Here we have articles written by various members of our team designed to share our passion and hopefully teach a little – about everything from the vineyard and production in the winery to cellaring and wine and food matching. Most of all we welcome questions from you to fuel this section of our website: firstname.lastname@example.org
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE VINEYARD IN APRIL: On to the Reds!
The sugar content of the red berries is increasing slowly and berries become obviously sweet to taste. We generally harvest our reds in early April, however this year will be late February to early March due to the warmer weather, finishing with Cabernet Sauvignon mid to late March. Harvest dates are significantly influenced by the weather. This is a very anxious time for viticulturists and winemakers as the weather can play havoc with so much hard work and possibly brilliant wine!
All the whites have been picked early this year. The Sparkling wine base is in barrels fermenting and so is the Reserve Chardonnay. We have some Sauvignon Blanc also fermenting in barrels.
Nets have been moved from the whites onto the Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, to prevent bird damage. Birds are chased out from under nets where necessary (by well trained vineyard dogs if they’re around!). Samples are continually being collected for analysis and harvesting continues around the clock.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE WINERY IN APRIL: Fermenting Furiously!
Fermentation is well underway for the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The majority of the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks to maximise freshness and fruit flavour. A small portion may be fermented in older French oak barrels to impart texture to the finished wine. Fermentation temperatures are used to control the speed of fermentation and generally range from 13-18 degrees celcius. There are about 100mil yeast cells in 1ml of ferment liquid at the peak of fermentation.
The Sparkling wine base is in barrels fermenting and so is the Reserve Chardonnay. We have some Sauvignon Blanc also fermenting in barrels.
By early March, our Chardonnay has finished fermenting and remains in barrel to begin its 12 month maturation, further developing flavour and complexity.
Our reds generally take 7-10 days to ferment, getting pumped over two or three times in a twenty four hour period for oxygen exposure (for yeast vitality) and for colour and tannin extraction. Additions of nutrients, in particular nitrogen, initially will be added. When they finish ferment they may sit on skins for several more days and will then be pressed and racked to go into barrel for malolactic fermentation. Racking refers to clear wine/juice being drawn from above the solids that have settled in tank or barrel and further clarifies the wine. Centrifuges or filtration units may add to clarification. MLF or malolactic fermentation occurs when lactic acid bacteria convert malic acid to lactic acid. All reds must undergo MLF and full or partial MLF is a stylistic choice winemakers have for white wine, particularly Chardonnay. When MLF is used for Chardonnay production the “malo bugs” as they’re affectionately known will produce compounds that add complexity to the wine, such as diacetyl which produces a buttery flavour. Saracen Estates Chardonnay will only occasionally have partial MLF to reduce acidity.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE VINEYARD IN JANUARY: Lush Green Growth!
Late November, early December, the vineyard received some storm damage and a small amount of hail damage causing minimal losses. Storms are unusual this time of the year.
The berries are in their rest stage and growth rate slows after several months of intense grapevine activity.
Bunch exposure to sunlight is monitored and leaf plucking is performed where more sunlight needs to get through the canopy to the developing berries.
By the end of January, regular inspections are being performed on the vineyard to collect samples of berries. The berries are crushed to release the juice and the sugar concentration is measured by a hydrometer (in the lab) or a refractometer (in the vineyard) in units of Degrees Baume or Degrees Brix. The measure of sugar concentration gives a rough idea of the potential alcohol level of the wine, giving a broad guide to the style of wine.
Transpiration rates of water loss through the leaves is also monitored and controlled irrigation applied to maintain efficient leaf function to prevent the vines becoming stressed out.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE WINERY IN JANUARY: Starting to think about Vintage!
It is the quiet before the storm…
Barrels are being purchased and checked and the winery is getting prepared for the arrival of vintage.
Hiring and training of cellar hands begins. There is lots of cleaning and sterilisation taking place in preparation for the big event.
All the equipment has been checked and serviced and is ready for the first grapes to arrive into the winery. This will be the sparkling wine bases.
In the background our Chardonnay is continually being assessed in stainless steel tanks where it is undergoing cold stabilisation and protein stabilisation in preparation for bottling in January.
