It's Vintage time again and wow, its sure been hot! But overall, we are really pleased with the Hunter Valley Harvest so far.
On January 9th we picked Chardonnay for our Sparkling white base, followed by Semillon and Verdelho the week after.
Despite very different seasons they were both picked at the same time as last year and are showing better acid and are a little more delicate in flavour than 2018.
Harvest time (vintage) is the busiest and most important time of the year for any winery. Picking is determined by the ripeness of the grapes measured by the sugar, tannin and acid levels with winemakers basing their decision to pick on the style of wine they are producing. The weather plays a huge part and can shape the timetable of harvesting with the threat of rain, heat, hail or frost which can damage the grapes and promote various diseases.
Different grape varieties respond to different conditions in their own way. Overall, Shiraz responds particularly well to dry, sunny conditions that favour the ripening of its sugars, that’s why growers in the Hunter Valley love producing wines made from this grape. In Tasmania however, the cool climate resulting from its southerly latitudes and surrounding ocean is highly beneficial to grapes such as Pinot Noir which flourish over a longer ripening period.
Grapes are therefore harvested at different times and, across Australia, Vintage 2019 will vary in timing across the different regions. In the Hunter Valley, the harvest usually lasts about six weeks beginning with white varieties including Semillon, Verdelho and Chardonnay in mid-January, before ending in February with the reds. In the cooler climate regions (Orange and Rylestone) however vintage will start later, usually around mid-March. Most regions will start with their white grapes and conclude with their reds.
Depending on the grape, the region and the kind of wine that a winemaker wishes to produce, the following steps in the harvesting process will vary in time, technique and technology. But for the most part, every wine harvest includes these basic steps:
Grapes are picked
Either by hand or using machinery and transported to the winery
Grapes are crushed
The grapes are then run through a destemmer which removes the stems and crushes the grapes. White grapes are then transferred to a press to remove the skins before fermentation, while red grapes are transferred to fermentation tanks with the skin on, which is what gives red wine its colour
This is the process in which the grape sugars are converted into alcohol. This stage includes adding yeast to the grape juice so that fermentation can take place. The process of fermenting red wine is more labour intensive as the carbon dioxide released during the process causes the grape skins to rise to the surface. Winemakers must punch down or pump over the “cap” several times a day to keep the skins in contact with the juice. After fermentation red wine grapes are pressed to remove the skins and then transferred to age in barrels.
The flavour of a final wine is greatly impacted by the choice of ageing vessel and the duration of ageing. Winemakers can choose from stainless steel vs oak, new oak vs aged oak, French oak vs American oak etc. Ageing can take anything from a few months to several years.
When a winemaker feels a wine has reached its full expression in ageing, the wine is bottled for consumption.