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New World Wine Maker Blog - New World Wine Making Students

Q&A that turned into food for thought

Have you ever had to convince someone to like wine?

Recently I had the opportunity to talk to Matric students about the wonderful industry we are a part of. Some of them had already made up their minds: winemaking was not for them. Others couldn’t take Oenology for religious regions, and others still displayed no interest because they have simply never seen or tasted wine.

They had many questions where I actually had to contemplate why we do what we do and how we do it, and why certain traditions/trends still exist.

Why do you study what you study? When I was younger my parents presented me with a glass of wine to taste. Looking back now it was a full bodied blend with good fruit concentration and well integrated tannins, but to my young uneducated palate it was burny, spicy and generally just unpleasant. I read the label and it read as follows: An elegant full bodied red with flavours of mulberry, cranberry and vanilla oak spices. I remember being furious! False advertising! “if I were a winemaker I would make sure that my wine tastes like exactly what it says on the bottle”. This curiosity and outrage stayed with me so when it came time to choosing my major it was an easy choice. I now know the specifics and technicalities of wine making and my palate has developed to the point where I could probably taste those berries and vanilla in the wine, but I often ask myself: if I had enjoyed that wine, would I still be studying what I study?

What was harvest like? Harvest was one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced in my life. There are many things in theory that they do not teach you about the practice of wine making, for example the hours, no one tells you that sometimes you will have eighteen or even twenty hour days. No one tells you how heavy barrels can be or how many times you will have to measure the balling and stir the same barrel. And yet they also leave out how satisfying it is to walk into the cellar each morning and smell the progress of the different tanks, or when a barrel that has been lagging finally finishes fermenting. See harvest is something you have to go an experience.

What are the lectures like? Well first year is very general, going through the sciences and maths basics is tedious but very important and not to be underestimated. The highlight of first year is starting with sensorial analysis, learning how to taste and drink wine. Isolating the flavours and flavonoids in class is still one of the highlights of my university career.

What is industry like? Our industry is romantic and industrious at the same time. It has untapped potential that has a broad horizon. As graduates we can go into Winemaking, Viticulture, wine marketing, being a sommelier, wine buying and selling, biotechnology, not to mention the massive opportunities we have in the hospitality industry and that is just to name a few. You will learn a lot very quickly and the more you know the more you realise how little you know.

What is your favourite part about your course? Wine making is difficult and challenging. It forces you to think on your feet and solve problems more quickly than they appear. At the end of the day holding something in your hands that you have followed through from the beginning to the end, that you can enjoy with your friends and family, it is one of the most satisfying feelings that you can experience.

I don’t know if I managed to inspire any of them to study what I do. Some of them have never tasted wine before and when they asked me what wine tasted like I thought to myself:  ‘how do you explain a rainbow to someone who cannot see’. Wine is as complex and diverse as the wine industry. I am proud to be a part of it.

I guess I won’t know if I convinced any of them to study Viticulture and Oenology, but the experience taught me that sometimes it is important to just sit back with a good glass of wine and take stock of what it is we really do, why we do it and more importantly how we are preparing potential winemakers and viticulturists for this hard, crazy, brilliant industry we work in.

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Spring has sprung – Daisies, Darling and Drinking

It’s spring across the southern hemisphere, the sun is trying its best to peak out from behind the thin grey clouds that hang over Cape Town while the Suzuki engines are purring in anticipation for the day’s adventure. My parents recently joined the Suzuki 4×4 club, being an adventure fanatic, I couldn’t resist the offer when they asked me if I’d like to join them.

The day started out at the entrance to Groote Post Farm, where the Suzukis rolled in one by one. We had arrived in the Grand Vitara, thinking there would be a few other Suzukis slightly bigger than the Jimny joining us, we were sorely mistaken. Being the only non-Jimny Suzuki in the club, naturally we stood out like a sore thumb, but the crew were welcoming nonetheless. Mr Duckitt (Yes, that Duckitt) started off the morning by explaining to us that the farm has a large area of natural renosterveld, and through the clearing of alien plant species such as port jackson and rooikrans, they have encouraged a huge bloom of natural flora. The wild flowers on this farm sure gave the west-coast national park a run for its money! With splashes of bright orange, dainty pinks and purples and sunshine yellows, it was hard not to be blown away by the beauty of the flowers. The sun decided to grace us with its presence at about 11:30 am, allowing for the flowers to be viewed in their full, colourful glory.

As we turned our heads to face the daisies while driving past, the white flowery fields could easily have been mistaken for a bit of misplaced snow. We slowly drove along the track through the game camp on the farm, as the farm owner Nick Pentz took the lead. Wildebeest and Zebra were scattered in small herds throughout the camp, with a few Bontebok grazing happily between the brightly coloured daisies. The Springbokkies were very alert and unfortunately took off as soon as they saw us approaching however we were able to sit quietly and watch a few of the youngsters playfully prong and pounce around.

