Autumn colours swiftly make a splash through the vineyards as winter slowly creeps in on the Western Cape. Driving along one of the country’s beautiful wine routes, one can’t help but gaze at the beautiful canvas-like vineyards, painted with beautiful shades of amber reds, burnt oranges and golden yellows that would make the sunset jealous.
Something else comes to mind as these colours flash in front of me, it’s the season of blazing, wood-crackling fires and dessert wine. Much like the vineyards’ deep reds, I am reminded of a lively, warm Cape Vintage. The infamous South African dessert wine, made in a Portuguese style that mimics Port, yields a flavoursome battle between the sweet, red berry and stewed fruit characters of red wine cultivars and the warm cinnamon, dark chocolate and smoky wood aromas. A Cape Vintage is the ideal dessert wine style for the sweet-toothed red wine fanatic.
The more famous South African anti-freeze, Old Brown Sherry, is loved by many. It has a slight bitterness that cuts through the sweetness of traditional dessert wines, while it creates a small fire that grows in centre of one’s body. Apparently, OBS isn’t only good for the creaking bones of a cold human body in the heart of winter. While visiting family friends, I noticed my mother’s friend, Sandra, giving a small tot of OBS to her well-aged cat, Patsy. I stared in disbelief as Patsy lapped up every morsel of OBS, while Sandra explained that it keeps her nice and warm and provides some relief to her arthritic joints. I am by no means telling anyone to feed their four-legged companions alcohol, but if the little critters are as eager to lap up a drop or two as Patsy is, why not spare them a tiny tot?
This brings me onto our next dessert wine, while the golden colours of the vineyard grow darker its hard not to think of the beautiful liquid gold Noble Late Harvests and Hannepoots. My horse, Sunny, ironically enjoys a drop of sunshine (Hannepoot) every now and then too. Noble Late Harvest dessert wines can be made in two very definitive styles: The sweeter than honey, apricot jam and guava roll-loaded syrupy delight and the tart, yet perfectly balanced, lighter styles that focus more on the stone fruit characteristics while preserving some of the fresh cultivar acidity. Both styles are equally enjoyable, I often find myself enjoying the former with a dense, full fat vanilla ice-cream, while the latter style I prefer in a glass, as a post-dinner delight. What makes Noble Late Harvest different to other dessert wine styles, is that it cannot always be achieved every vintage and relies solely on the climatic conditions and terroir. Botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, is a type of mould that forms in the vineyard under the right micro-climatic conditions. It not only brings intense flavours out of the berries, but it also allows for a much more concentrated sugar level. These wines are often tricky to work with due to their higher viscosity and may take a few filtration and fining attempts to master, however the end result is well worth the hard work and determination.
The orange hues of the vineyard remind me of a well-aged Muscadel, with its sweet scent of raisins and apricots, who wouldn’t love this winter-warmer? I recently tasted a 2009 vintage, which had been aged in small 50l oak barrels for 5 years. The beautiful cinnamon-like scents enthralled with the raisiny sweetness are the perfect plus one for a chilly autumn evening.
Another popular dessert wine style, with a slight fiery kick to it, is the much loved Jerepico. The winemaking process is described as a marriage of the alcohol and wine components, and there is no better way to describe it. The sweet must forms a perfect balance with the warmth of the alcohol, whilst wood aging provides a lovely undertone of nutmeg and cinnamon spices.
Dessert wines are not only enjoyed in winter, I have often been told that noble late harvest wines pair perfectly with a dollop of ice cream on a warm day. These wine styles can often act as a syrup substitute and taste extraordinary when drizzled over various cold desserts. I personally enjoy sweeter wines as a stand-alone dessert, nothing beats a small glass of chilled Muscadel or Noble Late Harvest on a warm summers evening after a braai.
Although dessert wines are not always found on a conventional tasting room wine list, if you do find one or two I would definitely suggest giving them a try. If you are particularly set on a specific wine style, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. A full, hearty glass of Cape Vintage could be just as enjoyable as a full bodied red, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
A Portuguese-based group is suggesting that winemakers could have more useful information about choosing a yeast strain if scientists did a better job of putting together data from different kinds of experiments.
