What do you do for the rest of the year….?

What do you do for the rest of the year….?

If there is a question that we get repeatedly asked, it’s the one in the heading above.

It’s easy to think from arm’s length, kicked-back enjoying your favourite red or white tipple,

that after harvest or vintage we all take a deep breath and put our feet up congratulating

ourselves on a job well done…..

….and why wouldn’t you think that, with social media and news reports covering the start,

middle and finish of harvest in full technicolour video and photos. It is without a doubt the

most hectic time of the year, dependent on prayers to the weather gods, testing, hour-by-

hour decision making, compromise, more testing, weighing, shovelling, tipping, recording,

crushing, pressing, pumping… in fact, all the “-ings” apart from the ones that follow “relax”

or “sleep”.

So, I’m here to explain what happens AFTER that period that can (and does) stretch from

early January to May.

Now, think of winemaking not only as a process that involves harvesting grapes and

converting their juice into wine by fermentation carried out by yeast….. and picture a

comet! The head of the comet, apart from scaring impressionable sauropods, is

representative of the concentrated burst of time and energy expended in carrying out the

initial processes described above. The tail of the comet is then representative of the spread

of multiple tasks and time it then takes to meld or nurture that wine to its destination of a

packaged and dressed bottle and ultimately making its way to your glass.

So what’s involved?

Once the young wine is produced, we must make sure that the inherent quality that we

have worked so hard for to achieve, is maintained. This means that we must keep it

separate from any process (biological or biochemical) that would undo all the good work. A

lot of this involves keeping the wine off “ullage” or not having a full storage vessel of the

wine. It’s a problem for boutique and larger wineries alike, and you have to think like a

grandmaster chess player to eventually match volumes of wine with tank size so that the

desired outcome is that the wine is not exposed to gross amounts of air that can send a

wine….errr… off. This can mean necessary transfers from vessel to vessel, as you rack, filter

or clean a tank, and combine parcels of wine to fill the empty tank. This is fairly complicated

because you have a winery of stainless tanks and oak barrels full of newly made wine (and

quite possibly last year’s wine as well), with only a handful of empty vessels to play with.

AAAARRRGHH! It’s no wonder we can’t sleep at night! We don’t count sheep, we dream of

literages a ’la Queens Gambit.

Of course, you eventually figure it out, but it’s not a job you can do in a couple of days. It

can take weeks (or months) of setting up pumps, cleaning and preparing tanks with inert gas

cover to exclude oxygen, carefully transferring the wine, then do it again, and again, ad

nauseum, until you feel like you’re caught in a liquid version of Tetris. After lab analysis, the

What do you do for the rest of the year….ctd ?

wine is then put securely to bed, newly filtered or perhaps sitting on lees until it is called for

bottling preparation. We have been in the fortunate position of having our wine sell out

quickly, which means some our fresher styles are bottled quickly after fermentation, which

involves “stabilising” the wine so that it doesn’t throw a deposit or haze. This firstly involves

tasting and blending the wine(s) by measuring trial 100 mL aliquots of these, deciding which

is the blend that will best satisfy our customers, then transcribing the percentages used to

the volume size of the blend…. (100mLs makes the blending maths easier). We then tank-

assemble the blend and, in the case of white wines, chill them down to -4 deg C (which is

the temperature most home fridges are set at) so that the wine doesn’t throw tartrate in

the bottle in the refrigerator door shelf but in the tank. During this time, the wine

undergoes basic wine analyses; bottles, caps and boxes are ordered, and the wine is then

filtered and sent off to our preferred bottling line, a period that takes about 8 weeks from

go to woah! You also have to book time on the bottling line, sometimes months in advance,

sort out the labels so that all the legal and mandatory info is correct, check for typo’s…..(I

once mistakenly referred to myself as a “Winermaker” on a back label, and you’d be

surprised how many times a grape variety has been misspelt !) ….but I digress.

These sticky bits of paper are incredibly important in representing your brand to the

possible purchasers of your wine, and they must be correct and delivered on-time to the

bottling line along with all the other consumables. Did I mention we have to order our

barrels now to get them here in time for vintage? A gamble taken hoping we have wine

good enough to fill them with.

So, we are generally now into August. In the vineyard, pruning of the vines has taken place,

as well as slashing and mowing to keep it all looking neat and tidy. Broken posts or stakes

are being replaced, as well as any snapped trellis wire….but what’s that green tinge

happening in the white grape blocks? It’s budburst, reminding us that it’s all going to start

again in 16 weeks’ time.

We’d better have that production meeting and see what we require in terms of fruit for the

coming year. After consensus is reached and the crystal ball consulted, it’s time to contact

our growers and work out how much we can expect or want in terms of tonnages of grapes

and what they can provide. Back in the winery, the rush is on to clear the tanks and start

bottling in earnest. A time that strikes fear into the company’s accountancy team. The

bottling pressure slowly builds, as red wines from last year are transferred from their secure

barrel reverie and blended (or not) into the tanks you hope you have cleared so that you

have room to prepare the wines for bottling. It’s a race against time to clear the decks, a

time of slowly hurrying… Barrels are washed and steamed out and younger wine is

transferred back into them, hoping that maturation will provide us with the desired result.

More testing, tasting (and strong, black coffee), more just -in-time logistics, and getting the

wine to bottle and….Phew! That takes care of the spring months.

December, sweet December, when maintenance is foremost in our minds. Making sure

everything works and, if it doesn’t, get it fixed. Are we taking a holiday? Maybe a week or

What do you do for the rest of the year….ctd ?

two to clear the head and watch the southerly busters or La Nina set the vineyard awash

just weeks out from harvest.

Have we put our feet up? Maybe next year…