We stopped at the top of a hill that overlooked most of the farm, where Nick enthusiastically explained to us that while the farm may be well known for its wine, other crops such as Lupins and Triticale are also actively grown on the farm. He went on to explain the importance of crop rotation as well as how important it is to conserve indigenous flora on the farm. The farm actively works on the removal of alien trees, during the process they have decided not to burn any removed plant material, instead they pile the material over their old growing area. This prevents regermination of any remaining roots while encouraging a small ecosystem through providing a habitat for small rodents, which eat the seeds of the alien plants. He then explained the layout of his vineyard blocks, as bystanders got very excited at the prospect of a sneaky wine tasting before we continued our journey.

Following the interesting talk presented by Nick, we headed towards the cellar, I was sure that excitement was buzzing all around as we made our way to the parking lot near the cellar. Low and behold, an entire tasting had been set up just for us! The scene was set by the surrounding farm buildings that boasted an old Cape Dutch style, a table was set below an old tree that shaded most of the lawn. A flight of wines were lined up, ready and waiting to be popped and cracked open.

Of the wines we tasted, the 2013 Riesling and the 2013 Merlot definitely stole the show. It became very evident that Groote Post wasn’t only passionate about conservation, but also about the wines they produce. Nick is also very clearly involved in all aspects of the farm’s activities, as he went on to explain the wine making process for each wine we tasted, despite not being the winemaker himself. It was incredibly refreshing to meet someone in the industry who is involved in all aspects of the viticulture, farming and winemaking processes.

After cleaning out the cellar’s 2013 Merlot wine stock, we finally headed to our next destination. We drove along a winding dirt road that lead us past a few farms that also had fields of flowers, bright pops of yellow and orange flickered by as we headed towards Darling. We ended off the tour at the Darling Wildflower show, where the smell of boerewors braais drifted through the music filled atmosphere, the beer and wine stands were the easiest to identify because there were crowds of people buzzing around the tents. All in all, it was a great day and a lovely adventure that I can’t wait to re-visit next year when the flowers pop up again.

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The perfect pair?

There are many different wine pairings that we have come to know and enjoy. Food was made to go with wine and wine was made to go with food. Of course one can have the former or the latter but why would one deny themselves the pure art that forms on the palate when the two are combined. We have so many options presented to us as wine enthusiasts: Chocolate and wine, cheese and wine,  cupcake and wine, biltong and wine, ice cream and wine, toffee and wine, marshmallow and wine, Turkish delight and wine and the list goes on! There have even been sushi and wine and curry and wine pairings! But have you ever heard of music and wine pairing?

I had the pleasure of being invited to a music and wine pairing in Swartland. It was hosted in one of the oldest houses in the Riebeek valley. Stepping into it was like stepping back in time with a modern twist. A Fire burning in the library, the smell of old books and the creek of the hardwood floor.  Chairs set up in front of the Piano, modern art hung on the walls and good acoustics as the piano man nervously tinkled on some keys. I was tentative, music and wine?  How will this work, well let me tell you it’s not an experience I will soon forget.

The music was explained in great detail, the lifts the falls, the extensions and the keys the music was played in. All old classical pieces that were technical and impressive as well as enjoyable. He explained technical jargon:

Allegro – An Italian word referring to a quick and lively tempo. It generally has a very upbeat feel to it.

Baroque – Music ranging from the 1600s to around 1750 is generally described as belonging to the baroque era. Examples of baroque composers include Vivaldi, Bach and Handel.

Crescendo – A gradual increase in volume of the music.

Elegy – A piece of music that expresses grief or sorrow.

Forte – An instruction in sheet music to play loudly; often abbreviated as f.

Harmony – When several notes are played together to form chords in some type of progression, it is known as a harmony. In general, harmonies form a pleasing sound.

Key Signature – In sheet music, each section typically shows a key signature. The key signature is denoted as a combination of flats or sharps to indicate the key in which the piece should be played.

Largo – Largo, translated literally from Italian, means broad. In a musical context, it is an instruction to play slowly.

Legato – When notes are played legato, they are played smoothly so that they flow together seamlessly.

Mezzo – Mezzo means half, and it is used in conjunction with other words. For example, mezzo-forte would mean half as loud as normal.

Nocturne – A piece of music that is evocative of night-time moods, usually sleepy or romantic.

Piano – In music terminology, piano is not referring to the musical instrument but rather the way in which music is played. Piano means that it should be played softly. The word ‘piano’ can a suffix to indicate the degree of softness. Pianissimo (pp) means even softer.

Of course we are all here to read about wine, but it’s important to understand these terms so that you can understand how it pairs with the wine.

Pairing was 6 wines with 6 different pieces of music.  The first one was a White blend, lemon, pale and clear, tropical fruit with wood characteristics on the nose, a complex wine that evolves on the palate. This was paired with a complex piece of music that starts off light and simple but as you get to the middle of the piece it escalates into crescendo, this worked well with the wine as the vanilla and oak flavours developed on the middle of the palate. The music switched to legato as the finish developed on your palate, it was long and lingering and smooth.