Our Premium reds are also getting prepared for bottling and undergoing fining, blending and filtration. The Reserve wines are still enjoying their stay in barrel until later in the season.
For more information on fining agents in wine please see the article at the end of this section.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE VINEYARD IN OCTOBER: Growing Furiously!
The vines are in a highly active stage of growth. On the shoot of a vine there are new clusters of flowers. One cluster could have hundreds of flowers. Between 5-50% of the flowers become fertilised by the hard work of bees and bear bunches of grapes with 20-200 berries.
Shoot thinning is underway, removing unwanted shoots from the vine canopy in order to open the canopy reducing vine disease risk and increasing sun penetration to achieve the desired yield.
By the end of October and starting with our Chardonnay, canopy wires are lifted to help direct and support the vine growth.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE WINERY IN OCTOBER: Sharing with the Angels!
October follows a similar pattern to September, as all wines are continually assessed for development. Wine production is very labour intensive and racking particularly so. Each barrel must be pulled out of climate controlled storage and laid out using a forklift. Pumps and hoses are set up so a racking spear can be inserted into each 225L barrel (called a barrique), from where the wine is pumped to tank. Once a barrel is empty it is turned over to allow any lees to drain, then is cleaned and drained again. When all the barrels are empty and clean, the wine is assessed in tank, adjustments made, then pumped back to barrels. It is a lot of emptying, filling and cleaning! There are also certain times of the year when assessment and alterations are made to individual barrels. Barrels are also topped throughout the year to ensure they remain full and the wine does not become exposed to oxygen. Even at perfect temperature and humidity some wine will be lost to evaporation and this is known as the “Angel’s Share”.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE VINEYARD IN JULY: Pruning
The vines are either spur or cane pruned by hand, leaving a predetermined number of buds on each shoot on the vine to control yield for the next vintage. Grape vines essentially grow like weeds even though they produce a super premium product—by controlling growth we can maximise quality and flavour even though it means far lower yields than possible.
Here at Saracen Estates, we have approximately 17 hectares of vines on a 40 hectare property. Pruning will see our staff numbers jump up to an average of 20 people, the majority being backpackers from all over the world. It can be hard, cold work in the rain and hail but is of fundamental importance.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE WINERY IN JULY: Quiet Winter Times
Meanwhile, our Chardonnay is still in barrel undergoing regular lees stirring, which usually occurs all the way through to December. If MLF has been utilised to reduce acidity in our Chardonnay it will be finished by now. During MLF 2 grams of malic acid will be converted to 1.75 grams of lactic acid. These acids are also perceived differently on the palate, and MLF also produces other compounds that can add complexity to depth to the finished wine: for example diacetyl which is a buttery character (which seems to be either loved or hated by Chardonnay drinkers!)
Reds will also have finished MLF as we get settled into the cold winter months. A post MLF acid addition may be made to lower ph and increase TA. A post MLF sulphur dioxide addition will also be made. SO2 acts as an anti-microbial and anti-oxidation agent in wine, and together with low pH ensures wine quality and stability. This is the time of year a lot of winery staff take holidays and head somewhere warm!
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE VINEYARD IN MARCH: Vintage has arrived!
Sampling in the vineyard is occurring several times a week for varieties picked first, and increasing for those picked later. When the grapes are of a suitable composition to make a particular style of wine, the harvest date is set, picking begins and vintage has arrived.
Picking of our Chardonnay can start as early as February but usually occurs in March, followed by Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. White grape varieties are picked during the cool of the night or early morning. Red varieties are naturally more resistant to oxidation and heat damage and can be picked during the day. Bigger operations will harvest 24 hours a day when necessary—when the grapes are at optimum ripeness they will wait for no one!
To decide when to pick the grapes Bob Cartwright, our winemaker, considers the acid levels and their balance with the sugar level, however ultimately Bob picks on flavour. Grapes are flavour ripe if they have an aroma and flavour similar to the goal wine style. The types and intensity of characters in berries are assessed by tasting or smelling the juice samples. Both the presence and absence of specific aroma and flavour characters are noted. Berry size, firmness of the flesh, crunchiness and tannins of the seeds and the presence of disease are also deciding factors on when to harvest. All of the above determines if the fruit is style ripe and has the characteristics to produce a particular style of wine.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE WINERY IN MARCH: All hands on deck!
