Excitement bubbles over as the eager new intern arrives at 06:30am, a whole 30 minutes prior to her actual clock-in time. This lasts for about a week; after the second week you’ll be missing your Monday morning 8am lectures and 9am Neelsie coffee breaks (I have now revealed myself as the first-time-intern).
As the weeks speed on through you learn to, in the words of Johan Malan, either “ride the harvest wave, or miss it”. The first few weeks are and always will be tough, with all the MCC grapes ripening simultaneously while other white cultivars pick up the balling-chase to the cellar, just tailing the MCC cultivars. There were always a few nights a week that got my hopes up, encouraged by cheerful cellar workers telling me “ons gaan vanaand vroeg chaila (we are going home early tonight)”, only to have my hopes crushed by the sound of a bursting press door, or a load of grapes arriving at 21:00 because the lorry broke down. Those 3am nights will make or break you, and so, after pushing through some very late nights I thought to myself, “Girl, you need a survival plan!”.
Firstly, you need to be open to making new friends during harvest, mainly because your social life only involves a very deep-felt love for your bed. You will make two very important new BEST friends, their names are Berocca boost (or Vitathion) and coffee. These rock-steady companions will get you through the latest of late nights, the earliest of early mornings and the two-hourly punch down shifts.
When the coffee fails, learn to appreciate the smaller things to get you through the day. Open your senses to the things around you. One morning, after a long shift, I felt completely deflated as I walked past the nartjie trees lined outside the cellar. I hadn’t noticed that they were in blossom; the sweet citrus-blossom aromas instantly brightened up my day and added an extra spring to my step. After feeling so happy for noticing something as small and seemingly insignificant as a delicate citrus aroma wafting outside the cellar, I started to take note of other things too. Morning ballings became a lot more interesting when I realised that the fermentations all offered unique aromas that triggered many childhood memories. For example, one section of the cellar smelled like bubbaloo bubble gum for about a week, while the MCC must happily fermented. Another section of the cellar smelled of raspberries and strawberry jive ice-cream.
Eventually, the MCC and white wine grapes give way to the red wine cultivars, which slowly take their time to roll into the cellar and fill up the tanks. This is a completely different ball game, white wine won’t stain your favourite pair of jeans, let alone your hands. After struggling to get my hands clean for about a month, I finally discovered the beauty of citric acid and tartaric acid. To remove the anthocyanin stains from your hands, once a week to avoid damaging your skin, use either as an exfoliating hand scrub with some warm water. Your hands will be left feeling soft and stain free!
Another helpful hint to all harvest interns out there: if you break a balling meter (or three, in my case), it doesn’t mean your going to be doomed as a winemaker, it just means you were a little bit clumsy and that’s okay! However, if you know you’re clumsy or accident prone, I would definitely suggest a good pair of non-slip boots, they last forever and are definitely a lot cheaper than any potential hospital bills.
Following the non-slip boots, a very important and often over-looked harvest essential is a reasonable amount of good, thick pairs of long socks. You will be on your feet all day, every day. Long socks save you from any nasty heel-blisters, as well as keeping the edges of your jeans tucked in to prevent any chaffing. I am almost certain the winemakers at work think I have a very questionable fashion sense, every day I wear a pair of brightly patterned long socks with my ankle boots, because it not only brightens up my day, but it also makes everyone around me smile to themselves a bit, even if its at my expense.
Investing in a pair of insteps is also a very good idea. After my first month of harvest, my feet started getting quite sore so I removed my hiking boots’ insteps and put them inside of my cellar boots, and it made a worlds difference! I wasn’t getting tired on my feet anymore, which put me in a much more positive frame of mind. See, what did I say about the small things?
Always keeping a hat, a pair of harvest scissors/pruning shears and sunblock handy in your backpack or car is also a good idea, you never know when you’re going to be sent off to explore the vineyards, do harvest predictions, retrieve samples or be asked to cut a few bunches. Always be prepared, don’t forget: working in the cellar also involves the vineyard.
The most important lesson I learned this harvest was that if you push through the hardest parts, you start having a lot of fun. Don’t be discouraged when things get difficult, instead, take it as a challenge. Don’t pine after an “easy” harvest, push through a difficult one so that you will be as prepared as ever if mother nature decides to throw you another curve ball like the 2015-2018 drought. Stay positive, appreciate the small things and have as much fun as possible, because I promise, it is possible.
Consumer wine preference is an oft-studied topic, as understanding wine preference is paramount in determining how to market and sell any given wine. It can also help wine marketers not only observe what consumers like, but also how these preferences can change over time and between different segments.
