I thought I might share a little story on us starting out. Also our first attempts at making the wine now known as Bernard. We were lucky enough to get a photo and write-up in Qantas magazine on this wine last month. Also lucky enough to be flying with them when that issue was in the seat pocket. I must have been the most chuffed person on the plane.
We had an awesome patch of Cabernet at our Blind Corner vineyard, and we wanted to show what it could do. Initially inspired by the famous air-dried grape wines of Europe, we thought this technique would work to calm the big tannins down and disallow the need for fining agents down the track. Easy peasy.
That’s the problem with theory; you have these ideas and wonder why no-one has ever done it before. Probably because it requires lots of work to change stuff. And that work may not…well…work.
The first vintage of this wine was in 2009. I was working at another winery pulling 12-hour shifts 6 days a week so to get our place started. I had the 7pm to 7am shift. Fun. I would then drive to my place and work for a few hours and go home for an 11am beer, a sleep, then repeat.
During this time I built a drying rack for our Cabernet from broken vineyard posts, cable ties and some aviary wire on special. I would pick grapes myself for 2-3 hours and place them on this rack every morning.
After 2 weeks the rack was filled, and about 2 weeks after that it was time for foot crushing. However some birds had gotten under the netting and taken out about 20% of the grapes. Heartbreak.
This was made worse by the fact I triple handled the grapes to get them there: picking the grapes into a bucket, driving them to the back of the shed, then putting them one by one onto the rack, then taking them off one by one back into the buckets to transfer to the fermenter.
The next year I had a plan. Under the cover of darkness (And daylight armed with a case of wine) I managed to borrow all of the bread crates from the back doors of all of the bakeries in the area.
I picked the grapes into these. Genius!
Then I could stack them up. More genius!
Stack them up onto pallets so I could move them inside if it rained. Totes Amaze genius!
But the greatest thing? When I returned the crates to the bakeries after using them it was around Easter. And Easter at bakeries means hot cross buns. So I didn’t need to clean the crates as any residual sultanas could be blamed on the buns instead of my dried grapes. Evil genius!
In 2013, the grapes were drying nicely on the stolen bread crates that I had acquired. It was Sunday afternoon and the phone rang. It was from a local tour guy who wanted to bring some people to our vineyard for a tasting. It was at the tail end of vintage, I was in my tracksuit pants, and we don't really have a tasting area. So I declined.
At the time the Margaret River Pro was on, this is a surfing event that is very important on the world circuit. The tour guy, Johnno, informed me that he had Parko with him and wanted to bring him in. At that point Parko, (Joel Parkinson), was the current world champion surfer, beating out Kelly Slater only in the last event of the year before. He was also my favourite surfer on the tour, along with Taj Burrows of course.
So I said YES! We ended up having Parko & Co do all the heavy lifting and foot - crushing the grapes for us. The 40 odd dozen that we have of this wine is released this Spring, and it doesn't taste salty or waxy at all! (In fact, it is the best one we have made)
The 2011 Bernard was a different story again. And probably my favourite story. Because of the unique process we use to make this wine, we get very high sugar levels, which equates to higher alcohol levels. This means that the fermentation can struggle towards the end, as the alcohol levels start to climb higher and inhibit the yeast doing their thing. That year the alcohol was 15.5%.
All of our wines had been pressed and put to barrel except for this Cabernet. It was really struggling to finish ferment and only had about 20 g of sugar to go. The weekend was coming up and my wife had booked a beach house for a week to celebrate the end of vintage. Of course vintage was meant to be over, if only this one would finish fermentation.
So what was I to do? The beach house was about an hours drive away and the wine required attention twice a day. It wasn't going to be much of a break if I had to drive 4 hours each day. So I came up with a solution.
I packed up the car then hooked up the trailer. I then fork-lifted the half a ton of fermenting grapes onto the trailer and strapped it down. I also cobbled together a small laboratory and chucked that in too along with my plunger for punching down the grapes.
So the whole ferment came on holiday with us.
The one thing that I didn't think of with half a tonne on the single-axle trailer was that I could not disconnect it from the car. So every time I went to the beach with the family the ferment would have to come along. So I ended up taking it fishing, surfing, the shops and to the pub. Not really an issue but the smells that were coming off the back certainly raised a few eyebrows. Especially buying some beer at the local drive-thru, as the whole car (and me) smelt like I had enjoyed quite an amount of wine very recently, and perhaps I should reconsider my purchase and life choices.
I punched it down twice a day and by the Monday morning it was dry. So I drive home, pressed it into barrel, cleaned up and returned to the holiday house.
A year later I was getting the same wine ready for bottle and had to drive the small tank off to the bottling line. However the guys there were running behind so I detoured to Yallingup beach for a swim whilst they got sorted out. Once again I had the wine on the back of the trailer. Perhaps it wanted one final trip to the beach before heading into bottle.
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