Harvesting involves picking and transporting fruit in bins to the winery where the vineyard staff hand over the efforts of the last twelve months to the winemaking team. White grapes are tipped into a hopper and fed into a de-stemmer crusher where rollers remove stalks and leaf debris from the berries. The mixture of juice, pulp, skins and seeds, called must, is cooled after crushing and pumped to a press. Free run juice that drains freely from the press is collected. Inflatable bladders press the remaining must to obtain more juice. Some of this juice will be added to the free run, while the juice from later in the pressing will be processed separately because of higher levels of bitter compounds and possibly be discarded or added in blending to add complexity.
Our Chardonnay is the first ferment to kick off and takes approximately 2 weeks in oak barrels stored in a cold room. Fermentation temperatures are generally 8-18 degrees celcius. There are about 100mil yeast cells in 1ml of ferment liquid at the peak of fermentation. The most important yeast in winemaking is Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. Put simply fermentation is the conversion of sugars to carbon dioxide and ethanol. Particular strains of S. cerevisiae will be selected for particular grape varieties and wine styles.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE VINEYARD IN DECEMBER: Lush Green Growth!
Our canopy management programme is underway with shoot positioning, leaf plucking, trimming and shaping of the vine canopy to direct energy into the fruit instead of foliage.
Canopy wires have done their hard work, having helped direct and support the vine growth. Wires will remain at that height.
Transpiration rates of water loss through the leaves is also monitored and controlled irrigation applied to maintain efficient leaf function to prevent the vines becoming stressed out.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE WINERY IN DECEMBER: Making room for next years harvest
The winery staff are beginning to think about bottling to make room for the next year’s harvest. Our Chardonnay will be taken from barrel for the last time and transferred to tank some time during December to be prepared for bottling.
The reds are also assessed and transferred to tank to being preparation for bottling. The exception to this is our Reserve Cabernet which will be assessed and moved back to barrel to continue development. This is a different style of wine: the very best parcels of fruit are selected and matured in 100% new French oak to achieve a wine with immense cellaring potential and complexity. The remainder of our reds are designed to be drunk within five years of production and are have now finished barrel maturation: they will however benefit from some time in bottle. In particular tannins will lengthen and soften on the palate and the wine will begin to develop more secondary characters.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE VINEYARD IN SEPTEMBER: Bud Burst!
Pruning is finished.
When the mean daily temperature reaches 10 degrees celcius, the buds burst, becoming shoots bearing new leaves and bunches of grape flowers, starting a new generation in the grape vines.
Chardonnay bursts first, followed by the other white varieties then the reds.
Spray programmes have been implemented in the vineyard to assist with bud burst and to control pest and disease. The most commonly used product is sulphur, and also copper, two natural elements used extensively in vineyard management, including organic producers.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE WINERY IN SEPTEMBER: Spring Racking Programme
General maintenance of wines continues.
After the quiet winter months many wineries embark on a “Spring Racking Programme” where all wines are racked from barrel to tank and assessed.
The laboratory staff perform pH, TA and SO2 checks and sensory assessment is carried out to evaluate how the wines are developing during their oak maturation.
Winemakers will being to think about what fining wines may need.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE VINEYARD IN JUNE: The Golden Hues of Hibernation
The vines are enjoying their R&R, becoming dormant and building up their strength for the next growth cycle.
Bud dissection may be conducted where samples of cut buds are analysed for next year’s potential yields from various different sections across the vineyard to determine what pruning style should be used.
Weed control is kept on top of and general housekeeping is maintained. Canopy wires are dropped, general maintenance of all vineyard equipment occurs. Vineyard staff often take holidays before the onset of pruning.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE WINERY IN JUNE:
Its the busy time of bottling the aromatic whites, for us this is our Sauvignon banc Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
Our Chardonnay is still in barrel on lees being stirred fortnightly, or a little less or more frequently depending on the results of sensory assessment.