A different wine we tried was a Shiraz, it was paired with a Nocturne. The Shiraz was dark and ruby, with cigar box and fresh red fruit on the nose, some caramel with a delicious and brooding dark chocolate on the palate. Perfectly paired with the Nocturne, it painted the image of a woman in a red velvet dress singing jazz in a highly esteemed restaurant. The Music evolved with the wine, some forte keys enhanced the tannins and the piece ending in Pianissimo which tickled on the keys just as the red fruit lingered on the palate for a long and pleasing finish.

An interesting experience that would be appreciated most by music lovers and wine lovers, whether it will become a trend or not is yet to be seen but can you imagine playing your sweetheart that perfect song that reminds you of them while sipping on an equally sweet Noble late harvest. There is so much potential in this idea, not only to enhance the image of the wine industry but also to support our local South African Musicians.

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Dessert in a Glass

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.

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The winding road of winemaking

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.

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The Tasting Evolution

By Jenna Higgins.

After recently attending a MCC base-wine tasting hosted by the exclusive Cap Classique Association, I found myself wondering about how much effort goes into analysing and tasting a glass of wine. In my case, wine tasting formed a part of my tertiary education – I loved this, as it gave me an excuse to tell people that tasting wine was “beneficial to my education”.

Basic wine tasting etiquette is taught to wine students in the second semester of their first year of studying, where we are normally all greatly disappointed to find out that it is in fact a common courtesy to spit your sip of wine out, as apposed to actually drinking it. I remember a fellow classmate tentatively asking if we had to “spit with a specific technique”, as if there were some kind of finesse to it.

Following being thoroughly disappointed by the instruction to spit out our lovely class-time inebriants in our first year, we were then introduced to the concept of blind tastings and cultivar identification in our second year. To be fair, though, they started us off easy, we simply had to taste wines out of blacked-out glasses and determine whether the wine was red, white or pink (rosé). Initially, while some of us struggled to identify more than two prominent aromas on the wines, it soon became apparent that some of our fellow classmates clearly had a little bit more tasting experience than the rest of us.

After slowly introducing our tastebuds to wine, our senses were further stimulated with small foil covered bottles, each containing a different wine aroma. We then had to identify the various aromas that lay within each bottle. Aromas such as chocolate, cinnamon, orange blossom, guava, pineapple and peach were easy to identify, while others such as elderflower, jasmine, quince, violet and tomato leaf were more difficult. Most of us had never smelled these scents before, it was an entirely new experience. On a side note, I still can’t pick up guava aromas to this day (I was told everyone has a ‘blind spot’ on their nose, I guess that’s mine!).

Once our noses had been calibrated, the tastings advanced to a combination of bottled aromas and cultivar specific wines. We were asked to identify which aromas presented themselves in the wines, after smelling the varietal’s characteristic aromas in the bottles. Gradually, we came to associate Sauvignon Blanc with either guava, passion fruit and gooseberry, or on the greener spectrum, elderflower, lemon grass, asparagus and green peppers. Pinotage became recognisable by aromas of strawberries, mocha, banana and plums, and so we learnt how to distinguish between cultivars based on smell.

Colour analysis was the next step in our wine tasting journey, where we would soon come to realise that not all rosé was actually classified as rosé, and red wine could be as dark as midnight or as light as cranberries. At the time, it seemed fascinating that one could distinguish between cultivars based on colour (while the wines bouquet was still kept in mind), a few years down the line this concept appears to be entirely logical and almost of a second nature when tasting.

Things got really interesting when the WSET team took over our midday tasting praticals, our palates were tantalized by wines from Italy, France, Spain, New Zealand, Chile and many more. We were taught to differentiate between acidity and astringency, as well as primary, secondary and tertiary wine aromas. Here, we also learnt that wood tannin and wine tannin are two completely different things and that their influences on the palate also vary.

Third year threw us a lovely curveball by the name of ‘wine faults’; we were now considered to be “experienced tasters”, we had levelled up from our first year “gesuipery” and advanced to a more professional level of wine tasting. Up until this point, I was only aware of cork taint, though I had little to no skill when identifying it in a wine. Picking up wine faults was definitely not my strong point, I kept confusing Brettanomyces spoilage with the TCA derived aromas of cork taint… I even thought the oxidised wines smelled quite fruity. Some of my class mates had better luck than I did and went on to participate in the faulty wine identification course. Fast forward a few months and everyone had successfully managed to gain a sound knowledge on wine faults.

Zoning out of my three-and-a-half-year flash back, I now find myself sitting at a MCC base wine tasting with a table of tasting experts, while I try my best not to let my inexperience show. At first, I doubted myself, much like I did in first year and then as the winemakers around the table began to voice their opinions, I noticed that many were similar to what I had written on the page in front of me. Although I wouldn’t quite consider myself to be an experienced taster, looking back at the hard work my lecturers  have put into refining the palates of generations of winemakers-to-be, I can’t help but to feel a tingle of excitement for the years of learning and development to come.

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