more likely to produce wines with flavours of red fruits like cherries, raspberries and pomegranate, whereas warm climates might lead to the development of plum flavours, or blackcurrant. Other flavours that you might pick up on are tobacco, leather, chocolate, coffee and black pepper. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec does not have a long finish (astringent aftertaste), so it pairs very well with lean red meats. Can anyone say flame grilled ostrich burger and a big glass of Malbec? Yes, please!

Carignan (“care-in-yon”)

This medium-bodied red wine has recently become one of my favourites! Originally from France, where it is mostly grown in the Southern parts as a blending wine, this variety was under scrutiny for a long time, because like Sémillon, it used to have a bad reputation for being the main ingredient in some very badly produced bulk wines. But winemakers have gone back to some of the very old Carignan vines and realised that with time, these vines produced grapes of greater and greater quality- of course leading to better wines. Carignan is almost synonymous with fruit flavours like raspberries and cranberries. Nuances of baking spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg and star-anise are just some of the reasons why this wine is considered to be a favourite at Thanksgiving dinners in the United States. This is also why Carignan is famously known as “the food wine”. Its fruity, yet savoury flavours, medium-body and less bitter tannins allows it to compliment lighter dishes like turkey or duck, while it can also stand up to a hearty beef brisket. And although there aren’t many wineries in South Africa that produce Carignan, the ones that do, usually do it really well.

I hope this will inspire you to be a little adventurous when you are at your next wine tasting or just buying wine in the supermarket. There are many more interesting and exciting wine cultivars out there and they are all worth a try- at least once! And as they say; he who dares, win(e)s.

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