Checking and assessing of the reds in barrels continues, during June this mostly involves assessing malic acid levels to see if MLF is complete or nearing completion. The reds are racked and assessed every three months. The wine is tasted first before each racking to evaluate the effects of different oak to reinforce that we have the correct barrels for the desired taste outcome. If all the barrels are satisfactory they are racked to tank, analysed and pumped back to barrel for further maturation until the next assessment and racking.
Oak Use in Wine Making
There are many kinds of oak used throughout the world to mature and ferment wines. The two major types are French and American oak wine barrels.
Many factors influence the character of wine; the vineyard, skill of wine maker, cooper (who makes the barrels) techniques, type of wood, stave (the strips of wood that make the barrel) thickness, barrel size, toast level, grain, cellar conditions, and amount of time in the oak barrel. A barrel can be used for wine making up to about 5 years, when the influence on the taste of wine becomes neutral.
Wine is aged in wooden barrels instead of stainless steel tanks to add aroma, flavour and complexity to wine. Oak barrels release compounds into the wine through extraction of characters from the wood. Oak barrels allow oxygen to contact the wine creating a slow oxidation process.
In the past, the type of wood used in barrels was dependent on tradition, the variety of wine, economics and personal taste. Oak is used almost exclusively in barrel aging of fine wines because it is strong, workable and lacks undesirable flavours and colours. Its tight grain allows gradual extraction of the wood flavours and minimal wine loss in evaporation. It is resilient and staves can be bent without breaking and has a neutral wood smell. Oak is high in tannin which is an important component in flavour with the correct amount, that allows red wines to age with oxygen which would otherwise over oxidise the wine.
French oak comes from forests in Alliers, Limousin, Troncais, Vosges and Nevers, planted in the days of Napoleon for shipbuilding. Each forest has a different density in the wood which gives a slightly different character to the flavour of the wine. Wine makers typically use a blend of wine barrels from different forests to take advantage of each.
American oak can vary within a forest due to growth conditions and age however doesn’t possess such strong regional characters. Oak comes from Eastern USA, from Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon and Virginia. Reputation of the Cooper in his ability to make a uniform product each year, is more important to the wine maker than which state the oak was grown in.
French oak contains more tannins and savoury and spicy flavour components with less ‘oaky’ flavour and smell than American oak, which has more aggressive mouth feel, a very distinct aroma and sweet coconut like flavours. French oak barrels feel silkier and fuller in the mouth while American oak is more lightly structured. Coopers successfully minimise the effect of American oaks harsh characters by applying traditional French barrel making techniques.
Our Wine maker Bob Cartwright chooses New French Oak for our Chardonnay, Cabernet and Reserve Shiraz and Reserve Cabernet. Our Shiraz also has a mix of New French oak, New American oak and some Older French oak. Our Cab Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc in the SBS blend as been in Older French oak barrels.
The whole concept of letting wine breathe, or aerate, is simply maximizing your wine's exposure to the surrounding air. By allowing wine to mix and mingle with air, the wine will typically warm up and the wine's aromas will open up, the flavour profile will soften and mellow out a bit and the overall flavour characteristics should improve.
Which Wines Need to Breathe Typically red wines are the wines which benefit most from breathing before serving. However, there are select whites that will also improve with a little air exposure. In general, most wines will improve with as little as 15-20 minutes of air time. However, if the wine is young with high tannin levels, it will need more time to aerate before enjoying. For example, a young Cabernet Sauvignon will likely require around an hour for proper aeration and flavour softening to take place. Not that you cannot drink it as soon as it is opened, but to taste its optimum, give it more time to breathe. Mature wines (8+ years) will benefit most from decanting and then will only have a small window of aeration opportunity before the flavour profiles begin to deteriorate. In general, the more tannins a wine has, the more time it will need to aerate. Lighter-bodied red wines (Pinot Noir for example) that have lower tannin levels, will need little if any time to breathe.
How to Let Your Wine Breathe Merely opening a bottle of wine and allowing it to sit for a bit is not enough room/surface area at the top of the bottle to allow adequate amounts of air to make contact with the wine.
So what's a Wine Lover to do? There are now 3 options: use a Decanter or pour into Wine Glasses and let sit, or purchase the new Nuance or Vinturi Aerator.
