FASHFEST 2017 Masthead
WineFeature

Canberra Wine Harvest Festival

Elouise Calabria

Turning fermenting fruit into a delicious alcoholic beverage is nothing short of amazing in my opinion and while I know it happens all the time and with varies fruits and vegetables (yes, vegetables (potatoes) = vodka remember?). I do think the transformation of grapes into wine is well worth celebrating. Or maybe it’s just an excuse to drink more wine…nah, I don’t need an excuse!

The Canberra District Wine Harvest Festival will take place over 11 and 12 April and I for one, can’t wait. I love visiting the wineries at this time of year, there’s such a flurry of activity as winemakers, cellar hands and pickers anxiously race around picking, testing and tasting. I love the sight of crushed grapes bubbling away as they ferment and I love the slightly bready smell that lingers in the air as the yeast eats the sugar and transforms it into alcohol.

So this brings me to the point of this article (hooray I hear you cry), how exactly do grapes transform into wine? While every winemaker will do things slightly differently, here’s the basics – and yes, you can try this at home!

Picking
Most grapes are picked when their sugar levels reach between 12-13.5 per cent. Some winemakers are clever enough to know when the grapes are ready just by tasting them but most will use a device called a hydrometer to measure the Baume (ie sugar) levels. Sweeter wines are the exception to the rule, while some wineries will leave the grapes to botrytis (a type of rot that shrivels the grape – looks disgusting but makes fabulous sticky wine) and some will chance their hand and just leave their grapes on the vine for as long as possible, regardless of sugar levels. The Autumn Gold sweet wine made by Surveyor’s Hill is one such example, as soon as the first Canberra frost hits, they’ll be working quickly to get those grapes off.

De-stemming
Speaks for itself, the grape berries are removed from the stems. Some winemakers leave a few bunches whole, called whole bunch fermentation. The stems can add earthy flavours, giving the wine a bit more structure and character. Eden Road’s 2013 Hilltops Shiraz is one example of a wine made using whole bunch fermentation and well worth checking out.

Crushing
In the good ole days, grapes were crushed by foot, usually the delicate feet of young girls as they were considered the right size and weight to gently ease the juice out of the grape. These days most wineries use machines to crush and create the ‘free run.’ This is the first and purest form of juice, similar in quality to extra virgin olive oil. Of course there are exceptions to every rule and Alex McKay from Collector Wines has this year engaged a ‘foot stomper’ all the way from France to crush his shiraz – wonder what the back label of that wine will read…ripe tannins with a hint of French foot perhaps?! I actually can’t wait to try it.

Eden_road_harvest

Eden Road Winery

 

Pressing
This is where the remaining juice is squeezed out. The more times you squeeze, the less quality the juice is.

Fermenting
Now this is where things really start to get interesting. Without getting too scientific, fermentation takes place when yeast eats sugar in the fruit and turns it into alcohol – magic! During this process, winemakers can put their own spin on things by using different types of yeast (commercial or natural/wild yeasts); different methods (whole bunch fermentation, cold fermentation, co-fermentation, barrel fermentation…I could go on but we’d be here all day). There is also the option of allowing the wines to go through a secondary fermentation called malolactic fermentation which is where sharp-tasting malic acid (think green apples) converts into the softer lactic acid (think milk-based products). If science had been this interesting at school I might have paid more attention!

Oak ageing
Oak is used in winemaking to create particular flavours and textures. Not all wines are oaked and nor should they be as that would be pretty boring! Oak aged Chardonnay’s got a pretty bad rap in the 1980s but used correctly, oak and wine can be the perfect marriage. It is worth being aware that oak is expensive (a French oak barrel costs upwards of $1,000) so it will increase the price of a bottle, unless an inferior product such as oak chips have been used. Not always a bad thing but French or American oak is what the premium wines are generally aged in.

Fining and Filtering
This is where any leftover bits and pieces are removed to create the clear wine you usually see. Various products are used to remove any cloudiness, one of these being eggwhites – think about how a consommé soup is made, same process, just on a larger scale.

Bottling
An exciting but careful process after all that hard work! Most wineries in Canberra use a mobile bottling service which on average fills 5,000 bottles an hour. Just to offer a comparison, Casella Wines in the Riverina has the fastest bottling line in the world, capable of filling 36,000 bottles an hour!

Drinking
That’s where I come in!

So that’s wine making in a nut shell. There are lots of other processes along the way (please don’t crucify me any winemakers reading this) but these are the key steps that most wineries will undertake over the next few weeks and months.

On our wine tour during the Harvest Festival, we’ll be getting up close to the winemakers and seeing some of the above processes in action. There will also be an opportunity for some grape stomping of your own…see here for more details.

The 2015 Canberra vintage is looking like one of the best ever so even if you can’t make the festival, do try get your hands on a bottle or two, or 10!

The essentials
What: Wine Harvest Festival
When: Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 April
Where: Various wineries
How much: no cost to visit, tasting fees may apply at some wineries
Web: www.canberrawines.com.au

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Elouise Calabria

Elouise Calabria grew up on a vineyard in Griffith and, together with her husband Scott, recently begun Vines & Wines - a wine appreciation and tours business. You can contact Elouise at [email protected] or check out the website at http://www.vineswines.com.au More about the Author

  • Liz Posmyk

    Such a wonderful time for Canberrans to celebrate our cool climate harvest! Great post. Thanks!

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