Often, wine preference is determined via the hedonistic scale, or how much a consumer says they like a particular style of wine. However, research in food and other industries have found that the role of emotions may provide an extra level of understanding in regard to consumer preferences and that this type of analysis may be very useful in wine as well. For example, studies have found many associations between certain flavor types and emotions in various foodstuffs: in dark chocolate, studies have linked “powerful” and “energetic” with cocoa flavor; and in beer, studies have linked herbal flavors with “sadness” and citrus flavors with “disappointment.
According to the authors of a new study, available online in late December 2017 and to be published in print in June 2018 in the journal Food Quality and Preference, there have been no studies linking specific wine sensory characteristics with emotional responses, nor is there a dedicated lexicon for such relationships in wine products like there are with food (i.e. the EsSense Profile). In this new study, the researchers aimed to analyze the associations between sensory characteristics of wine and elicited emotional responses of consumers, further subcategorized by gender and age.
This study had two parts: a sensory evaluation of the wines by a trained panel (11 total: 5 women, 6 men; faculty and researchers from the School of Agricultural, Food and Biosystems Engineering at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in Spain), and a consumer evaluation of the wines with an additional emotional response analysis.
6 commercially-available wines were used in the study: 2 whites, 1 rosé, and 3 reds.
For the sensory evaluation by the trained panel, each wine was scored for various aromatic and sensory attributes using an unstructured 15-cm line scale that had labels “low” and “high” on the ends (with variation throughout the line that could be translated to a specific intensity level of any given attribute). Wines were presented in random order.
For the consumer evaluation, participants were first asked to complete questionnaires on demographics and wine consumption habits. Next, they participated in a “warm-up” or “practice” tasting session with 7 wines presented [blind] at the same time. Finally, after the warm-up, they were presented with the sample of 6 test wines briefly mentioned above.
After tasting the wines (which were presented in random order), participants were asked to rate their liking of each wine (using a 9-point hedonic scale), and what emotions were elicited by each wine (using the EsSense 25 software). Emotions were rated using a 10-cm line scale with the labels “very low” and “very high” at the ends (and everything in between).
Participants were recruited from the School of Agricultural, Food and Biosystems Engineering at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and were required to consume wine at least once per month. A total of 208 people participated in the study (48.5% male, 51.5% female). Participants were categorized by three age groups (for studying potential age effects): young adults (18-35 years old; 44.9% of the total); middle-aged adults (36-55 years old; 29.3% of the total); and older adults (55 years old and older; 25.9% of the total) …
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This has often been slurred after one to many glasses of Chardonnay has been gulped down or heard whilst serving a guest who for the fifth time has not heard you explain that you’ve served them a 2011 Syrah. It may seem like one of those completely obvious questions with the answer simply being: you are smelling wine. It still remains a standing joke in lecture halls when we have our tasting practicals for someone to pipe up that it seems to in fact be white wine in the glass in front of us.
For those who like to dive deeper into the glass and deeper into thought the answer is for more fantastical and complex.
First let’s look at some biology and how the sense of smell works (this is a Crip notes version by an oenology student not a biologist). Flavour molecules slowly evaporate off the exposed area of the wine; these molecules are then inhaled when you sniff the wine. Inside your nose are receptor sites which the molecules are ‘bound’ to. The receptor then sends off an electrical signal that is received by the olfactory bulb and translated and sent off to the olfactory cortex which then interprets the smell of the compounds.
Never be upset when the more advanced taster finds more flavour’s than you in the wine. The more practice you get the more you will be able to differentiate between the different molecules and the more your olfactory cortex will be able to remember that this smell is elderflower rather than just a floral aroma.
The flavours we taste in wine are broken into primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary flavours are derived straight from the grape, some are precursors to flavonoids that evolve during fermentation and others are evident in the final product. These would include your berries and grassy/green notes. Secondary flavours are developed during fermentation; the primary precursors are bound with other ions and evolve into complex aroma characteristics such as volatile thiols and terpenes. These would be the tropical fruit aromas you can identify. Tertiary flavours are developed during maturation in the bottle, on the lees or in the barrel, allowing for smoother wines, cooked fruit, wooden flavours and rising bread.
Let’s go on a journey to illuminate the vastly unknown territory of flavour compounds:
Floral varietals such as Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Riesling contain monoterpenes such as linalool which can be perceived as orange blossom or lavender.