At the cellar door we are stocking the full range of both the Nuance and Vinturi Aerators; for both Red and White wine, Standard Set and Deluxe Tower Sets. The aerator’s patented designs, speed up the decanting process with ease and convenience for perfect aeration in the time it takes to pour a glass!
Whereas the Vinturi operates outside of the bottle, the Nuance is discretely inserted inside the bottle. Both allow your wine to breathe instantly, getting a better bouquet, enhanced flavors and smoother finish. Fast and easy which also works well in the Saracen Cellar door when pouring wines for our customers, whether they want a cheeky little taster or a glass to share with their meal.
For further information feel free to contact our Cellar Door or visit the Nuance or Vinturi websites www.nuancewineaerator.com or www.vinturi.com.
The Chemical Compound Connection
Kiwifruit, Passionfruit, Pepper and Blackcurrant? It isn’t just the way our minds like to describe wine, but there are also chemical compounds found in fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices, that connect us to those descriptives.
Sauvignon Blanc is often described as tropical fruit, passionfruit, capsicum and asparagus. Tropical fruit are given their aromas by sulphur containing compounds called Thiols. In Semillon, the smell of fresh cut grass is Hexanol and very grassy is due to high levels of Hexanol. The link between capsicum and asparagus, and cool climate Cab Sav and Sav Blanc aromas, is Isobutyl-methoxypyrazine. For the black peppercorn traits in cool climate Shiraz, you’ll find a compound called Rotundone. Raspberry characteristics in Pinot Noir and Cab Franc, have in common Beta Ionone. Butter and butterscotch in cheese flavour is the Diacetyl found in Chardonnay that’s been barrel fermented. Rose petals, lychees, Turkish Delight! It’s Cis Rose Oxide (a Monoterpene) that is connected with the Gewurztraminer grape. Another Monoterpene, Linalool is found in citrus fruit, flowers and Riesling.
Secondary characters like oak matured wines, both red and white, have a vanilla aroma and Vanillin is found in oak wood. Coconut aroma comes from Lactones and oak barrels contain Oak Lactone.
Aged white wines can sometimes have a kerosene character from TDN (Trimethyl Dihydronaphthalene) which diesel and kerosene also have similar.
The delicious black currant flavour of Cabernet is thanks to (DMS) Dimethylsulfide.
So there is more to it than meets the… mind and in the descriptives, that literally are, on the tip of your tongue.
With thanks to our friends at Gourmet Traveller Wine and their info from the AWRI.
Stopping to smell the roses
One of the many questions asked of the cellar door members here at Saracen Estates is why we, and many other wineries, have roses at the end of each vineyard row. Yes they are there to add to the aesthetics and ambience of the vineyard but there are also a few different theories, depending upon who you ask, as to why roses are planted.
Theory 1: The roses act as a habitat for beneficiary insects, like lady birds, which are a natural predator against some small vineyard pests like the soft scale. Scale is attracted to and grows on the green woody parts of the vine and draws nutrients from the sap that it sucks out of the vine. Scale in itself is not too horrific but the result of having lots of sugar rich sap on the vines is much worse attracting bigger pests and more disease like moulds and mildew into the vineyard.
Theory 2: Like the canary for the miners, the roses are an early warning system that something could be wrong in the vineyard. The rose bush is more susceptible to diseases like powdery mildew and the end sacrificial roses will develop symptoms before the grapevines alerting the viticulturist to remedy the problem with sulphur before it gets too bad. Also what is happening underground can be reflected by the rose bush so nutrient deficiencies and even problems with the irrigation system can be highlighted in the roses before the grapevines are too badly affected.
Theory 3: It’s tradition! And who are we here at Saracen Estates to ignore tradition.
Check out the photos on our Photo Gallery!
Vintage begins in the Vineyard
The timing of picking in the vineyard is solely dependent upon fruit ripeness. Fruit ripeness is when our wine maker Bob Cartwright sees the balance between optimum sugars and acids and the distinct varietal flavours and characteristics he is looking to produce in the wines displayed through the raw fruit. When fruit is at a premium for wine making it is also highly desirable to small furry vineyard visitors. If you have visited Margaret River in the past months and noticed the ‘nets’ out on the vines, this is to minimize the damage caused by our neighbouring bird life. Not all the fruit is netted as putting the nets on and taking them off is a labour intensive process making it quite expensive. However, with knowledge of the vineyard the vineyard team know exactly where and when to net.