Scientific research generates a lot of different shapes and sizes of data. How does anyone make it work together?
Contemporary scientific research has a lot of big challenges, but here are three: funding, replicability, and integration. Funding is a great big gory topic for another day.
Replicability has seen a lot of attention in recent science news: scientists across disciplines have been reporting difficulty duplicating their colleagues’ results when they try to repeat the same experiments. This is worrisome. (Most) science is supposed to be about making observations about the world that remain the same independent of who is making the observations. Two careful people should be able to do the same experiment in two different places and obtain the same results. Well-trained scientists, however, are finding themselves unable to replicate the results described in scientific papers, and the community isn’t sure what to do about it.
Integration – how to fit together large amounts of lots of different kinds of data – looks like a separate kind of problem. Scientists (microbiologists, biochemists, systems biologists, geneticists, physicists…) study a thing – yeast, say – in many, many different ways. They generate data in many different shapes and sizes, using all manner of different kinds of instruments to make numbers that don’t just tidily line up with each other. But, at least in theory, all of those data are about the same thing – the same yeast – and so finding ways to integrate data from different kinds of experiments should massively improve our understanding of how yeast works as a whole ….
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Q Where and when were you born ?
“1980 in Graaf Reinett, in the north of the Eastern Cape.”
Q Where did you study and what qualifications do you have ?
“I studied at University of Stellenbosch 1999 to 2002 and obtained a BSc in winemaking.”
Q Do you consider your approach to winemaking to be different to others ?
“Not really . I just love the ability that Fleur du Cap gives me to work with an extremely big range of regions and grape producers with their different vineyard blocks.”
Q How involved to you get in the vineyard ?
“Not nearly enough in the off-season, but during harvest I do regular visits to our reserve blocks and will not harvest before our team have tasted and made a call based on optimum ripeness in the vineyard itself.”
Q Do you have any varieties you prefer to work with ?
“I love working with Pinotage and Chenin Blanc.”
Q Have you been influenced by any particular winemaker or region ?
“I have a few people in the industry that I look up to. Charles Hopkins springs immediately to mind. Razvan Macici was a great influence. Most of my colleagues here at Distell are proper stand up winemakers and I love being on this journey with them.”
Q What would you consider your greatest achievement as a winemaker ?
With a big grin “When my wife and father-in-law tell me they love drinking a wine that I make. They started drinking long before I met them and know their wines very well.” And continues “Yes, I have won a few gold medals and trophies over the years, but it is the good feedback from our everyday drinkers that make me the happiest.”
Q What “secrets “ have you “developed “ that make your wines different to others ?
“I think it is the big number of “building blocks” we create during harvest . Using grapes from different regions , using different yeasts, barrels and a few other techniques that we have developed over the years that help a lot when we do the final blending of any given wine. “
Q. How important is modern winemaking equipment in your winemaking ?
“In large scale wine production there is a place for modern winemaking equipment, but when it comes to reserve wines , nothing holds up to good old basics. Attention to detail and patience can’t be replaced by machinery. “
Q. What of your history and the future ?
“Although born in Graaff Reinett I grew up in the Boland . Studied winemaking. Started winemaking at Nederburg in 2003 and moved to the Bergkelder in 2007. Here I have been part of the winemaking team responsible for a pretty big selection of well known wine brands including Fleur du Cap, Allesverloren, Jacobsdal, Lomond, Two Oceans , Drostdy Hof to name but a few ! I am EXTREMELY passionate about winemaking and love being involved in the process throughout the entire process. From grapes and building relationships with our wonderful farmers, working with a dedicated cellar team to standing in the front of a room filled with people, talking about the wine that I helped to make and getting them to taste. Hopefully our story gets them to taste the first bottle. The actual wine will make them buy the next pallet !!
by Geena Whiting.
There was a night this past month in which I battled to sleep. Exhausted from a hard day’s work in the cellar I lay in bed tossing and turning. Sleep eluded me, tentative excitement bubbled in my stomach. The next day I would be getting my very own grapes, to make my very own wine.