Fruity aromas that can be identified in most young wines are given off by esters. Esters are present in two different forms: Ethyl esters and acetate esters. Ethyl esters are formed during the enzymatic reaction between alcohol and acetic acid. An example of an ethyl ester is ethyl hexonate that gives rise to aroma characteristics such as stone fruit, strawberry, liquorice and green apple. Acetate esters are formed during amino acid metabolism and containing an acid group and a higher alcohol group. South Africa’s very own cultivar Pinotage can sometimes be guilty of having an over baring concentration of the acetate ester: Isoamyl acetate which gives off that infamous banana flavour.
Green and grassy aromas that you either love or love to hate in Sauvignon blanc, Cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet franc and many other cultivars. These can be given off by compounds called methoxypyrazines. Methoxypyrazines are secondary products of amino acid metabolism and are nitrogen containing compounds. There are three major methoxypyrazines that have been identified: Isobutyl-Methoxypyrazines which give off bell pepper and cape goose-berry flavours, Isopropyl-methoxypyrazines which gives some Sauvignon blancs and semillions that cooked/pickled asparagus flavour, and secbutyl-methoxyoyrazines which also gives off green aromas.
Mouth-watering tropical fruit that make wines a bit too easy drinking are formed by volatile thiols. The three most predominant and evident in wines are 3-MH, 3-MHA and 4MMP, they are formed during fermentation by binding precursors to sulphur molecules. Aromas such as granadilla, guava, grapefruit, boxwood and gooseberry are given off by these molecules. They are very evident in Sauvignon blanc, Chenin blanc and Chardonnay.
Now that we have more of an understanding of what we smell it’s important to remember some simple tips to improve your tasting profile. Firstly, a sip or two is more than enough per wine in order to taste it, judge it and see if you love it. Secondly spitting is not gross, it is necessary in order to be able to taste every wine and remain a good level of sobriety toward the end of the tasting. Thirdly, have a designated tasting notes book, it may be hard to recall a specific wine from that tasting at that place that one time, so it’s great to have a reference. Lastly if you would like to expand your taste buds, don’t simply refer to the red fruit you smell in the pinot noir, elaborate: Is it fresh, cooked or cured? Is it a sour cherry or a sweet strawberry? Try and be as specific and elaborate as possible, it will also make it easier to identify a wine you have tasted before.
Q When and where were you born ?
“I was born at Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape on 1st March 1875.”
Q Where did you study ?
“ I have no formal education in winemaking but started in the industry as a cellar hand with Charles Hopkins at the Graham Beck cellar in Franschhoek. While there I did Skop 1,2 and 3 and achieved “Circle of Excellence”. “In 2004 I moved to Meerendal but in 2005 Charles Hopkins invited him to join the new cellar at De Grendel.”
Q. Do you consider your approach to winemaking to be different to others ?
After some careful thought. “I think I am pretty much set in the way I have been taught so I guess what I make is in the cellar style so it is different to others. However, I am always prepared to learn and put into practice what might improve my winemaking.”
Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?
“I suppose not as much as I should but then we have expert viticultural people. However I worked an entire year, 2000 in the vineyard at Bellingham and got to appreciate just how important it is to understand the vineyard.”
Q. Do you have any varieties you prefer to work with ?
“That is difficult to answer as every variety presents it’s own challenges and rewards. I think that Merlot and Sauvignon blanc would be my favourites.”
Q. Have you been influenced by a particular winemaker or region ?
“Obviously Charles Hopkins has been a huge influence in my understanding of wine. He also took me on a visit to Burgundy which was my first overseas winemaking experience. This will always stand as a major influence in my development.”
Q. What would you consider your greatest achievement as a winemaker ?
“I havn’t got there yet. To me everything is still an on going learning experience.”
Q. What “secrets” have you “developed” that makes your wines different to others ?
“No, not really but I am a great believer in terroir and I ensure I am guided by that total concept.
Q. How important is modern winemaking equipment in your winemaking ?
“The equipment is very important and plays a major part in the efficiency but it is the grape that is the most important thing.”
Q. What would your dream be for the future ?
“Wow, my greatest dream would be to be winemaker in my own cellar !”
Q. Any other thoughts ?
“I find it strange that my Dad worked most of his life with Douglas Green in their security and then I became a winemaker working my way up from a cellar hand. It goes to show that if you can motivate yourself and develop nothing can stop your progress.”
Winemakers add bentonite to prevent protein haze in white wines. Although this treatment reaches its goal, it also leads to volume losses and sometimes a decrease in wine quality. The question is: are there alternatives available?