"Chickens & Hens" In the Vineyard
Currently in the vineyard flowering is nearing completion and berry set is in full swing with bunch closure just around the corner. Small green berries have appeared on the vines and these will slowly grow in size tightening up the bunches ready for verasion and ripening. Differences between varietals is quite distinct at this time of year especially when you look closely at all the new development happening.
The Chardonnay has one of the most distinct bunch patterns with a phenomeom sometimes referred to as ‘Chicken and hen’, otherwise known as millerandage. Chicken and hen refers to a bunch of grapes with small and large berries. The smaller berries are considered to make very good quality wine as the flavours, acids and sugars of the grape are more concentrated the larger berries help to increase the yield. Our winemaker Bob Cartwright agrees that chicken and hen is an indicator of good quality.
Also at this time of year the vineyard crew is closely watching and monitoring the yield of the grape varieties, counting bunches and using historical data to predict the cropping levels for 2010. This year the cellar door team went out into the field and did a few predictions of their own! With much more experience and patience the vineyard crew might have the more accurate figures, however only time will tell.
The Vineyard Springing into Life
Over Winter the vines experience a period of dormancy where the internal metabolism inside the vine slows right down. This gives the vineyard team a chance to control the vineyard yield for the next vintage through pruning. Pruning removes old growth and leaves behind important 'buds' which is where all the growth starts next season.
With Spring comes a very important change in the vineyard, 'Budburst'! The first indication of budburst is fluid leaking from the apparently dormant buds left behind after pruning. Buds then swell and appear 'woolly' and green shoots and small leaves begin to grow, at this point budburst is truly underway. During the first month of dormancy all the 'food' used by the vine to grow comes from stores within the trunks and old growth left behind - which is why older vines have much thicker trunks.
The Terroir Debate
The French term 'terroir' refers to the total natural environment of any one vineyard site. An essential notion of terroir is that all components are natural and cannot be significantly influenced by management. However in New World regions, such as Margaret River, there are important vineyard and wine making practices used to manage and maximise the benefits of this natural environment. So does the concept of terroir still apply to New World regions like Margaret River?
In Margaret River, and in fact in many regions new to producing wine, a new term has developed which is very similar to its French counterpart. The word 'site expression' refers to the influence of not only the natural environment but also incorprates the use of current technologies and the effect this has on wine. Vineyards use different techniques to enhance or minimize the effect of the natural environment on the growth of the grapevines.
At Saracen Estates we irrigate during the hottest part of summer due to the poor water retention of the soil to minimize heat stress in our vines. Site expression is the reason you can travel along Caves Road visiting wineries within very close proximity to each other and experience very different wines.
There is much debate about the relevance of terroir to Margaret River and by extension Saracen Estates and whether this new concept of 'site expression' adequately explains the differences found between vineyards. Either way, there is no denying that Margaret River has a beneficial natural environment for producing wine and here at Saracen Estates we believe that it is also a beneficial environment for enjoying wine too!
Fining Agents in Wines
Probably one of the most commonly asked questions of Cellar Door staff is regarding the use of fining agents in wine. The more astute observers amongst us will have noticed that many bottles of wine contain statements regarding the use of egg, milk, nut or fish products. Fining agents are sometimes used by winemakers to make minor adjustments to a wine to improve quality by removing certain unwanted elements. Many fining agents are proteins from natural products such as albumin from egg whites and casein from skim milk. A winemaker will select a specific fining agent for a specific purpose – for example isinglass (a fish product) is often used to remove bitterness and to clarify white wines, and egg whites can be used to remove certain undesirable tannins in red wine. Fining agents are generally removed from a wine when they sink to the bottom of the wine after having bound to the undesirable component, or they are removed by filtration. The use of fining agents in wine is as old as the winemaking process itself, and is an important step in allowing the winemaker to create the best wine possible for you to enjoy!