The Sauvignon Blanc grapes arrived in the early morning. The grapes themselves were crisp and green, with a medium thick skin that disintegrated easily when chewed and a watery pulp with flavours of tropical fruit and freshly cut grass. Into the crusher de-stemmer they went; anticlimactic as they were led straight from the crusher de-stemmer into tank thirteen by a pipe.
A juice sample was drawn off the tank and needless to say I was underwhelmed and nervous. The juice was murky and had a dusty mustard hue to it. That tropical fruit was still evident on the nose, but a boring green apple was the main flavour on the palate. A sample also had to be drawn to be sent to the lab, and my first mistake happened in this step. Instead of adding 0.08ml of Sulphur to the sample (to prevent it from fermenting), I had added 8ml of Sulphur! So naturally the results that came back were a bit skew. But over the hurdle I went and sent in a new sample the next day (with the right amount of sulphur you will be glad to know).
Two days after settling the juice was a far more pleasant colour, a pale lemon-green with tropical fruit and some bell pepper coming through on the palate. I was feeling more confident, I racked off the juice into separate tubs to add the different treatments (acidifying and de-acidifying the juice prior to fermentation). This was simple enough and then after I simply decanted the different treatments into their respective kegs. The juice was allowed to homogenise over two days and a final sample was taken from each keg and sent in for analysis.
After the two day wait I was eager to get my “keg babies” fermenting. The yeast was rehydrated and the juice inoculated correctly, no hick-ups thus far. On day 2 of fermentation the balling started to drop and like a proud mother hen I fluffed up my tail feathers and clucked around the cellar. Satisfied that this whole wine making thing isn’t as hard as it looks. Well it’s all well and easy to think that when everything is going your way.
Fermentation continued until about day 9, that’s when disaster struck (well in my eyes it was a disaster). The Balling hadn’t changed for the last 3 days, the fermentation was stuck, I was distraught, I had done everything correctly and why wasn’t it working??? Then after some tears and a discussion with my mentor, he suggested it was the cooling system that was making the fermentation sluggish. Yeast need “Warmer” temperatures to ferment effectively, and my kegs were sitting at a very chilled 12°B. Removing them from the cooling system and just letting them sit there the fermentation came right once again.
With them having had a sluggish start, reduction soon followed and daily stirring with a whisk was required for each keg over a period of three days. Needless to say I think I can now whip cream without an electric beater! The reduction soon passed and all seemed well. But this was not the end of the trials, it was not as they say smooth sailing ahead.
Kegs are pressurized containers, so when you have fermenting wines in them, one must never close it fully, otherwise it will be difficult, almost impossible to get it open. And low and behold a keg was closed to tightly, I tried to use the pressure valve to get some air out but it was no use, instead of air wine came bubbling out. In the heat of the moment I viciously kicked down on the lid and BOOM! Out sprays half of the keg… well done Geena, well done. Distraught that I had wasted half of the one keg I vowed to myself to always handle the kegs with respect and love.
Fermentation was coming to an end and everything had aligned itself nicely. Until one fateful morning I walked into the cellar and gawked, looking at the spot where my kegs should have been, and then two meters to the right where they were lined up neatly in the same order I had left them in but open, open to the heavens and the elements. Freshly off the ferment wines just left open. I ran toward them, hoping that somehow they were alright, but hope can be a fickle thing. My once glorious green-lemon wine was now brown with a hint of pink, a slight red apple sherry smell had replaced the tropical fruit. I collapsed on the ground in a heap of tears, the culmination of my entire education had been ruined by a bystander.
Gathering myself together I once again turned to my mentor not thinking it was fixable, and yet he seemed un-phased and simply said sulphur is a winemakers friend. Thus I added 80ppm of sulphur to each get and gave the empty space at the top of each keg a healthy dose of CO2 to prevent any chance of someone opening them or the wine getting oxidized. Two days later I tentatively opened each keg to see the damage, and they were back to their glorious lemon green colour and expressing beautiful aromas. They were saved by some sulphur and are now sitting happily in the cellar awaiting bottling.