Protein haze – some background information
The removal of proteins is a key step during the production of white and rosé wines to avoid the possible appearance of a harmless, but unsightly haze. Haze formation is an aesthetic problem that consumers usually regard as a fault (e g microbial spoilage) leading to potential economic losses. Proteins that are responsible for haze formation in wine have been identified as pathogenesis-related proteins of grape origin. The most abundant class of haze-forming proteins are chitinases and thaumatin-like proteins and are continuously produced in the grape berry and even more so in response to pathogen attack. Because of their physical structure and properties, these proteins are very resilient and are not or poorly degraded during the course of fermentation. Over time and upon exposure to warm/hot temperatures during storage for instance, these proteins denature and aggregate into light dispersing particles resulting in what is referred to as ‘haze’.
The mechanisms of haze formation has received much attention from researchers over the last decade. It is complex by nature and depends on several factors, one of the most important being the presence of sulphate. The removal of these proteins is usually achieved via bentonite fining, but several issues including volume loss, aroma stripping and sustainability have been identified with the use of this clay. Several strategies have therefore been investigated over the past few years. One of the most attractive alternatives would consist in degrading these haze-forming proteins with enzymes. This is particularly appealing since enzymatic degradation of proteins (protease activity) would not lead to any of the issues mentioned for bentonite and could have the additional benefit of releasing yeast assimilable nitrogen.
Where does one find enzymes capable of degrading haze-forming proteins? …
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You may imagine walking through the vineyards in the early morning light, picking a plump grape off a bunch , looking at its colour, admiring its bloom, pinching it slightly to see how easily the pulp emerges from the skin. The juice crisp and clean to taste and the pip slightly tannic as you bite down on it. The cool atmosphere of the barrel cellar with that earthy wooded smell as you taste a voluptuous shiraz that has been maturing for the last 3 years. The neat promenade of tanks, clean and lined up, awaiting harvest. Yes this may be what you imagine everyday wine making is like, quiet and romanticized.
You may have a more clinical idea, silver labs and weighing boats, refractometers, thermometers and pH meters all in the correct position awaiting calculation. Beakers lined up neatly, reeking of a food safe disinfectant. The store room, tool room and Chemical storage room all fill and perfectly organized, simply awaiting use. All the pipes not in use, simply out of sight until needed. Yes a perfectly sterile environment that never smells of anything but disinfectant and the slight reduction coming of a miss behaving tank. This may be your idea of a working cellar more a laboratory than a cellar.
Well even though some of these elements may appear in the everyday habits of a winemaker, this is not the only part to it. No one seems to talk about the scrub work that needs to be done every day so that you can sit on your easy chair and enjoy that lovely Chardonnay.
Firstly winemakers cannot sleep in, the early mornings are the best time to taste the grapes and take accurate samples. The sample grapes need to be randomly selected and collected which requires a lot of walking, don’t think you can just take 10 bunches from one vine! Those grapes then need to be crushed, the juice settled and then tested for acid, sugar and pH. The juice should also be tasted to see aroma expression. These results all have to be recorded, nothing can be forgotten or left out. This process is repeated twice a week for 4 weeks before the grapes come in.
Speaking of the grapes coming in, all machinery that comes into contact with the grapes must be washed and disinfected, all the nuts and bolts need to be greased with food grade grease, the wires need to be checked and the mechanism must be running smoothly.
The whole cellar should be cleaned (sustainable farming), from top to bottom to ensure no weird flora or yeast are hanging around to contaminate the grapes coming in. Scrubbed from the ceiling to the floor – including the outsides of the tanks and barrels.
The barrels needed for the new vintage need to be emptied into tank, that wine then needs to be filtered and bottled which is an ordeal. The Barrels then need to be checked, marked, rinsed and transported to a facility where they burn sulphur inside the barrel to sterilize it. All transport of barrels needs to be done with a forklift because even an empty barrel is pretty heavy. The barrel cellar then needs to be rearranged with the wines still maturing moved to the back with the new barrels in front.
The pipes that are so neatly tucked away need to be washed thoroughly inside using a foam ball and a closed system of water. Even though the pipes are hollow, they are really heavy! A team of 3 is needed to move a 20m long pipe.
All aerators and pressure releasers need to be cleaned out and checked for rust. Any equipment that comes into contact with the grapes, juice or wine should be sterile!
The chemical store that’s so neat and accessible? A stock take needs to be done and every batch number and expiry date has to be checked and new products ordered and packed. The tool store needs to be cleaned out, broken things thrown away, miscellaneous clutter disposed of and replacements bought.
This described a mere two days of the build up to harvest, its brutal and hectic and invigorating. When you step into a cellar again, remember all the nitty gritty things that need to be done before the grapes can be bought in or the wine can be made. There are the romantic parts, the scientific parts, and the other work that just has to be done. It all intertwines into this beautiful tapestry that is the art of winemaking. Being actively involved in this industry means you have to do each part, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.